Page 1: There is no Jewish holiday today that takes place on the fifteenth day of the eighth month (which in post-Biblical times became known as the month of Heshvan). According to the Bible, and as still observed today, the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) takes place on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (later known as the month of Tishri). The Bible does state that King Jeroboam, the first king of the northern Kingdom of Israel (who seceded from the United Monarchy and took power in the north after the death of King Solomon), instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month (1 Kings 12:32-33). Already in the opening words of the book, then, Yochi Brandes is suggesting a history somewhat different from that described in the Bible and giving a different perspective on origins of the holy days of the north.
Page 1: Zeredah is mentioned only once in the Bible (1 Kings 11:26), other than simply topographically, described as the town of origin of King Jeroboam, the first ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Page 1: In speaking of the "land of Ephraim," the book is referring to the division of the Land of Israel into the twelve tribal apportionments. The linked map shows these regions, which are referred to throughout the book.
Page 5: The phrase "a head taller than anyone else," which Shelomoam used to describe how he felt sitting on his father's shoulders, is precisely the same phrase used to describe the height of Saul when he is first introduced in the Bible (1 Samuel 9:2) and again when he is first proclaimed king before the people by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 10:23). A foreshadowing of what is to come, as is Shelomoam's statement that he waved "as if I were the king."
Page 11: In the world of the book, the tribe of Judah observed a holiday called the Festival of Ingathering, which occurred earlier on the calendar than the Festival of Booths (Sukkoth); when the Judean kings took power over the north and the south, they demanded that the north observe Judah's holidays. The commander is trying to determine whether the residents of Zeredah are obeying the law. (In our own day, "Festival of Ingathering" and "Festival of Booths" are two names for the same Jewish holiday.)
Page 13: The story of Miriam contracting leprosy and of the Israelites not moving until she was cured is found in Numbers 12, which is part of a sequence of stories describing the trials and tribulations that the Israelites faced in their wanderings in the wilderness.
Page 13: The name of Aaron's wife, Elisheba, is given in Exodus 6:23.
Page 14: Caleb son of Jephunneh is first mentioned in the Bible as the representative of the tribe of Judah sent to scout out the land (Numbers 13-14).
Page 14: The Bible indeed attributes the line, "These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt," referring to the golden calf, to Aaron (Exodus 32:8). In introducing the story of Aaron and the golden calf, as well as hints at other connections to Aaron, so early in the novel, Brandes is referencing the strong connection between Aaron and Jeroboam that exists on the pages of the Bible itself. The Bible writes that Jeroboam set up golden calves at the northern and southern borders of his kingdom and that he also stated, "Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (1 Kings 12:28-29). Aaron's sons were named Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1), while Jeroboam's sons were Nadab and Abijah (1 Kings 14:20 & 1 Kings 14:1). Both sets of sons died prematurely (Leviticus 10:2, 1 Kings 15:28, 1 Kings 14:17). Modern scholars have surmised that these aspects of Aaron's biography may have been invented by a Biblical author who sought to portray Jeroboam and his family as "doing evil in the sight of God" by repeated some of the earliest transgressions in national history.
Page 20: The name of the midwife's assistant, Tirzah, is given as the name of only one woman in the Bible. The character is introduced in Numbers 26:33, as one of the daughters of Zelophehad. Her father died without having any sons, and Tirzah and her sisters successfully lobbied Moses and God for the proposition that daughters could inherit their fathers' property if the father had no sons (Numbers 27:1-11). Otherwise Tirzah is mentioned only as a place name, including an important connection to Jeroboam, as the place where Abijah, the son of Jeroboam, died (1 Kings 14:17).
