One of the best things about writing this novelization of the story of David and Saul is the research.
The world was very different 3,000 years ago (duh). To try to accurately portray what life was like, physically as well as culturally, I’ve gotten to do a lot of reading, a lot of Googling various obscure issues, like where is the nearest spring to Bethlehem, how far could a person walk in a day, what was Philistine armor like. I’ve even managed to use the Calvin College library without incurring any late fees (unlike when I was a student there).
There isn’t a ton of archeological information for that location and time period (approx. 1,000 BCE), so I get to make stuff up. But I’m always alert to new snippets of data.
Here’s how Saul’s fortress changed over the various drafts of the novel.
Early in my research, I found an online photo of a ruin said to be Saul’s fortress. The author said it was probably plain, nothing fancy or very large — not at all like the medieval castle we might imagine. All commentators agree that Saul, as Israel’s first king, was more like the top tribal chief than what we think of as a king. So my first imaginings of the fortress had it as one large building, a first floor and a second floor. First floor for public functions, including his receiving room/throne room, and second floor for private.
But then I read The Great Armies of Antiquity, by Richard A Gabriel. It described a building with casemate walls (inner and outer wall with stone filler in between) and a tower on each corner. So the fortress got a little larger and gained fortifications. In my imagination, the towers weren’t just tall, but they had low walls and crenellations on top so archers could fire at the enemy and then take cover. This is not in either the biblical or archeological record for that location, although there were fortresses at the time that had them.
I also imagined the fortress as being built up over time, my thinking being that the job evolved over the 40 or so years of his reign. When Saul first became king, he had the plain broad house, larger than a regular person’s house, but not out of the ordinary for a wealthy person. Then, as time went on, and the Philistines were a continuing threat, coming to within ten miles of Gibeah, Saul would’ve had the place built up. So I imagined a compound in a U shape: original house, a connecting long hall in the back to a new building the same size as the original. The king kept the throne room and private family quarters in the original house, used the hall for storage of taxes and tributes, and put servants next to the food storage on the first floor of the new building, armor bearers and some soldiers on the second floor. The cooking courtyard leads off this secondary building. A wall built at the front of these two structures contains a gate, much like a city gate, so visitors go through the gate, and through the interior courtyard before getting to Saul’s receiving room.
But then, today, while Googling water supplies near Gibeah, I found a link to a book that claims that there is only sufficient archeological evidence to support the existence of a single tower during the time period I need. Which I find more interesting. So now the fortress is the same as above except for one lone tower at the rear corner of the newer building (so the soldiers can get up there quickly and easily) that rises way above the city walls. There are stairs that lead around it on the inside, but once you get above the second floor, there are stones that jut out like ladder rungs, and the lookouts have to climb up the rest of the way.
Yes, I find this fun. But it also serves a purpose: to provide the reader with a richly detailed, plausible world. Soon, it’ll be in the hands of my beta readers and I’ll find out whether I succeeded. (Fingers crossed.)