Why writers need to do the math...

I am sitting here today with the intention of working on my new story about Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. What I really want to do is start writing, to actually craft some fictional scenes. There is something uplifting about drawing on deep wells of creativity, of exercising that right brain to its fullest. But alas, I find myself instead flipping between Persian baby names and the calculator on my phone. True confession: Math has never been one of my strong suits. I can do the basics, add, subtract, multiply, divide, and even understand basic algebra and geometry. But despite my many family members who specialize in mathematics, I did not inherit that gene. I understand it - to a point. I just don't enjoy the subject.

But sometimes even writers need to do the math. Editors like it when story timelines make sense. Therefore, ages, times, and seasons need to line up in the right places. In biblical fiction, I have the added constraint of trying to figure out time based on ages given in Scripture.

This is not easy...

I have done the math umpteen times in calculating ages of the characters in my next story, and am ready to toss the whole thing into a hat and blindly pull out numbers! Not that I would. But still...it is hard to know the ages of only certain characters at particular times in their lives (like at marriage and death) but be completely in the dark about others.

For instance, we know how old Esau was when he took his first two wives, and we know how old Isaac was when he married Rebekah because the Bible tells us. But how old was Isaac when Jacob stole the blessing? It just says that he was old. We know how long Isaac lived. We know how long Jacob lived, and how many years he worked for Laban. We know how old Joseph was when he became ruler in Egypt. But we don't know how old Rachel and Leah were when they met Jacob, who by all of my many calculations had to be around 70. (Don't let that freak you out - Jacob lived to be 147.)

Still...how many sons did Laban have? Did he have other daughters? How many wives gave birth to those children? We don't know. But Laban had to be pretty old when Jacob showed up on his doorstep. (If he was older than Rebekah and younger than Isaac, I would guess he was about 30, give or take, when Isaac and Rebekah married.) But that puts him at about 120 when he meets Jacob. Hmm...methinks these guys didn't age like we do!

But really, for Jacob to wait 7 years to marry Rachel, she could not have been worried about her biological clock ticking, which meant she was a fair bit younger than he. How much? Ahh...therein lies the challenge. And doing the math makes that challenge even bigger! (I should have tossed my calculator and said forget it!)

But those who like to study the Bible's little details would know. And I would know. And while we can find various reasons why thus and such wasn't thus and so in history, I can't ignore something that is so specifically spelled out in Scripture. There is a reason the ages are given, so I  just have to work with those ages.

For the part of me that doesn't enjoy all of this figuring...I do get to make up ages for the other characters; and of Laban's family there is little known, so the fictional mind can go straight to imagining without all of those annoying calculations!

Still...writers do need to do the math in any type of fiction. Timelines are important and understanding cultural differences are too. So I figure Jacob's 70 is our 35, since he lived to be 147. He was just barely middle aged. And in that light, David and Bathsheba weren't so different. David was probably near 50 when he spied Bathsheba from his roof. And she was likely in her 20s. An age difference we're not quite used to in our culture.

Nonetheless, such arrangements and age differences did happen, and to those people at that time they weren't so strange. Jacob's and Rachel's story is a love story like no other. I can't wait to uncover their tale.


PersonalJill Eileen Smith