The OTHER Laurie King: Mila’s midrash

The upcoming publication of Lockdown has encouraged me to write a series of blog posts on “The OTHER Laurie R. King,” talking about my non-Russell-&-Holmes writing, and what I can do in the OTHER pieces that I can’t in the series. Here’s one about a theological short story.

Interviews and bios often pick up on my previous existence as a student of religion, noting how Laurie King has gone from a life of God to a life of Crime (often adding some witty remark about how the two might not be all that different…)

I did indeed spend my early years studying religion and theology (religion being a system of belief, while theology is, literally, “god-talk”.) Both of them pop up from time to time in my novels—particularly the Russell stories, but also novels such as Darker Place and the Martinelli tales To Play the Fool and Night Work.

But I were ever the recipient of a MacArthur grant, I’d spend my time burrowing more deeply into that topic of god-talk, in a collection I’ll call Ladies of Spirit. So far, there’s only this: “Mila’s Tale” is midrash—the re-shaping of a Biblical passage for a new audience.  But it’s also scholarship, because I there is no such thing as a “good” translation, because every generation needs to wrestle with their angels, and because I think everyone should be aware of the challenges of understanding a text thousands of years old.

“Mila’s Tale” is a short story based on the Jephthah’s Daughter episode in Judges 11—one of the more problematic episodes in the Old Testament. In it, a soldier with a shady history takes a vow, and unwittingly sacrifices his daughter to a bloodthirsty God.

Except it’s nowhere near that straightforward.

There are reasons that stories like this remain firmly in the canon, despite the theological problems they raise. They’re meant to challenge us, forcing us to take a closer look and reconsider precisely what it is the story is telling us. Stories such as Jephtha’s Daughter, or Job, or Judith and Tamar, or Lot’s daughters—there’s nothing simple about them. Like a novel that lingers in the reader’s mind, they can demand some wrestling.

Anyway, that’s what I was aiming for with “Mila’s Tale,” the first in an eventual collection of modern midrashim. Each re-tells a tale, as well as giving the original text (in translation) to show what I’ve done to it. And for the sake of encouraging the amateur scholar, I’ve tossed in some recommended reading as well.

Because God-talk is the business of us all.

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“Mila’s Tale” is only available as an e-story, on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or Smashwords.


  1. KarenB on May 11, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Mila’s tale may very well be my favorite piece of all of your writing. I find questions of faith, of spirituality, of the nature of God to be endlessly fascinating and rarely have an opportunity to delve into them with people equally willing to wrestle instead of receive. For a time, I attended a class that did this led by a local rabbi, but he died quite suddenly and I miss him and that class profoundly. If you find the time and the energy to write more midrashim, I would be deeply grateful.

    • Sally Warthen on May 11, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      Unfortunately, I don’t have Kindle, Nook, Kobo or Smashwords. Will have to look into them.
      Mary Russell’s interest in matters Biblical and theological provides one of the great delights of the stories, as does your temerity in bringing in the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Peter Wimsey and Kim.
      My all time (so far) favorite of the series is The Moor. Nobody has been interested in Sabine Baring-Gould for at least a generation; the Anglican Communion is embarrassed by most of what he stood for, particularly Onward Christian Soldiers. But here he is, as large as life, having the most delicious conversations with Holmes.
      How about the story of Tamar? It may be my favorite in Genesis.

  2. John Thomas Bychowski on May 11, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Have not read it before (sorry!) but just purchased it for my Kindle. I can hardly ignore Karen’s fine recommendation, after all.

  3. Margaret Laing on May 12, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks for the news of something I hadn’t found otherwise. As for the fields you cover not being so different, well, somebody we know once commented that “There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion. It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner.” So it’s rather like the chasm in Austria — you don’t have any trouble getting out of it because you were never in it.

  4. kay c on May 25, 2017 at 9:34 am

    I enjoyed meeting you and hearing you speak in Eureka Sprigs Arkansas this weekend. When I was standing at your table and seeing you,the writer of all those books I have read and enjoyed so much,I completely forgot that I wanted to ask you if you intended to include Dinah in your Women of the Spirit series?To me that is such a sad story and I’d really like to see what you do with it.

    • Laurie King on May 25, 2017 at 10:37 am

      Oh, Dinah would be a good addition, yes. And I’m so glad to have got to meet so many people in a corner of the world I hadn’t been to before, what a fun day that was!

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