PROPHET by Shulamith Hareven


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A nco-biblical novella of remarkably skillful description and unique theological insight. The setting of Hareven's third novel (City of Many Days, 1977; The Miracle Hater, 1988) springs from the ninth chapter of the Book of Joshua--where the Gibeonites use their wits to survive the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Continuing the role of a miracle hater, the novelist rewrites the Bible here by making the invading Hebrews inept and the Gibeonites strong. The book casts the Israelites as Woody Allen rather than Arik Sharon, and so the Amonites, not the Hebrews, are credited with destroying the fortress city of Ai. Hareven's protagonist (once again an outcast) is a crude and ineffective Gibeonite prophet named Hivai. While the brutally sensual description is reminiscent of biblical period novelists like Chayym Zeldis, Hivai's complex relationship with the Hebrews echoes the pathos of Malamud's The Assistant. Hareven's pagan prophet is a serious devotee of the gods, and the novel's weight pivots around Hivai's inability to overcome his idolatrous sensibility and to accept the Hebrew's monotheistic, intangible deity. A xenophobic attitude towards gentiles also keeps Hivai from becoming a member of the Hebrew tribe that he loyally serves. To spite himself, this same murderous Canaanite--who casually disemboweled a boy to read the future in the steaming entrails--undergoes a slow sea change. After seven years of intimate contact with the Israelites' strange ways of mercy and justice, the Gibeonite finds himself showing kindness to a sickly fellow refugee. The table is lavishly set here, and the thoughtful reader is left with many timeless themes to chew on.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1990
Publisher: North Point