In After Abel and Other Stories, author and scholar Michal Lemberger recreates the lives of nine Biblical women. In telling their tales, she enriches the voices of well known women like Miriam, and brings out from silence those less honored. Most impressive about Lemberger’s stories is her ability to place the women in their time. She does not aggrandize them or turn them into heroines. Rather, she tries to portray their lives in such a way as to give them the opportunity to explain why they took the actions that they are noted for in the Bible. It is refreshing that her stories include a wide range of biblical women — not only familiar Jewish heroines such as Miriam and Hannah, but also Hagar, Yael the Kenite, and Zeresh from the Book of Esther.
The compactness of each story makes each strong enough to stand on its own. Lemberger’s apparent decision to approach each woman as an individual prevents the collection from becoming a simplistic caricature of the life of biblical women. Reading the stories one at a time actually makes them much more satisfying. It is likely that not all stories will resonate equally with all readers. I considered the stories of Miriam (“Drawn from Water”) and Michal (“Saul’s Daughter”) to be the book’s gems. In the former, Lemberger captures the youthful Miriam with just the right balance of innocence and maturity. The latter is a most beautiful description of the power of love and hope in the face of brute power and violence. Not to be neglected is the book’s afterword in which the author gracefully explains her approach to writing and the Bible itself. Using the Book of Ruth as her template, this is a story as compelling as any others in the collection.
After Abel and Other Stories will appeal to readers with even the most basic introduction to the Biblical canon, but especially to those whose imaginations are piqued by the mystery of an untold story.
Deborah Miller received rabbinical ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter, where she serves as a hospice chaplain and teacher.