Author Chijioke O. Ezikpe
Reviewer: The Reverend B. F. Fubara Manuel (PhD.)
This book is a novel that reflects on two kings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, David and Solomon, and the women who were in their lives.
Digging deeply into the background of the passages with great imagination, it composes an alternate reading to the basic facts around these kings and so richly embellishes these facts that they not only produce a novel reading but also offer a rich and readable insight into the rich cultural backgrounds of Jews, Syrians, Babylonians and Egyptians upon which the stories and dealings took place.
It does this in 348 solid pages with some 12 additional pages of preliminaries. The work is composed around seven complex but intriguing distinct chapters that not only attempt to string the details together but also build one upon the other with an ascending but subtle crescendo of ideas and moral lessons intricately interwoven.
The first chapter reads like a distinguished narrative and literary piece, expounding chiefly the characters of Bathsheba and David but subtly introducing some of the key figures around their lives, such as Joab and Ahitophel – characters that would keep returning within the book.
For the author, Bathsheba was an unequal yoke for David, the great King of Israel. As the story was crafted in the book, it was Bathsheba who cunningly seduced David and held him captive to her desires, not only by her sexual beauty but also by her ability to extract from him at the height of his libidinous joy the promise that her son would be his heir.
This promise ruled and directed every effort (or lack of effort) of David, with respect to the throne of Israel. Bathsheba comes out here, contrary to the traditional understanding, as a beautiful and very intelligent and determined woman but also an intricately manipulating woman and seductress.
David comes out in this chapter and story, not so much as a wicked adulterer but as a seduced adulterer – seduced by a woman whose eye had been on the throne from her childhood and who had been obsessed by her desire to be under David’s embrace.
The effects of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his consequent killing of Uriah to cover up his acts form the basis of the next two chapters.
Chapter two, therefore, reads as a historical piece, delicately but carefully x-raying the divided home of David, describing in rich and imaginative details the relations between the wives, children and other members of the family and cataloguing the effects of David’s murder of Uriah upon his household under the settings of sexual offenses and political intrigues.
The moral point about the consequences of our actions upon generations after us, in spite of the equally unshakable truth of God’s grace, cannot miss the reader.
The third chapter reads like a theological reflection upon the life of David, pointing out the contradictions of deep and shameful sins in the life of persons after God’s heart. The effect of this sense of mercy upon David’s general actions and relations is the thread around which these theological reflections are narrated. The moral of the chapter is gripping:
“The malignancy of the enemy within is common to all humans; what is not so common is the will to fight it to the end. How easily we subdue the world outside, causing to bow the world of learning, inventions and acquisition!
How easily we disarm them and cause our banners of victory to flutter in the unencumbered sky above them!” [p. 147]
But the question it raised is equally daunting especially for leaders:
“Who would ever claim having completely destroyed the enemy within? Who would claim having caged all the nocturnal monsters that make giants toss and turn in labored sleep?
Who can claim not having in his heart one black spot that makes his success story eternally blemished?” [p. 147]
The author illustrates the obvious answer to these questions in the monsters of pride and desire. The fourth chapter is the first serious introduction of Solomon, the heir to David’s throne, and it reads as a practical commentary.
Previous chapters showed how the wisdom of Solomon had stood him out among all the sons of David, in spite of his other weaknesses that disqualify him from the throne. Here, his life in its vices is shown to be still under the welcoming and assisting grace of God.
This is the thread around which the narrative of this chapter flows. The beauty of his wisdom in the building and furnishing of the temple, in his economic plans and general commerce, and in their attractiveness to other nations and peoples and their resultant effects upon Solomon’s morals are detailed.
Chapter five shows the other side of love. Solomon’s insatiable desire for women encounters a woman of Shunem who, for the sake of her love for her young friend, rejects the very tempting offers of Solomon her king, in spite of her natural weaknesses and longings for the joy of the king’s touch.
While the strength of this chapter is in this young lady’s ability to be faithful to her young lover because of her love for, and prior commitment to him, in rejection of the opulence and fame of the king the deep thoughts and questions around the mystery of love that the chapter raises will remain ever daunting:
“Who can claim to plot on a graph the drifts of love? Who can predict its ebbs and flows? To attempt writing rigid codes for love merely exposes a person to ridicule; and whoever claims mastery of the dubious course of passion merely celebrates his ignorance.
