Monday, February 10, 2014

Why I Read Historical Novels

The Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem

About 16 years ago they opened the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. A big, purpose built, modern building, dedicated to artifacts and knowledge about life in the Near East in Biblical Times. I had absolutely no interest in visiting it whatsoever.

One Monday in the late afternoon, I took myself off to the Israel Museum which is next door to the Bible Lands. The Israel Museum has art and I love art. What I didn't know was that it's closed on Monday afternoons.

It was pre-mobile phones and by the time I'd walked to the gate, realised it was locked, and walked back to the car park, my taxi had left. I decided to not waste the journey completely and so I wandered, half-heartedly, over to the Bible Lands Museum.

This museum was closing in 90 minutes. Perfect. I expected to be out of there well within the hour.

Reader, I spent the entire 90 minutes in the first room and still had not finished when the closing bell sounded. I usually skim the labels in museums. On this occasion I found myself reading every word mesmerised by all of it. I'd expected Bible stories and parchments. The reality was everyday items depicting an entire way of life in biblical times. There are Bible stories and parchments later but I didn't get that far.

I had to reluctantly leave at closing time but vowed to return very soon. Since then I've been back twice. Once for a music lecture and once for a Bar Mitzva party. Both those events were in the evening and neither had any connection to the museum itself.

Chapter 1

She Wrote On Clay is a book I read last month. You can't look inside, I took the image url from Despite the link, this is not a sponsored post. I read She Wrote On Clay for three reasons:

1. It's an historical romance set in Ancient Babylon. How could I resist a chance to get some insight into life in Ancient Babylon which isn't too distant from where I'm living?  (In kms I mean, not time.)

2. The author, Shirley Graetz, is a friend of mine. A local Mum whom I met a few years ago in the park and now regularly chat with outside the school gates at the end of the day.

3. It's a romance but it's also about a rare occurrence of feminism in ancient times. Litani, the heroine, is a female scribe in a male dominated profession. Sometimes we think we invented feminists and feminism but not so.

I loved the book and am eagerly awaiting the sequel as I absolutely need to grow old with Litani, the feisty, feminist, heroine.

Chapter 2

A few days ago I was talking on the phone with another friend who is a tour guide. She mentioned that a fellow guide was giving her a tour of the Bible Lands Museum on Monday morning. I remembered how much I had loved that museum so I made the right noises and she invited me to join them.

(I should have a photo here of the three of us at the museum, but I don't.)

I saw the clay tablets Litani had written on. I saw the perfume bottles and the amulets. I saw the ornate boxes they used to store their possessions, the writing tools, the buildings they lived in (well models of them), the cities, the kitchen utensils they used, seals, jewellery...

If I was fascinated last time, this time with a bit of insight into the background and lifestyles of the people, I was positively spellbound.

I'm done with school and studying for studying's sake. I further my knowledge with YouTube, TV dramas, short articles shared by friends on facebook, and reading for pleasure. Not all my book choices are novels. There are many highly enjoyable popular history/sociology/philosophy books written for the lay person. I wouldn't bother with anything heavy. Historical novels have given me more over the past 30 years than years of history lessons in school. No school outing to any museum ever thrilled me as much as seeing She Wrote On Clay come to life in the Bible Lands Museum today.


  1. I have always believed that a well-written and accurate historical novel will interest far more people in history than a dry text book :)

  2. I did enjoy history at school (1950s) but like you have learned far more since then from well-researched historical novels.

    1. I also enjoyed History at school but it didn't come to life the way it does in novels, did it?

  3. I got chills reading of our trip to the museum AFTER reading She Wrote On Clay. That is just so cool.

  4. I would so love to visit that museum. Have never forgotten seeing a Roman shoe in an Oxford museum and trying to comprehend that the foot that wore it trod the same ground as I had. I've formed most of my social history knowledge from historical novels - the storie they weave round the facts stick in the mind more than history books.

    1. Come to Jerusalem and I'll take you there. That's a promise.