Finding Jezebel

In the Land of the Grasshopper Song

After Max and I moved to the little town of Etna, we developed routines. On Saturdays we drove the 30 miles over the hill to Yreka, to shop at the supermarket, take out books from the local Siskiyou County Library, and eat at a Mexican restaurant.

During the week we read, wrote, hiked, and sometimes went backpacking. Etna is located at the foot of the Marble Mountain Wilderness. There was a deep pool right at the closest trailhead. In summer we would dive off a huge boulder into the water, and once we had cooled off, hoist our packs and head in. One of my favorite memories of our time in Etna is of a winter hike. We trudged uphill until we were pouring sweat, then stripped naked and rolled in the snow.

The Siskiyou County Library was a treasure. Between the collections on their shelves and interlibrary loan, I was able to delve into Jewish history and, in addition, learn more about the local history and natural sciences. One book I found interesting was In the Land of the Grasshopper Song. It recounts the first-person experiences of two women who in 1908 were recruited by the United States Indian Service to travel from their home in Brooklyn and spend two years among the Karuk Indians in the Klamath River area.

The women, Mary Ellicott Arnold and Mabel Reed, were assigned to educate and assimilate. Once there, however, they decided that the Karuks were doing fine on their own and did not need assimilation. One of the friends they made was a Native woman, Essie, who had three husbands. Far from attempting to dissuade Essie from this polyandrous arrangement, Mary and Mabel approved. Essie could count on three men to do the heavy work, and she would often lend them to Mary and Mabel, who had the benefit of their services “without any of the inconvenience.” The line that confirmed my suspicions, though, was when Mary wrote something like, “Our bed” (note the singular noun) “was warm and cozy.” And if I needed anything more, the description on the back cover states that the women “had met as children [and] were an adventurous and devoted twosome for nearly seventy years.”

One day Max and I read that the local community college was sponsoring a class in Karuk. We signed up, thinking—somewhat childishly—that we could learn a language hardly anyone else knew (today there are only 10 fluent speakers) and use it for secret communication. The teacher was a middle-aged Native woman who, because of an illness in her family, as a child had been kept at home instead of being taken forcibly to boarding school and forbidden to speak her native language. The other students were also middle-aged Native women. Max and I picked up the words fairly easily, but the others struggled and finally gave up, and the class disbanded. For years I felt guilty about it, thinking that we had discouraged the Native women, until my wife, Sylvia, pointed out that many people lack the ability to learn a new language as adults.

Then, about halfway through our year in Etna, I took a step that would change the course of my life. While reading the Bible, specifically the Books of Kings I and II, I discovered Jezebel. I had always known her name as an epithet for a sexually immoral woman. But I quickly realized that that made no sense. Sexual misbehavior on Jezebel’s part isn’t even suggested in the original account—the one in the Bible—which was written by her enemies. How could the wife of an Israelite king be screwing around with other men, anyway? She would have been killed. And did Jezebel really arrange the murder of Navot so that her husband, Ahab, could take over his vineyard, or (as has happened in so many situations) was the woman blamed for the man’s misdeeds?

I determined to restore Jezebel’s reputation, in the form of a novel. First, though, I had a lot to learn. Most novels based on Bible stories do not challenge the biblical account and are intended to inspire belief rather than question it. I couldn’t go against mainstream opinion unless I backed up my tale with evidence. At the end of the year, when we returned to the Bay Area, I would scour the scholarly journals and books about life in the ancient Middle East. I would study Hebrew. I would travel to visit the archeological sites and exhibits in museums in Israel.

That research, which I thought might consume another year at most, would become central to my life and take me on many unexpected journeys. Along with teaching myself to write fiction, I raised children, I took a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, I started a business. The novel grew into a trilogy. And 40 years later the work was completed, and is available to you on this website.

2 Responses to Finding Jezebel

  1. Connie O Byrne October 11, 2021 at 7:04 am #

    Your set of books is on my bed, top of my stack of must read books. I’ve finished the first one and it was gripping to say the least. I’m waiting for a night when it won’t matter if I pull an all nighter…. You’re good and I’m eager to read the next one.

  2. Martha Shelley October 11, 2021 at 11:10 am #

    Thank you!!!!

Leave a Reply

Privacy Policy

We do not retain any credit card information
and will not sell, lend, or otherwise transfer your
contact information to anyone, ever.