With his “Women of Genesis” series, Orson Scott Card tackles the challenge of bringing ancient Biblical women  to believable life.  The author directs attention to those extraordinary women of their time, giving them prominence where the Old Testament had minimized them and bestowing on them a relevancy to readers of today.

The Author :   Orson Scott Card

Publisher: Forge Books; 1st edition (November 28, 2002)

ISBN-10: 076534128X

ISBN-13: 978-0765341280

No. of pages : 416

The Story :

Motherless at a young age, a Hebrew maiden, Rebekah,  matures early to become a beautiful, practical, intelligent, and headstrong girl with an unwavering faith in God.

As per the Biblical story,  a group of travelers spy Rebekah coming to the well.  The master among them asks for a drink, to which she readily obliges.  It is Eliezer,  a servant from the great house of Abraham who had tasked him to seek a wife for his son, Isaac, heir to the Holy Scriptures, the birthright.  Eliezer had prayed to the Lord to help point out Isaac’s would-be bride by sending him a woman who would do what was considered improper : talking to a stranger at the well; drawing water for his drink; and pouring water for his animals as well.  For Eliezer, God answers his prayers with this beautiful Hebrew maiden who does all what he had determined as signs of His choice.

Immediately, Eliezer negotiates with Bethuel, Rebekah’s father, for her hand in marriage to Isaac.  Rebekah regards the honor of being the chosen bride  for the heir of the birthright and therefore Abraham’s future daughter-in-law, as God’s will for her. Thus, she leaves her father, Bethuel, to take a coveted place in Abraham’s promised destiny of becoming the Father of Nations.

However, her awe of Abraham’s status in the eyes of the Lord quickly falls to disappointment when her headstrong and practical  personality clashes with his.  She also comes to struggle with Isaac’s low self-esteem and his tension-filled relationship with his father.  In a cultural milieu where women are subject to the will their fathers, brothers, or husband, Rebekah learns to adapt and make her way so her opinions and beliefs could be acknowledged by the men in her life.

Several years into the marriage, Rebekah’s prayers for children are answered when she conceives and gives birth to twins, Esau and Jacob.  God speaks to her through a prophecy foretelling that her second-born son, Jacob, would inherit the birthright from Isaac.  In ancient Hebrew society in which inheritances are  strictly handed  to firstborn sons, this was a gravely disturbing revelation.   As her children grow,  Esau exhibits athleticism and rashness and quickly becomes Isaac’s and Abraham’s  favorite.  Thoughtful, introspective and responsible Jacob becomes his mother’s.

All through her life, Rebekah’s character is marked by her intense faith and love of God.  Thus,  her reverance for the Scriptures  encompasses a  strong protective regard for them.   It is her belief that the heir of the Holy Scripture or birthright should be the son who is most likely to ensure its sanctity and preservation through the generations.   Esau , being a more physically oriented man, is wholly uninterested in the scrolls, while Jacob reads and studies them.   With her strong conviction of the worthiness of Jacob and her realization that the prophecy should come to pass, Rebekah contrives to fool Isaac, by now,  old and blind,  into conferring the blessing on Jacob.  She succeeds and so we have a story that segues into a story of Jacob, which is dealt with in a separate book.

The Review :

This is a lovely story of faith and fortitude against cultural odds.  The lot of women in the Old Testament is often a subservient one in a very patriarchal culture.  Women in the Bible, therefore, have mostly served as supporting roles to the Biblical male stars.  With very few exceptions like Eve,  they are often overlooked and their importance denigrated in Biblical history.  (But although Eve has a prominent role in the Genesis, it is a dark one,  that of being credited to have caused man’s downfall and his original sin.)

Orson Scott Card has successfully taken this biblical one-dimensionally drawn female character, Rebekah,  and given her a very plausible personality that explains her actions and her daring decisions, that of leaving her family and traveling miles to marry a man she has never met,  deceiving her husband and betraying her firstborn son of the birthright which by religious and cultural laws was Esau’s to inherit.   Card’s  Rebekah seems like a woman out of our century; but then, it may be because a strong woman’s nature may not be all that inherently different despite time and change.

What is astonishing, though, is Card’s depiction of two very important Genesis characters : Abraham and Isaac.  He delves into what must have been a traumatizing experience  for the sacrificial Isaac and imagines what his psyche might have been after almost being served up to God.   He creatively comes up with a realistic probability that Isaac, who had to face near death by the hand of his own father,  must have been emotionally scarred for life.  So, he  takes this premise and depicts Isaac as suffering from low self-esteem with constant craving for approval from Abraham.  His poor self image carries on to affect how he relates with his sons, Jacob and Esau,  his father,  Abraham and his wife, Rebekah. 

In Card’s story, Abraham, despite being God’s chosen one, is still subject to human frailties.  As an ordinary man, he has high regard for manliness (meaning physical prowess, brashness, fearlessness—traits of a “true man”) and thus cannot help but be disappointed in his mild-mannered, introverted, quiet heir and proud of his other son, Ishmael, who exhibits all these enviable qualities.

With all these human flaws and strengths imbued in his characters, Card relates the dynamics of relationships within this ancient Biblical family, producing a very interesting humanistic story that brings the Bible’s account into contemporary understanding and empathy.

To Read Or Not To Read :

I must commend the author for his vivid imaginations of the story behind the bland skeletal account written in the Bible.   Indeed,  his purpose  must be to influence the reader to see beyond the Biblical story and actually appreciate the trials and tribulations those Biblical people must have gone through in their love and absolute faith in the Lord, meriting their lives’ immortalization for thousands of years in the Holy Scripture.  The reader is persuaded to see Rebekah, Isaac, Abraham, Jacob, Esau, et. al. as “real people” whose actions and choices were driven by the same factors that drive many of us today.

The intense faith in God by the characters whose lives were dedicated to serving His will is palpable in the novel and is quite humbling if one compares  it to today’s degree of faith.

This novel may lead you to a much better appreciation of the Old Testament stories.   As an engaging read, this should be in your list of fruitful things to pass your time with.

My Mark :  Outstanding

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