The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

John Cullinane, the head archaeologist of the dig, is not only responsible for commenting upon the historical aspects of the artifacts found in the tell, but also instigates the philosophical questions that run throughout the novel. A scholar, an Irish Catholic, and most important, a man free from any preconceived prejudices (at least as free as anyone can be), Cullinane is anxious to immerse himself in the history of the Jews, and by extension the Arabs, in order to discover the “spirit” that built Makor. He is a man with both “enthusiasm and a shovel,” who probes not only the earth but also the hearts of its people.

Michener is not known for his ability to create compelling characters (after all, in a novel covering twelve thousand years they are onstage for such a short time), but his characters are functional to the movement of his novels, especially The Source. As for Cullinane, one can see Michener himself as the prototype for the archaeologist: one who travels to a land, probes,digs (literally and figuratively), searches for information, questions, listens, and above all tries to understand. This is what Michener did while writing this novel, and this is what Cullinane does throughout the novel. He asks age-old questions to which Michener wants the answers.

As for Jemail Tabari and Ilan Eliav, they too are important for their function in the novel, rather than in any sense of character development. Each in his own way represents the “new” man of modern Islam and modern Israel. If at one time they were deadly enemies (as were their ancestors), now they are able to work side by side at the dig, with the hope that they will also work side by side in settling the strife between their two peoples. These are...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

The Source Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dr. John Cullinane

Dr. John Cullinane, a forty-year-old Irish American archaeologist from a museum in Chicago, the leader of an expedition to excavate one of the mounds in Galilee known as Tell Makor. He is exceptionally well educated for the job, having learned to read Aramaic, Arabic, and ancient Hebrew script, as well as Mesopotamian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs. He is also trained in ceramics, metallurgy, ancient coins, and problems of biblical research. Although he is Catholic, his religiosity is not so much a matter of ardent participation as another intellectual interest. He is moved by some of the Jewish religious ceremonies he observes in Israel. Cullinane’s easy religious tolerance and ecumenical spirit contrast with the religious passions that emerge in the history of this area, particularly the fanatical devotion to Jewish law that survived multiple disasters.

Jemail Tabari

Jemail Tabari, an Arab trained at Oxford, a first-rate scientific archaeologist. When the Jews threatened to capture Palestine from the Arabs, young Jemail, then twenty-two, fought the Jews vigorously. After his army was crushed, however, he chose to stay in Israel and work with the Jews to rebuild the war-torn area. He is the last of an unbroken line of the ancient family of Ur, which originally occupied Makor. He and his Jewish friend Eliav are the ones who make the final breakthrough to the ancient, long-buried well that was the source of water for Makor, a Hebrew word meaning “source.”

Dr. Ilan Eliav

Dr. Ilan Eliav, a Jewish statesman and archaeologist, the official watchdog of the dig, whose job is to see that the valuable tell is not mutilated. Cullinane finds out early that Eliav is Bar-El’s fiancé, but this fact does not prevent the rivals from enjoying mutual respect. The former history of Eliav is not revealed to either Cullinane or the reader until the last flashback, dated 1948, when the Jews drove the Arabs from the area, then called Safad. Eliav had been a German Jewish immigrant named Isidore Gottesmann. His father had shipped him to Amsterdam during the rise of the Nazis, and he became part of the Jewish underground operating along the German border. English agents spotted his abilities and turned him into an excellent soldier. They then sent him to Syria with a secret unit to keep Damascus out of German hands. There, he met members of the Jewish Brigade from Palestine and acquired their vision of a free Israel. When the British left Galilee, virtually handing over power to the Arab majority, Gottesmann and a small band of Jews rose up and took over the town, fighting against great odds. Gottesmann’s seventeen-year-old wife died in this action. The bitter Gottesmann, worn down by many years of warfare, changed his name to the Hebrew Ilan Eliav and vowed to devote his life to the new Israel.

Dr. Vered Bar-El

Dr. Vered Bar-El, a Jewish archaeologist and Israel’s top expert in dating pottery. She is an extremely attractive, thirty-three-year-old widow, about whom the reader knows little of a personal nature. She was a young girl in those fateful days when Jewish men, women, and even children launched their desperate assault against the Arabs. Later in that war, she, with gun blazing, rescued Eliav when he was captured. Few details emerge, however, about her attachment to Eliav. When legal complications in traditional Jewish marriage law concerning widows threaten to endanger Eliav’s political career, Vered surprises everyone by marrying the rich American Jew Paul Zodman, who financed the dig.

Paul J. Zodman

Paul J. Zodman, a Chicago businessman and thoroughly Americanized Jew who has little patience for the old rigid religious laws of Orthodox Judaism. He still considers the State of Israel as the source and preserver of Jewish heritage, however, and willingly pours money into projects that confirm the Jewish homeland.


Ur, a caveman and hunter of the prehistoric period that first saw some attempts to domesticate plants and animals. Ur himself would never have deviated from the familiar hunting pattern of his...

(The entire section is 1713 words.)