When the beautiful, strong-minded Rebekah leaves her father’s house to marry Isaac, son of Abraham, she struggles to find her place in the patriarch's family and her own path to serving God. Sensitive to Christian tradition but also to the plight of women in Biblical times, this imaginative, inspiring story offers a unique look at early Christianity’s domestic culture.
About the Author
Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead both won Hugo and Nebula Awards, making Card the only author to win these two top prizes in consecutive years. There are seven other novels to date in The Ender Universe series. Card has also written fantasy: The Tales of Alvin Maker is a series of fantasy novels set in frontier America; his most recent novel, The Lost Gate, is a contemporary magical fantasy. Card has written many other stand-alone sf and fantasy novels, as well as movie tie-ins and games, and publishes an internet-based science fiction and fantasy magazine, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, Card directs plays and teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and youngest daughter, Zina Margaret.
Hometown:Greensboro, North Carolina
Date of Birth:August 24, 1951
Place of Birth:Richland, Washington
Education:B.A. in theater, Brigham Young University, 1975; M.A. in English, University of Utah, 1981
Read an Excerpt
Rebekah's mother died a few days after she was born, but she never thought of this as something that happened in her childhood. Since she had never known her mother, she had never felt the loss, or at least had not felt it as a change in her life. It was simply the way things were. Other children had mothers to take care of them and scold them and dress them and whack them and tell them stories; Rebekah had her nurse, her cousin Deborah, fifteen years older than her.
Deborah never yelled at Rebekah or spanked her, but that was because of Deborah's native cheerfulness, not because Rebekah never needed scolding. By the time Rebekah was five, she came to understand that Deborah was simple. She did not understand many of the things that happened around her, could not grasp many of Rebekah's questions and explanations. Rebekah did not love her any the less; indeed, she appreciated all the more how hard Deborah worked to learn all the tasks she did for her. For answers and understanding, she would talk to her father, or to her older brother Laban. For comfort and kindness she could always count on Deborah.
Rebekah no longer played pranks or hid or teased Deborah, because she could not bear seeing her nurse's confusion when a prank was discovered. Rebekah soon made her brother Laban stop teasing Deborah. "It's not fair to fool her," said Rebekah, which made little impression on Laban. What convinced him was when Rebekah said, "It's what a coward does, to mock someone who can't fight back." As usual, when she finally found the right words to say, Rebekah was able to prevail over her older brother.
The real change in her life, the one that transformed Rebekah's childhood, was when her father, Bethuel, went deaf. He had not been a young man when she was born, but he was strong enough to carry her everywhere on his shoulders when she was little, letting her listen in on conversations with the men and women of his household, shepherds and farmers and craftsmen, cooks and spinners and weavers. Riding on his shoulders as she did, his voice became far more than words to her. It was a vibration through her whole body; she felt sometimes as though she could hear his voice in her knees and elbows, and when he shouted she felt as if it were her own voice, coming from her own chest, deep, manly tones pouring out of her own throat. Sometimes she resented the fact that in order to say her own words, she had only her small high voice, which sounded silly and inconsequential even to her.
But when she spoke, Father heard her, and since he was the most important man in the whole world, however weak her voice might be, it was strong enough. Even after she grew too big to ride his shoulders, she was at his side as much as possible, listening to everything, understanding or trying to understand every aspect of the life of the camp, the work and workings of the household. He, in turn, called her his conscience. The littlevoice always at his side, never intruding, but asking him wise questions whenever they were alone together.
And then, trying to keep a cart from sliding down a muddy bank into the cold water of a brook in spring flood, Father slipped himself and fell into the water, the cart tumbling after him. The men swore later that it was a gift of God that Bethuel was not killed, for the cart was held up by the spokes of its own broken wheel just enough that he was able to keep his mouth above water and breathe while the men hurriedly unloaded the cart enough that they could lift it off him. He seemed at first to be no worse the wear for the hour he spent in the cold water, but that night he awoke shivering and fevered, and for two weeks he came back and forth between fever and chills as if the icy water still had a place in him.
When he rose at last from his pallet, the world had gone silent for him. He shouted everything he said, and heard no one's answer, and when Rebekah ran to him and covered her ears and cried, "Father, why are you angry with me?" he bent down to her and shouted for her to speak up, speak up, he couldn't hear her. Louder and louder she spoke until she was red-faced with screaming and Father gathered her into his arms and wept. "Of all the sounds that I shall never hear again," he murmured into her hair, "the voice of my sweet girl is the one I will miss most of all."
