"Delilah" (St. Martin's Press, 384 pages, $25.99), by India Edghill
There's no surprise ending in India Edghill's new novel about Samson and Delilah. Blinded by the Philistines, Samson pulls down the temple in Gaza, killing himself and the idolaters trapped with him.
The latest in a growing group of books re-imagining Old Testament stories from a feminine perspective, "Delilah" plumbs the bare-bones story sketched out in the Bible. Edghill fleshes it out by asking why: Why would Samson tell Delilah his secret? Why was she so willing to betray him?
Edghill imagines Delilah as a Philistine priestess raised from childhood in a tranquil temple. A beautiful and talented dancer, she performs at religious ceremonies, earning acclaim and wealth for the temple. Samson is smitten when he sees Delilah dance and immediately asks for her hand in marriage.
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Not willing to lose her top dancer, the temple's high priestess, Derceto, challenges him to three seemingly impossible tasks. When Samson succeeds, Derceto swindles him by giving him Delilah's best friend, Aylah, instead of Delilah. She also orders Aylah to kill Samson.
But Aylah grows to love Samson and refuses to betray him. When she is killed by his enemies, Derceto sends Delilah to finish the job.
Heartbroken by her friend's death - and embittered by Derceto's murderous scheming - Delilah seduces Samson into revenge.
Edghill's novel is enriched by historical knowledge of the period covered in the Book of Judges and her willingness to question the Hebrew perspective. Delilah, as Edghill points out in an afterward, would have been a Philistine hero. But her conquest also would have looked different once Samson brought the temple crashing down, killing the leaders of the five cities that ruled Canaan.
This is a novel that works on two levels. First and foremost, it's a good read with a compelling plot and rich detail. But it's also a means for those of faith to take a second look at a popular tale they may have not questioned or considered deeply. It deserves a place on bookshelves with Edghill's first novel, "Queenmaker," and Anita Diamant's trendsetting "The Red Tent."