I recently caught up with the author of The Triumph of Deborah, Eva Etzioni-Halevy, who's on tour to promote the novel. This is her third book featuring a biblical heroine, following The Song of Hannah and The Garden of Ruth. Perfect for this week's theme of women and literature.
Here's what she had to say about her inspirations, and how today's woman can relate to these strong Old Testament women.
What is it about Biblical heroines that draws you to write about them?
It so happened that rather late in life I began reading the Bible on my own and I was fascinated by it. What enthralled me was that it is full of the most dramatic and the most traumatic stories about people who lived thousands of years ago, and yet are so similar to us in their hopes and anxieties and desires.
I was fascinated in particular by the women of the Bible, because I saw so many similarities between them and present day women in general and myself in particular.
So I began writing about them, stories of love, betrayal and redemption through more love and friendship, novels for light entertainment, with twisting plots, pageturners, as they have been often refered to, who can be enjoyed also by people who have no connection at all to the Bible and which are yet totally faithful to the text of the Bible.
In my novels there are no deviations at all from the Scripture, only additions. The biblical stories are short and where they leave gaps, I fill them out with my imagination and identification, and the feeling that I was really there and witnessed what happened.
What made you decide to write the story of Deborah?
What attracted me in particular to write about Deborah is first of all the fact that she is THE most eminent and prominent woman in the Old Testament of the Bible. She was what we might today refer to as a president, a chief justice and a chief Rabbi all wrapped in one. She had no administration and no police force but she was adored by the people who came to her from near and far to be judged by her.
It was a time of trouble in which Israel was threatened with destruction by the neighboring Canaanites. Being the super-leader, she summons a warrior by the name of Barak, who lives in a different part of the country, to come before her and orders him to launch a strike against the Canaanites so as to save Israel from destruction.
And here is where the amazing part comes in. According to the biblical text he says to her: If you go with me, I will go. But if you don't go with me I will not go.
This started the wheels of my mind turning. I asked myself why, at a time when warfare was strictly a men's affair, did he want her in the battlefield with him? Moreover, the Bible tells us that she also went with him to his own hometown, and yet she was a married woman.
So I asked myself what did her husband have to say to this strange excursion? What would any husband say even today if his wife went off to distant parts, leaving him at home to do the babysitting? (And we know that this was so, because they did have children). And furthermore, what transpired between Deborah and Barak while they were away?
These are the questions that arise from the story as it appears in the Bible, and in my novel I answer them through my own interpetation and the development of a plot that is full of suspense and yet, as I said, faithful to the original text.
Do you think that biblical heroines are good role models for today's women?
Biblical women can certainly serve as shining role models for today's women: They lived in a male-dominated society, their legal rights were poor, their life conditions were most difficult, and they were generally downtrodden.
And yet most of them were strong women, who did not sit around bemoaning their fate, but took fate into their own hands and shaped it to do their bidding, and hence they achieved what they wanted to achieve.
Deborah, of course, is a prime example of this. Under these very difficult conditions, she "broke the glass ceiling" as it is referred to today and attained prominence. Today, of course, women have achieved equality with men in legal rights, but not equality in practice. It is still incredibly difficult for women to combine careers and motherhood.
What today's women can learn from biblical women, and Deborah in particular, as shining role models, is this: If they could do it then, I can do it now. I am strong. My strength lies inside me. No matter how difficult the conditions, I can prevail over them. Whatever I want to do with my life, I can do it.