Love snubs calendars and would not distil to Chemistry. If the serpent that slitters through the rocks is both regal and lethal, and if the eagle that lifts great weights while soaring in giddy heights is mysterious, then the game of love poses more bafflement and more mystery.
If the romance between the fickle ship and the brandished fangs of the gorged seas can be understood, then may we comprehend the bittersweet of Love’s saga!” [p. 213]
The chapter further asks and comments thus about love:
“How does one sift the true from the sham that always compounds it? How does one determine when love is genuine and wholesome? Solomon surmised that false love is a great imitator; it always garnishes its falsity, feigning purity and wholeness.
But the appeal, invariably, is to false hearts! True love hardly graces the shelves; its value can neither be measured by silver nor by gold. Its chief heralds are faithfulness and steadfast devotion. Thus its rarity!”
The sixth chapter is a deep exploration of the evils of idolatry and temple prostitution and homosexuality that took place under Solomon and from his queen, Deborah. The chapter describes this in graphic details, pointing out the gradual process through which this took place, corrupting religious practices and places, defiling age-old traditions, compromising teachings and standards and destroying people and king.
It shows the unsuccessful attempt of Othniel and others like him to still the tide of this evil; instead the wild wind blew across so mercilessly and corrupted all in the land including the king of Israel himself.
In this chapter comes clear the obvious lesson about how the continuing breaking of the hedge in small measures often leads to greater and greater evil in the life of a people.
The last chapter, titled by the author “vanity of vanities”, paints the last days of Solomon’s life and the conclusions he drew about all he did with himself and his life. As a king, he had begun to see that the kingdom handed over to him was really not stable in any sense.
If he did not take care, it was going to be divided. The chapter points out that this was, in part, the result of Solomon’s depravity. Much of his time was spent in orgiastic parties that assisted him in venting his bestial desires with an unqualified grossness.
His dealings with temple prostitutes had shifted sex from an experience among humans to one with deified beings. His orgies were now of another world. And in the process, he had cultivated a political practice that affected the stability of his kingdom.
Othniel had been exiled and others like him too. Jeroboam was poised to oppose him. Abinadab’s life was almost taken by him, just because of his jealousy.
Solomon’s strategy in this condition in which his kingdom was breaking up was a high-handedness that dealt wrath on anyone who opposed him or anyone whom he suspected to be disloyal.
And his own son, Rehoboam was just as hedonistic and profligate! “Rehoboam” says our author “was in every respect a confirmed product of [Solomon’s] adventurous groin and fun-obsessed heart” [p. 332].
Looking back at his life in this hopelessness, Solomon had to conclude that all is vanity and that life’s true meaning only comes when God is feared and God’s commandments are kept.
These are really broad strokes of the rich paintings that Chijioke Ezikpe has done. There are at least eight reasons why I would want everyone to read this book. These are eight ways in which this book has helped me and gladdened my heart.
First, the book is indeed a literary piece. It combines all the elements that anyone who loves to read literature would admire. It is rich in its combination of imageries, often shifting the reader from the mountain-top to the valley’s depth, from the shining sun to the pouring showers and from the ocean’s depths to the solid rock.
This beauty comes again and again in the book. It is particularly reflected when he attempts descriptions of beauty, sex and life. While it has abundant metaphors and similes and, indeed, nearly all figures of speech, its unique strength is in its alliterations.
It is just a powerful work in alliterations beginning from its title: “The Power and the Passion”. He wrote somewhere of soul and body welded in a “gripping crescendo of ardor”.
He said David “taunted, tempted, and teased” Bathsheba and carried her into “rapturous realms”. He record’s Tamar’s rummaging of the king’s hair for “the few grays she dubbed strays”.
Tamar’s “tickling and taunting” of Absolom or her smiling into his “icy eyes” are just a few of the richness of the author’s alliterations. There is hardly a page without multiples of them in rich variety.
Second, this work is a useful enrichment in the use of English language. It is particularly rich in vocabularies and uses very generously not very common words to expand the world of his readers.
I would be surprised if there is any reader of this book that is not drawn to the dictionary ever so often to check out the meaning of some of his numerous new words too long to list out here.
