By Roma Downey
By Mark Burnett
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Table of Contents
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A NOTE TO PARENTS
In the spring of 2011 we began work on a ten-hour television miniseries: The Bible. It would begin with the Book of Genesis and end with the Book of Revelation. As you can imagine, we were immediately faced with a massive creative challenge: how do we tell this story? More specifically: how do we transform a sacred narrative that spans thousands of years and features hundreds of individual stories into just ten hours of television?
We had one of two choices: either select dozens of short summaries and tell many brief stories, or choose fewer characters and stories but make a much deeper emotional connection.
Clearly, we had to go with the second choice.
So we began the TV scripts, written by a team of writers under the guidance of many theologians, advisors, and biblical experts. Their combined expertise brought forth vivid spiritual and historical images. To our great joy, when we showed the scripts to others for technical and creative feedback, the resounding messages we heard over and over were "I've never been able to imagine these Bible stories so clearly in my mind," "I'm going to reread the Bible," and "You really should publish these scripts."
Initially we were resistant, but then we started researching. We came across startling facts like: half of Americans cannot name the first five books of the Bible; 12 percent of American Christians believe that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc; and many believe that Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. If our scripts had provided an impetus for people to want to reread the Bible and given them a clearer picture of these stories, then maybe by novelizing the scripts we could spark even more people to pick up the Bible.
Thus, we began the novel A Story of God and All of Us, and here we have adapted it for the young reader. We feel very inadequate to teach the Bible, and we are certainly not theologians. We are television storytellers. It will be easy for people to focus on how we have "compressed stories" or to find "theological inaccuracies." But on this point, we must be clear: we are not retelling the story of the Bible; it has already been told in the richest, fullest way possible, from the mouth of God and through his chosen prophets, apostles, and students. Instead, we are dramatizing some of these beautiful stories from our scripts.
We owe a huge debt of thanks to the small army of scriptwriters, our amazing production team, and all of our advisors and biblical experts. We also want to thank you for holding this novel in your hands. Our television miniseries will be seen by millions around the world, and it is our hope that the series, together with this book, will inspire many more millions to read and reread the greatest story ever told: the Bible.
Roma Downey and Mark Burnett
Have you ever wondered why the powerful and inspiring stories of the Bible stay in our hearts long after we first learn them? Perhaps it's because they continue to resonate within us. We recognize ourselves in the stories; we see our own lives play out in the situations. We identify with the struggles and the victories, the sorrows and the joys. We see them all as relevant to ourselves.
And they are. These are our stories.
Whatever we may face in our lives today, we can rely on the stories of the Bible to help shine a light on the answers we need. I believe this is one of God's most important gifts to us.
It has been my privilege to help tell the stories of these great biblical figures. Most of us may already be familiar with many of these characters from church, readings, and teachings. But when we experience these old familiar stories told in new ways, they become alive in us and stay vivid and fresh in our minds and our hearts.
The story of Jesus is a story of love, for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. The struggles and sacrifices that Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Mary endured thousands of years ago are all stories from our shared experience of God's love. We see ourselves in these people. Throughout A Story of God and All of Us, you will see that these people lived with the same fears, hopes, loves, and joys that we all have.
They are just like us. It is, after all, a story we share.
My dream is that the courage and love these people inspired in me will reach through history yet again and inspire you.
Love and Light,
A MAN NAMED ABRAHAM
Thousands of years ago, in the city of Ur, in modern-day Iraq, lives a man named Abram, a direct descendant of Noah. Abram is a healthy seventy-five years old, with broad shoulders and a flowing, dark beard. His wife Sarai is known far and wide for her great beauty. The one sadness of their otherwise charmed lives is that Sarai has not been able to have children. One could never detect this sorrow from Abram's behavior. He is always quick with a smile, and forever has a "Peace be with you" on his lips.
One day, in the temple, he hears a voice he has never heard before. It is speaking only to Abram; no one else can hear it.
"Abram." It is the voice of God. "Leave your country, your people, and your father's household, and go to the land I will show you."
Abram gazes up to the sky, his mouth open in shock.
"I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse. And all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
A lesser man would be puzzled. Or perhaps fearful. But Abram hears the call, which is why God picked him for the task he has in mind.
"Yes," Abram softly tells God, in a voice brimming with passion. "Yes."
Abram races home from the temple. He finds his wife at the back of the house and takes her into his arms. "Sarai, today God has spoken to me."
Sarai pulls back, confused. Theirs is a world of many different gods and idols, each designed to fulfill a specific need.
