Check out the cover of my second historical novel about the biblical prophet Daniel. I love that it is a picture of a lion in glazed brick taken from a reconstructed section of Nebuchadnezzar's Processional Way in Babylon.
Signed copies are available in the local authors' section near the front door of Reader's Guide Used & New Books at 735 Edgewater NW, Salem, OR 97304 (503/588-3166).
I felt led to write an historically precise account of Queen Esther’s life set in the ancient Near East, but had no real idea of how to go about it. I took Hebrew in college, so the first thing I did was to do an English translate of the Book of Esther found in the Hebrew Bible. I was already somewhat familiar with the history of the ancient Near East as it related to the Bible, but now set out to learn all I could about Medes and the Persians. I discovered The Histories, written by Herodotus during the fifth century BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, which records the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures known around the Mediterranean and Western Asia during that time including his fascinating account regarding the rise of the Persian Empire.
This was all well and good, but the more I read the more I realized the names of these Persians might be in Old Persian, Elamite, Akkadian, Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek and then transliterated into English. Somehow I had to keep the players straight. I started making genealogical charts to get a handle on the people and what their relationships were to one another. I knew I had the outline of a story, but was still not sure how to tie it together to make a lasting difference to a reader.
Then I hit pay dirt. The biblical Esther’s husband, King Xerxes, was the eldest son of King Darius and Queen Atossa. His mother was the daughter of the legendary King Cyrus. The Book of Esther refers to the queen mother, whom I now knew was Queen Atossa. Women in Ancient Persia (559-331BC) by Maria Brosius confirmed Atossa was the daughter of the founder of the Persian Empire and was married to the next two kings, her brother Cambyses and cousin Darius. Yes, I did have something new to say. The backstory to Esther’s life and experiences were perhaps even more riveting than the biblical account.
Now all I had to do was tie up all the details of every other aspect of the story, including a chronological account of the people and events recorded in the Book of Esther over a twelve-year period. The good news is that the Persians were extraordinary record keepers; the bad news is that any historical record is at whim of the one recording it and the caprice of archaeological discoveries.
In addition, if a king’s life gets messy, only the official version is likely to be recorded. To find any record of the daily lives of noblemen is rare, and near impossible for women and children. So we writers of historical fiction need to sympathetically imagine what life would have been like for a character living in the period of time that we have submerged ourselves in. Then when you think you’ll never get out of the quagmire of who they were or what they were like you’ve found yourself in, you make your best bet and move on. Because even in our current digital age, no one can know everything about anyone even a compulsive blogger.
And if you are really on a roll, you’ll discover other works that help you fill in the blanks such as what would your characters would have worn. In my case, Florence Eloise Petzel’s fabulous book on Textiles of Ancient Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt and Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian & Persian Costume by Mary G. Houston gave me some idea. What would they have eaten? Food in Antiquity by Don Brothwell and Patricia Brothwell to the rescue. What was travel and technology like? Travel in the Ancient World by Lionel Casson, and Technology in the Ancient World by Henry Hodges helped me see the way. What would life have been like in a Persian harem living in Susa, Babylon, or Persepolis? The World of the Persians by J. A. du Gobineau, Forgotten Empire edited by John E. Curtis and Nigel Tallis, Flames Over Persepolis by Mortimer Wheeler, The Royal City of Susa edited by Prudence O. Harper, Joan Aruz, and Francoise Tallon, Persepolis by Donald N. Wilber, Civilization Before Greece and Rome by H.W.E. Saggs, Mesopotamian Civilization by D.T. Potts, Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia by Jean Bottero gave me the tools needed to make an educated guess about Esther’s life in the Persian royal harem before and after she became queen.
To learn more about the backstory to Esther’s Song, please come and hear me speak on the subject at 11:45am in Anderson B on Saturday, September 28, 2013. When Salem Public Library is presenting Authorama, their second annual author fair, from 11am to 4pm at the Central Library, 585 Liberty St. SE, Salem, OR.
