Author: Rob Levinson

Publisher: Black LeperBooks

ISBN: 978-1-77302-279-6

When I picked up a copy of Rob Levinson's The Leper Messiah, I was reminded of my first encounter with the story of David while studying the Book of Samuel at a Hebrew parochial school “many moons ago.” It is here where I learned of God's choice of David to replace Saul as king of Israel and his subsequent establishment of the Judahite Kingdom. Yet, did I really know and understand David 's humble beginnings, his complex character, his pragmatism, his loyalty, his faith, his transgressions, and his flaws. Did I have any understanding as to what really made him “tick” and charismatic? These were themes that were never fully explored by my teachers. Perhaps, because I was too young to fully understand the depth of David's character, his conflicts, his villainous behavior, his fornication with Bat Sheba, and the ordering of her husband Uriah to be sent to die at war, that they were ignored?

Now along comes Levinson's novel of this fascinating character, which, according to its author, was inspired from the time he had been a young lad driving a tractor and gathering cotton in the field surrounding Kibbutz Sede Nahum, Israel. It was here that he read about Mount Gilboa, where King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed, and as he quotes David, “Oh, how have the mighty fallen.” He goes onto to say that he was entranced with David's story and even imagined himself “one of his outlaws, traveling with him on his journeys through Judah and Israel, gathering food, wine, and adventure like so many leaves on a fig tree.” As Levinson states, it was not so much that he wanted to tell the story of the mighty King David, but rather “the outcast, the troubled one, the desperate David” that filled him with wonder. With this in mind, Levinson has produced a fast-paced, intricately plotted tale that uses as its springboard the Book of Samuel.  And to add an extra dimension, Levinson cleverly incorporates the tools of metaphor, symbolism, and mysticism, which enhances the story with more depth and color drawing in his readers and keeping them hooked.

Levinson lures his readers to travel with him into the past examining David's life as a young lad from the small town of Bethlehem, in the land of Judah. David, who was the youngest in his family,  was shy, afraid of his brothers and torn by his father Jesse's disdain. And from his earliest days, he felt like an outcast and “it became a mantle he wore like a brand that was burned into his very being. This was all he ever knew and it shaped his world.” We can feel his pain being “banished from his father's love, banishment from brother's love, this is pain.” If we are to describe the novel as merely historical fiction, we would not do it justice, thus depriving it of its individuality. What Levinson has accomplished is a form of realism which makes its biblical setting as immediate, vivid, and chaotic, as anything set in the present.

Several themes are touched upon including the strong women in David's life such as his mother Nitzevet and the supernatural Rose, who has a knack of appearing in pivotal moments in his life destroying anyone who dares to harm David. There is also King Saul's jealousy of David while serving in his army forcing him into hiding and finding asylum with Achish, the ruler of Gath. We also read about the true bond between David and Saul's son Jonathan,which proved itself, even in the most difficult of times.

Towards the end of the novel, Levinson succinctly sums it all up as follows: “he had to fight for everything or take it by force or sometimes charm. He learned quickly to survive in each situation, what mask to wear and when what to say and how to say it. He was gifted and realized at a young age that he could receive things with his natural ability to charm. He did not have to play a heavy role as a gentle way would  deliver twice as much to his cause.”

The novel is not without its shortcomings, particularly the lack of smooth transitions between one chapter and the next, the popping in and out of characters with little introductions that I needed a scorecard to keep tab. Nonetheless, there is still a great deal to chew on that in a way doesn't trivialize David or his emotions. We have a fascinating, mysterious, and complex creation, all the more attractive for being flawed. And although, he is someone we don't especially like, yet we still admire him for his achievement in uniting his people.