A young woman survives the unthinkable in this tale of family, love, and resilience, set against the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
Esther dreams of so much more than the marriage her parents have arranged to a prosperous silversmith. Always curious and eager to explore, she must accept the burden of being the dutiful daughter. Yet she is torn between her family responsibilities and her own desires; she longs for the handsome Jacob, even though he treats her like a child, and is confused by her attraction to the Roman freedman Tiberius, a man who should be her sworn enemy.
Meanwhile, the growing turmoil threatens to tear apart not only her beloved city, Jerusalem, but also her own family. As the streets turn into a bloody battleground between rebels and Romans, Esther’s journey becomes one of survival. She remains fiercely devoted to her family, and braves famine, siege, and slavery to protect those she loves.
This emotional and impassioned saga, based on real characters and meticulous research, seamlessly blends the fascinating story of the Jewish people with a timeless protagonist determined to take charge of her own life against all odds.
Based on an incredible true story!
Esther held her breath as the priest stroked the lamb and whispered into its ears. It was a moment in and out of time, between life and death, between creation and destruction. The fulfillment of God’s sacred commandment.
Ever since she’d been little, Esther had climbed the staircase to the balcony above the Gates of Nicanor to watch the Tamid ceremony. From here, she had an unobstructed view of the bloodstained altar blackened with ash. The guard, a portly man with a large key dangling from his belt, was a friend of her father’s, and he winked when he saw her. They both knew that at fourteen, she should have been down below with the crowd in the Temple courtyard.
Another priest raised his knife. The blade, honed to slice a single hair in midair, glinted in the rising sun. The lamb bleated and its legs twitched. Esther wondered if the lamb knew its fate. The day before, it had probably nuzzled its face in its mother’s warm, soft belly. Now, with a smooth, swift stroke, the priest cut its throat.
Esther tucked unruly strands of her long hair under her scarf. Sometimes she wished she could tuck her whole self underneath it. Almost overnight, she had gone from being invisible to attracting attention she didn’t want. Her sister-in-law Miriam said it was because of her eyes; they were even darker than her hair, the color of carob pods left out too long in the sun, with a ring of gold around her pupils.
But Miriam was wrong. Men weren’t looking at her eyes, or even her face. It was her body they were looking at, a body with curves that she hardly recognized.
Esther immediately spotted her father, Hanan, in a line of priests carrying jugs of olive oil, pots of incense, and baskets of flour toward the altar. Each wore a white robe covered with a vest woven with purple, scarlet, and blue threads. Their heads were wrapped with silk turbans, and their feet were bare. He wouldn’t look up—his every movement was prescribed—but he knew, of course, that she was there.
Even though she had three brothers, Esther was the one he’d asked to walk home with him and carry their share of meat left over from the offerings.
After the Tamid, Esther followed her father through the throng of people on the Temple Mount. He lifted the hem of his robe, sidestepping the sludge on the ground. She held the reed basket close to her chest, hoping the street dogs wouldn’t smell the singed lamb necks inside.
People moved aside and bowed their heads when her father passed. Hanan was a senior priest with an office in the Royal Portico, where there were one hundred and sixty-two marble columns so large that even when Esther and her brothers joined hands, they couldn’t encircle one.
Esther saw them first—Roman soldiers. One, with an iron helmet atop his head and a short red skirt, stuck out his foot. Hanan stumbled and fell to the ground. The soldier planted his muddy boot on her father’s back and held him down as he struggled to get up.
“Look, the Jew is kneeling before us,” he sneered. “Now you’re in the correct position, holy man, to pay homage to the great Roman empire.” He thrust a large wooden shield with a picture of a wild boar into her father’s face. “Kiss it!”
Her father turned away. There was a gash on his forehead, and blood ran down his face.
“Kiss it! I command you!”
Hanan lay motionless. People averted their eyes and scurried away. Her father’s white robe, woven from fine linen imported specially from Alexandria, was covered in filth and dung. His scrolls lay scattered, and his wax tablet had been smashed.
Esther’s eyes widened as two soldiers grabbed her father under his arms and yanked him up. Still, he remained impassive and refused to look at them. They shouted, but he didn’t respond.
“Dirty Jew! You and your scraggly beards and barbaric superstitions! You’d cut your son’s cock, but you won’t kill a pig? Is that right?”
“Let him go!” Esther demanded, dropping the basket and running toward her father. The soldiers laughed.
“Look at the little she-wolf who comes to the rescue!”
One stepped on a scroll while another snatched the basket. A soldier with feathers on his helmet pulled her arms behind her back.
“If he won’t kiss the shield, make him kiss the ass of the ass!” another one said. Laughing, they pushed her father toward a donkey tied to a low branch of a nearby tree.
“You Jews don’t like graven images?” the tall one asked. “You won’t kiss it? Then kiss the real thing instead!”
Esther struggled to break free.
“Kiss the ass and we’ll let her go.”
She sucked in her breath. Kiss it? An unclean ass? Her father wouldn’t do that! He was pure, a priest. God would intervene and strike down these vile tormenters. What was He waiting for?
The donkey, startled by the noise, flung his head back, flapped his large ears, and brayed.
“Stop screeching!” another soldier yelled as he brought the side of his gladius down on the donkey’s neck. “You sound like a woman!”
The animal’s hind leg shot straight back and grazed her father. The soldiers laughed again.
She looked at her father for reassurance, for a sign that this would soon end. She wanted him to stand straight, to break free, to be a warrior like Samson or Gideon and take her home. She willed him to look at her, but he wouldn’t; it was as if he were trying to shield her from his shame.
“What are you waiting for, Jew?”
Esther’s palms were wet with sweat. Hanan took a deep breath and stepped toward the donkey. He bent toward the beast, closed his eyes, and quickly touched his lips to the donkey’s haunches.
The soldiers cheered and gave her a forceful shove. The entertainment was over, and they had already lost interest. Her father grabbed her hand. He limped but still moved so fast that she could hardly feel her feet on the road. She didn’t dare look back to see if the soldiers were following them.
Her father pulled her into the dark alleyway under the arches, below the aqueduct. His face and beard were caked with clumps of mud and dried blood. She wanted him to bring her close and comfort her, but he closed his eyes, and his hands hung by his sides.
“We will forget this ever happened,” he said.
Esther clenched her fists. She hated the Romans. Every last one.
The author will be raffling off 2 copies of Rebel Daughter & Swag during the book tour! (International)
About the Author
As soon as she learned of the discovery of the first-century tombstone that inspired Rebel Daughter, Lori Banov Kaufmann wanted to know more. She was captivated by the ancient love story the stone revealed and resolved to bring it back to life.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Lori was a strategy consultant for high-tech companies. She has an AB from Princeton University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. She lives in Israel with her husband and four adult children.
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