Page 26: When the soldiers assume that Shelomoam is from the tribe of Benjamin because he is so tall, but he insists that he is from Ephraim, there are are actually two Biblical allusions in the scene. The soldiers ask Shelomoam to pronounce the word "shibboleth," which is a reference to a story told in the Book of Judges (12:4-6), in which the tribe of Ephraim is fighting a group of fellow Israelites known as the Gileadites. Knowing that the Ephraimites cannot pronounce the sh sound, the Gileadites demand that anyone trying to cross their military lines say the word "shibboleth," and they kill anyone who pronounces it as "sibboleth," knowing that they have caught an enemy. When Shelomoam pronounces it as "sibboleth," he is demonstrating that, despite his looks, he must be an Ephraimite. The soldier's response, "The voice is the voice of Ephraim, but the height is the height of Benjamin," is an allusion to the famous scene in Genesis 27:22 when Jacob steals his brother Esau's blessing through deception of their blind father, Isaac. Jacob masquerades as the hairy Esau by wrapping goatskins around his arms, and he received the blessing meant for Esau, but not before Isaac exclaims, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." This allusion suggests that there may be some deception going on in our story as well.
Page 55: The Bible gives the name of the mother of Jeroboam as Zeruah (1 Kings 11:26), stating that she was a widow. The word zeruah in Hebrew does mean a female leper. As such, it is a highly unusual name, and Jeroboam's mother is the only Zeruah mentioned the Bible. (It is not implausible to understand the phrase "the name of his mother was zeruah" as meaning "his mother was known as 'leper.'")
Page 44: All the names in The Secret Book of Kings are taken from the Bible. Even the name of Shelomoam's beloved horse, Aner, is Biblical. In the Bible, Aner was one of three allies of Abraham (Genesis 14:13) who fought with him to free Lot from the "four kings." After the war, Abram refused to take any of the spoils, but insisted that his allies receive their share (Genesis 14:24). Shelomoam is equally loyal to his horse in The Secret Book of Kings.
Page 49: "I quickly received the information I had requested about Tirzah the Midwife, the wife of Ramiah son of Perez, the sycamore fig gatherer." The profession of the prophet Amos was that of a sycamore fig gatherer (Amos 7:14): “Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.”
Page 51: "To this day, when I think back on the look of gratitude in her eyes each time we drank deeply of love, I know that the act will not be listed among my transgressions in the book of judgment of the God of Israel." The phrase “drink deeply of love” comes from Proverbs 7:18: “Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love!”
Page 52: “'It’s exactly what happened to our matriarch Rachel,' I whispered, mostly trying to convince myself. 'She gave birth to Joseph easily, but bled to death giving birth to her second child, Benjamin.'” The death of Rachel is described in Genesis 35:16-19: “. . . Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. . . . As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”
Page 53: "Moses grew up as a prince, believing that Princess Bithiah was his mother and that the Pharaoh was his grandfather." In later Jewish tradition, the daughter of the Pharaoh, who adopted Moses, is called Bithiah, following 1 Chronicles 4:18: “These were the children of Pharaoh’s daughter Bithiah, whom Mered had married.”
Page 55: "Onward, Shelomoam, onward. Go back to your country, your people. Go forth to that familiar place." Shelomoam's exhortation to himself is a variant, and essentially a reversal, of what God says to Abram in Genesis 12:1 (New American Standard Bible translation): “Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives, And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you.’”
Page 65: The Bible tells the story of Hadad the Edomite in 1 Kings 11:14-25. Hadad is described in 1 Kings 11:14 as "an adversary" raised up against Solomon by God to punish Solomon for worshipping other gods. The biographical details sketched out in the Bible in this chapter match those given in the novel. The form in which Hadad acted as an adversary is not described in the text of the Bible, which refers only to the "trouble" he made (1 Kings 11:25). Interestingly, the story of Jeroboam begins in the very next verse (1 Kings 11:26), and traditional Biblical interpretation often connects stories in adjacent verses that do not appear connected on the surface, so it is not too far a stretch, from an interpretive point of view, to imagine that the trouble Hadad made involved Jeroboam!
