hebrew english



1.From a few short lines in the Bible springs forth The Song of Hannah, an imaginative, carefully wrought tale of two women destined to love and marry the same man. From their concurrent (but far from harmonious) marriages they bring forth into the world a large, powerful family and one famous son: the prophet Samuel, leader and judge of the Israelites.

Hannah and Pninah are childhood friends, studying the Torah together and confiding in one another their blossoming dreams and desires. Hannah, beautiful and wise beyond her years, feels innately that she is destined to accomplish something great in the service of God, and that this destiny is tied to one man in particular—one man she has yet to meet. Pninah, on the other hand, though earthy and sensual, feels lost and directionless, overshadowed by the beauty of her sister Hagith and her best friend Hannah. So when she meets the good-looking and powerfully charismatic Elkanah, and marries him, her life finally seems to make sense . . . until Elkanah meets Hannah, and decides to take her as his second wife.

Pninah and Hannah, the two wildly different protagonists of The Song of Hannah, battle one another over a lifetime for Elkanah's affections and his offspring. The overly fertile Pninah bears children in rapid succession until it almost kills her, while Hannah finds herself barren for the first years of her marriage. Hannah has all of Elkanah's love and devotion, with nothing to show for it, while Pninah finds herself the object of Elkanah's lust . . . and mother of his growing brood of children. Eventually Hannah bears Elkanah a son, Samuel, Pninah finds affection and appreciation with a Canaanite lover, and over time the two women become allies of sorts, as they raise a formidable clan who will carry Elkanah's name for generations to come. Samuel, the most famous of them, tortured by his sinful love for Pninah, who is prohibited to him by Torah law, will lead his people against the Philistines, rule as a wise judge over the Israelites in time of peace, and anoint Kings Saul and David in his lifetime.

A biblical story with a feminist twist, but primarily a study in human nature, it brings to life the world of the Old Testament with a cast of captivating, enigmatic characters. In the tradition of Anita Diament's The Red Tent , this is not a mere retelling of a story from the Bible, but a wholly new and original imagining.

Discussion Questions 1. In the Bible, Pninah is given short mention only as Elkanah's "other" wife, and Hannah's adversary. Hannah herself appears briefly as Elkanah's beloved wife, at first a barren woman and then as the mother of Samuel, and the "speaker" of a psalm titled "The Song of Hannah." The biblical characters of Pninah and Hannah are are merely vehicles for a plot, necessary in that through Pninah's taunting and provocation, Hannah appeals to the Lord for a son, her prayer is answered, and Samuel is born to lead and judge the Israelites. Discuss the ways in which the author, Eva Etzioni-Halevy, has developed rich, complex characters from such a fleeting moment in the Bible—how effective and believable are these characters, and what makes us care about these women? What do you believe prompted and motivated Etzioni-Halevy to write about them?

2. In the tradition of The Red Tent, this book takes a few scant lines from the Bible and from them creates an opulent, intricate romantic plot, replete with flawed protagonists, heightened dramatic situations, enemies who turn out to be allies, and true villains. In what way does such an interpretation help or confound our understanding of the Bible? Is such an interpretation intended merely for entertainment value? What do you believe Etzioni-Halevy's intentions are—who is her target audience and what feminist and other message is she trying to get across?

3. By alternating between Hannah and Pninah's point of view, each chapter not only delivers a new portion of the story, but a new perspective on a shared situation. Compare the Book of Hannah with the Book of Pninah. How do the two scrolls work hand in hand to reveal the story of this family? In what ways do the differences between them work against one another? How different or similar are the narrating voices? What makes them believable?

4. Early in the novel, Pninah reveals herself to be the more sensual, earthy, and, perhaps, more "flawed" of the two female protagonists. Discuss how her character develops over the course of the novel - in what ways do we see her character change as a result of her life lessons, and in what ways does her character remain constant? What are her redeeming qualities? Which is the least likeable aspect of her personality? How is she necessary to our understanding of Hannah's character?

5. Hannah is a beautiful, intelligent woman and the least sinful of the two female protagonists. Yet what traits or actions keep her human, and ultimately make her a sympathetic character? Discuss her initial inability to conceive, and her profound inability to understand the physical, sensual allure of her rival, Pninah. How does her barren state test and prove her faith, and how is her jealousy a tragic flaw? Does she redeem herself to the reader after "stealing" the affections of Pninah's husband, Elkanah?

6. Describe and analyze Elkanah—is he a likeable character? Does he have any redeeming value, as a man, from our modern perspective? How easy or difficult is it for us to accept his choice of two wives, and then his continuing infidelity? Do we, as readers, fall for his charm and charisma as easily as his wives do? He appreciates Pninah—but does he love her? What makes us believe he truly loves Hannah? (For that matter—do we believe that he does truly love her?) Compare and contrast his relationships with both Hannah and Pninah, and discuss what those relationships reveal about him.

7. Compare and contrast Pninah's relationships with Elkanah, Arnon, and Samuel. Discuss the ways in which she loves and depends on each man. What does she get from each relationship, and how does each man fall short of fulfilling her needs? In particular, discuss her relationship with Samuel, and its development. How (or is) their attachment to one another believable? How does their age difference, and their social and familial standing—she, the wife of his own father—affect our acceptance of their love?

8. Samuel is a prominent and important figure in the Bible—a leader, a prophet, and a judge. Discuss his birth and his upbringing as described in the novel—what other prominent persons in the Bible does his life prefigure? Consider his life as Hannah and Elkanah viewed it: Do you believe Samuel became prophetic and wise because he was fated to be so, as Hannah believed, or did he become that way because he was "given to the Lord" immediately after weaning, as Elkanah believed? Discuss also how Etzioni-Halevy makes the character of Samuel less sacred, and more human, (and therefore, more sympathetic and accessible) to modern readers. How do we view him at the close of the book?

9. Discuss the Philistine captain Patrussim's treatment of Pninah's sons during Israel's first war with the Philistines. How plausible was this benevolent and generous gesture? Discuss the effect Pninah's actions—her encampment on the hill overlooking the road—had on fulfilling Samuel's prophecy regarding her sons' lives. What was your reaction when she continued her infidelity after the war ended? Discuss Samuel's reaction to her perpetuation of the affair.

10. How effective is the author in capturing the Old Testament world? Evaluate the author's ability to convincingly convey the landscape, the social setting and religious tradition surrounding these characters, and their everyday lives. What kind of scope do you imagine this kind of writing entails? What kind of research? How successfully does the author weave together factual information and creative vision?

11. Barrenness and fertility are recurring themes not only in this book, but in the Bible itself. Sarah, wife of Abraham, was barren until God interceded late in her life. Rachel, from whom the characters in this novel descended, was also barren at one point, but then granted children by the grace of God. Discuss the ways in which Hannah follows in this tradition. Also consider the ways in which Etzioni-Halevy uses these themes beyond their literal meaning—where else, besides in the act of childbearing, do themes of fertility and barrenness appear? (for instance, characters who are "emotionally barren" or "emotionally fertile").

12. In what ways is this book a "feminist" interpretation of the Bible, and in what ways does it transcend this notion of feminism? Consider the ways in which it examines female relationships, and the ways it deals with male/female relationships. Could it be called a study in human character, or is its focus primarily female?