Father remained master of his household, but there was no more ranging out in the hills to oversee the herds. There was too much danger to a man who could not hear a shouted warning, or the roar of a lion, or the cries of marauders. Instead, Father had no choice but to trust his servants to oversee his flocks and herds. It embarrassed him to have to ask people to repeat everything, to talk slowly, to pronounce their words carefully so hecould try to read their lips. He did not have to tell Rebekah that she could not stay with him all the time that he was in camp, as she had used to. She could see that he did not want her there, partly because he was ashamed to show his weakness in front of her, and partly because, when she spoke to him, she saw how much it hurt him that he could not hear her anymore.
"Why don't you go with your father?" Deborah asked her. "He likes you beside him. He used to carry you when you were little. You're too big now."
Rebekah had to explain it to her several times. "Father is deaf now. That means he can't hear. So I can't talk to him anymore. He doesn't hear me."
And after a little while, Deborah understood and remembered. Indeed, she took to informing Rebekah. "You mustn't go to your father today. He's deaf, you know. He can't hear you when you talk to him." Rebekah didn't have the heart to rebuke Deborah for the frequent reminders. Instead, she would ask Deborah to sing her a song as she plaited Rebekah's hair or spun thread beside her or walked through the camp, looking at the work of the women and children and old men. Everyone looked up when Deborah came singing, and gave her a smile. And they smiled at Rebekah, too, and answered her questions, until she understood everything she saw going on, all the work of Father's household.
Rebekah was ten years old when Father lost his hearing, and her brother Laban was twelve. It was just as hard on him as it was on her, for as she had been Father's constant companion in the camp, Laban had been his shadow on almost every trip to visit distant flocks and herds where they grazed.
To Laban it was like a prison, always to be in camp because his father rarely traveled. And Rebekah was no happier. Once she would have rejoiced to have Father always near the home tents, but he was short-tempered now, and bellowed often for no good reason.
Everyone was ill at ease. But the work of the household went on, day after day, week after week. People get used to anything, if it just goes on. Rebekah didn't like the way things were, but she expected this new order to go on unchanged.
Until, a year after her father's deafness began, she happened to come up behind several of the servant women boiling rags, and overheard them talking about Father.
"He's an old lion, with all that roaring."
"A lion with no teeth."
And they started to laugh until one of them noticed Rebekah and shushed the others.
Rebekah told this to Laban, and at first he was all for telling Father. But Rebekah clutched at Laban and held him back. "How will you even tell him? And if you make him understand, then what? Should he beat the woman for saying it? Or the others for laughing? Will that make them love him better?"
Laban looked at her. "We can't let them laugh at Father behind his back. Soon they'll laugh in his face, and then they'll do what they want. Already the servants don't even try to tell Father half the things that happen. Pillel makes decisions all by himself that he used to never make, and Father knows it but what can he do?"
"We can pray to God for him to hear again," said Rebekah.
"And what if God answers us the way he answered Abram and Sarai when they prayed for a son? Can Father wait ten years? Twenty? Thirty?"
They knew well the tales of their father's uncle Abraham, the great lord of the desert, the prophet that Pharaoh could not kill, and how his wife Sarah bore him a baby in her old age.
"But what else can we do?" said Rebekah. "Only God can let Father hear again."
"We can be his ears," said Laban. "We have time to explain things to him. Let the men tell us, and we'll tell Father."
Rebekah had her doubts about this. She had tried talking to Father many times, speaking slowly so he could read her lips, and at first he had tried to understand her, but most of the time he failed, or got it only partly right, and the resignation in his eyes when he looked away from her and refused to try anymore made her so sad she couldn't even cry. "What, you'll press your mouth into his ear and scream?" Laban rolled his eyes as if she were a hopeless simpleton. "Writing."
"That's a thing for city priests."
"Uncle Abraham writes."
"Uncle Abraham is far away and very old and spends all his time talking to God," said Rebekah.
"If the priests in the city can write, and Uncle Abraham can write, then why can't Father and I learn to write?"
"Then I can, too," said Rebekah, daring him to argue with her.
