Today, one of my favorite Biblical Fiction authors, Connilyn Cossette, launched a new book called “To Dwell Among Cedars.” So, if you heard any random, unusual squealing at some point today, that was probably me getting excited about this new novel! *wink*
To get started, let me share a little about how I discovered Connilyn Cossette’s novels and why I love them so much. Believe it or not, it all started with a BookBub email promoting “Counted With The Stars.” This was the author’s first book and was set during the time of Moses leading Israel out of Egypt. That book was so different compared to all the others I’ve ever read because the main character wasn’t Hebrew, but Egyptian. That was all it took! I’m a fan for life.
What I love about Connilyn’s writing is her ability to place completely fictional characters in a not-so-well-known Biblical setting (or, a well known setting with a different point of view) and not just write a story, but teach truth. I was so thrilled when she made the announcement that her new book was set during the time of Samuel (1 Samuel 4-7) and focused on the Ark of the Covenant’s return from the Philistines. Now, if the only thing you know about the Philistines (Old Testament) is that David killed Goliath…and Goliath was a Philistine…you’re in the same boat as me. Until you read this book! The two main characters of “To Dwell Among Cedars” are Philistine children who follow the Ark back to Israel and are adopted into the covenant of Yahweh.
Today, I’m hosting a Question and Answer with Connilyn Cossette about the writing of “To Dwell Among Cedars.” If you’re a history junkie, love stories from the Old Testament or even know nothing about any of it, but are curious, read on. I hope this Q&A will convince you that “To Dwell Among Cedars” should be on your TBR pile, and that most of all, it brings to life time periods of the Bible that are not often taught. (And sometimes confusing to read about on your own. Can I get a witness?)
1 I love that you take times of the Bible that are not as well known and expand on them. What brought you to this portion of biblical history to write about?
It was actually my trip to Israel in late 2017 that planted the seed of this story in my imagination. We were traveling up from the Valley of Elah where David fought Goliath and towards Jerusalem when our tour guide mentioned we were near Beth Shemesh and likely on the same path upon which the wagon carrying the Ark of the Covenant traveled on its way back from Philistine territory during the events of 1 Samuel 4-7. Immediately, I had a vision pop into my head of the cow-drawn wagon bumbling along the road and two children following after it, curious about where it was headed. And voila! The Covenant House series was sown into my imagination. It wasn’t until over a year later that I began to expand that idea and plot it out with my writing partners but I’ll never forget the moment that idea came to life in my head on that road to Jerusalem.
So, what I love about this is that I also went to the Holy Land in 2017 (but in March) and our tour stopped near Beth Shemesh too. (My tour was on our way to the Valley of Elah, but decided to stop here because there was something else scheduled that we couldn’t make, and this was on the way to Elah, so we stopped here instead!) Here’s some of my photos from the area. The first photo shows the hills where the cows and cart would have come from. The second photo looks towards the town that would have been ancient Beth Shemesh.
2 What inspired you to write about the ark of the covenant at Kiryat-yearim?
There is so much mystery surrounding the Ark of the Covenant and when I read somewhere that the ancient rabbis considered the loss of the sacred box to the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4-7 just as devastating as the destruction of the temple, I began to think about how this event might have effected the Hebrew people. They were already clamoring for a king that could stand up to their enemies, they’d placed their faith in priests who were corrupt and too arrogant to ask for the Lord’s guidance before the battle at Afek, and then after hearing for hundreds of years that Yahweh was for them and that the Ark was this powerful thing that would protect them, they lost horrifically on the battlefield and had their most holy object snatched right out of their hands. It must have been terribly demoralizing and as I’ve shown through the character of Ronan, many of them may have even begun to doubt whether any of the tales they’d been told were real at all. They were looking for human solutions to divine things and the Lord let them do so, precisely so he could come in and remind them exactly who he was. Yes, the loss of the Ark was a punishment, but it was also a gift to show them that he had not forgotten them after all. I was also inspired to think about what it must have been like to grow up in the household of Abinidab, whose family was in charge of watching over the most powerful and dangerous object on earth for seventy years and how their household might have been blessed by its presence.
3 Writing about the Philistines must have been different research wise. Did you find out anything about them that was unexpected that made it in the story?
