Antony Wolkovitzky

The ‘Israelite Game of Thrones’ is a good read

The cover of "The Secret Book of Kings" by Yochi Brandes

In a realm divided by conflict, two prominent noble houses vie for control of the throne. One, identified by the emblem of a lion, employs ruthless cunning, utilizing deadly plots, deceit, and manipulation to secure their path to power. Their primary stronghold rests in the South.

Their rival house, which is marked by the symbol of a wolf, has fallen from grace and was nearly obliterated in the wake of their patriarch’s demise. Yet, their primary support base endures in the North. Because the North, as they say, remembers.

In the midst of this turmoil, a young man, long raised under the misconception that he is a bastard, stumbles upon the revelation of his true lineage.

Surprisingly, this narrative doesn’t belong to the realm of the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire saga but rather to “The Secret Book of Kings”, a biblical novel penned by Yochi Brandes in 2008.

It’s intriguing to contemplate whether the ASOIAF saga or at the very least its immensely popular television adaptation, might have influenced the composition of this book. It’s true that mainstream authors, like Brandes, often integrate prevailing themes into their work. However, as previously noted, this book was released in 2008, a full three years before the Game of Thrones television series catapulted the ASOIAF book series into mainstream consciousness. Furthermore, considering Brandes’ public image and writing style, she doesn’t appear to be inclined towards reading High Fantasy literature.

Numerous parallels, such as the symbols linked to King Saul’s tribe of Benjamin and King David’s tribe of Judah, draw their inspiration directly from biblical sources. Similarly, the division of loyalties between the North and the South, as well as the occurrence of numerous Game-of-Thrones-style plots and murders throughout the book, are deeply rooted in biblical narratives.

That being said, Yochi Brandes doesn’t confine herself solely to the biblical narrative but injects her own distinctive modern revisionism into the story, alongside her creative imagination.

This naturally sparked significant criticism from conservative and traditionalist audiences. For example, on the popular Jewish religious website “Kippa”, one rabbi characterized her as “a writer seeking publicity” and suggested that the pursuit of biblical truth did not appear to be her primary concern.

In another instance on the same platform, someone inquired whether “The Secret Book of Kings” was considered a forbidden text, with the belief that reading it would exclude one from the afterlife. In response, a rabbi affirmed this notion, asserting that such books were indeed prohibited. However, it’s important to note that there are differing viewpoints on this matter. On a separate occasion, another rabbi responded to a similar question by refraining from declaring it forbidden but recommended reading it critically, understanding that it is a work of fiction rather than a sacred text.

The negative responses shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially when considering the profound reverence the Jewish people hold for their legendary king. Merely mentioning the core Jewish belief that the Messiah must descend from David’s lineage suffices to underscore the immense importance of King David’s persona within the Jewish faith.

Brandes, who was raised in a Zionist-religious household, is undoubtedly well aware of this significance. Her choice to navigate this terrain in her writing demonstrates a remarkable level of courage and conviction.

Her controversial interpretation of the Bible, however, isn’t a solitary viewpoint. Numerous modern secular scholars have astutely highlighted the apparent inconsistencies in the tale of King David. At times, the chronology appears muddled, and in other instances, it becomes evident that we’re dealing with two distinct narratives or conflicting traditions that have been somewhat sloppily stitched together—indeed, a not uncommon practice in biblical texts.

Nevertheless, even when approaching David’s story as presented in the Bible and focusing solely on his actions, disregarding the accompanying commentary and framing provided by the anonymous biblical author, it becomes increasingly apparent that David may not be the unequivocal hero of this story.

For those interested in delving deeper into these inconsistencies and the potential pro-House-David bias, I would recommend listening to episodes 121 and 122 of the “Oldest Stories” podcast.

It’s worth noting that Brandes’ straightforward writing style, at times seemingly simplistic, might be more apt for an adolescent or young adult audience. However, this simplicity doesn’t diminish the book’s overall appeal: it still makes it captivating and a compelling read.

In the wake of Game of Thrones’ rise to popularity, many news outlets began dubbing various medieval dramas known for their intense violence as localized versions of the hit series. For instance, this comparison was applied to Dirilis Ertugrul(Turkey) and the Kazakh Khanate(Kazakhstan).

However, it’s worth questioning the accuracy of such descriptions. While Game of Thrones draws inspiration from medieval Britain, it unfolds in an entirely fictional realm with distinct geography, religions, and a rich tapestry of supernatural and mythical elements. Setting aside the absence of dragons and fictional domains, if we apply the same comparative logic to Brandes’ book, it could amusingly be dubbed as “The Israelite Game of Thrones” or “The Biblical Game of Thrones”.

Will we eventually witness its evolution into a streaming TV series? Currently, Israel has excelled in producing modern action thrillers but has yet to venture into the realm of high-budget historical/biblical dramas. However, can we assume this status quo will endure indefinitely? There are already signs of progress in the historical drama genre, exemplified by the substantial investment made in the The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem series.

While we can’t predict the future with certainty, it’s reasonable to believe that once Israeli producers muster the courage to venture into this genre, “The Secret Book of Kings” possesses the substantial potential to evolve into a successful and thought-provoking television series.

“The Secret Book of Kings” is available on Amazon, iBooks, and various other platforms.

About the Author
Born in Soviet Belarus, but grew up in Israel. Graduate of a bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of Haifa, as part of which also studied International Relations at the University of Warsaw. Lived for about two and a half years in the EU (Poland, France, Greece), and was active in European Students for Liberty.
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