Book Write-Up: Miriam, by Mesu Andrews

Mesu Andrews.  Miriam.  Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Miriam is the second book of Mesu Andrews’ “Treasures of the Nile” series, which is about Moses.  The first book of the series was The Pharaoh’s Daughter, and it was about Moses in his infancy and young adulthood.  One can probably read and understand Miriam without having read The Pharaoh’s Daughter.  Still, Miriam does refer to characters and events of the preceding book.

Miriam focuses on Moses’ sister, Miriam.  It goes up to the time immediately after the crossing of the Red Sea.  Miriam is rather elderly in this book.  The Hebrews are still in Egypt, and Miriam is a prophetess to the Israelites and to the Egyptians.  She receives dreams from the Hebrew God, El Shaddai, and she shares those dreams with others.  She is respected in Egypt.  Her nephew, Eleazar, a son of her brother Aaron, works in the court of Egypt.  He is a guide to Prince Ram, one of the sons of Pharaoh Ramesses.

I cannot say that I was particularly drawn to the characters.  Plus, this was a book that I had to read carefully, otherwise I would miss what was going on.

Despite all of that, I liked this book.  I am definitely open to reading other books by Mesu Andrews in the future.

Why?  Because I have never quite seen the Exodus story told in this way.

For one, Andrews presents flawed characters.  Aaron is rather shallow, selfish, and boorish, and his wife is just like him.  Aaron thinks that Moses has become too hungry for power and notoriety.  Aaron is also dismissive of his son Eleazar, and the two of them do not get along with each other.

Miriam is insecure after Moses’ return to Egypt.  The good old El Shaddai who long comforted her in her spinsterhood is no longer communicating with her, at least to the same extent.  God now goes by a new name, “Yahweh,” and he speaks clearly to Moses.  Miriam feels abandoned by God, but she learns to see God’s care for her in new ways.

Eleazar does not know what to make of the God of Israel.  He is somewhat gratified that this God is knocking the Egyptian royals off their high horse, while fearing that this God will punish him for his lack of piety.  But he notices the toll that God’s plagues have taken on people.  He questions whether this God is a God of compassion, one who deserves worship.  Eleazar also struggles socially, in that he does not always know what to say to people.  This is particularly the case with Taliah, who becomes his wife.  Eleazar is worldly-wise in that he knows and fears what the Egyptians can do.  He realizes that he has a higher status and more freedom than other Israelites, yet sometimes he feels even more enslaved than the others.

Then there is Moses, who does not even want to be there.  Moses struggles at times with God’s activity, especially since the first three plagues not only harmed the Egyptians, but  the Israelites as well.  His own elderly parents died because they were weakened from one of the plagues.  Because the Nile was blood, the water was heavily rationed, and that affected Moses’ parents.

Many tellings of the Exodus depict the heroes as somewhat flawed, but Mesu Andrews takes this to a new level.  In this book, all sorts of interests struggle to adjust to new realities, amidst their human foibles.

Second, Andrews highlights details that are often absent from other Moses stories.  There are the many Egyptians who honor Moses because they are seeing the power of his God.  There is the question of their theological views: do they now see Moses’ God as the only one, or as one of many?  This question would loom large when the plague of the firstborn was about to take place, and Egyptians were wrestling with whether they should join the community of Israel through circumcision.  The book also depicts the Pharaoh as inconsistent for allowing the Nubians to go off and worship their god, but not the Israelites.

This book is not The Ten Commandments.  It is not The Prince of Egypt.  It is different.  It wrestles with spiritual themes that many other retellings of the Exodus story do not address.  If you are looking for that, especially during this Passover season, then this book is for you.

I received a complimentary Advance Reading Copy for review purposes from the publisher through Blogging for Books, in exchange for an honest review.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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