Research is always one of my favorite aspects of writing historical novels. But what was especially exciting about digging into the Philistines was there have been some recent, groundbreaking discoveries made about these enigmatic people. For many, many years scholars and archeologists have speculated as to their origins and based on clues in the Word or educated guesses from the scant (in comparison to other ancient civilizations) material evidence of their culture, concluded that they were likely an Aegean people—although some believed they originated in Turkey or other areas northeast of Israel and some even speculated that they came from Africa—but no one really know anything definitive until now. But just last year the evidence came forth in the form of DNA from a Philistine cemetery! We know that the Philistines were transplants from Europe who came down through the Aegean on ships and most notably settled on the island of Crete. Why is this important? Because this is exactly what the Bible told us. The Word says that the Philistines came from the island of Capthor which is the ancient name for Crete. Because of this DNA evidence I was able to use some of the things we know about the ancient inhabitants of Crete, including the Minoans and the Myceneans to build my imagination about what the culture of Philistia might have been. So thank you, scientists, for making a major discovery about the very people I was writing about in To Dwell among Cedars just in time!
4 Did you find out anything unexpected about the Philistines during your research?
One of the things that people don’t realize is just how advanced their civilization was. The Minoans and Myceneans (who were the early Greeks) had some seriously amazing architecture (some of which still stands at Knossos on Crete) and since the Philistines came from Crete they brought their gorgeous art/building techniques, distinctive pottery, advanced wine culture, and other aspects of their material culture along with them. The things we associate with the ancient Greeks, myths/art/governance/sports etc. all very likely were born during this time period even if they found their golden age a few hundred years later. Their cities were so well planned and their technology so advanced that there were even storm drains in the street and indoor plumbing in some places. The Philistines also brought their distinctive cooking practices with them, which involved round hearths upon which covered cook pots with narrow necks and lids would sit amongst low flames for long periods to tenderize even the toughest of meats. One disturbing thing about the Philistines, however, is that puppy sacrifice was very common and that dog meat was often in those slow cookers, which of course was abhorrent to the Hebrews whose law said never to eat animals with paws. The Philistines also were very fond of dice games, which readers will discover is a favorite past-time of one important character and they used dice that have the very same number of dots on the sides as the ones we use now.
5 What is the significance of the cedars in the title? Were there even cedars in ancient Israel?
Well, if I say too much it’d be a bit spoilery, but I will say that absolutely there were cedars in Israel. What we see of the vegetation in Israel (especially in the media) is not what the Promised Land looked like 3000 years ago. There were forests all over the land, as evidenced by many passages in the Bible, as well as historical accounts and even scientific evidence but there were a number of things that contributed to the massive deforestation of Israel over time including poor stewardship of the land by those who did not take the Torah to heart, massive wars (Romans, Crusades, etc) in which armies consumed timber in staggering amounts, taxation of trees which caused clearcutting to avoid loss of wealth, a long period of Hebrew exile which in turn allowed the land to be cursed with droughts, and large shifts in climate that made the once rich countryside a desolate place. I’ve read that erosion atop the mountains in Israel is so bad that the valleys are just full of the topsoil that used to hold all those massive forests in place, so much so that it’s almost impossible to dig down to the bedrock in certain places. The cedars of Lebanon were highly prized for their strength and impressive size and were used especially in shipbuilding and for temple construction, including the Temple of Solomon. And it’s worth noting that much of the land we call Lebanon (and its massive, ancient forests) was in fact designated to the tribes of Naphtali and Asher by Joshua just after the entry into Canaan. Also, the city in which most of the book takes place is called Kiryat-Yearim which means the city of forests. For the rest of the reason I’ve included cedars, you’ll just have to read the book 😉 What is really cool, however is that since Israel became a nation in 1948 after 2000 years of exile, millions and millions of trees have been planted in the Land, making it “bloom like a rose” once again just as the prophets foretold.
6 Was there a quote or scene that you felt the Lord speak through?
This quote sums up not only the theme of the book, but the mystery of the Gospel itself.
How marvelous that two enemy children, wild branches by any measure, could—like my father had said—become one with the sons of Avraham. Just as if we were born of the same blood.” -Eliora.
7 What made you make this series a duology?
I really just wanted to try something different and also wanted to highlight a close sibling relationship between the heroine of Book One and the hero of Book Two and I am really satisfied with how the two books play off each other, complete each other, and how everything ties together so well in the end.
There you go, guys! Not only is “To Dwell Among Cedars” a must read for Biblical Fiction fans, but will continue with the release of “Between The Wild Branches” next summer! To order “To Dwell Among Cedars,” you can do so on several websites like Christian Book, Baker Book House, Amazon, Books A Million, etc. But I’ll include an Amazon link below. Enjoy!
Purchase from Amazon —> HERE