Tag Archives: Jewish Bible

“The Ruined House: A Novel” by Ruby Namdar

Translated by Hillel Halkin. Harper. 528 pp. Hardcover $29.99.

This breathtaking tale of a prominent professor’s undoing is expertly woven with biblical passages.

Some books are so spectacularly original, so far beyond the boundaries of any reader’s expectations, and so challenging that they establish a new point of reference for any further discussions of literary achievement.

Ruby Namdar’s The Ruined House, set at the dawn of the 21st century, explores the givens of a cataclysmic era that may become a period of tumultuous cleansing. Though centered on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual disintegration of a successful, middle-aged college professor, it fully engages the new American century’s self-masking: its adulation of elites and its confusion of cultural values.

Namdar

Andrew P. Cohen, an accomplished and proud secular Jew, has tripped over the scales of hubris and found himself to be a foul beast. His aura of polite self-congratulation has become contaminated and slowly begins to smother him. His many faults, the recognition of which he has artfully hidden from himself for decades, are in the process of being revealed.

The selfishness with which he ended his marriage is exposed to him. The comfort and security he felt in his academic achievements, the physical attractiveness and health that he nurtured and in which he delighted, and his assumption of fully controlling his always upward-bound destiny are most painfully stripped away.

Namdar tells his story, almost sings it, with a lyricism that is only the richer for the hideous images that increasingly fill up Cohen’s world as he falls apart. The erotic turns into its hideous opposite. Images of grotesque tongues and penises fill his imagination.  He sees signs of what’s coming, has nightmares and incredible daydreams, and they all finally rest on how his being — if not his world — has been penetrated, irradiated, by ancient texts: sections of Old Testament with accompanying Mishnaic commentary.

This material, represented in the graphic style of the original manuscripts, focuses on the preparation of the Temple’s high priest for performing his duties during the seven days leading to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. These duties are largely rituals of purification, but also include various kinds of sacrifices — offerings to God.

Inner and outer cleansing of the self and the temple are described, along with a number of sacred objects like fire pans and candelabras. The strange ceremonial practice of purifying holy places by sprinkling them with blood is included. . . .

To read the full review, click here: The Ruined House

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King Solomon’s frailties threaten to doom his kingdom

The Judgment, by D. J. Niko. Medallion Press. 292 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.

An ambitious historical novel, The Judgment spans the years 965-925 BCE, the reign of King Solomon after the death of King David. It is a tale of gigantic personalities, huge ambition, fervent nationalism, fragile treaties, and multiple betrayals. Solomon, charged with ruling the united monarchies of the Hebrew people, is also charged with establishing David’s goal of a colossal temple in Jerusalem. It is envisioned as a place with the God of Israel will dwell, and thus its design and materials must match that aspiration.

Daphne Nikolopoulos, photography by Lauren Lieberman / LILA PHOTO

D.J. Niko

Upon visiting Egypt to make a bargain with Pharoah Psusennes II for huge quantities of gold to adorn the Temple, Solomon is smitten by the Egyptian leader’s beautiful daughter, Nicaule. The marriage between the King of the Hebrews and the Pharoah’s daughter creates an allegiance of mutual benefit to both nations. However, Nicaule – who has been forced into the marriage – is resentful of her situation, lavish though it is. She loves another, the Libyan warrior who will in time become Pharaoh Shoshenq I. He, in turn, is most desirous of her.

Nicaule’s resentment at finding herself the virtual slave of what she considers a lesser people whets her appetite for revenge. She uses her considerable sexual prowess to blind Solomon to her schemes to undermine his power. Solomon is shown to be a weak, soft, self-indulgent leader, as well as a man whose behavior suggests a loss of faith.

TheJudgment_cover

Basemath, Nicaule’s daughter by her lover Shoshenq, has been raised as Solomon’s daughter. This subterfuge was Nicaule’s first betrayal.

The novel is structured so that we meet Basemath first. That is, we first see the crisis facing the people of Israel from Egypt’s attack in 925BCE. Then we are taken back to the time of Solomon’s ascent to the throne and follow the action until we catch up with 925BCE once again – and then move forward to the resolution. This is a standard point of attack and it works well for this material.

Basemath is perhaps the only character in the novel who is truly likeable and admirable, yet she is reserved for the opening and closing sections of the novel. Other characters – certain Egyptian and Hebrew military leaders; the estimable high priest (Kohain Gadol) Zadok; the temptress Queen Makeda of Sheba; Nicaule’s friend, attendant, and counselor Irisi – are among those of ongoing interest.  Indeed, Ms. Niko populates her story with a large cast that is needed to fulfill a wide range of functions at upper and lower levels of the principals’ actions. Many are simply go-betweens; others have more important duties. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 25, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Judgment

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ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BIBLICAL RECORD

 by Bernard Alpert and Fran Alpert. Hamilton Books. 110 pages. $24.99.

Though the Alperts make great efforts to distinguish (and separately value) the world of faith from the world of scientific discovery, their compact, knowledgeable book will probably ruffle many feathers and be declared heretical by those who read the Bible literally. The findings of modern archaeology, findings that Bernard and Fran Alpert have helped make, simply demolish the Old Testament narratives as history. While the books of Moses, the prophets, and the chroniclers are treasures, they are treasures of a special kind: repositories of truth rather than fact. They provide masterful portraits and understandings of the human condition; they set down guidelines for moral and effective human interaction; and they etch the birth struggles of a civilization.

 The authors point out that there is very little archaeological evidence to support the events and personages laid out in the Bible (which here means Old Testament). What we have in that assemblage of narratives, laws, and prophecies is a magnificent attempt, assembled in the 6th century BCE, to give coherence, meaning, and status to the Israelite experience.  Divinely inspired? Perhaps. . . .

To see the full review, on the Jewish Book Council site and slated for Jewish Book World, click here: Archaeology and the Biblical Record

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