Who wrote the first books of the Bible? Why were they written? What if…the author was a woman? Provocative questions, but ones that are handled beautifully in this stunning book by Patricia Pfitsch.
Judith is a storyteller. She is also the daughter of a priest of Solomon and the sister of a priest in training. Unfortunately, she is also a woman. And women are as good as slaves. Judith longs for her father’s gaze to rest on her with pride, but she is always passed over in favor of her brother Seth, a gambler and a drunk. She cannot understand how Yahweh can overlook her gifts and keep her entrapped in the narrow role for which she is destined. Tamar, slave and friend to Judith, introduces her to the goddess Asherah, in whose temple Judith feels powerful and at home. Goddess-worshiping, however, is outlawed by Solomon and Tamar and Judith find themselves in horrible danger. Judith is spared by her father, but Tamar is murdered by Solomon’s soldiers and priests. The aftermath of the scene splits Judith’s family apart and drivers her further away from Yahweh, until she is approached by her cousin Samuel. Samuel, also a priest-in-training (and more…), appreciates Judith’s strong character and her ability to tell stories. He wants her to write the stories of Yahweh to bind the people together in the face of coming destruction. Judith accepts the challenge and uses it as a way to show the roles of women in the stories. She recognizes that sometimes the best way to change things is gradually, and from the inside out. By writing about the women, everyone will hear and know their strength.
For anyone woman who’s had a Judeo-Christian upbringing, this book is astonishing. The speculation that women had a much larger role in the early days of the religion is one that has cropped in a variety of books, but none have addressed the issue in a first person narrative like Pfitsch. The writing is fluid, the imagery profound. Read this.
Every summer, 20,000 people flock to Lily Dale, a tiny Victorian lakeside village of 250 year-round residents in upstate New York. Lily Dale is a town of wide porches bedecked with American flags, where neighbors help one another as a matter of course, old people are looked after and included in gatherings, children play outdoors on crime-free streets, and the citizens talk to the dead. Wicker, a former religion reporter for a newspaper in Texas, decided to find out what was really behind the Lily Dale phenomena. This is the story of her search for the truth, and it is peopled with the oddest collection of characters you ever want to meet. There’s a lady who has decorated her house with hundreds and hundreds of angels, an old woman who rides her bike everywhere and prays for everyone, the sister mediums who are the unelected queens of the Dale, and just a whole lot more. I’ve never been to Lily Dale, and reading this book made me lose my desire to go there. It sounds like just the saddest place on earth. Full of people who have given up on the real world and are looking for comfort from beyond. I think if I went there and was contacted by any spirit from my past, it would be my Gramma Fallon, who would stand in front of me, shake her finger, purse her lips and tell me to “go to church, for goodness sake!” Of course, I would probably be with my sister, Betsy, and Gramma’s message for her would undoubtedly be to “cut those shovels off the ends of your fingers!” Gram hated long fingernails.
Wicker approached the whole project with a healthy dose of skepticism, and I think she finished it the same way. She had some experiences that really couldn’t be explained away, but I think she found more smoke and mirrors than real spiritualism. I suppose the spirits will get me for this, but after reading this book, the Dale seems more like a sideshow than anything else. Disappointing.