Thursday, April 1, 2004

Hadassah: Biblical Fiction, Queen Esther's Memoir

Author Tommy Tenney brings a fascinating biblical story to life with his new novel, Hadassah: One Night With the King. This novel blends Bible history--the Old Testament story of Esther—with the historical setting of Ancient Persia, for a more detailed account of Esther, Mordecai, King Xerxes and Haman, the major characters of the Bible story.

The book’s plot tie-in seems rather corny at first: a young woman in modern-day Israel brought into a secret room near the Dead Sea Scrolls, to read an ancient text kept within a family-line for thousands of years. The ancient text is written by none other than Queen Esther, her memoir to a young Jewish woman who finds herself a Queen-candidate, as Esther once had been.

The modern-day tie-in is kept to a minimum, though, and the story—mostly in first-person narrative, written to a specific person—soon begins. Hadassah starts out slowly, detailing Esther’s early life, but soon develops some interesting twists and character connections that become important later on. Even Haman has an interesting story, yet one perhaps not too far from the truth; as my study Bible notes, Bible scholars believe that Haman the Agagite may have been descended from the Amalekites, and specifically from King Agag.

Much of Hadassah’s story details life at the Persian Court, including her entry into the Queen-contest, the year of beauty treatments, and her developing relationship to God – always spelled without syllables (G-d and YHWH) in the style of the ancient Hebrews. The major events of the biblical story happen towards the end, for a climax that is well known yet exciting to read in detail, as the pieces fall into place and we enjoy anew Esther’s famous quote "If I Perish, I Perish."

The author presents an Esther not readily discernible from the pages of Scripture: one who comes to take her faith seriously even before becoming Queen, an Esther who did not enter the contest voluntarily. As with other Biblical fiction, several fictional characters are introduced, including Jesse, a lifelong friend; his mother Rachel; and head Eunuch, Hegai, who has charge of the Queen contestants.

The historical setting includes the basic life and culture of Ancient Persia – mainly the court life rather than that of the common folk. The capital, Susa, is impressive indeed, a place with seemingly endless riches as well as dangers and court intrigue. Hadassah also introduces actual Persian history with an account of the Battle of Salamis (480 BC), a kingdom at its peak that experienced great defeat against the rising Greeks. A fictional element—a description of Haman’s symbol, the "twisted cross" (clearly a description of Hitler’s swastika)—has its basis (though not mentioned in the story) in early crucifixions done by the Medes and Persians.

The one detracting element in Hadassah: One Night With the King is its theology, which seems out of place for an Old Testament, pre-Christian era. Certainly the understanding of a God who knows and suffers pain, and can be addressed affectionately as "Father," is a New Testament concept not revealed in earlier days. This was also a time when the Holy Spirit, God’s presence with the believer, was a rarity – several hundred years before the events of Pentecost.

The overall story, though, is quite intriguing: memorable from the Bible tale, yet new and different, with an exciting plot and interesting look at this period of ancient history. Hadassah: One Night With the King is a nice addition to the genre of Biblical Historical Fiction.

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