There are constant Biblical references and images in the story that function not only as historical background but also as potent symbols of the living Jewish spirit. For the Zionists, their ancestors are still present to them. They wish to change the image of the passive ghetto Jew or the Orthodox Jew unwilling to fight, into the powerful image of Biblical warriors. They believe they are the descendents of Jewish armies guided by prophets and figures who had direct contact with God. Because the ancient Jewish warriors and their modern counterparts are protected by God, they win against great odds through their faith. The characters in the novel take the names of Biblical warriors, such as David, Akiva, Gideon, Barak, the Maccabees. When Dov chooses a name on joining the Maccabees, he chooses Gideon, the name of the destroyer.
David tells the story of Judah Maccabee to the Exodus children on Chanukah to boost their faith. Judah (meaning a hammer) and his brothers and a few men stood up to the Greeks who had enslaved them. The characters in the novel covertly refer to Joshua when they are talking about military intelligence. Joshua was one of the twelve spies of Moses sent into Canaan during the Exodus from Egypt to find new land for the Israelites. The first battle after the Exodus, when the Jews crossed the Jordan, was Jericho whose walls fell when Joshua told the priests God’s instruction to blow horns. Gideon was a prophet and warrior whose name means destroyer. God called him to defeat the Midianites and Amalekites which he did with only 300 handpicked men, picked for their faith in God. Gideon could have had 10,000 men, but God showed him quality made a difference. Three hundred with faith was better than 10,000 mere bodies. In this novel, this principle of a small number of Jews with faith versus large numbers of unmotivated enemies works to produce victory in almost every conflict. Ari names the Exodus mission, Operation Gideon, replicating the number of children to equal Gideon’s warriors of faith.
David is frequently invoked in the book as a metaphor for the Jewish condition of being outnumbered or fighting those with superior strength. David was guided to kill the giant Goliath of the Philistines with a single stone from his slingshot. As a King he made Jerusalem his capital, establishing the House of David. When the Palmach soldiers camp on Mt. Tabor they sing a “song that David the King still walked the land of Israel” (Book 3, p. 355). The character David symbolically fulfills that function as an archeologist who finds the secret road to raise the siege of Jerusalem.
Yakov Rabinsky names himself after Rabbi Akiva, the great martyr who died fighting the Romans at Caesarea. Akiva was both scholar and fighter as Yakov himself proves to be. Akiva Ben Canaan gets his martyrdom at the hands of the British, though they try very hard not to let him have his wish.
There are also women heroes in the Bible. Brigadier Sutherland thinks of his Jewish mother whose name was Deborah. Deborah was a judge or prophet and a female warrior who led a war against Sisera, the king of Canaan. Her general was named Barak, and he attacked the enemy from Mt. Tabor where the Palach troops have their outing in the story. Ruth is invoked as a model for Kitty and Karen. The Biblical Ruth was a Moabitess whose mother-in-law, Naomi, is a Jewess. When Ruth’s Jewish husband dies she begs Naomi to take her with her to the Israelites: “Whither thou goest, I shall go. . . thy people shall be my people.” Ruth is the story of the outsider who becomes one of the Jews and contributes to their tradition. She is the great grandmother of David, and the Messiah comes from her line. Kitty and Karen could have had safe and glamorous lives somewhere else but chose to share their destiny with the Palestinian Jews.
War and Death
The entire novel concerns the past racial war on Jews, in terms of the Holocaust and pogroms, and in the war by Jews against British and Arabs to establish Israel in Palestine. The hero as warrior figures prominently in the story. Every man, woman, and child has to become a soldier. The statue in the courtyard of the Gan Dafna Youth Village is of the young woman Dafna, Ari’s fiancée killed by Arabs, with a rifle in her hand. Most military monuments are of older men, generals for instance. Dafna died as a teenager and becomes a mythical symbol for all the Holocaust children who arrive in Palestine what their life is going to be now. They may be free, but they have to pay for that freedom everyday with heroic deeds. Ari’s sister, Jordana, like Dafna, is a beautiful woman, but instead of buying fashionable clothes or dating, the young kibbutznik woman wears uniforms and knows how to use weapons. The image of Dafna as a warrior is duplicated in the image of Jordana with flaming red hair riding a horse fearlessly through an Arab village. She knows her way around and commands a Palmach unit. There is a similar image of Karen in a parade sitting on a white horse holding a flag with the star of David. Kitty thinks she symbolizes the spirit of the Jews. These young Joan of Arcs tend to become martyred heroes along with their male counterparts. Kitty attends a Palmach outing where the training soldiers are both young men and women. She is impressed with their strength, their joy, their faith, and calls them invincible “lions of Judea” (Book, p. 357).
Why are they so willing to fight? One constant reminder is the prison image. Ghettos, concentration camps, detention camps, or British prisons, are where Jews are put for either temporary or “final solutions.” They constantly fight their way out. There are tunnels under the walls. There are plots, guerilla warfare, martyrdom, the Jewish tradition of fighting to the last man standing. Even in free lands, Jews are restricted by laws, segregated, and put into pigeon holes. Uris shows that their spirit is too large and enduring to be confined. Against all odds, they take Palestine and transform the land, making a new civilization.
The Jewish connection to Palestine is depicted as a mystical bond. Palestine is not only the historical place of the ancient Jewish homeland, it is also sacred land, the land of the Bible. The Holocaust children are revived by the words “Eretz Israel,” the land of Israel, as if it means going to heaven. When the European Jews of the Diaspora return to Palestine, they do not see their desperate boat trips as illegal immigration, they call it “aliyah,” or ascension. Even Kitty, a Christian, feels the mystical power around the Sea of Galilee where Christ walked. It is repeated many times that Christ was a Jew. Karen says she understands Christ better as a Jew in Palestine than as a Christian in Denmark. The quotes from the Bible at the beginning of each book are divine proof that the land was given by God to Moses when he took the Jews on the first Exodus out of slavery in Egypt.
Kitty is afraid of this mystical and unpredictable power of the land, but the Jews are fired up and nourished by it. On every spot, they are reminded of Biblical scenes that took place there, connecting them to the life of their ancestors. When they arrive and see a desert and the people in poverty, they are driven to restore the land to its paradisal state. They give their blood and sweat to turn it into Eden once more. The kibbutzim are described as gardens in the desert. The Jews teach the Arabs how to grow and irrigate. They plant trees everywhere. Their turning the land into a fruitful place of abundance is a primary argument given to the United Nations why the Jews should establish Israel. Even the Arab leader Kammal tells Barak Ben Canaan, “ I have watched the Jews come back and perform miracles on the land . . . the Jews are the only ones in a thousand years who have brought light to this part of the world” (Book 2, p. 218).
The Jews make beautiful modern cities, but even more importantly, says Dr. Lieberman, Israeli culture has an earthiness that comes from the land, the kibbutz. Kitty looks at a tree fighting to survive with its roots finding ways around rocks in the soil. Lieberman says, “That tree is the story of the Jews who have come back to Palestine” (Book 3, p. 344).