Abigailís Story by Ann Burton
(Signet, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-451-21479-X
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The story of Abigail is in the Old Testament of the Bible in 1 Samuel 25. Nabal (whose name is close to the Hebrew word for ďfoolĒ) is a wealthy landowner with large flocks of sheep and goats. His wife is Abigail. David, the psalmist and future king of Israel, sends word to Nabal demanding hospitality for himself and his four hundred men. David and his men had been in the same area as Nabalís shepherds and had provided protection for the shepherds and flocks, Nabal refuses David, and David prepares to go against him in arms.

One of Nabalís servants goes to Abigail and tells her what has happened. Abigail is smarter than her foolish husband. Disaster threatens. You donít refuse hospitality to the leader of an army of four hundred and the hero who killed Goliath single-handedly even if the demand for hospitality is presumptuous! She gathers up food and heads out to intercept them, riding on a donkey. All alone, she reasons with David pointing out the consequences of his actions if he pursues his present course. David praises Abigail.

When Abigail informs Nabal the following day what she has done, ďhis heart died within him, and he became as a stone.Ē Ten days later he dies, and David takes Abigail as his wife.

As is common in the Bible, there is no mention of Abigail prior to her existence as Nabalís wife. Who was Abigail? Why was such an intelligent and brave woman married to a fool, even a rich one? Why did one of Nabalís servants ignore his master and tell Abigail what had happened? Why was David willing to listen to Nabalís wife?

Abigailís Story is the first in a Women of the Bible series. It attempts to give context to Abigail and her brave encounter with David and his army. The larger part of the book supplies the backstory, the tale of how Abigail became the woman she is and was married to Nabal.

Abigail is the daughter of a potter. Her father suffers from severe arthritis, her mother is weak in her mind, and her brother is a drunken, gambling deadbeat. But Abigail is the classic long-suffering heroine Ė she keeps the family business going and sacrifices nobly for her family without a word of complaint. She is goodness personified in her dealings with the other craftsmen and shopkeepers who sell at the market. When her worthless brother loses a huge sum to Nabal, she offers herself as his wife in order to save her family from being sold into slavery. She persuades him that she can bring order to his disordered household.

Grateful for all her generosity and kindnesses, the other craftsmen provide her with a dowry. Nabal marries her, but the wedding night doesnít go well. The next day he sends her off with a maid to oversee the shepherds in his fields. Her sweetness and generosity win over the distrustful maid and shepherds and their families.

Also in the region are David and his men. Abigail becomes enamored of David before she knows who he is and how far above her. David sees a nubile young woman. The stage is set for the Biblical confrontation.

This backstory supplies two details that put a different slant on Abigailís actions: one, Nabal ďmarriedĒ her with the intention of stealing the dowry provided by her friends and the union is never consummated; two, David and Abigail know each other and are physically attracted before the Biblical story kicks in. In my opinion, this badly erodes Abigailís display of courage in the face of an angry leader and an avenging army. She feels no allegiance to Nabal because the marriage is a sham, and she has good reason to believe that David isnít going to ride her down. The Bible has her riding against an army to stop the slaughter of the men in her household; this book has her riding to meet up with a former boyfriend.

Moreover, in this version the Biblical story is turned into a Cinderella story Ė poor, hardworking, sweet-natured girl marries the prince after a cute courtship in the countryside with fluffy lambs gamboling in the meadow. This is the kind of heroine who gets herself immortalized in Disney animated films, not the strong woman as portrayed in the Bible. Nabal, too, undergoes a transformation. Heís the villain of the piece Ė cruel, conniving, and selfish with no redeeming social qualities instead of merely foolish.

The Abigail of the Bible knows sheís married to a fool and on her own sets out to avert disaster; itís her intelligence and courage that impresses David. This fictional saccharine revision of the Abigailís story may expand her history, but at the same time it weakens her to just another too-good-to-be-true heroine married to a stupid jerk.

--Lesley Dunlap


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