Transmatriation? Avishag the Shunammite in Three Contemporary Israeli Novels

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While numerous postbiblical authors consider the major figures in the Davidic dynasty, others have turned their attention to the more peripheral characters in the David cycle. The three Israeli novels discussed in this article—Yael Lotan’s Avishag (2002), Avraham Burg’s Avishag (2011), and Eva Etzioni-Halevy’s But the King Did Not Know Her (2014)—focus on Avishag the Shunammite. Although all draw on the same biblical text, each develops it in a particular direction. Lotan’s Avishag embodies both political and feminist features, developing from a young maiden into a royal secret agent. Burg’s reading is a political one: he remains loyal to the patriarchal point of view by choosing a male narrator; hence his Avishag is still a relatively minor character. Etzioni-Halevy’s novel falls into the category of feminist historical/biblical romance. Her protagonist, Avishag, positioned as a romance heroine, develops from a passive maiden into a mature woman who seeks to determine her own fate. Moreover, since Avishag’s character in the biblical narrative is mentioned in the middle of the inheritance struggle between David’s sons Adonijah and Solomon, each of the novelists uses it as a springboard for rereading the Davidian story through a different prism. By choosing different narrators, different languages (English, pseudo-biblical Hebrew, and contemporary Hebrew), and slightly different genres, each of the authors adapts the biblical story to enhance a different reading of the Bible, making the ancient story accessible and fresh to contemporary readers as an “old vessel filled with new wine.”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-102
Number of pages26
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023

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  • Avishag the Shunammite; contemporary Israeli novels
  • biblical retelling
  • political novels
  • romance novels
  • transculturalism


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