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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Interview with Eva Etzioni-Halevy

I had the opportunity to ask Eva some questions about The Triumph of Deborah as well as the other books she has written. There is some great historical information provided as well as insight into her feelings about characters, the stories, and how they are still relevant today. Please read on to enjoy some insightful answers!

You have written three books now about strong women (The Song of Hannah, The Garden of Ruth and The Triumph of Deborah). How did you choose these women to write about and what drew you to their stories?

In recent years, I began to read the Bible on my own, and found it to be fascinating: full of the most dramatic and the most traumatic stories about people who lived thousands of years ago, and yet are so similar to us in their anxieties, hopes and desires. I began to identify in particular with the women and I felt as if I knew them personally and they had become part of me.

So I began to write about them as I believe they deserve to be written about: stories of love, betrayal and redemption with twisting plots, written first and foremost for reading pleasure that are yet totally faithful to the Scripture.

This goes especially for my latest novel The Triumph of Deborah.

The biblical Deborah was a national leader and deeply adored by the people. But what attracted me to write about her was not only her prominence, but also her most amazing story, as recounted in the Bible.

In ancient Israel war is looming. Leader Deborah orders warrior Barak to launch a strike against the neighboring Canaanites who threaten their people with destruction.

The Scripture tells us that when Deborah sent Barak to go out to war against the Canaanites, he did something rather unusual: he demanded that she accompany him to the battlefield. Three thousand years ago--a woman in the battlefield? Very strange.

I asked myself: why did he want her there?

Moreover, the scripture further tells us that she ended up going with him to his hometown as well. Yet she was a married woman, and there is nothing to indicate that husband Lapidoth accompanied her.

As I read the story in the Bible, I began wondering: what did her husband have to say to that excursion? What would any husband say if his wife suddenly went off to distant parts with another man, leaving him to do the babysitting? It makes good sense that this created marital problems between them. Would they be able to overcome those problems?

Further, I wondered what transpired between Deborah and Barak when they were together with no husband in sight?

These were the aspects of Deborah's story that I found most compelling, and they prompted me to write the novel about her.

A large portion of The Triumph of Deborah focuses on two other women, Asherah and Nogah. Were these characters that you created or are these historical women as well?

Asherah and Nogah are characters that I created but I did so on the basis of some hints in the Scripture. Barak goes out to war against the much superior military power of the Canaanites. Yet, against all odds he returns triumphant. Subsequently, it says, "Barak bring in your captives."

I found this sentence odd and intriguing as well. At that time there were many wars and loads of captives, yet they are not mentioned. So why does the biblical text focus on these in particular? I thought that there must have been something pretty special about them, to make the Bible pay attention to them. So in my novel I made them be two daughters of the defeated Canaanite king. The novel then describes the intricate, twisting relations that develop between Barak and the two princesses, of which Deborah also becomes part.

The stories of these women, even though they lived centuries ago, are still very relevant today. With a change of scenery they could be women living in any metropolitan city. What can these women of the past teach women of today?

There is a fascinating paradox in the Bible: The women lived in a male-dominated society, in which they had few legal rights and their position in the family and society was far from equal to that of men.

At the same time they were strong personalities, who did not just sit around and bemoan their fate. Instead, they took destiny in their own hands and shaped it to do their bidding.

Deborah is a prime example. Following the lead in the Book of Judges, my novel pays tribute to her feminine strength, from which women today may derive inspiration. Despite the difficult conditions for women prevailing at the time, she "cracked the glass ceiling" over three thousand years ago, without losing her femininity.

What contemporary readers and particularly women can learn from biblical women, especially Deborah, is that if she could do it then, they can do it now. No matter what the field in which they choose to realize their potential, no matter what is right for them, they can draw on their inner strength to achieve their goals.

On your website you tell us that you are working on a new novel tentatively titled The Ruse of Tamar. Is there anything you can tell us about this upcoming work?

I am now writing a novel about Tamar (the second Tamar in the Bible), the daughter of King David, who was the victim of incestuous rape by her brother. I want to show her trauma and how she rebuilt her life afterward, but I am still struggling with this and it is still far from publication.

Thank you so much Eva for these amazing answers. I feel like I have learned a lot about figures and a time that I didn’t know much about!
Eva was born in Vienna, Austria, but was fortunate to escape as a small child with her parents in 1939. They spent the war years in Italy, partly in an Italian concentration camp, and after the Germans conquered the northern part of Italy, in hiding.

Having survived the holocaust in this manner, they reached what was then Palestine after the war. She grew up in a religious boarding school, after which she studied Sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and later at Tel-Aviv University, where she was awarded her PhD.

She lived most of her life in Israel, but spent two lengthy stretches of time in other countries, one in the U.S. and one in Australia. Eventually, some twenty years ago, she decided to return to Israel to seek her roots there.

As part of searching for her roots, she returned to the religious orientation she had previously abandoned. It is this roots-seeking process that also led her to the discovery of the rich world of the Bible, and to the intention of bringing it to life for contemporary readers through the writing of biblical novels.

She has three grown up children: two sons and a daughter and lives with her husband in Tel-Aviv.

You can visit Eva at her website for more information about her books.

Copyright © 2009-2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Great interview, I really liked your questions! :)

  2. Great interview, I loved The Triumph of Deborah. Eva is an amazing woman. She breathed life into Deborah and made her so interesting. I want to read her other books.

  3. I loved the interview Heather:) There is Absolutely a relevance with the women in the Bible and their lives- with the women of today. I really believe that. I love it that this author was able to link that and make readers aware of their strengths and valor. wonderful!

  4. I love this interview!! You did a really good job with your questions, Heather! This is one more author I am going to have to check out because of you. BTW - I just noticed that for some reason you weren't on my blogroll before! So I have rectified the situation, and you are now on there :)

  5. Excellent interview Heather.
    Although women didn't have many rights then, these women did rise above their hardships to do great things. They were leaders in their own families as well. It's a shame there aren't more of these women in history, or maybe they haven't been discovered yet? Deborah wasn't what I expected, but I will definitely check out her other stories.


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