|About the Book|
“Rachel had been watching him for weeks before he spotted her. She had seen him dancing before his sheep, leaping and kicking like a kid, imitating deer, chickens, wolves, his red tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, white teeth shining.Rachel was the only daughter of Calba Sabua, the owner of this flock and much of the land in the area. This was the boy she had seen around the family estate since she was a child. Although her father was careful to keep his only and beloved daughter far from the farm workers and the bondsmen he could not prevent her from noticing the young Akiva, large and playful, his deep rolling laughter always close to the surface.She had seen him play-acting in front of the flock, begging their forgiveness, standing on boulders and making great speeches, declaring that he would lead them to the sheeps Promised Land, imploring them to forsake all other shepherds and to follow only him. He paced up and down in front of them, whirling dramatically to face them when he had a particularly pertinent point to make, standing on tip toes, finger pointed high in the air. His speech jumped from Aramaic to Greek to Hebrew and much of the time he spoke pure nonsense words, but all the time he maintained the pitch and intonations and vigorous hand gestures of a fervent leader.”Mostly Rachel craved to hear Akiva sing, and that was how he spotted her. Leading his flock back to the fold one evening, the light was fading, he sang softly, an evening song, and she, like his sheep was drawn close to hear, enchanted by his voice, echoing the melancholy of the departing day.“Like a rose among the thorns is my love among the maidens.Like the apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the men.I sit in his shade. His fruit are sweet on my palate.He brought me to the tavern, his love exalting me as a flag.Comfort me with sweet cakes.Nourish me with apples, for I am besotted with love.His left arm cushions my head, his right arm embraces me.I pledge you, maidens of Jerusalem,by the wild doe and by the hind,Not to waken my love until she is revived.”He noticed her running lightly at the side of the flock.He stopped suddenly. The goats jumped aside. The sheep piled up on the back of his strong legs, and there was a great woolly collision as they bumped into him and into each other, protesting loudly and clustering around their shepherds legs.She slapped her thighs, laughing at the comic scene. He heard her laughter, like water gurgling in a young stream. He stood watching her, upright, with a bed of sheep around his legs. She wondered what it would be like to lie down on the sheep. She danced- imitating one of his steps from earlier in the day, flashed him a smile and then ran away. Akiva stood still and watched her till she disappeared into an orchard.”This is a playful historical novel set in the first century A.D. fraught with the corruption of the all-powerful Roman Empire, gladiatorial battles, innocent love and the ancient mysteries of the Essenes and the Therapeutae. Together with a pair of lovers, Rachel and Akiva we wander through the valleys and the hills of ancient Judea in a time of cultural upheaval after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, which for close on six hundred years had been the beating heart of the Jewish people.We witness the courage of this woman, Rachel, flying in the face of tradition as she chooses the humble Akiva and inspires him to take the path of learning.The story is entwined with extracts from a new translation of the Song of Songs, a book which, due to advocacy of Rabbi Akiva was included in the Bible.We hear the songs and sense the delights of a love danced in the orchards, on the terraces and through the village streets.