The Tomb Builder
E. James Harrison
Russell Y. Anderson
Bonneville Books (an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc.), 2011
Reviewed by Russell Y Anderson for the Association for Mormon Letters
I approach historical fiction with some hesitancy. It is nice to learn more
history, but does the fiction part mean that you have just added more
confusion to your historical understanding. I was surprised to learn how
little we know about Joseph of Arimathea.
"Joseph's role in the life of Christ was so significant that each of the
Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) mentions him by name, yet we
know virtually nothing about him. Biblical scholars have debated for centuries
where he came from, for there is no record of a city, town or village--either
anciently or in the present--that has ever been known as Arimathea. In fact,
the only reference to 'Arimathea' in the entire Bible is in connection with
Joseph's name" (p. vii)
The author has the task to create a story that doesn't detract from the life
of the Savior and yet gives us a glimpse of the type of man Joseph might have
been. What types of sacrifices did he have to make? The story suggests that he
has to make serious choices. His wife tells him, "It can't be like this,
Joseph. You must decide. It is either the Jesus or me, but you can't have
both." (p. 9)
Since the story involves the final days in the life of Jesus, I would like to
have seen more of the trial and details of those events. But I can understand
why the author chose to limit some of those details so we didn't lose track of
Joseph and his story.
We know Joseph "went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus" (Matt. 27:58).
It is interesting to see how the author lets us understand how humiliating
that might have been as Joseph is shown in to see Pilate and Pilate doesn't
even turn to face him.
There are many elements of the story that I don't think fit exactly with the
events as I understand them, but that doesn't have a significantly impact.
This book gives us an interesting portrayal of the tomb that was constructed
for Joseph and the turmoil in the life of this man who gave up so much so that
Christ might have a fit burial.
One of the nice things about historical fiction is that it gives a chance to
bring other people into the narrative. This book provides a very interesting
idea about how the wives of Nicodemus, Joseph and Pilate might have played a
larger role than we know about from the scriptural accounts.