Image The blurb on the front of Marek Halter’s novel calls it “a worthy heiress to The Red Tent,” but don’t you believe it. In the conversation with the author at the end of the novel, Halter, who escaped with his parents from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II and now does international peace work, says that Sarah is the first book of his projected Canaan Trilogy. The second book will be about Zipporah, Moses’ wife, the third about Lilah, sister of Ezra. John Milton says at the beginning of Paradise Lost that he wrote his great epic poem to “assert eternal Providence/And justify the ways of God to men.” Halter writes: I thought that it could be interesting to learn the role of [Abraham’s] wife in the birth of monotheism. … Abraham was a young man who spent his entire life dreaming about God … [but] that wasn’t enough for him to transmit the concept of God to others. Who did that? His wife. Why his wife? Because she was Sumerian, she was literate, she could write. She would be able to transcribe his dream and his communication with God and transmit them to other people (p. 303). So that’s one author’s view of Sarah the matriarch and priestess: as Abraham’s secretary. The novel tells the familiar story from Genesis 11-18, which is always interesting, but even from the first chapters, in which this male writer inadequately describes the menstrual mysteries of the “chamber of blood,” which is his version of Diamant’s red tent, it’s just not a women’s book. It exhibits no feminine sensibilities; the characters do not come alive. (This is not to say that a male writer cannot create fully fleshed out female characters; many others have done so brilliantly.) If you want to know what was really going on in Canaan four thousand years ago, when Yahveh was just about to give the land to Abraham, turn to Teubal’s books, which are still available on Amazon.com. In her preface to Sarah the Priestess, Teubal explains why she wrote about the Old Testament matriarchs: The Bible is the word of God. As I reread the Genesis narratives with a newly open mind, setting aside accepted interpretation and attending only to what is actually there, I realized that it is the interpretations of the commentators, not the texts themselves, which place the stories [about Sarah] in patriarchal focus. I suggest that some of these narratives were originally tales from an oral tradition about women, and that these stories were later adapted and then modified to suit an evolving patriarchal situation clearly described in the narratives themselves (p. xii). Teubal’s scholarship is both enormous and accessible. She starts with a very close reading of Genesis, then brings in data from ancient Mesopotamian inscriptions and other resources that tell of women’s lives and the work of the priestesses. Like Halter’s novel, Teubal’s book retells Sarah’s story, but she also adds genealogical tables (both maternal and paternal lines), maps, and two dozen illustrations (goddess figures, terephim, and objects from the religions of Mesopotamia), and even a glossary that includes Hebrew, Sumerian, and Akkadian words. In Hagar the Egyptian, which is likewise scholarly and fascinating, we learn that the famous dispute between Sarah and Hagar is not a case of domestic jealousy but a matter of a legal contract. Near the end of the book, where she writes about the Islamic tradition of Hagar as Abraham’s wife, Teubal says that the Hebrew, Christian, and Islamic accounts attempt to denigrate the characters of the matriarchs in favor of the patriarchs. This is not the ‘will of God’ but the design of men. Nevertheless, we can regard the wonder of Hagar’s story in the description of her spiritual growth. Her story is a paradigm for a new social order. Hagar emerges from her initial experience as dependent human being, whose vocation is to serve the needs of others, to the establishment of herself as an independent person, the mother of a people (p. 176). 

The three Abrahamic religions have been at war with each other since the first jihads of the seventh century and against women since Paul wrote that women should be silent. These modern works give voice to the almost forgotten women of the Old Testament. Let us not call them goddesses, but let us remember that they knew the Goddess.

 ~review by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.Author: Marek HalterThree Rivers Press, 2005 
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