Page 69: "When Princess Hatshepsut traveled from Egypt to Jerusalem to marry the King of Israel, Pharaoh Siamun asked me to join her so that she wouldn’t feel all alone in that foreign country." The Bible states that Solomon married the daughter of the Pharaoh, but does not give her name (1 Kings 3:1): “Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the LORD, and the wall around Jerusalem.”
Page 69: "Bilhah nicknamed me the Dreamer and complained that even though Joseph had been a great man, not all of his qualities were worth mimicking." The nickname “the Dreamer” was first coined by Joseph’s brothers, who did not appreciate his dreams of greatness (Genesis 37:19): “'Here comes that dreamer!’ they said to each other.”
Page 71: "Give me a year, and I’ll make you invincible, a new and improved version of Samson, the hero from the tribe of Dan. And, unlike him, you won’t be defeated by a woman." Samson had two weaknesses: women and haircuts. Samson was betrayed by Delilah, which led to his death, as told in chapter 16 of Judges.
Pages 72-73: The story of the Mad Princess, which is summarized here, will be told at length in Part II of The Secret Book of Kings, and the Biblical allusions in that story, are to be found in the corresponding part of this guide.
Page 72: ״And the fifth, also a daughter of Benjamin, is yet to be born. Legend has it that she will be named for the goddess Ishtar, will marry the king of the great empire, and will save her people from a terrible calamity that a descendant of the nation of Amalek will try to bring upon them." This description refers to Queen Esther. Esther's Benjaminite lineage--and, thus, her descent from Rachel--is based on the description of Mordecai in the Book of Esther (Esther 2:5): "Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish . . . ." Mordecai and Esther are cousins (Esther 2:7): "Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful."
Page 80: The Hebrew that is translated as "now that everything was out in the open" is quoting that same Hebrew from Exodus 2:14 that is translated as "the thing is known" (in the more literal Jewish Publication Society translation): “And Moses feared, and said: 'Surely the thing is known.'"
Page 85: "I especially enjoyed his amusing story about the visit of the wise Queen of Kush, who had tried to embarrass the king by presenting him with difficult questions and riddles designed to trip him up, but in the end she had declared that there was no one wiser in all the world." This famous story of the Queen of Sheba's visit to test Solomon's wisdom is told in 1 Kings 10:1-13.
Page 87: Ithiel invited me to join him and spend our time off together celebrating the Festival of Freedom in the king’s palace. The “Festival of Freedom” is another name for Passover, for it was the day “in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus 13:3, King James Version translation.)
Page 91: "When the soldiers were in high spirits from drinking wine . . . ." This description alludes to 2 Samuel 13:28: “Absalom ordered his men, ‘Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, “Strike Amnon down,” then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.’” Esther 1:10-11: “On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs . . . to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.”
Page 93: "Jephthah of Gilead, one of our greatest heroes, was the son of a whore." See Judges 11:1: "Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute."
Page 96: “'At least we learned to work with iron from the Philistines.'” According to the Bible, the Israelites never learned--or, at least, not in the time of Saul (the setting of this scene in The Secret Book of Kings is the reign of Solomon, more than half a century later, so perhaps they finally did learn. According to the Bible (1 Samuel 13:19-22): “Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, ‘Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!’ So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plow points, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. . . . So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them.”
Page 97: "Suddenly I noticed a chair in one corner, and on it was sitting a figure like that of a person." This description, especially in the original Hebrew of The Secret Book of Kings, is a clear reference to Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 1:26): “Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.”
Page 99: “'Many years ago, the previous king escaped his pursuers in Israel and took refuge with the Philistines. His true identity was quickly discovered, and he was brought to trial before the king of Gath. And then, instead of falling to his knees and begging for his life, he started drooling all over his beard and making incoherent noises. The king of Gath watched him with revulsion and rebuked his servants: "Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me?"'" See 1 Samuel 21:10-15: "That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. . . . David . . . was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard. Achish said to his servants, 'Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?'”
Page 100: “‘Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.’” Here Hadid is quoting Jacob's deathbed blessing of Benjamin (Genesis 49:27).