Book Review: Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar

September 13, 2010

Pearl in the Sand” by Tessa Afshar, a work of biblical fiction, is the story of Rahab, one of the most thought provoking women of the Jewish bible (the Old Testament), in the book of Joshua. Rahab is a woman of the city of Jericho and works in the world’s oldest profession, a prostitute as well as an inn keeper. Rahab earned praise in the bible because of her unique faith, as well as being of the lineage of Jesus.

Giveaway: Moody Publishers has kindly made books available to three (3) lucky winners who will be randomly chosen on Monday, September 20, 2010. Entry form below.

Book Review: Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar
My rating for Pearl in the Sand 4
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As the story begins, we find fourteen year-old Rahab living in poverty with her family. Rahab’s father decides that the only way to survive the famine is to sell his daughter into a life of prostitution. The devastated girl decides that she will maintain the illusion of control over her life, and instead of being a temple prostitute (kedeshah) she will become a zonah, what we would call a street walker. (zonah vs. kedeshah) However, instead of having many clients, Rahab becomes highly selective, a paid mistress to the rich and powerful while running an inn for her clients.

As rumors of war start circulating Jericho (pun intended), Rahab hears about the miracles that the Hebrew G-d has performed. By chance she encounters two Hebrew spies, hides them in her inn and protects them from the king’s soldiers. For her kindness, the two spies make a deal by promising not to harm her or her family in the ensuing war. Rahab has betrayed her own people, she has decided between G-d’s plan and the plan of earthly kings.

The war has devastated the mighty Jericho and Rahab’s family joins the Hebrews, more specifically to the tribe of Judah. This is where we meet Salmone, a fierce warrior, head of the tribe of Judah, second only to Joshua. Salmone is not entirely happy to have the stained family of a zonah joining his tribe, but he must accept her past.

This is a fascinating book, the biblical characters of Rahab, Salmone, Joshua, Ezra and others are skillfully brought to life by Ms. Afshar. We get to know the characters by leisurely journeying alongside them throughout the book. This is not the usually love story, the relationship between the characters is rocky throughout the book, from beginning to end. The most powerful part of the book comes when Rahab, a prostitute, finds her true worth both in G-d’s eye as well as in her husband’s eye. The second half of the book is brilliant, emotional and engaging, however I found the first half lacking.

Rahab’s acceptance of G-d, (as oppose to her worth in G-d’s eye as mentioned above) just happened a bit too quick. At the time the story takes place, the way the characters talk about G-d would have been a violation of the third commandment (“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”). Granted our religious and political officials do it on a daily base, but back then this kind of talk would have been considered blasphemous. By the way, it’s still a violation we just don’t hold people accountable any longer.

I also felt the battle scenes could have been better described. At one point Salmone doesn’t kill an enemy because his back is turned to him – sorry, that doesn’t make sense. Granted it’s used as a plot point but I feel there would have been a better way to achieve that. Any warrior, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or any other religion, whether brave, coward, cheat or a hero would have stuck a sword in his opponent the moment his back was turned. Not to do so would be foolish, arrogant and stupid.
I understand that this is a fictional story, but it is historical fiction and in history chivalry simply did not exist on the battlefield (and rarely anywhere else with the notable exception of the minds of poets).

Pearl in the Sand” is a strange and interesting book, a story about Jews with, I felt, a Christian way of worship. As the author says herself, and as I say with each and every review of biblical fiction, before you read this book, do yourself a favor and read the original.

BuyPearl in the Sand from*
More Books by Tessa Afshar*
Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I got this book for free
*Ama­zon links point to an affil­i­ate account, the money is usually spent on boo

Congradultations to the winners:
autumn C.

Moody Publishers launched an e-preview of Pearl in the Sand, for which anyone can sign up and read the first 3 chapters of the book for free, delivered to their inbox in 8 installments. To sign up, got to and click the “Free Downloads” tab, or go directly to this link Once you and/or your blog followers have signed up, they will start receiving the chapter excerpts.

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Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar


  • FaithSeptember 13, 2010 at 9:03 am

    I meant to read this on NetGalley awhile ago and just didn't get around to it. Some re-writes of biblical stories can be excellent, others… make me wonder why the author even bothered. I tend to focus mostly on how accurate the historical detail is, and whether the author bothered to do his/her research before diving into the story "everybody knows".I'd be interested in reading this and seeing how she does, keeping your comments in mind.

  • Man of la BookSeptember 13, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Hi Faith,I like the biblical stories also (Delilah by India Edghill is my favorite so far… ).I do like historical accuracy and it bothers me when the author didn't do research, after all, the bible is one of the best historical documents we have of how people lived.I like to think of biblical fiction more as a re-telling than re-writing.

  • NANCY From the ShoreSeptember 14, 2010 at 10:24 am

    I'd love to read this book!

  • Joy Tamsin DavidSeptember 18, 2010 at 7:17 am

    I've noticed this book on various blogs and would love to read it.

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