Boorstin, Paul, “David and the Philistine Woman”, Top Hat Books, 2017.
Nara and David
Nara, a young Philistine woman, has given up hope of ever finding a husband. She feels that no man will take a wife who is so much taller than he is and so she lives in isolation with her father. When she is discovered by the Philistine priests, they betroth her to Goliath, to give him warrior sons. Nara’s fate collides with that of David, who is to face Goliath in combat.
Paul Boorstin reimagines David’s story from shepherd to charismatic leader and he does so by interweaving his life not only with Nara’s, but with key Biblical characters including King Saul, and Saul’s daughter Michal, who will later become David’s wife. He is faithful to the spirit of the Bible but reads between the lines in order to bring immediacy, relevance and even greater meaning to the life of David who becomes the most beloved character in the Old Testament. This retelling of the classic story is a tale of humanity, sacrifice and compassion.
Based on chapter 17 of the first Book of Samuel, the novel gives us imagined details about background, characters, and conversations and in doing so, the text is enhanced and creative. This is the story of David before he becomes King of the Israelites and we are taken into his strained relationships with his father and brothers, and difficult encounters with the unstable King Saul. His mother (who isn’t mentioned in the Bible) plays a large role here. We read about the tentative romance between David and Michal, daughter of King Saul and the friendship between David and Jonathan, the fearless warrior son of King Saul, who is next in line for the throne. We read about David as a shepherd who wanders alone, worshipping G-d through his flock and attention to the rhythms of nature. His warrior brothers and his pious father belittle him and so he spends his days and nights praying alone. His mother, however, believes he is destined for greatness, so David isn’t surprised when he is secretly anointed by the prophet Samuel. David learns to follow his own heart and instincts to gain the confidence needed for him to be a leader.
Boorstin also looks at the four different types of worship that were prevalent at the time. The Israelites believe in the invisible one G-d whose Ten Commandments are housed in the Ark of the Covenant and protected by priests. The Philistines worship Dagon, who is depicted in menacing graven images that necessitate the constant sacrifice of animals. A hidden society of hunted women believe in the female goddess Ashdoda, a beautiful idol whose tears became powerful stones when they fell to earth; women secretly pray to her for fertility and other blessings. There are Nubian traders who worship serpents, which are tattooed onto their skin.
Goliath is a singular giant warrior and is the leader of the Philistines during their mortal fight against the Israelites. When the Dagon priests search for a bride for Goliath, they look for a woman who equals him in stature and strength to create an army of giants. Nara, who illegally forges excellent iron weapons for her father Ezel which the Philistines use against the Israelite’s lesser weapons, is that woman. The relationship with Goliath is backdrop for the ultimate battlefield meeting between David and Goliath.
I have always found David to be a fascinating character and wished that we knew more about him than the Hebrew Bible provides. He is the man God called “Beloved” yet we see here that he is totally human. Boorstin sees him as a rare hero with a complex personality and as we read about him, we face questions of religiosity, faith, and nation. David remains enigmatic and I believe that this is part of his charm.