"I speak the truth," Abram promises. "He has chosen me. Chosen us."
"For what? I do not understand."
"He wants us to leave here."
"Leave? But our whole life is here."
"Yes, Sarai. Leave. We are going away from this city to a new land. And we will have children in that new land. Of that I am sure. God has promised."
Although he is asking her to do something extraordinary, something unimaginable, she knows she must trust him.
Sarai squeezes Abram's hand and smiles. "Take us there."
Abram sets out with Sarai, his nephew Lot and his wife, and a small group of friends and servants. They travel north and west, following the ancient roads of what we now call the Fertile Crescent, trusting God to lead them to the land he has promised Abram. Their journey takes them through a city known as Haran and finally to a bountiful land of water and palm trees that offers a green oasis in an otherwise barren desert. But the land is not enough for all of Abram's party and their animals. Making matters worse, seeds of dissension are sown by Lot's wife, a jealous and small-hearted woman who chafes at Abram's authority for forcing her to relocate. It soon becomes a standoff, with Abram and his followers on one side, and the followers of his beloved nephew Lot on the other. Finally, after much conflict, Lot tells his uncle, whom he loves like a father, that he and his tribe must leave the larger group for greener pastures, for the wretched and sinful city of Sodom. It is a sad time.
Abram is now ninety-nine years old. Sarai is ninety. They now live in an oasis near a place called Mamre—amid palm, cedar, and fig trees and clear running water—still dwelling in the tents they have called home for so many years. This is not paradise, nor is it the land Abram envisioned when he and his followers, who some call Hebrews, struck out on their own so long ago. One hot afternoon, as Abram sits before his tent, the Lord appears to him. "I am God Almighty," he tells Abram, who falls facedown on the ground.
"I will confirm my covenant between me and you," God continues. "And I will greatly increase your numbers."
God orders that Abram change his name to Abraham, which means "father of many nations." From now on, Sarai will be called Sarah, for "princess." And then God makes an outrageous promise to Abraham: Sarah will give birth to a son. "She will be the mother of nations. Kings of peoples will come down from her."
Abraham laughs at the idea. He does not believe that Sarah can give birth. But God insists, and says that a long line of earthly kings will be brought forth from this lineage.
The words settle on Abraham's heart, filling him with a joy he has never known. He cannot wait to tell Sarah. Abraham turns to God to offer his thanks. But God has already gone.
One day not long after, Abraham sees three powerful and mysterious men in the distance walking toward his camp. They wear robes made of fine fabric. On two of the men he can see the outlines of weapons beneath their garments, yet they do not appear menacing. Instead, they have the quietly intense presence of holy men. Abraham feels an instant connection with them, and as is his custom, he enjoys playing the part of the good host. Yet these men are somehow different, and he treats them with more respect.
Abraham's instincts are correct. Two of the men are angels. The third is God disguised in flesh. Abraham has heard God's voice but does not recognize him.
"Welcome," says Abraham. "You are most welcome. Please sit down." He indicates a spot where they can rest in the shade.
"Are you hungry?" he asks. Without waiting for an answer, Abraham orders a servant to bring food.
"Have you traveled far?" Abraham continues.
"Yes, a very long way," answers one of the angels. A long silence ensues.
"Where is your wife?" asks the other angel.
Abraham points to their tent. "In there."
Inside the fabric walls of their tent, Sarah hears strange voices, but she is weary and in no mood to entertain travelers.
The Lord then speaks: "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah, your wife, will have a son."
Sarah laughs to herself as she overhears this. Surely this man, whoever he is, does not know that Abraham's wife is very advanced in age and cannot have children.
"Why did you laugh?" the Lord says to her.
Sarah almost jumps out of her skin. She whirls around to see who is speaking to her, but no one is in the tent. I didn't laugh, she thinks to herself.
"You did," the Lord says. His voice is kind. Once again, Sarah spins quickly to see who is playing this trick. But she is alone.
God continues: "So you will never forget how you doubted me, when you have a son, you will name him Isaac, which means 'laughter.' "
Sarah feels the power of God and is overcome with hope. Tears stream down her face. She falls to her knees and thanks God.
The time comes for the three strangers to leave. Abraham has treated them with extreme kindness and deference. He has brought them water to wash the road dust off their feet. He has cooked them a fatted calf and fed them a meal featuring curds, milk, and thin loaves of bread. These powerful, mysterious strangers are special, and Abraham has reveled in the honor of their presence. He referred to himself as their servant and even stood off to one side as they dined, waiting to be summoned. The men have maintained their air of mystery, saying little else as they enjoyed the food and the shade. As the afternoon sun grows cool they stand to depart.
