Forum Radio: 'Women of the Old Testament'

Wednesday, 01 March 2023 13:30

It’s always fascinating to see a book become a bestseller: you already know that there is something special about it, yet put off buying it for the moment, for whatever reason. Then go only later to pick up a copy and learn the print run has sold out. And that it is unavailable anywhere! That almost happened to me with the book Hebrejky by Czech Radio journalist Jan Fingerland about women of the Old Testament - from biblical mothers to she-demons to queens to lovers. 

f060f430 ee43 4ec3 89b4 9ac3367ec6a8
Czech Radio Plus commentator Jan Fingerland, author of the 2022 bestseller Hebrejky, in the studio before going on air.

The striking non-fiction book, which examines multiple historic layers and interpretations, and connects everything from European painting to Hollywood movies, has luckily become available again. The journalist and author talks about his interest in the Bible and what led to the publication of the book.

Excerpts from our interview:

The Bible as an intellectual pursuit

“I wasn’t raised as a religious person. The Czechs have a bible called Bible Kralická which dates back to the 16th century, akin to the King James Bible. But I am a typical Czech in this: it is fairly difficult to read and my experience with its pages was next to zero. Much later, as a student, I realised the importance of the Bible, often called a cornerstone of our civilisation. So I began thinking about it and realised I actually knew very little beyond the most famous moments: creation, Adam & Eve, the fall of the tower of Babylon and so on.

In connection with my own interest, I realised people generally fall into three groups: believers who know the Bible – although there are exceptions, too, nonbelievers who never read it and aren’t interested, whom I have nothing to offer, and people like me, who are secular readers interested in the Bible from an intellectual perspective. That is who my podcast Předvařená bible and my book Hebrejky are for.”

a98cf51e 4230 4e4d b99b c137869e6dbc77281273 cc30 4ad4 aacc 3c219043f6a8

From magazine series to bestselling book

“Hebrejky – or Women of the Old Testament – came from a series of articles I wrote over the years, largely for Reflex magazine, published by my former editor Dan Hrubý who runs a small publishing house called Pražské příběhy. He chose an original print-run of more than three thousand copies, which I felt was high and a considerable risk as he even put his own money into it. You would be amazed at how much distributors swallow in terms of costs.

But the first printing got very good reviews and sold out ahead of the holidays The book looks at the lives of 21 biblical women including Eve, Lilith, Judith, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and others. It is not just their story but the many different layers  or an overlay of what I call hypertext of cultural and religious interpretation and meaning. These include how they were viewed, accepted, and at times wronged over the centuries.”

06ed8810 aab6 4c86 b629 fb1fcde75701

 Adam’s first wife or she-demon banished from Eden? Lilith

“One of the figures that readers will learn more about is Lilith, who has roots in Mesopotamian mythology and Jewish folklore and was sometimes seen as the first wife of Adam but also as a she-demon who was banished from the Garden of Eden. There are two mentions of the creation of man and woman in the first books of the Bible, and unlike Eve, she was seen as created from the same clay as Adam. She refused to be subservient to him, she was also viewed as a sexual creature, an object of male fantasy and rejected by many. Yet she is still with us: there is an enormous sculpture of Lilith by David Černý [of Kafka head, babies on TV tower and pink tank fame – ed. note] in the district of Karlín today.

Striking visual style 

The book has very distinctive and beautiful graphics by Helena Zahrádecká. She created a cover that was so different which is important because there are other books about women in the Bible which are only retellings, even romantic retellings of their stories and it was important not to be confused with that. She sent an immediate signal that the book was more serious. Hebrejky is also different that it has a lot of reproductions – from historic paintings to popular culture such as comics and Hollywood films.”

Success and the future

“There are hopes and plans and sometimes they materialize. There are several hundred women mentioned in the Bible although many are minor characters who would not fill a whole chapter. But when I considered whether there were enough, another twenty or 21 figures for a part II, I concluded that yes. I left some very important women of the Old Testament out of the current book, like Sarah or Rebecca. The short answer is: there are enough. One person I would very much look forward to writing about is the Witch of Endor. By definition, witches are bad and were to be ‘burned at the stake’. Yet when she was sought out by King Saul, the witch showed him motherly care.”

321246d1 63ce 4ae8 a2b9 0701bb3073e9


Forum Radio - Interview / Episode 12 / Jan Fingerland - 'Women of the Old Testament' / Runtime: 38 minutes and 7 sec.

forum radio logo levy praporek Cerna

Jan Fingerland is a graduate of Charles University who studied political science, philosophy and religious studies in Prague, and also York, Stockholm and Jerusalem. He is recognised for his work at public broadcaster Český rozhlas Plus as a foreign policy commentator and more. He specialises in the Middle East. As a columnist, he writes about culture, history and religion. Fingerland is the author of the bestselling Hebrejky or Women of the Old Testament, published in 2022.

Photo: Vladimír Šigut

Share article: