After Abel and Other Stories by Michel Lemberger (Prospect Park Publishing, 2015) is a collection of short stories about women in the Old Testament that may often be overlooked. Lemberger attaches emotions, motive, and/or backstory to bring these women to life and help us consider just what these event may have been like.
Here are a few thoughts about the nine stories.
- “After Abel”. How did Eve feel when she learned her son died? My favorite line is that being the mother of all living also means that she is mother of all the dead too.
- “Lot’s Wife”. Lot’s wife flees to protect her daughters, lighting the city on fire behind her. I didn’t quite understand this story, and it didn’t seem to follow my understanding of Sodom and Gomorrah.
- “Drawn from the Water”. Moses’ sister follows the basket her mother made. I loved how this story gave the young girl’s perspective.
- “The Watery Season”. Hagar’s story feels a little bit confused. She is portrayed as simple minded, so the characterization and narration felt realistic in that regard. I did not particularly like the Abraham and Sarah here depicted. They were pretty cruel!
- “Zeresh, His Wife”. This tells the story of the wife of Haman, the servant of the King of Persia who plotted against the Jews, only to find out that the wife of the king, Esther, was a Jew. This was a heartbreaking story, showing how women had very little influence over their own lives.
- “City of Refuge”. In this story, Yaol crushes the head of Sisera with a hammer while he sleeps, thus stopping the war between Sisera’s people and Israel. It is a fascinating look at what such an action would mean for a woman as contrasted with the tradition of Israel and her “heroic status” as depicted in the scriptures.
- “Shiloh”. Telling the story of Elkanah’s second wife, Peninniah, gives us a contrast between this dutiful second wife’s life with that of the beloved first wife, Hannah. Peninniah was a hard worker who also bore children, and of course, Hannah eventually does too (the future prophet Samuel). But no matter how much she tries, she never feels the love that Elkanah pours onto Hannah. This gives such a realistic perspective to how these slighted women must have felt.
- “Saul’s Daughter”. I need to read more about the story of Michel, the daughter of Saul, to fully understand this story. The bottom line is that Saul banishes his daughter Michel (who is married to David). She is sent to small town and remarried to a good but quiet man. Soon, however, David overthrows Saul, and he seeks out Michel to claim her. This story is told from the perspective of this second husband and I loved the depiction of a simple loving relationship between them. Did Michel even want to go back to being a queen? To David, who had abandoned her?
- “And All the Land Between Them”. In this story, the mighty Caleb promises his daughter Achsah in marriage to the man who can defeat the Canaanites in the town of Debir. When someone finally succeeds, his wily daughter gets Caleb to give her Debir and the rest of the land as a dowry, a fine comeuppance since Caleb had married her off without her permission. I liked how Achsah stood up for herself in this story.
After finishing the stories in After Abel, I wanted more. I’ll certainly consider the seldom mentioned women in the future as I read scripture.