Witnesses by VALERIE VOLK

Witnesses takes us behind the scenes for a fresh look at some of the great moments in biblical history. These sixteen compelling stories are told by those on the sidelines: Saul's armour-bearer, Noah's daughter-in-law, frightened of water and about to board the Ark, an unnamed man who cut a hole in the roof of a house to lower his paralysed brother to Jesus, David's daughter Tamar, sexually assaulted by her brother, and other witnesses at the edges of significant and familiar stories.

These beautifully written stories set thousands of years ago showcase Valerie Volk’s lyrical and poetic prose. A less skilled writer may have given us interesting tales but Volk has delivered genuine lives filled with pathos. Her words encapsulate a culture and time far removed from ours and yet are arresting, poignant and strangely familiar. You can read Witnesses to “look on us and see yourselves.” 

-Dr Rosanne Hawke (Author and former teacher of Creative Writing at Tabor Adelaide.)

In this collection of tales we find first person accounts of characters involved in the some of the most significant stories of the Bible. But they are not the central characters, they not the ones we all know and remember. Some are bit players in great sagas, some are reluctant participants. Others still are simply curious bystanders caught up in the moment. But each character has a story to tell – their story. And it is often not the story we know and expect. In Witnesses, author Valerie Volk takes us behind the scenes for some of the great moments in biblical history. And she does so through the unique and compelling voices of those as diverse as Saul’s armour-bearer, or Tamar, the daughter of David who is sexually assaulted by her brother, or the man who cut a hole in the roof of a house to get his brother to Jesus, or a young man who fled naked into the streets the night they arrested Jesus. After reading these stories, the familiar ones from the Bible will never again be the same.

Valerie Volk makes the ordinary extraordinary in this collection of tales from little-known and often forgotten witnesses to some of the great events narrated in the Bible. Familiar stories become new and unexpected. And in the process, Volk makes us feel that we, too, were there.

-Dr Mark Worthing, author of Iscariot, What the Dog Saw and The Sacred Life of Words

We refer to the Bible as 'the Living Word' because it can ever speak into our own contexts and conditions. But for Scripture to live in our lives, we need to understand it in its entirety, through the richness of its stories and myriad people. Following on her excellent work 'Bystanders', Valerie Volk in 'Witnesses' once again helps us reflect upon some very well-known biblical stories by looking at them through unexpected eyes; she tells them from the perspective of witnesses to those events who were not centre stage but observing from the side. These characters, some named, some the author's speculation, bring freshness to the stories, and hence the possibility of deeper insights. 

-Rev. Dr Lynn Arnold, AO, Anglican priest and former Premier of South Australia


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ReadMore  May 22, 2023     Reviewer   Helen Eddy

Witnesses by Valerie Volk

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In each of the short stories in this collection, Volk takes the bones of a Biblical story (from both the Old and New Testament) and breathes life into it by retelling it from the perspective of a minor character or bystander. In so doing she explores the relationships and the emotions that must surely underlie the basic plotlines she selects, and in the process the people become inherently human. We can identify and relate to their predicaments in a way that may not have occurred during a simple reading from the Bible, where the moral lesson often seems to be the most important element. And so we can empathise with Noah’s daughter-in-law’s fear of water; the jealousy between two sisters married to the same man; the soldier commanded by his king to slay him; the father yearning for his prodigal son. They all make for interesting thought-provoking stories.

The stories can be read simply as a collection of intriguing human situations; but for the more dedicated reader of the Bible, there is also an end section with discussion starters, which relate back to the original scriptures, and provoke more thoughtful examination of the issues raised, and which often also provide a tie-in to modern dilemmas, about euthanasia and suicide, for example. Volk is clearly an accomplished scholar of Bible studies, and with her skills as a writer she provokes fresh examinations of the complexities of deceptively simple stories, familiar to many readers. And thus they gain a new life, and a new readership.

Themes: Short stories, Bible stories, Relationships, Moral dilemmas, Human weaknesses.