Modern Turmoil, Ancient Echoes

Modern Turmoil, Ancient Echoes

What if the story of David’s daughter Tamar had turned out differently?

The air in Israel now throbs with our collective and individual grief. In the wake of the Oct 7, 2023 massacre on our southern border by invaders from Gaza, and the ensuing war, people of faith turn to the Bible. For Hebrew speakers, phrases from Scripture in its original language carry special significance because we find them not only in our Bible studies, but in our news outlets and in ordinary conversations. Some of these phrases also translate powerfully into English: “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9); “double-edged sword” (Psalms 149:6); “by the skin of my teeth” (Job 19:20). And of course AMEN (Psalm 41:13), an acrostic of Hebrew letters that stands for the words ani ma’amin  I believe. But I digress… Or do I? When it comes to the October 7 atrocities and their aftermath we have begun to hear people collectively call the ruthless attackers from Gaza “Amalek” – the quintessential biblical embodiment of evil (Deut. 2:1, 19; 1 Sam. 1:3), a name and concept mentioned frequently in Jewish and Christian commentaries.

An early medieval depiction of Tamar mourning in Absalom’s house and the killing of her assailant Amnon. The Maciejowski Bible, Wikimedia Commons

Bible stories testify to the best and the worst in human nature, and far from acting as mere metaphors, those events seem to have happened to us, today – not to our ancestors in some distant past. Such is the story of Tamar, King David’s daughter, raped by her half-brother Amnon, isolated by her brother Absalom (2 Sam.13:1–20), and then emotionally abandoned by her father (2 Sam. 13:21). In our new novel Ahōti – A Story of Tamar, my co-author Eva Marie Everson and I have imagined a different ending, taking our heroine to a place where she finds healing and justice after years of tenacious and dangerous pursuit of her true identity.

For our vision of Tamar’s eventual victory, we owe a debt of gratitude to the eminent Prof. Meir Bar-Ilan, who was the content adviser on my book Teach it to Your Children: How Kids Live in Bible Days. At the launch event to celebrate the publication of that book, Prof. Bar-Ilan said to me: “I have a great story that I think you’re the one to tell.” As it turned out, he is an authority on ancient manuscript called Words of Gad the Seer, a mysterious compendium written centuries ago of “what happened then” commentaries on beloved Bible stories.

Front cover of Words of Gad the Seer, by Prof. Meir Bar-Ilan, on which our imagined adventures of Tamar are based.

The first known copy of Words of Gad the Seer came from Cochin, India, in the mid-1700s. At the beginning of the 1800s, it turned up at the University of Cambridge, England, where it remains to this day. Among these commentaries is a continuation of the story of Tamar where the Bible leaves off, as imagined by the anonymous author.

At the heart of our tale are the struggles of our heroine Tamar, hardships that echo eerily down through the ages. In our story, which intertwines biblical events with a narrative we’ve respectfully crafted for the modern reader, Ahōti weaves together the enduring threads of revenge, resilience, forgiveness, a thirst for justice and the wrenching complexities of moral decisions. The intersection of biblical storytelling and present-day events prompts us to question whether human nature has truly evolved over the centuries. In Ahōti, we hope you’ll discover, despite the millennia that separate us from biblical times, that while the human heart still beats with rage and vengeance, it also pulsates with passions and possibilities, to make “your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday” (Psalm 37:6). AMEN.

The official release of Ahōti – A Story of Tamar is scheduled for May 14, 2024, with pre-orders available now. Please visit Paraclete Press Ahōti – A Story of Tamar for further details.

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Ahōti – A Story of Tamar

Ravaged by one brother, silenced and betrayed by another and redeemed by a third, Tamar—once beloved daughter of the king of Israel, and healer of the court—suddenly finds herself in exile, fleeing for her life. But in Ahōti, Miriam Feinberg Vamosh and her co-author Eva Marie Everson take Tamar’s story to new heights – with their adaptation of an ancient anonymous manuscript: the heroine’s dangerous journey and tenacious pursuit of her true identity and calling bring her full circle, to her rightful place in the kingdom.