"Where are you going?" Abraham asks cautiously, still unaware of whom he has been entertaining.
One of the angels looks to God for permission to answer.
"We are going to decide the fate of Sodom," the angel replies solemnly, pulling his hood up over his head. The other angel does the same, and they depart, leaving God alone with Abraham, who is very concerned because Lot lives in Sodom.
God walks with Abraham to a mountaintop, where they can look out and see Sodom in the distance.
"Shall I hide from you what I am going to do?" the Lord wonders aloud. "You will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through you. For I have chosen you so that you will direct your children and your household after you to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that I will bring about for you what I have promised."
Abraham is stunned to realize that he stands in the presence of God. It can be no one else. This is the manner in which God has spoken to him so many times. And Abraham is just as stunned to realize that the destruction of Sodom will mean the death of Lot. Despite their differences, Abraham loves Lot like a son and is in dread for his safety.
Abraham musters up his courage and speaks to the Lord. "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?"
"If I find ten righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole city for their sake," replies God.
But there are not ten righteous people in all of Sodom. In fact, there is just one—Lot. Only he and his children will be saved.
Soon, on a hillside overlooking the city, a horrified Abraham witnesses the flames shooting upward through the buildings as the city begins to burn. Fireballs continue to rain down from above, joined by lightning and the unnerving boom of thunder.
Behind him, unseen, stands God.
Time passes: Abraham paces nervously until he hears the sound of a newborn infant breathing its first gulps of air. He pulls back the tent flap. A beaming Sarah holds their child to her chest. Abraham leans down to her. Without saying a word, she hands him the child. Tears well in the corners of his eyes as he holds the baby.
"A boy," Sarah whispers. She is radiant.
"Just as God promised," Abraham marvels. "Just as God promised. Only the Almighty can do the impossible."
Abraham holds the child aloft. "His name will be Isaac." He and Sarah burst into joyous laughter.
Ten more years pass.
Isaac emerges from his family's tent, with its tasseled doorway and striped fabric walls. He yawns and stretches as he makes his way past the goat pen and over to the cooking fire, where Sarah grinds grain to make flour for the morning bread.
Abraham has been awake for hours. His age is truly beginning to show, and though he slept the night through, he is extremely tired. Weary. Abraham sees his life slipping away. He doesn't feel like the leader God intended him to be. He doesn't feel worthy of God, of the Promised Land, or of the prospect that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. As he gets older with each passing day, Abraham ponders his purpose.
The wind picks up and blows the grain into the fire. The wind grows louder. Abraham looks all around and notices that he is alone. Everyone in the camp, including Sarah and Isaac, has disappeared.
It has been a long time since God spoke to Abraham, but he still knows the voice well. "A sacrifice?" he whispers to God.
It is common for Abraham to offer sacrifices to God. In his ritual, an animal is offered as a sign of thanks.
God goes on to tell him the details.
At first Abraham doesn't comprehend what he's hearing. Then, as he realizes what God is saying, he becomes horrified. "No," he whispers. "Please, no. Haven't I shown enough faith? Dear God, I will make any sacrifice you ask. Anything"—now he can barely speak—"anything but Isaac."
It is God's will. With a heavy heart, Abraham retrieves his best knife from his tent. He and his people are camped at the foot of a great desert peak, Mount Moriah. As the sun rises higher and higher in the sky, Abraham sets off in search of Isaac, his knife firmly secured in the sheath on his waist.
He finds him eating bread with Sarah. "Eat more," she encourages the boy. "How will you ever grow if you don't eat?" But she stops talking as Abraham draws near.
"God wants a sacrifice," Abraham says, offering a hand to Isaac. "Come with me," he commands.
"Of course," Isaac says brightly, and then rushes off to gather his bag for the long and arduous trip up Mount Moriah.
Storm clouds are rolling in, and Abraham and Isaac can hear the faint boom of approaching thunder. The two gather wood for a fire along the way, and with each twig and branch that Isaac presents to his father, Abraham finds himself more and more distraught about what he must do. God has demanded this beautiful, innocent boy as a sacrifice.
"Father?" Isaac asks, handing him a new handful of twigs.
Abraham takes them. "Good work," he tells his son. "Let's get more."
- On Sale
- Feb 26, 2013
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers