The Dovekeepers Summary & Study Guide

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The Dovekeepers Summary & Study Guide Description

The Dovekeepers Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.

The story of the last Zealot stronghold in Judea is told from the point of view of four fictional women in the novel “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman. The novel focuses on the lives of four very different women who took refuge at Masada. These women formed bonds as they worked together caring for the doves whose wastes were used for fertilizer at the fortification. The novel follows the historical story of the fortification but uses fictional characters. Themes in the novel include the importance of religion, the symbol of the lion, and the relationships bonded between the women.

One of the main women featured in the novel is Yael. Yael was the daughter of a Sicarii assassin whose mother died giving birth to Yael. For this reason, and because Yael’s red hair reminded him of her mother, Yael’s father had always hated her and blamed her for her mother’s death. After the Romans took their house for their own use, Yael and her father escaped to the desert where they were joined by Ben Simon and his wife and family. Ben Simon romanced Yael and the two had an ongoing affair. While in the desert, Ben Simon and his family got sick with a fever. Even though Yael and her father tried to find a cure, they were unsuccessful. Soon after the deaths of Ben Simon and his family, warriors from Masada found Yael and her father. Amram, Yael’s brother, had sent the warriors to bring them to Masada. Yael arrived at Masada pregnant with Ben Simon’s child and haunted by the ghost of his wife, Sia, who’d tried to be friends with Yael.

Revka had arrived at Masada before Yael did. Her husband, a baker, was killed when Romans invaded their village in the Valley of Cypresses. Revka, her daughter, grandsons, and son-in-law fled to the desert. While camping at an oasis, Revka’s daughter was attacked by Roman soldiers while Yoav, Revka’s son-in-law, was in the desert praying. Revka hid her grandsons and tried to protect her daughter but was knocked out by the soldiers. She awoke to find her daughter had been raped and tortured by the Romans. Zara’s wounds were fatal and her mother put her out of her misery by slitting her throat. Her grandsons had lost their voices because of what they had seen. Revka killed the Roman soldiers by baking them bread laced with hemlock. Revka arrived at Masada mourning for her daughter and guilt ridden because she had committed murder.

Shirah and her daughter Aziza are also featured in the novel. Shirah, a kedishah, was believed to have taken refugue at Masada because she was the cousin of Ben Ya’ir. In reality, she and Ben Ya’ir had been having an affair for years. Aziza was Ben Ya’ir’s daughter. Shirah’s character is important because as a kedishah she often showed more compassion for the people around her and their sins than the religious leaders.

Aziza, meanwhile, had an interesting background as her mother had once changed the girl’s name and dress to make her appear to be a boy. This happened after Shirah and Aziza were attacked by bandits. Shirah did not want her daughter to feel the same helplessness she had because she was female. After Aziza had been masquerading as a boy for several years, Shirah had her daughter change back into a girl when they went to live at Masada. To save her brother, Aziza, who was actually the better warrior, took Adir’s place as a warrior.

At the fortification, the four women bond because they worked together at the dovecotes, which were homes for pigeons. Although Revka had not liked Yael at first, she wound up taking Yael into her house after Yael’s father hit her during an altercation about her pregnancy. Aziza did not like Yael at first because she felt the more capable woman was taking her place as Shirah’s daughter. As they worked together, however, Aziza and Yael formed a bond like that between sisters. Shirah also revealed she had been Yael’s nursemaid when Yael was just a baby. She’d recognized Yael when she first came to Masada and for that reason had requested the girl work in the dovecotes.

The day the Romans breached the wall at Masada, there were only seven survivors among the nearly one thousand people who sacrificed themselves to keep the Romans from declaring a victory. In a step of faith, Yael told the Roman general she was Shirah, Ben Ya’ir’s closest companion and that she would tell the story of Masada in exchange for her life, and the lives of Revka and the five children with them. After their stories were told, the five went to live in Alexandria were Yael was known as the Witch of Moab, carrying on Shirah’s practice of keshaphim.

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