I will be one of forty authors displaying and selling their works and giving short presentations. This is a chance to discover new writers and maybe even win a raffle prize. The program is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.salemlibrary.org or call 503/588-6052.
Ancient Near East History
When I decided to pursue my Master of Arts Degree in Biblical Studies at Vanguard University of Southern California, my always up for an adventure husband, Bill, was all for it. While there I was a research assistant for Professor Nancy Heidebrecht, who headed up the college’s Archaeological Field Expedition Study Abroad Program. Staff and students traveled to the Middle East for six weeks in the summer of 1987. For two weeks of the expedition we visited Jordan, Israel, and Egypt, and for a month we participated in the excavations at Tel Dor Israel.
We traveled on Alia Royal Jordanian from Los Angeles to Amman, Jordan. We spent the next 3 days in Jordan and had a great time visiting the gold souk in Amman, climbing to the high place in Petra, and experiencing the Jordan Rift Valley. We crossed into Israel at the Allenby Bridge border crossing. We then spent over a week exploring many sites around the Sea of Galilee, and Jerusalem including Mt. Tabor, Megiddo, Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethlehem, Samaria, Herodian, Dead Sea, Qumran, and Masada.
Then we moved into the Pardess Hanna Agricultural School for a month. The site of Tel Dor is located 15 miles south of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast. On weekdays we got up at 4:15, ate first breakfast and boarded the dig bus at 5:00am to avoid the heat of the day, had a coffee break delivered by soldiers from the small military instillation near our squares, and second breakfast later in the day. At noon we straggled back to the bus like a clutch of zombies encrusted by layers of dust and dirt. Arriving at the school, we rushed to wash our face and hands before getting in line for our heartiest meal of the day ladled out by jovial servers. We crawled back to our rooms, took a shower, napped, scrubbed dig clothes in bathroom sink, did paperwork, had a late afternoon coffee and pastry treats (usually the highlight of the day), attended the dig lecture usually given by Director Ephraim Stern, had a light dinner, and retired to our cots. On the weekends we caught up on our sleep, did paperwork, and took the local bus on a day trip.
After the dig, we spent time in Jerusalem and then went to Egypt. We visited the phenomenal Cairo Museum, Abu Simbel, Valley of the Kings, drove through the Sinai Desert, and climbed Mt. Sinai. Took a boat across the Gulf of Aqaba, flew from Aqaba to Amman and from Amman to Vienna, where Bill and I stayed a few days to relax before returning to California and back home to Oregon. Of course all this travel by plane, bus, and boat was especially fun at airports and border crossings with Bill lugging his transit and stand cut down to fit into a 3-foot maroon duffle bag wrapped in towels and a pillow.
I tell you all this, because an extremely rare treat is coming to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon from August 31 to December 22, 2013: Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth—Ancient Near Eastern Art from American Collections that allows you to experience some of the archaeological wonders of the world with little effort on your part. This is an exhibition of 64 masterpieces of ancient Near Eastern art dating from the dawn of recorded history, which includes examples of Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Hittite, Phoenician, Canaanite, Israelite, and Persian art.
Special activities put on by the museum during the exhibition include a lecture series featuring experts such as American archaeologist Dr. Brian Fagan. A film series that features several of Agatha Christie's most famous murder mysteries, inspired while she accompanied husband, Max Mallowan, on several of his archaeologist expeditions to Middle Eastern sites such as Ur and Nimrud. There will also be museum tours, a family activity day, and ancient Mesopotamia storytelling. For further information about the exhibit visit willamette.edu/go/ancient.
And to round out your ancient Near East adventure if you happened to be in the Portland, Oregon area I would heartedly recommend you eat at the Persian House Restaurant. To learn more visit persianhousepdx.com. This welcoming establishment serves ethnic food and was the inspiration for many of the banqueting scenes in Esther’s Song.
Check out the cover of Esther's Song taken from a glazed relief brick panel depicting bearded Persian guards in profile, each armed with a long spear and a bow and a quiver. The bricks were found scattered in the area around the entrance to the palace in the royal city of Susa where the book takes place.