“The Scroll” by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh— Surviving Masada

Vamosh, Feinberg Miriam. ”The Scroll”, The Toby Press, 2019.

Surviving Masada

Amos Lassen

“The Scroll” is a multi-generational historical novel about those who survived the downfall of Masada. It is based upon the divorce document of a woman named Miriam and this document was an authentic archaeological find. Writer Miriam Vamosh has written a fictionalized account of that last final day when enemies brought about the downfall of Masada, the last Jewish fortress. Those who survived were forced to choose between nation and family and between life and death. “The Scroll’ is about an event that happened thousands of years ago and yet it tells about sheds the complexities of modern Israeli society and the dilemmas faced by Israel and its leaders today

Using the historical find of a divorce document issued at Masada and the events in Jewish history during Roman period and a fictionalized life of Miriam, who apparently was a woman during that time period that was named on the divorce document, gives us a story that not only is intergenerational but a look at Israeli society then and now. It is not necessary to know what happened at Masada or about the divorce scroll or even Jewish history before reading the story. The author has done extensive research for us and sets the story in its place in history. The story is in the third person  as a narrative perspective of Miriam and there are several other perspectives as well. The shifting narratives can be a bit confusing until the reader understands why the book is structures that way. It just makes it easier to connect with all the characters during their struggles. This is historical fiction in every sense of the definition.

Author Vamosh takes a direct look at the Jewish side of the story at Masada and she gives vivid descriptions of places and people and they enhance the plot. She does a wonderful job describing biblical times or how we think they were. I kept a Biblical atlas of Masada nearby as I read and I found myself consulting it often simply because I wanted to know a bit more.
Miriam was brave in ways we would never have thought about especially during the time period when she lived.  She had to fight to stay alive and I believe that this is what made her such an endearing character. We also see that times have not changed that much for women and not just for women. We still feel the desires for religious takeovers, the hunger for power, the needs and struggles to survive and the wrong  people in government. “The Scroll” shines a light on Masada at the time the last of the Jewish defenders held the fortress against Rome’s legions. Although nothing more is known of the historical Miriam named in the scroll, Vamosh draws on her own knowledge of the period to create story that is entertaining and educational and believable.

Miriam Vamosh  helps us connect with those who were caught in events that they could not control. She introduces us to characters of the eastern Mediterranean world including women seeking to keep their families intact; merchants looking for profits and the best way to help their communities survive; sons and daughters aware of their roles in the family, yet seeking their own independence and children overcome by forces they cannot understand. Vamosh gives us Jewish characters that are living in a gentile world and are set apart by decree because of their identity.

The time period of the story contains the seeds of Jewish identity and existence as it evolved to the present day.

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