August 9, 2007
God gets a rewrite:
In the latest literary trend, authors fictionalize Jewish heroes
(Page 3 - Previous Page)"In Rashi's time it was a sin, but the desire was considered normal. Frankly, everything anyone wanted to do in those days was a sin. It certainly wasn't worse than adultery. It was amazing to me how the attitude was very different," Anton said. She thought a character with this problem would have lots of angst, cloistered with men.
That was back in 1997, when Anton plotted all three books. A chemist by profession, she came to writing late in life -- after she began studying Talmud. Raised as a secular Jew, Anton took a women's Talmud class in Los Angeles with Rachel Adler, and was fascinated when she discovered that Rashi's daughters were reputed to have been learned -- maybe even wore tefillin. As she learned more Talmud and did more research, she decided on the arc of her three books (the third will coincide with the Crusades), and decided to make homosexuality -- or "The Game" as they refer to it -- a theme in the second book.
"I didn't realize then that homosexuality was going to be this cause cél?bre, and that I'd get a blurb off of Elliot Dorff because of the subject I chose," said Anton, referring to the rabbi, an expert on Jewish law.
So are these authors of Jewish pulp fiction trying to rewrite history? To make women more powerful than they were, make issues like feminism and homosexuality more prescient than they actually were? Are they trying to change biblical history?
For example, in Genesis, Jacob's only daughter Dinah is taken by Shechem, and her brothers avenge her by killing him and his tribe. But in "The Red Tent," Dinah's is a love story. Samson, who is a wise Israelite judge in the Bible, is portrayed in Maine's "The Book of Samson," as delighting in his murders; Delilah, described as "a piece of work," canoodles his secret strength from him to stop him.
Attorney Cohen -- who was inspired to write "Moses, A Memoir" after Norman Mailer wrote "The Gospel According to the Son," a fictional autobiography about Jesus in heaven -- said he's not trying to change history.
"I don't present David in a positive light," he admits about his second book, "David and Batsheva." And yet, he's right -- it's all there in the text: David steals another man's wife, and has the man killed so he can marry her. "The midrash tries to defend him," Cohen said, referring to the commentary. "The rabbis can't deal with it effectively so they find excuses for him."
Cohen thinks that because children would have difficulty seeing biblical
Books mentioned in this article
The Last Secret of the Temple by Paul Sussman, Atlantic Monthly Press (October, 2007)|
The Genizah At The House Of Shepher by Tamar Yellin, Toby Press, 2005)
As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg (Behrman House Publishing (1996)
The Da Vinci Codes by Dan Brown Anchor (2006)
The Source, by James Michener (Random House Trade Paperbacks (2002)
My Glorious Brothers Panther (1960)
By Marek Halter
Sarah: A Novel (Canaan Trilogy) Three Rivers Press (2005)
Zipporah, Wife of Moses: A Novel (Canaan Trilogy) Three Rivers Press (2006)
Lilah: A Novel (Canaan Trilogy) Three Rivers Press (2007)
By Orson Scott Card
Women of Genesis Series
Sarah, Forge Books (2001)
Rebekah, Forge Books (2002)
Rachel and Leah, Forge Books (2005)
By Ann Burton
Women of the Bible: Deborah's Story, Signet (2006)
Women of the Bible: Jael's Story: A Novel (2006)
Women of the Bible: Rahab's Story: A Novel (Women of the Bible) Signet (2005)
Women of the Bible: Abigail's Story: A Novel Signet (2005)
By Eva Etzioni-Halevy
The Garden of Ruth Plume (2006)
The Song of Hannah Plume (2005)
By Rebecca Kohn
The Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther Penguin (Non-Classics) (2005)
Seven Days to the Sea: An Epic Novel of The Exodus Penguin (Non-Classics) (2005)
By David Maine
The Book of Samson St. Martin's Press (2006)
The Preservationist, St. Martin's Griffin (2005)
Fallen, St. Martin's Griffin (2006)
By Joel Cohen Moses
A Memoir, Paulist Press (2003)
David and Bathsheba: Through Nathan's Eyes Paulist Press (2007)
Rabbi Diamond agreed: "I think the more we have serious and thoughtful Jews reading and discussing Jewish themes, it's to be praised. It's a wonderful and important endeavor."
Biblical historical fiction is just one of the ways that people connect to the stories of our past, he said. For example, many communities, including Los Angeles, put biblical figures on trial. Some have community members write journals of what a biblical character is thinking. Others read Jewish historical fiction.
Besides, what are the options? Diamond joked. "Nobody wrote non-fiction back then. Nobody wrote the official or unofficial autobiography of Rashi or of Elisha Ben Abuya,"
All kidding aside, what if people believe these stories are real? Is there a danger that authors are rewriting the Bible?
Yasgur, of the Jewish Community Library doesn't think so. "I truly believe that books and writing repair the world, especially when you take the subject and treat it respectfully."
But, she said, while authors like Anton take great care to explain what is real, "Let's remember this is fiction!"
The Jewish Community Library will hold an evening with Maggie Anton, author of "Rashi's Daughters, Book II: Miriam," on Sept. 5 at 7 p.m.