Noah Beit-Aharon is the nice Jew­ish boy behind the God­serfs epic fan­ta­sy series, pub­lished under the pen­name N. S. Dolk­ert. With the release of Among the Fall­en, the sec­ond vol­ume in the series, Noah is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

(Author’s note: in this essay, I use male pro­nouns while dis­cussing the God of the Tanakh. I do this not because I believe that God is male, but because I am talk­ing specif­i­cal­ly about the Tanakhic God, and the Tanakh uses male pronouns.)

The set­ting of my fan­ta­sy series God­serfs is heav­i­ly influ­enced by my read­ing of the Tanakh, and the world evoked by the many con­flict­ing sto­ries and tra­di­tions with­in that text. While the first two books, Silent Hall and Among the Fall­en, are rife with allu­sions and reimag­in­ings, I want to take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss three pas­sages in the Hebrew Bible that direct­ly influ­enced my writing.

Before we even begin, it is impor­tant to note that the Tanakh accepts and assumes the exis­tence of mul­ti­ple gods, besides the one true” God. In Exo­dus 12:12, God says to Moses: I will bring judg­ment on all the gods of Egypt.” Num­bers 33:4 con­firms that God exe­cut­ed judg­ments against their gods.” These oth­er unnamed gods are less awe­some (e.g. Psalms 86:8, Among the gods there is none like you, Lord”), but they’re around, oppos­ing our God and each oth­er, and gen­er­al­ly doing no good in the world.

This is also the case in my series, where the char­ac­ters begin their jour­neys as poly­the­ists com­plete­ly unaware of God Most High, in this case the ancient god of the drag­ons. That god may turn out to be more pow­er­ful than all the oth­er ones, as the name would imply, but the oth­ers are the ones that my main char­ac­ters have to wor­ry about. It’s unclear whether God Most High will pro­tect them, or is even watch­ing them at all. The Carte­sian ide­al of God as omni­scient, omnipo­tent and omnibenev­o­lent does not apply to the world of Silent Hall and Among the Fall­en, any more than it applies to the world depict­ed in Exo­dus or Kings. At any time, God Most High might not be watch­ing, might not be able to do any­thing about the char­ac­ters’ prob­lems, or might not care to.


A bib­li­cal pas­sage that par­tic­u­lar­ly stands out as inspi­ra­tion for the set­ting of the God­serfs series is this one from Exo­dus 32, where God sees the gold­en calf that the Israelites have made and decides He’s done with them:

Now leave me alone, (He says to Moses in verse 10,) so that my anger can blaze against them, and I can put an end to them! I will make a great nation out of you instead. 

This pas­sage echoes the Abra­ham­ic covenant, but with a very dark mes­sage: if made suf­fi­cient­ly angry, God is will­ing to dis­card His own peo­ple. For all the promis­es to the avot (our fore­fa­thers Abra­ham, Isaac, and Jacob) that He would make them a great nation, the fact is that the Israelites are just a means to an end, and God is will­ing to start over with one or two of them as many times as He has to.


Hop­ping back­wards a bit, let’s look at one of the strangest and most con­fus­ing scenes in the entire Bible, Exo­dus 4:24 – 26: And it came to pass on the way at the lodg­ing-place, that the Lord met [Moses] and sought to kill him. Then Zip­po­rah took a flint and cut off the fore­skin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and she said: Sure­ly a bride­groom of blood art thou to me.” So He let him alone. Then she said: A bride­groom of blood in regard of the circumcision.”

This bizarre pas­sage, known as the Bride­groom of Blood episode, has befud­dled com­men­ta­tors for cen­turies. These vers­es come imme­di­ate­ly after God fin­ish­es giv­ing Moses instruc­tions on how to speak to Pharaoh — so why, after spend­ing all this time groom­ing Moses to be His ser­vant and mes­sen­ger, would God sud­den­ly seek to kill him? How does Moses’ wife Zip­po­rah know that cir­cum­cis­ing their son is the appro­pri­ate response, and just as impor­tant­ly, why is it the appro­pri­ate response? Does God seri­ous­ly mean to kill Moses for neglect­ing to cir­cum­cise his son?

The God in this pas­sage is more than just mys­te­ri­ous, He’s ter­ri­fy­ing­ly fick­le. He may talk to you one moment and smite you the next over some­thing as small as a fore­skin. I imag­ine the pan­ic that Moses must have felt, not know­ing what he’d done wrong or how to atone for it until his wife took over and saved the day.

I brought this men­tal image to my first nov­el, where a char­ac­ter who has inad­ver­tent­ly slight­ed a god is pur­sued through the woods and begins des­per­ate­ly try­ing to atone for what­ev­er it is he’s done. I don’t want to give any spoil­ers, but here, too, the insult turns out to be small and strange. It takes some time to dis­cov­er what my char­ac­ter has done to insult this god, espe­cial­ly since, like Moses, he’s already com­mit­ted a murder.

(Peo­ple for­get that about Moses, but I think you can see why it’s Zip­po­rah and not him who fig­ures out the cir­cum­ci­sion thing. When you’ve left your home­land because you killed a man, it’s kind of hard to go, Oh, God must be mad because I neglect­ed to cir­cum­cise my son.”)

If there is any les­son to be drawn from these first two pas­sages, it is that divine jeal­ousy plus inscrutabil­i­ty equals a very fright­en­ing world for its inhab­i­tants. Such is the world my char­ac­ters inhabit.


There is one last bib­li­cal pas­sage that bears men­tion­ing. From Num­bers 10:35:

When­ev­er the ark set out, Moses said: Rise up, Lord, and your ene­mies shall scat­ter, your foes shall flee before you.

This exhor­ta­tion is cru­cial in the Jew­ish litur­gy: we hear this pas­sage when­ev­er the Torah scroll comes out of the ark on the Sab­bath, holy days, and before week­day read­ings. As Jon D. Lev­en­son points out in his excel­lent schol­ar­ly work, Cre­ation and the Per­sis­tence of Evil, the use of the imper­a­tive is cru­cial in our under­stand­ing of ancient Israelite reli­gion. The con­tin­ued exis­tence of Israel’s ene­mies — and, by exten­sion, God’s ene­mies — is seen as evi­dence of God’s delin­quen­cy, not His weak­ness or lack of exis­tence or work­ing in mys­te­ri­ous ways.” The pur­pose of prayer is to shake God from His divine com­pla­cen­cy and con­vince Him to help out.

This is also the quest under­tak­en by the char­ac­ters of Silent Hall: to awak­en” the only god that can save them from their ene­mies. That god isn’t real­ly asleep, of course, but that doesn’t make their quest any eas­i­er. They still have to get God Most High off the couch, as it were.

For those who love Bible-ref­er­ence trea­sure hunts almost as much as they like fan­ta­sy nov­els, take heart: oth­er par­al­lels and allu­sions to midrash, the Tal­mud, and Jew­ish his­to­ry are sprin­kled through­out. But if I had to choose just one les­son read­ers should take away from my writ­ing, it’s this: the Bible is a scary place to live.

Noah Beit-Aharon lives in Waltham, MA, and is a mem­ber of Tem­ple Beth Israel in Waltham. The first two install­ments of his Jew­ish-inspired epic fan­ta­sy series God­serfs, pub­lished under the pen name N. S. Dolka­rt, are avail­able in paper­back from Angry Robot Books.