Third, this book is richly imaginative. The stories are all familiar but the way Chijioke Ezikpe And his imaginations are not completely unfounded. For example, while I do not really like the seeing of Bathsheba as a seductress because of many reasons to which I will return shortly, one cannot stop asking why Bathsheba’s bathroom was so badly located and why she was only sighted by David when her husband was not around?
When such questions are asked, they show us how founded Ezikpe’s imaginations are.
Fourth, Ezikpe seems to be conscious of his style of writing and pays particular attention to it. He did not adopt the style of novels dominated by the dialogical method, that is, the conversations of the actors; his style of writing is that of reflection.
He speaks the people’s thoughts out and just lets that drive the narrative. And he knows when to break the sections in order to allow us catch our breath. Fifth, the book is real. The novel does not pretend but takes the readers into a real world and speaks to them as people who are really passing through similar experiences.
He is not afraid to describe the sexual processes as decently as a book like this should, but he does not also fail to make the descriptions come out as rich as they should be. He speaks boldly, for instance, about the lesbian tendencies of Hadijah or even the lesbian practices of Deborah’s cult and points out that Hadijah’s public opposition of lesbianism was actually because of her deep desire for it:
“Hadijah knew that Israel’s religion abhorred the thoughts and tendencies she harbored. Consequently she began to hide her feelings by attacking the same practices so vigorously in public while enjoying them in private.” [p. 226].
Sixth, this book is a courageous work. It has the courage to attempt a different reading of traditional stories with the view to illuminating a different sense of understanding from that which is common.
But it is also courageous in attempting to create a novel out of the Biblical stories. For this reason, this book may stand in a class of its own for a long time in this part of the world.
It is a bold attempt to bring the biblical stories alive in our time but with particular attention given to storylines that are not familiar and encouraging the broadening of our minds with respect to the stories. And this leads to its next strength.
Seventh, this book is very well researched. It has dug deeply into the Babylonian, Syrian, Syrophonecian, Egyptian, Moabitic, etc. contexts upon which the original stories were crafted. Its level of research is, in my opinion, up to date yet put in such a way that it allows the book flow as a novel. The book is therefore not heavy but deeply informative.
Eight, the theology that underlies the book is a rich Reformed understanding of sin and grace, and of God’s mercy in using even those who are broken and faulty. It shows clearly God’s grace in doing this without cheapening or equivocating on human responsibility.
runs with them is not common. He works his imagination around the details of the stories in such a powerful way that the stories take a new leap.
It is careful to point out in many places that the actions and choices we make have bearings not only upon us but also upon generations that come after us. It reminds us more than once about the danger of pride and desire in the lives of those who love God and the need to keep on in the struggle of mastering them.
Having said these positive words, I need to point out two major problems I have with the book. One is that it is not sufficiently friendly to women. It is drafted around the class-chauvinist position in which women are seen as the seducers who destroy the lives of men.
Even the subtitle is “Israel’s Two Most Popular Kings and the Women that Marred Them”. One struggled in vain to see from even his painting of the stories how these two kings were marred by women. Instead, again and again, the reverse is seen.
The idea that woman mar the lives of men demeans womanhood and should no longer be projected. Women should be seen as individuals with choices and men as individuals with choices.
When men fail, they should accept responsibilities and stop blaming their failures on women. In the world in which we live today, men seduce as well and they should be seen as those who mar the lives of women rather than vice versa.
This is what makes Ezikpe’s read of Bathsheba and David problematic, although, to be fair to him, it is just a novel. Yet, it is a novel that stamps the stereotypes. Bathsheba was the one who lost the husband. She was the one who was under the influence of the king that had life and death in his hands.
Bathsheba was the one who changed homes, who received the disgrace of being pregnant for a man that was not her husband. In the context of those days, Bathsheba did not really have much choice.
But in the painting of the story, she was seen as the heartless, ruthless seductress who cared only for herself and not her family. That impression in the book does not ring well with feminist consciousness and can be repaired in future publications.
And the second issue just derives from this: this novel, although written in the twenty first century, still needs to be more inclusive in its language. Gone are the days in which the male categorisation is seen as generic.
In many places, this book did not use inclusive language and that would have really made the book perfect. These two comments notwithstanding, it is with deep enthusiasm that I commend this novel to everyone for their reading pleasure.
May God bless you as you joyfully buy many copies to spread around.
Edited by GABRIELLA OSAMOR