"Of course you can," said Laban. "You have to. Because as soon as I can, I'll be out with the men, and you'll have to be able to talk to Father, too."
For three days, Laban and Rebekah spent every spare moment together, working out a set of pictures they could draw with a stick in the dirt. Some of the words were easy — each of the animals could be drawn quickly, as could crops, articles of clothing, pots, baskets. Day and night were easy enough, too — the sun was round, the moon a crescent. Water was a bit more of a challenge, but they ended up with a drawing of a well.
"What if you want to say 'well'?" asked Rebekah.
"Then I'll draw a well," said Laban.
"What if you want to say, 'There's no water in the well'?" asked Rebekah.
"Then I'll draw a well, point to it, and then rub it out!" Laban was beginning to sound exasperated.
"What if you want to say, 'The well has been poisoned'?"
Laban pointed to his well drawing and then pantomimed gagging, choking, and falling down dead. He opened his eyes. "Well? Do you think he'll get it?"
"That can't be the way Uncle Abraham does it," said Rebekah.
"We aren't trying to write to Uncle Abraham," said Laban. "We're just trying to talk to Father."
"What if you want to say, 'I'm afraid there might be bandits coming but Pillel says they're just travelers and there's nothing to worry about but I think we should gather in the men and sleep with our swords'?"
Laban glared at her. "I will never have to say that," he said.
"How do you know?"
"Because I would just ... I would just tell him that bandits were coming and bring him his sword."
"No!" shouted Rebekah. "The men would know it was you who decided and not Father. And they can't follow Father into battle anyway, so it would have to be Pillel in command at least until you're tall enough to lead the men yourself, and anyway the whole idea of this is to help Father keep the respect of the men, and if you aren't telling him the truth and letting him decide then they won't respect him or you and they won't trust you either and then we've lost everything."
It was obvious Laban wanted to argue with her, but there was nothing to say. "Some things are just too hard to draw," Laban finally admitted. "But you're right, we have to try."
"I think writing isn't worth much if you have to be right there to make faces or fall down dead," said Rebekah.
"There's a trick to it that we don't know."
"If priests who are dumb enough to pray to a stone can do it," said Rebekah, "we can figure it out."
"If we make fun of their gods, people in the towns will shut us out," Laban reminded her. It was one of the rules learned by those who moved from place to place, following green grass and searching for ample water.
Rebekah knew the rule. "I was making fun of the priests." She looked again at Laban's drawings in the dirt. "Let's show Father as much as we've figured out about writing."
"I don't want to show him until we have it right."
"Maybe he can help us get it right. Maybe he knows how Uncle Abraham does it."
"And in the meantime, how will I draw a picture of us not knowing how to draw pictures of things we can't draw pictures of?"
"If you draw something and he doesn't understand, then at least he'll understand that we don't know how to make him understand, and that's what we're trying to make him understand."
Laban grinned. "Now you're sounding like a priest."
Rebekah laughed. "The Lord is not made of stone, he is in the stone. The Lord is not confined by the stone, he is expressed by the stone. Since the Lord was in the stonecutter who shaped the image, the idol is both man's gift to the Lord and the Lord's gift to man."
Laban whistled. "You listen to that stuff?"
"I listen to everything," said Rebekah. Her own words made her think of Father, who could never listen to anything again.
"I listen to everything, too," said Laban. "But you remember it."
"That has to be the worst thing for Father," said Rebekah. "That he remembers being able to hear. Being at the center of everything."
"What, you think it would have been better if he had always been deaf? Who would have married him, then? Who would be our father?"
"Father would," said Rebekah. "Because Mother would have loved him anyway."
"But Mother's father would never have given her to a deaf man in marriage."
"She would have married him anyway!"
"Now you're just being silly," said Laban. "Would you marry a ... a blind man? A cripple? A simpleton?"
"I would if I loved him," said Rebekah.
"That's why fathers decide these things, and don't leave them up to silly girls who would go off and marry blind, deaf, staggering fools."
Laban said this so loftily that she had to poke him. "But Laban, someday Father will have to find a wife for you."
"I'm not a ... I don't ... I refuse to let you goad me."
Rebekah laughed at his dignity. "Let's go show Father as much writing as we've got."
"I don't want him to see how bad we are at it."
"The only way to get better is to do it wrong till we get it right. Like you with sheep shearing."
Laban blushed. "You really do remember everything."
"I remember eating lots of mutton," said Rebekah. "I remember you wearing an ugly tunic woven out of bloody wool."
"You were only a baby."
"Come on," she said, pulling him toward the brightest-colored tent that marked the center of their father's household.
They did not clap their hands outside the tent, or call out for permission to enter — what good would it have done? That was one of the things Rebekah knew Father hated worst — the fact that people now had no choice but to walk in on him at whatever hour they thought their need was more important than his privacy. Or his dignity. He had tried keeping a servant at his door, but either his visitors ignored the servant or the servant kept out people Father needed to see, and besides, it was not as if the household could afford to keep a man away from his real work just to sit at the master's door all day. So Laban parted the tent flap and peered inside.
Father was going over tally sticks with Pillel. Because Rebekah knew that Pillel had just been to the hills south of the river, she knew that the sticks were a count of the main goat herd, and from the number of marks below the main notch she knew that it was a good year, with many new kids thriving. Last winter's rains had washed away dozens of houses built on land that had been dry through two generations of drought. But the hillsides were lush this spring, and the herds and flocks were fat and strong; and if there could be rains again this winter, they might not have to sell half the younglings into the towns for slaughter, but could keep them and grow the herds and become wealthy again, wealthy as in the days when Abraham had been a great prince whose household was so mighty he could defeat Amorite kings and save the cities of the plain.
Only she would trade such wealth and power, would trade even the herds they had, would give up the whole household and labor with her own hands at all tasks, hauling water like a slave and wearing only cloth she wove herself, if Father could only hear again.
Though of course that was a childish thing to wish, because if Father could hear, then he would have his great household and all his flocks and herds and there'd be nothing to fear. No, the way the world worked, you didn't trade wealth to get wholeness of body. It was when your body ceased to be whole that you also lost your wealth, your influence, your prestige, everything. It could all go away — would all go away, once something slipped. Everything we have in life, Rebekah realized, depends on everything else. If you lose anything, you can lose everything.
So do we really have anything at all? Was that what God was showing them by what he had allowed to happen to Father?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rebekah"
Copyright © 2001 Orson Scott Card.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
I. Deaf Man's Daughter,
IV. The Seed of Abraham,
Excerpt: Rachel and Leah,
By Orson Scott Card from Tom Doherty Associates,
About the Author,
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. In Rebekah, Orson Scott Card takes up an author's quintessential challenge: writing across the gender gap. Though written by a man, this is very much a woman's story. How authentically female do you think Rebekah's voice is? How realistic are her concerns as a woman?
2. From adolescence on, Rebekah is unusual for a woman of her time and her society. How does she stand out from the women around her? What are the benefitsand the dangersof her uniqueness?
3. The idea of beauty is used in complex ways in this story. What does Rebekah learn early on about the power of her own beauty? What is her sense of her own attractiveness as the story begins, and how does it change during the course of the book? What is the association between beauty and love? Between beauty and a woman's worth, in Rebekah's day and now? Between beauty and "goodness" or virtue?
4. The relationship between Rebekah's will and her faith is a complicated one, often involving her assuming powers that a woman in her society typically would never have. What gestures or decisions does Rebekah ascribe to her devotion to the God of Abraham? Do you believe that faith is her true motivation in these situations? Would her relationship to her religion be different if she were a man in that same society?
5. The biblical time in which Rebekah's story takes place is an extraordinarily harsh one, filled with mortal dangers of all kinds. Where do you see courage in the book's characters? What different forms does it take in different people? Who do you think are Card's most courageous characters in this story?
6. In the patriarchal society of biblical timesin which religious leadership and knowledge can only be passed from father to son, and female concubinage is a standard practicewhat, if any, power do women like Rebekah or her mother have in their marriages? In their families? In determining their fate? Are there subversive ways in which Rebekah and other women in the book gain or wield specific kinds of power?
7. The veil is a potent symbol in this story. In what different ways and for what reasons does Rebekah use it? What does it offer her? How does the veil function for other female characters?
8. The story of Rebekah is laced with a sense of divine judgement, of reward and punishment from God for how one lives one's life. Rebekah's father believes that he lost his hearing as a punishment for having separated his children from their mother. How does that same sense of moral consequence play out for Rebekah?
