Soaked in Bible

The Bible has come back into fashion. Recently, several fiction and non-fiction books have been published that deal with biblical figures and provide new, contemporary interpretations of their behavior and character. They include "Melachim Gimmel" ("Kings III") by Yochi Brandes as well as Yair Lapid's "Hagiborim Sheli" ("My Heroes"), in which Lapid addresses biblical figures like Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Moses, Samuel and Saul. In a few months Meir Shalev will publish his latest book, which will feature a collection of personal articles about the Bible. This book is an unofficial sequel to his "Bible Now," published in 1985, the first in a series of secular, literary Hebrew books about the Bible.

In the U.S. the genre of biblical fiction has been thriving for years. One notable example, "The Red Tent," by Anita Diamant, tells a different story about Dina, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, and her relations with Shechem ben-Hamor. Shlomit Abramson adopts a similar approach in her book "Ma'ase Tamar" ("Tamar's action," in Hebrew) about Judah's wife. To this list can be added Hagai Dagan's thriller, "The King Has No House," which tells the story of a Jewish cult that considers King Saul to be its founder; David Grossman's "Lion's Honey," a psychological interpretation of the tale of Samson; and Dov Elbaum's "Masa el He'halal Ha'panui" ("Traveling into open space," in Hebrew).

Yediot Sfarim has also launched its "Am Hasefer" project, which will publish new releases of 24 books the publishers define as fundamental to Jewish and Hebrew culture, from the Bible to the Mishna to Haim Nahman Bialik to S.Y. Agnon.

But this secular interest in the Bible does not always please religious readers. Three weeks ago, Uriah Kennig slammed Lapid's book in the religious newspaper Makor Rishon. While Kennig took Lapid to task for a number of "inaccuracies" he discovered in the book, it seems like Lapid's book would have roused antagonism in certain sectors of religious society - even if it had been absolutely precise. And that antagonism has nothing to do with Lapid's secularism.

Secular Israel's preoccupation with its Jewish bookshelf appears to satisfy a need for spiritual and cultural significance. "There are a growing number of books and lectures on the Bible, and they attract large audiences," Meir Shalev observes. "This could indicate a great thirst for the Bible. No matter what anyone says, the Bible contains wonderful stories, incredible writers, and the secret of reduction, which we have nearly forgotten. People are interested in Jewish content that does not come from preachers, the religious establishment, religious parties or political rabbis, but from someone like them."

Brandes refers to those authors who write about the Bible as "Mikraists" (Bible experts), among whom he counts Zeruya Shalev, Shifra Horn, Yehudit Rotem, Mira Magen and others. "A growing number of writers connect and engage in dialogue with the Bible," she says. "They actually represent a type of commentator. Meir Shalev is a truly biblical writer, but it is just as impossible to understand A.B. Yehoshua's 'Mr. Mani' without addressing the biblical context of the father-in-law's relations with his daughter-in-law, Judah and Tamar. It is soaked in Bible."