When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously declared: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties…but right through every human heart”, he was reminding us that humans are complex creatures, capable of good, evil and everything in-between. When it comes to analysing what someone did, why and what it tells us about them, things are seldom as straightforward as they first appear.

In Heroes or Villains? Exploring the qualities we share with Bible characters, Baptist pastor, counsellor and teacher, Jeannie Kendall, takes us on a fascinating journey of discovery that examines the lives of 20 well-known figures from the Old and New Testaments – people who, like us, hold within them the potential for “great good, and disastrous moral failure”.

With skill, care and an easy-to-read scholarship, the author examines characters as diverse as Adam and Eve, Samson, Jezebel, Jonah, Judas, Pilate and Paul, asking us to think again about how we evaluate them, and whether there’s more to their characters than first meets the eye.

Each is given the same critical treatment. First, they’re introduced as if for the first time through a paraphrased retelling of their story. After the biblical text is quoted in full, the writer gives an insightful exposé of some of the backstory.

In so doing, the reader is carefully encouraged to think again about the presuppositions, prejudices and black-and-white judgements we so often jump to when it comes to deciding who the biblical heroes and villains really are. 

Heroes or Villains is a fabulous little book that helps us move beyond all-too-easy snap judgements. People and situations are often far more complicated than they first appear, and deserving of a more critical re-evaluation.