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Monday, October 06, 2008

Melachim Gimmel, by Yochi Brandes

Yochi Brandes grew up in an ultra-orthodox charedi religious family. Now she does not follow halacha but is "religious in her own way", whatever that means. And, faithful to the turnaround, she wrote a book that will probably make many religious people angry. Not me; the story isn't gripping enough to make me angry...

The presumptuously named Melachim Gimmel ("King III", i.e. a continuation of the books of Kings, no less) is not Brandes' first book, but it is her first "Biblical novel". This relatively new and recently blossoming genre, concerns books based on Biblical figures that go to extreme lengths to disfigure the Biblical narrative and present a "new way of looking at things". The authors will obviously studiously tell their readers that the new narrative is all based on apocryphal literature or midrashim, and they merely uncovered the truth behind the Biblical story. Because the Bible, as we all know (wink, wink) is just one big conspiracy story to hid the real history from us gullible believers.

Melachim Gimmel is basically the life story of Yerov'am (Jeroboam) son of Navat, the fourth king of Israel (first king after the split between Yehuda and rest of the tribes). The book has three parts. The first tells the story of Yerov'am's childhood and young adulthood, and lays the foundation for the "secrets" to be revealed later in the story. Mind you, at this stage we the readers are not really supposed to know that it's Yerov'am the story is about; he is called Shlom'am in his youth (altough it beats me how anyone with cursory knowledge of the Bible can miss it). The second part moves to Michal, daughter of King Sha'ul and wife of King David, who is following her husband's steps (upon his visit to Achish, the Philistine king) by acting as if she's crazy in order to fool everyone around her. In reality, the screaming and the lighting of thousands of candles at night are a ruse to hide her conspiracy with Hadad the Edomite to fell her husband and restore the kingdom to her father's family (you guessed right: Yerov'am). The third and final part is the part where it all comes together and Yerov'am becomes king of Israel, thus fulfilling the true prophecy of Elisha.

The Biblical story is turned on its head by Brandes. The King David dynasty and the tribe of Yehuda are depicted as the evil ones, whereas the King Saul dinasty and the tribes of Binyamin and Efraim are the good guys. The only reason the Bible says it differently is because the scribes of the time were ordered by the palace to write false stories. For example, David never really killed Goliath, Saul never really persecuted David (quite the contrary) and God never stripped the kingdom away from Saul to give it to David.

Brandes is not the first to write a "revolutionary" narrative of the Bible. Anita Diamant did it years ago with the story of Dinah. Shlomit Avramson did it recently with the story of Tamar and Yehuda. Even the story of the generations-long struggle between the dynasties of Saul and David was rendered into a (much better, futuristic, novel) by Chagai Dagan. But Brandes writes pretty well, so at least the shalowness of the "new narrative" and the "hidden secrets" are not all that tedious, and the book can be read and be done with in a few hours. Good riddance.


Jill Eileen Smith said...

Interesting thoughts about this new "Biblical" novel. I haven't read it, but I have read others that have taken the Biblical tale and turned the story on its head, so to speak.

I write Biblical fiction that prefers to stick to the text and fill in the blanks - to let the reader travel back in time and experience the story as it might have been, but in a way that compliments the Scripture rather than tries to rewrite it. My book deals with some of the characters in the one you mention here - in particular Michal, David, and Saul (or Sha'ul).

The title is Michal: A Novel book one in The Wives of King David series, coming in March 2009 from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I hope you will take a look at it - if it interests you.

~Jill Eileen Smith
author, Michal: A Novel

Zohar said...

I thought this book was one of the better "biblical" novels I've read.

The story flowed, the pace was quick and the story was very interesting and told from a different point of view.

I really liked it.