Ms. Siwik, with your new novel “The Widow from Bethulia” you refer to the time of the Judeans’ captivity in Babylon in the 6th century BC. What is the purpose of your novel?
The novel contains events that could have happened at any time: hatred, siege, fighting, deportation, but also the willingness to sacrifice, compassion and the courage to start anew are the subject of the conflict-filled events. Jehudit - a simple woman from the people - stands for the many nameless people whose selflessness saved other people's lives during military conflicts. It is therefore my aim to convey to the reader that it is often 'the power of the weak' that turns an event for the better.
What turning points can the reader expect in terms of the victorious position of the Babylonian Empire?
Turning points in politics develop from the strength or weakness of a state's leadership. This story is about Babylon's weaknesses, which arise from the incompetence and arrogance of those in power. This subliminally mobilizes strong forces like those of the priesthood of Bab-Ilus, who play the rudder of the state into the hands of another, in this case King Cyrus II. On the other hand, the oppression of other peoples by a great power at some point creates resistance that often eludes any control breaks out where one least expects it, in the case of Babylon in Bethulia, an insignificant mountain town of the subjugated Judean people.
How do you evaluate the actions that Jehudit performs as a young woman in the context of Judean society and traditions?
Their actions were unheard of at the time. The woman's job was to be the guardian of the house - of course under the leadership of the man. She was expected to be willing to sacrifice and obey, but under no circumstances was she allowed to interfere in public affairs or even - as in the present case - to take personal or even political initiatives. Ultimately, Jehudit was only able to tackle her plan by 'deceiving' the leaders of Bethulia and because - this should not be underestimated - she was a widow and therefore not under the authority of a man. Because her rescue act was successful, she was ultimately considered a hero. I dare not question what would have been said about them if they had failed!
What role does the narrative of the expulsion and return of the Judeans from Babylonian captivity and the reconstruction of Jerusalem play in the overall plot?
The deportation and return of the Judeans are a kind of framework, a background on which much of what happens in the course of this story becomes understandable. The reconstruction of Jerusalem is then the consoling conclusion to a dark time in Judean history .
What is the personal appeal of this story for you as an author?
At a young age I read the 'Apocryphal Writings' like an adventure book and this young woman inspired me. I later named one of my three daughters after her. As a woman of her time, Jehudit took the freedom to act - out of insight into the necessity.
Will the Jehudit's fame one day fade into anonymity?
This question is difficult to answer. Jehudit is not a historically confirmed person like Nabû-kudurri-usur (Nebuchadnezzar) or Kūruš (Cyrus). An oratorio, a drama and an opera have been dedicated to her. Who still knows the authors today? Are the works still being performed?
On the other hand: Can something that has been preserved for over 2,500 years disappear one day without leaving a trace? The reader has to form his or her own opinion!
The interview was conducted by Christian Leeck. Machine translated from German.
Wuppertal, September 2023