1.How do you view The Song of Hannah—as a story designed for entertainment, a study in religion, feminism, or humanism? What were your intentions when you set out to write this novel?
I see it first and foremost as a novel written by a woman, about women. It presents a sensual, gripping story of love, jealousy, revenge and redemption designed for reading pleasure.
It consists of a biblical story, and as such there is inevitably some religion in it. But it is not intended as an "inspirational" book. Instead, it is intended to bring the biblical characters to life, by depicting them as real persons who are close to us in their hopes and anxieties, as people with whom we can identify.
Women, who lived some three thousand years ago, cannot be presented as feminists in the modern sense of the term. But by letting them speak in their own voices, and showing that some of their concerns sprang from living in a male-dominated society, as is the case also with present-day women, The Song of Hannah conveys a feminist message, though in an unobtrusive manner.
2. Describe the process of writing this work of fiction.
The writing of the novel was quick and easy, as if it were writing itself. It's the REWRITING that took some three years. Not having had any previous experience in writing novels, I had to learn the craft, and did so by taking on board incredibly helpful comments from a large number of people. On their basis I turned the first draft into a second draft, and then into a third one, and so on, too many times to even remember.
3. Did the characters take the novel in any unexpected directions—even though the Bible already predetermined some of the events in their lives?
They certainly did. I initially intended to build the plot around a hostile relationship between the Prophet Samuel and Pninah, his mother's rival. But the characters would not cooperate, and it came out the very opposite from what I intended.
4. Currently a scholar and professor in Tel-Aviv, you come from a background as complex as that of your characters in Song of Hannah . How did your personal, religious and intellectual background influence your creation of this novel?
I was born in Vienna, Austria and managed to flee the country as a small child with my parents, shortly after the advent of the Nazi regime there; I spent the war years in Italy, partly in a concentration camp and partly in hiding; so I am a holocaust survivor. After the war I reached what was then Palestine, where I obtained a large part of my education in a religious boarding school. I lived most of my life in Israel, but spent two lengthy stretches of time in other countries, one in the U.S. and one in Australia. Eventually, some fifteen years ago, I decided to return to Israel to seek my roots there. Following a lengthy academic career in various universities I was appointed Professor of Sociology at Bar-Ilan University, where I am now Professor emeritus. As part of searching for my roots, I returned to the religious orientation I had previously abandoned. It is this roots-seeking process that also led me to the discovery of the rich world of the Bible, and to the intention of bringing it to life for contemporary readers through the writing of biblical novels.
Beyond this, my intent was to step out of the scholarly environment in whose framework I had been writing for so long, and write some light fiction that would make for enjoyable reading.
5. Do you see any contradiction between being a religious person and writing a biblical novel that has erotic elements in it and endows biblical heroines and heroes with sensuality?
Some people may see this as contradictory, but I do not. Certainly there is no attempt in the Bible to sweep sexuality under the carpet, or to conceal the fact that even the most exalted of its heroes (patriarchs, kings, and prophets alike, including even Moses), where only human in their private lives.
6. The Song of Hannah ties together historical and biblical information fairly seamlessly. What kind of research and study did you have to do in order to complete the book?
Quite a bit of research went into the writing of the book: I consulted a large number of written scholarly sources about the social setting in which the story took place, and scoured the Bible itself over and over again for any hints it may yield about foods and spices consumed, "cosmetics" used by women, clothing worn, and family and social structure. Research also included visiting excavations in various parts of Israel, which show what houses looked like at the time and how their internal space was divided, how the household tasks of grinding flour, cooking and baking were performed, and how ancient temples were constructed and laid out. Finally research included visiting museums, in which various artifacts used at the time, such as clay bowls, glass vessels, mirrors, silver pieces (the ancient equivalent of money), and the like are displayed.
The main point about this research, however, is, that it had to be concealed rather than displayed, so that the reader would not be aware that it went into the writing of the book.
7. Compare the process of writing a work of fiction of this scale - to the process of creating the scholarly texts you have authored in the past.
One of the main differences is, in fact, that in a scholarly work the research done has to be displayed, emphasized and documented through a large number of footnotes and references, which are evidently taboo in a novel.
Beyond that, the writing of both a scholarly work and a novel entails a creative process. But as I see it, in scholarly work creativity is interlaced with analytical thought, while in the writing of fiction the creative process is more imaginative, and entails a vastly greater degree of emotional involvement.
8. Will you be writing any more books along the same vein? How much of a "need" do you see for these kinds of reinterpretations—or interpretative extensions—of the Bible?
My next novels are also love stories of women in the Bible, with a feminist twist. I think that novels of this kind do fulfill a need with contemporary readers, in making the Book of Books more accessible and bringing its fascinating characters closer to their hearts. The Bible, the greatest bestseller of all times, has long held a special fascination for people of different faiths and for both religious and non-religious people, not only because of its religious message, but also because of its incredible beauty as a collection of literary works and its very human characters. But these are presented only briefly, and much about them and their lives is left a mystery. A biblical novel can help spark the readers' imagination, by offering its own interpretation in unraveling that mystery.
This goes even more so for women in the Bible. The Bible has been written chiefly about men from a male viewpoint. A biblical novel written by a woman about women can help fill the gap by presenting the women who do appear from a feminine perspective, thus letting them speak for themselves.