Ugarit, Syria, 1450 B.C.E. Eighteen-year-old Leah, the eldest daughter of a wealthy winemaker, is past the traditional age of betrothal. Vowed to wed the wealthy but cruel shipbuilder Jotham, Leah declines his offer of marriage after discovering that he and his family suffer from “the falling sickness.” Enraged by her refusal and his ruined reputation, he blackmails Leah’s father, a punishment forgiven only by offering Leah’s hand in marriage. With no more options for another suitor and no male heir for her family, Leah must seek out the cure for Jotham’s sickness or her family will face permanent ruin.
During her quest Leah begins to burn with desire for Daveed, the handsome household scribe whose culture forbids their union. Daveed has been called by the gods to restore the Brotherhood, an elite fraternity of guardians at the great Library of Ugarit, rumored to contain the secret symbol of immortality within its ancient archives. If his plan succeeds, it may also save Leah’s family from disaster. But even Daveed and Leah cannot fathom the extent of Jotham’s sinister schemes to make Leah his bride once and for all.
With rich historical detail, The Serpent and the Staff is a sweeping tale of love, betrayal, and how one family's faith can overcome the obstacles that life has in store for them.
The Serpent and the Staff Reader’s Guide
- Hannah believes that a dream she had came true. Do you believe in the prophetic power of dreams? Discuss why or why not.
- When Elias did not consent to the marriage between Leah and Jotham, his decision started a domino effect of ruin for the family. Did Elias make the right decision, or could he have gone another route? Has there been such an event in your own family that, in retrospect, you see could have gone a better, less disastrous route?
- Tamar's beauty is described as the kind of beauty that could be a burden to a woman. Do you agree, or is there more to this "burden" than mere looks?
- Leah fears a mighty test will come and she will not have the courage to face it. Describe how you faced such a fear and overcame it.
- Why do you think the author chose the title of Serpent and the Staff? Would you have chosen another one?
- The author writes that the Egyptians were superstitious and the Canaanites were religious. What is the difference?
- Daveed noticed the power of symbols when the Egyptians went into battle. What is behind a symbol that can unite an army or a group of people? What examples can you think of in today's world?
- Do you agree with the patriarchal tradition of tracing a family bloodline through the males, or does tracing it through the female line make more sense? How would such a change alter society? How would it have an impact on the subservient roles women currently hold in patriarchal cultures?
- Can you imagine living in a world today where only a select few can read and write? How would your life be different?
- What do you think about the cultural tradition—still prevalent throughout the world today—of a woman being identified only by whose daughter or wife or mother she is, and never in her own right? Would you go along with such a tradition if asked to?
- The universal symbol of medicine—snakes twining up a winged staff—goes back thousands of years. Some believe that the snakes derive from the Biblical story of Moses’s rod turning into a snake. What do you think the components of the symbol stand for? How do they pertain to healing?
- On the rooftop, when El Shadday spoke to Daveed about the Day of the Book coming, what do you think this means?
- Would you say it was safer to live in Daveed and Leah's time than it is today, or vice versa? Why? Compare pros and cons of living in the ancient world and the modern one.
- Would you sell yourself into slavery to save your family and your home, even if it meant never seeing them again? Explain.
- If you could meet Queen Hatshepsut, what would you say to her or ask her?