© 2001 Orson Scott Card
When I stumbled upon Orson Scott Card’s ‘women of the bible’ series, I knew I had to try it just out of curiosity. The idea of a science fiction writer turning his hand to Bible fanfiction (in essence) was too interesting a notion to pass up. Rebekah is second in the series, covering the life of Abraham’s daughter-in-law, and it proved quite the surprise on multiple fronts.
Those familiar with the Book of Genesis may recall that a large part of its post-Flood narrative is a family drama, one that begins with Abraham and continues until his grandchildren have multiplied themselves into a full-born nation. Rebekah is a key part of that narrative, marrying Abraham’s son and bearing her own, one of whom will bear the name Israel. In Rebekah, Card is careful to create Rebekah as a character in her own right, however, with a history and a distinct personality, before having her take her place in the larger story where it would be easy to be overshadowed by the likes of Abraham, or even by her sons’ rivalry. She’s a winsome character: creative, intelligent, diligent, and intensely principled. When her father goes deaf, she enlists her brother Laban’s help in trying to create a written alphabet they can use to communicate with him; their father Beuleh can only chuckle before he teaches them the letters he learned from Abraham, instead. We meet Rebekah not as a woman at the well, an answer to a prayer, but as a young girl raised without a mother, forced by circumstance to become the chief of her father’s camp at an early age when he loses his hearing. A hard worker accustomed to paying attention to what needs to be done and doing it, and a faithful daughter devoted to the God of Abraham, she stands her ground against her father’s enemies, against unworthy suitors. and against her own worst tendencies.
To the Biblical background, Card adds a little bit of historicity and incorporates details from Mormon legends, chiefly the Book of Abraham. I thought the continued references to the “holy writings” were an invention of Card until the mention of ‘cureloms’ made me realize there were connections to Mormon literature. The Mormon influence isn’t overt, beyond depicting one of Abraham’s birthright duties as maintaining the “holy writings’ , and having him to be an astronomer as well. These liberties added some needed detail to a world that would otherwise be terribly generic: only character & place name edits would be needed to turn this into a story set in the American Old West, or the Chinese kingdoms period: there are no historical objects like distinct foodstuffs to give the world flavor and weight. It’s a good thing, then, that Rebekah carries so much weight by herself.