9. Once Mother returns to Rebekah's family, the dynamics in the camp begin to change. How does Mother's leadership of the women of the camp differ from Rebekah's? What does each woman's style of relating to people say about her personality? About different kinds of female power?
10. In early Judaism, the birthrightthe ownership and leadership of faithis passed from father to son, not held or possessed by women. Yet Rebekah often feels that she has a unique relationship with God. What do you think is the real nature of that relationship? Has Rebekah been chosen by God, more so than her male relatives? Could or should she be a recipient of the birthright in her family and in her marriage?
11. In Rebekah's mind, in the first half of the book, Abraham is an almost legendary figure of goodness. Yet once they meet and are joined as family by Rebekah's marriage to Isaac, it almost immediately becomes obvious that theirs is going to be a contentious relationship. How does Rebekah's view of Abraham change during the last half of the book? How do marriage and family alter people's opinions of one another?
12. The character of Isaac is unusual among the men of the book; more often than not, he is self-effacing to the point of being self-hating, deeply unhappy with his own personality and identity. How does Rebekah's love and reverence for him coexist with his own self-esteem? How does that coexistence affect the power dynamics in their marriage and family? Ultimately, do you think of Isaac as a strong character or a weak one?
13. Rebekah and Esau have a difficult relationship beginning in his infancy. Do you think that Rebekah loves both her sons? Does Isaac? Do most parents have a favorite among their children, whether or not they will admit it?
14. Rebekah's disguising of Jacob as Esau so that Jacob can receive the birthright from his father is the climax of a decades-long family battle over personality, morality, destiny, and power. Rebekah goes to elaborate lengths to justify her plan and Jacob's actions on the basis of her faith and its consequences for history. Did Rebekah do the right thing by having Jacob supplant his brother? Can faith ever justify deception?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Although he is better known as a SciFi writer, he sure excells at this style, too. This would be a wonderful choice for anyone interested in biblical women or strong women in general. I am not a Christian, and I found this book to be funny, enlightening, and I couldn't put it down.
I loved this book. That's only to be expected; OSC is one of my favorite authors. He does such a good job of getting into the character's heads and explaining the reasons why many things were done. I can't wait to read the other two... I must admit that the one I really want to read is Rachel and Leah; I've always wanted some explanation and comfort concerning that particular bible story, which seemed biased toward pretty people on man's part and against love on God's part... anyhow, Rebekah is a great book and everybody should read it.
Starts a bit slow, and I really wonder if women in Rebekah's age really had as much power to affect their destinies as Rebekah seems to. Still, Card does a great job of bringing the simple Bible story to life, and even the religious aspects are lightly and delicately handled, unlike in some other series (where such delicacy is left behind, so to speak).Rebekah is quite nice in the early part of Card's rendition, as in the Bible, but where that good book shows her and son Jacob growing up to be sort of, well, jerks, Card keeps his main characters as unadulterated good guys. Jacob especially comes across as a goody-two-shoes. It might have made for a better story if Card had attempted some more complex characterization. Nevertheless an excellent read if you have interest in the time and place.
Card is often at his best interpreting women to men, and men to women. Here he adds some insightful interpretations of God and the Abrahamic milieu as well.
Fantastic read. I love Orson Scott Card, and the Women of the Bible series is no exception. The characters are well realized and the story is emotionally told.
because of his Mormon faith combined with his belief in the failability of scripture, Card takes liberties with changing the story. aside from this, it is well written and an interesting read. if you are a protestant christian, read these books with a careful eye.
Im so proud of B&N for having Bible storys.
My favorite book in the series. A MUST read!
Rebekah is a strong and beautiful woman with a vibrant passion for her faith in God. Rebekah of the Bible becomes alive in this novel. The story is easy to read and provides an understanding of the life and times of the Biblical characters.
Still excelling at the biblical fiction.
This book was incredible. I sat down to read it one morning and finished it the same day. I couldn't put it down! The characters are so real. You can really experience Rebekah's frustration with Isaac's self-doubt and Abraham's interference. Usually the books I read have long segments of historical background that tempt me to skip them. This book did not have a single part that I wanted to skip. I can't wait until the third book in this trilogy comes out. I will definately recommend this book to everyone I know!