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Water from the Well: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah
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Water from the Well: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah

by Anne Roiphe

Water from the Well is a journey four thousand years back to the time of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah. These biblical matriarchs and their fascinating stories come alive in the hands of renowned author Anne Roiphe, whose graceful prose captures the biblical landscape and makes it take flight.

As each story unfolds, we find that the matriarchs had to


Water from the Well is a journey four thousand years back to the time of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah. These biblical matriarchs and their fascinating stories come alive in the hands of renowned author Anne Roiphe, whose graceful prose captures the biblical landscape and makes it take flight.

As each story unfolds, we find that the matriarchs had to overcome the same devastating obstacles women face today, such as infertility, lust, abandonment, and uncertainty. Roiphe demonstrates how the lives of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah helped to lay the foundation of womanhood in the Western world. Though these women lived many years ago, their lives bear a striking resemblance to our own. They suffered the same pressures and pitfalls, enjoyed the same pleasures and activities, and shared the same responsibilities as today's wives, mothers, and daughters. What is more, they managed to cope with betrayal, death, sacrifice, and jealousy while dealing with the emerging reality of a new faith period.

Little of the drama in the Bible is seen from a woman's perspective. Would Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah share the same point of view as contemporary women? With life having changed so drastically from the days of the Bible, what can we really know about the women who appear in one of our most sacred text? In Water from the Well these questions and many others are addressed in a most enriching fashion, allowing us to discover that women played larger roles in biblical history than many care to acknowledge.

Roiphe opens a window onto the distant past and presents it, through the tales of four remarkable women, to the modern reader with relevant observations and allegories. Combining the deep insight of Bruce Feiler with the narrative skill of Antonia Fraser, Roiphe delivers a fascinating work that deftly brings these four biblical matriarchs into our own age.

Editorial Reviews

“[A] lovely meditation on the innate power of women”
Washington Post Book World
“Although Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel and Leah lived in biblical times, their experiences speak to women today.”
Publishers Weekly
As with Roiphe's well-received novels and nonfiction about women's lives, this creative examination of four biblical matriarchs ably reflects her continuing emphasis on the relationships between women and their children. Roiphe embroiders the terse accounts of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah in Genesis by using her own imagination and by drawing on prayer books, Talmud, midrash, the Zohar and several collections of legends. The result is a colorful, character-driven portrayal of the women, emphasizing their experiences with their husbands and their children. In each instance, Roiphe follows the biblical practice of depicting highly regarded ancestors with all their foibles and limitations. In Rebekah's deception in conspiring with favored son Jacob over his brother Esau, or Sarah's bitterness and mistreatment of Hagar, Roiphe identifies deep weaknesses and character flaws, but also offers inventive justifications for morally questionable behavior. In Rachel's long wait before becoming pregnant, Roiphe traces echoes of what happened earlier to Sarah and Rebekah. These women all experienced barrenness, neglect, death in childbirth and joy from children as "the staples of female life." Roiphe hopes that the stories she so beautifully retells can inspire us "to be decent people... [and to] better the world." (Sept. 19) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Prolific and eminently readable author Roiphe (Up the Sandbox; 1185 Park Avenue: A Memoir ) here tackles the lives of four biblical matriarchs (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah of the Book of Genesis) responsible for helping to fulfill God's covenantal promises to Israel for fertility and greatness. Roiphe intertwines biblical material with midrash (rabbinic interpretation that is part exegesis and part legendary embellishment) with mixed success. She often begins with a descriptive narration, such as explaining about life or customs in the ancient Middle East, then switches into paragraphs of extended interior speculation in a recurring subjective voice (e.g., "Rachel must have felt "). Following are several paragraphs that repeatedly begin "Legend tells us ," whereupon she surveys apocryphal rabbinic material to fill in the textual voids. The result is a somewhat disjointed read. Neither fully fiction nor history, this seems closer to creative nonfiction than anything else. How successfully Roiphe weaves all these disparate approaches together will rest upon each reader. For popular religion collections. Sandra Collins, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

Water from the Well

Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah

By Zondervan

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006


All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060737964

Chapter One

The story starts three thousand years ago in the early 1200s before the Common Era.

The grass blows gently in the wind. The figs ripen. The world is still new, ten generations have lived and died since Noah landed his ark on the ledge of Mount Ararat.

A girl named Sarai sleeps, protected against the night air by her shawl. She will become the mother of a great nation. Through her we will move toward whatever mysterious end awaits. Because of her, God will have a people and a people will have a God.

It was lucky that Sarai was not carried off in infancy by a raging fever, an infection in the ear: lucky that she was not trampled by the mule when she slipped between his feet. Perhaps the bandits that rode past on their way to Egypt stole only the camels and left undisturbed the children hiding in the dark night in the nearby cave. Maybe Sarai became Sarah not because it had always been planned this way but because Sarai had not broken her leg when she tumbled down the gully when she was eight. Only in retrospect does destiny come knocking at the door. In real life it slips in with the germs, with the dust, with the twists of time and geography.

Or perhaps not. It may have been God's intention from the moment He breathed on the deep, to bring Sarai to Abram and Abram to Sarai.

The land inthe fertile crescent tolerated the peoples who watched over their sheep, gathered the fruits from the trees, wove cloth from the wool they sheared, and slept on mats in tents made from the hides of their animals. Some lived in small cities, groups banded together to trade. These city dwellers lived behind walls to protect them from the roaming bandits, the fierce despoilers of life and property, the slave hunters, the rapists, the lawless, who were everywhere. The city dwellers built their houses with stones. They had kings to protect them. Today we call them warlords. Then they were commanders of small armies, one hundred men or more. They traded in cloth and grain, in copper and lapis lazuli. And from time to time they invaded one another's camps to steal their camels, to lead away their sheep, to take the gold and silver, to rape the women, to take the children as slaves.

In the late summer they harvested grapes and olives. In the early fall, when the rains began, they planted seeds. Then came two months of cutting flax. Late winter they gathered seeds to eat or press into oil. Then they harvested the barley, and in spring they took the wheat they had sowed.

The wandering clans brought their harvests to the city gates and sold them. They moved with the changing seasons in search of green grass, protection from fierce wind, and always they were looking for water, because without water there was no life. Where the river ran, where the wells were found, there they stayed awhile. There they returned.

Everyone believed in many gods, and these gods were said to inhabit the stone or wood replicas of themselves.

Death was common, men died from small wounds, from a pain in the ear, from a stomachache. Women died in childbirth, the loved wives and the unloved wives all perished when their labor took too long, when the cord was bound around the baby's neck, when they bled into the blankets placed beneath them and no one knew how to stop the bleeding. Children died of small rashes, insect bites, little coughs that grew into rasping calls for breath. They fell into wells or waded too far out in the lake, or were eaten by lions or wandering boars. Little children died of strange fevers, of bowels that would not stop running, of eating the wrong berry from the wrong tree, of scorpion stings.

There were idols that were large and idols that were small and could be stored in a sack or kept by a bedside. There were some idols who may have been offered the blood of newborn children, breaking some mother's hearts that were not made of stone. The idols were offered the choicest part of the calf, the sweetest of delicacies. Scents were burned to please their noses. They were praised and entreated and promised loyalty in return for protection from enemies, and that protection was clearly needed, because terror rode just over the next hill, because famine and drought were not unknown.

We know that the nation of Israel existed by 1207 B.C.E. because a stone tablet, the mehepthah stele, was found that listed a number of defeated nations. It said, "Israel is stripped bare wholly lacking in seed."

In the Canaanite land where God in time would send Sarai and her husband, Abram, son of Terah, descendant of Noah, the people once recorded the tale of Baal and Anat. Here is a description of a battle found in the Ugaritic epic cycle:

Maiden Anat draws near to him

As is the heart of a cow toward her calf

As is the heart of a ewe toward her lamb

So is the heart of Anat for Baal

She seizes the God Mot

With sword she cleaves him.

With fan she winnows him.

With fire she burns him

With mill she grinds him

In fields she sows him

Birds eat the pieces of him

Devour the bits of him.

The violence in the human heart was reflected onto the gods.

Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, in their book, Hebrew Myths, write that the most powerful idol at the time may have been Aeseroth, a goddess of the womb. Sometimes she was kind and sometimes she was not. Anyone who went out at night and looked up at the moon and the stars and saw the vast expanse of sky that hung over the land understood that mankind was in need of many gods . . . .


Excerpted from Water from the Well
by Zondervan
Copyright © 2006 by Zondervan.
Excerpted by permission.
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.

Meet the Author

Anne Roiphe's seventeen books include Fruitful, a finalist for the National Book Award. She has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Vogue, Elle, Redbook, Parents, and The Guardian, and is a contributing editor to the Jerusalem Report. She lives in New York City.

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