Book review: Woman of Sin

by Debra Diaz


A while back, I was needing a break from nonfiction, and decided to ask some publishers for fiction to review. I found Borg’s book,  Helms’ book, Deeth’s book, Witherington’s book (not yet reviewed) … and this one, with the steamy title. Woman of Sin … (cough). Romance? Really?? That would be a first for me! I was assured it had a Christian theme, but I remained unconvinced, and resigned myself to hiding the book under the couch. Now, having read it, I understand the title and find it hilariously appropriate. Great stuff, Diaz!

The story takes place in the years just before and after the crucifixion of Jesus, so the setting is naturally appealing to me. I think it’s only fair to point out that the book does have a religious flavor. By book’s end, the characters undergo a conversion to Christianity. I hope you don’t take this as a spoiler; it needs to be said. This shift of focus will be off-putting to some, but will increase the reading enjoyment of others.

Precisely because of the religious nature of the book, it invites a more rigorous criticism, more than just “great read, well researched, buy it now.”  It is a great book, and Diaz is a very good fiction writer. She has eloquently captured the life and politics of first-century Jerusalem and the Empire, and has spun a terrific story around one of the Bible’s most mysterious characters. But if Diaz had an evangelical purpose in writing, this may be the only five-star review she doesn’t appreciate; I found the most “fictional” part of her book to be the assumptions she makes about early Christianity.

By her own concession, Diaz had as a goal to be “historically and Biblically accurate.” But when the two clashed, she clearly preferred “Biblical.” If her research into all things non-religious weren’t so precise, her portrayal of the origins of Christianity wouldn’t stick out.

One example will suffice: Immediately after the resurrection, the characters repeatedly refer to Jesus as God. Kudos for Biblical accuracy: In John’s Gospel, Thomas, upon feeling the nail prints of the risen Jesus, exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” But in truth, it was likely many years afterward before Jesus would first be considered God, as evidenced by the evolving understanding of God that surfaces when we read the New Testament in chronological order. (John’s Gospel was written 60 years or more after Jesus died.) It would be less jarring in a historical novel for Diaz to reflect the very earliest Christian beliefs, rather than the religion that grew later in Jesus’ name. Laying a current-day version of Christianity atop an early first-century story made me feel the book was trying to convert me.

Religious content aside, it remains a very entertaining work of fiction. I absolutely loved it and wholeheartedly recommend it! From now on, only pseudo-romance novels will grace my book review blog!  :)

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