The Prince and the Prodigal (Book Review)

  • Author: Jill Eileen Smith
  • Publisher: Revell (Baker Book House)
  • Buy Now!
  • Synopsis: Journey to the land of Hebron and sojourn among the sons of Israel in this biblical retelling about Joseph and one of his brothers.
  • Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher. Opinions expressed are my own.

Scripture Connection

The Prince and the Prodigal is a biblical retelling based on the second half of Genesis. Specifically, the narrative follows life in Jacob’s camp in Hebron, Jacob’s slavery in Egypt and Judah’s move to Canaan.

There is also a TON of embedded Scripture. While dialogue is not eclusively from the Bible, I noticed a lot of the characters’ lines were taken right out of the text.

Spiritual Themes

As with the original biblical narrative about Joseph, one of the main themes is reconciliation and forgiveness. There is also emphasis on living upright in the sight of the Lord, regardless of whether or not you can “get away with” doing something wrong.

Half of the narrative is about Judah, and the author uses this section to flesh out the parable of the prodigal son. In spite of the title, I didn’t really expect that angle, but that was a really cool inclusion in the story. In his time away from home, Judah begins calling on the God of his fathers.

What I Liked

I discovered this title awhile before it came out and, when I had the opportunity to join the blogger team, I was excited to receive my copy. I haven’t read a lot of biblical fiction and had been wanting to read more. For me, this book was a very enjoyable sample of the genre.

My favorite aspect of the book is its overall immersiveness. I don’t just mean this in the sense of being transported to the setting– although that is true of the book. I felt immersed in the sense of getting to know the individual characters (real life people, but ficitionalized as book characters). And while a lot is necesarily speculative in a work of fiction, the author also does an excellent job of “connecting the dots” between biblical stories. Events that I usually think of as unconnected “Bible stories” (due to section titles and chapter breaks) became threads in a larger narrative. Scripturally speaking, that makes sense, given the ordering of the text. After all, the story of Judah and Tamar is embedded into Joseph’s larger narrative. While I usually think of this episode as an interruption, Smith’s novel really contextualizes the connection.

I liked the amount of Scripture embedded, throughout. Although I recognize that this was a fictional rendering of the accounts, the novel felt very consistent with the order and events of Scripture. Even the characters’ personalities felt consistent with the characters’ actions, as defined in Scripture.

Smith captures some important nuances, in her storytelling, conveying the significance of certain biblical details. For example, Joseph is “the prince” mentioend in the title, and we learn that the coat Joseph had made for him was more befitting of royalty. Smith also draws attention to the division specifically between the sons of Rachel and the sons of Leah. While I usually just think of “Joseph and his brothers,” it makes sense that there would have been differing levels of privilege and status based on whether a son was born to a wife or a concubine.

I enjoyed the secondary characters that Smith introduced. Many of these characters are people we see in Scripture, but know very little about. For example, there are a few lines in Joseph’s story about a steward who questioned his brothers, but we aren’t given much detail about this person. Smith fleshes out the character, and we get to know him, throughout the book. Descriptions and events involving the character reasonably align with the biblical narrative.

I was really impressed with the way that Smith intertwined Joseph and Judah’s stories. Like I mentioned above, this was not something that I saw coming, but it was so neat to see how this played out. I enjoyed reading so much about Judah, because I haven’t given a lot of thought to Judah, himself. Usually, when I think of Judah, I am thinking about his descendants. It was neat to chart his life journey in a way I hadn’t before.

Content

The nice thing about reviewing biblical fiction is that I can allude to specific “plot points” without being spoilery.

As in the Biblical narrative, there are several subplots revolving around mature content:

  • (reference to) The rape of Dinah, attack of Shechem*
  • Joseph and Potipher’s wife
  • Judah and Tamar

However, there was also some unexpected content: Judah’s wedding scene. Obviously, we know from the Bible that Judah was married and had children. As a heads-up, the reader actually enters Judah’s bridal chamber.

For this reason, I ended up skimming Joseph’s marriage scene.

As readers, we also witness Tamar’s relationships with her husbands— Judah’s sons. These were some really intense scenes because the author portrays the marriage scenes as sexual abuse. I do think that makes sense, given the Biblical narrative.

In addition, there is also a scene portraying the evil of child sacrifice.

Overall, most of the “Content” I referenced is just consistent with Scripture. However, the Judah-and-his-wife scene was more detailed than Scripture— although this particular Scripture is pretty clear about how Judah’s sons came to be.

Angle

I asterisked one content note above, because this was one element that I felt the author drew a stance that perhaps went a step beyond Scripture. Overall, she presents Levi and Simeon’s actions in Shechem as a bad thing, with Dinah even wishing she could have married Shechem. I do see Scriptural backing for various elements of this subplot (for example, Shechem “speaking kindly” to Dinah), the narrative disapproves of the brothers’ actions. The original biblical narrative is certainly nuanced. This just felt like one aspect that the author took her own stance on—which makes sense since this is a work of fiction.

Recommendation Status

I was impressed with the way that Jill Eileen Smith wove together the narratives of two people from the Bible in an immersive story. I also understand that, because this is a fictionalized work, there are some additions/speculations that may slightly deviate from Scripture.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but I’d recommend it for adult audiences, with reader discretion. As referenced in the Content section, there was some surprising material that was more graphic than I expected, as well as some very painful thematic content.

Published by Stephanie Agnes-Crockett

Hi, there! My name is Stephanie and I’m a Fresno, CA native. After studying at Biola University, I received my MLIS (Masters in Library Science) from San Jose State University. I live with my mom, poet Kimberly Vargas Agnese, and serve as her unofficial agent. We reside at MeadowArc, a food forest in its infancy. I am called to, and passionate about, purity. In fact, the name Agnes means “pure.” Before I was born, my mom felt led to include the name Agnes in her name, and in the names of her children. My full, hyphenated name includes 26 letters (but not the whole alphabet).

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