F – Father by Choice: Joseph

Mary's Exile coverJoseph is a misty character in the Bible. He appears early in the story of Jesus as the man who accepted as his wife a younger pregnant woman with a fantastic story of how she got that way. Even today the idea of Mary carrying a child while still a virgin is a central pillar of Christian faith.

In Mary’s Exile I decided to make the origin of Jesus’ incubation a non-issue. Too much had already been written about Joseph’s response to Mary’s condition, and yet far too little has appeared that presents Joseph as he affected Mary’s and Jesus’ lives. In the scriptures, once Jesus is born you don’t see Joseph again after he and Mary take Jesus to Jerusalem for Passover, and by then Jesus is twelve years old. After that Joseph essentially disappears.

For a writer, of course, this is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that there’s not much to research. The good news is that the writer can do a lot of imagining, and this was my focus in Mary’s Exile. There were certain things I could deduce about Joseph based on what little appeared in scripture, there were other things I could deduce about Joseph based on my research into Judaism, and there were still other things I could deduce about Joseph given how Jesus turned out. The result was my unique creation: Joseph as a man of quiet strength, humble piety and utter devotion who had his share of human flaws and who was subject to the limitations of his time – that is, he was no super hero, he couldn’t read minds, and he was physically vulnerable to the power of Rome.

Probably the single most daring quality of my characterization of Joseph was to give him a sense of humor. To me this was both important and inevitable. To be the stepfather to the son of God and husband to a saint must deprive Joseph of the kind of macho posturing and imperious tone so common among men of that epoch. What to fill him with instead? Humor.

And yet he is neither flippant nor irreverent. His is the humor of tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation for irony.

It was ironic that a first century Jewish man should accept a pregnant bride. It was even more ironic that the child so conceived should grow up to be the salvation of all mankind.

Joseph simply must have contributed to how Jesus did it.

E – Eleazar, Rebekah’s Father

black-headed-sheepIn a continuation of the discussion about my book, Rebekah Redeemed, I’d like you to meet Rebekah’s father Eleazar. He is a shepherd who tends flocks with his cousins in the fields near Bethlehem. What sets him apart from most of the others in this part of Judea is that he saw the bright star in the sky the night Jesus was born. He heard the angel tell the frightened shepherds to seek out the newborn baby in the manger. He heard the angels sing.

I invented the rest of the story when I asked myself these questions:

– What might have happened to one of those shepherds and his child later in life?

– Would the shepherd’s child know that Jesus was that same infant her father saw at birth when Jesus was teaching in the fields of Judea as an adult?

– What might have happened if that shepherd’s child had met the adult Jesus under adverse circumstances?

I chose to make Eleazar a loving father to his daughter who taught her about a loving God around their campfire at night. Rebekah experienced this example of a loving father figure early in life to remember as she grew up, even when all the other figures in her life treated her quite differently. I wanted to use this as an underlying theme in the book to represent what I believe are the most important traits of a redeemer, both in a minor key with a relative who wants to help Rebekah escape slavery and in a major key with Jesus working to save all mankind.

D for Daughter of a Shepherd

Today has been one of those days when it was more challenging to get my post done for the A to Z Blogging Challenge. However, for those of you still wandering the internet and the blog list, the daughter of a shepherd is Rebekah.

rebekahredeemed_frontcover1

 

In the first book of the Women of the Bible series, Rebekah is the daughter of a shepherd who visited the manger the night that Jesus was born. She is a fictional character whose life intertwines with Martha and Mary of Bethany. Rebekah is orphaned at age six and the story follows her for the next ten years through hardship and abuse. According to Jewish laws of the time, she had to be taken in by a male relative, in this case her uncle, but Rebekah was not guaranteed what kind of treatment she would receive.

Then Jesus of Nazareth arrived in Jerusalem and Bethany.

The theme of redemption I wanted to weave through the story was twofold. One, I based on the idea of a kinsman redeemer who would rescue Rebekah. Second, I based on the idea of a redeemer who would change her life.

Christ as a Child

Mary's Exile coverI originally thought of Mary’s Exile, Book 4 in the Women of the Bible series, as a different kind of Christmas story. The most commonly accepted contemporary version of the nativity includes a visit from the three kings, or the three wise men, from the East. But as a matter of historical fact we don’t really know if the wise men came that first night or sometime later, and some sources lead me to think that it could have taken them as long as two years to arrive in Bethlehem. That is where Mary’s Exile begins. Jesus is no longer an infant. He is a toddler.

The story of the nativity is also a story of Herod’s reaction to the birth of a new “king” in his own back yard. Jealous of his position, and probably more than a little bit psychotic, King Herod sends his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill every baby boy up to the age of two. At about the same time, Joseph was awakened in a dream and told to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

Mary’s Exile is my story of what I think Mary might have gone through with her husband and young son as they ran for their lives across an endless desert. Part of my vision of this journey includes some of my own experience in raising children. The key question for me was, did Jesus know who and what he was when he was only two? I decided it would be more interesting to describe Jesus as more child than messiah. I saw him much like any other chubby-cheeked, curious, and adventurous child of his age, but also as one who had a powerful effect on everyone he met, an effect he, himself, did not grasp: He is loving to his parents. He doesn’t want to miss anything. He is delighted in people, animals and objects. He is persistent about doing all that he wants to do. But he also tires from trying to do more than he can.

We all know that Jesus, Mary and Joseph survived this journey, but what I tried to do was create a surprise in telling how they did it. I also wanted to maintain consistency with the overall message of the Women of the Bible series and portray Mary as a woman who would do whatever it took to save the life of her child.

 

Bible-based Fiction Writing

My Women of the Bible series is by far my most popular writing to date. These novellas tell stories of women, who may have been mentioned in only a single line of scripture, who lived at the time of Christ and either actually or presumably met him.

I begin with questions: Who was she? What was her life like? Where did she live? Who was in her social circle? What challenges or problems might she have confronted? What strengths did she possess, and what limitations did she face? What hardships did she endure? Who might have been her friends? Her enemies?

Then the research begins.

rebekahredeemed_frontcover1For example, in the first book of this series, Rebekah Redeemed, the main character is fictitious, but she allows me to bring in Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary in a redirection plot. I researched online and at the library to find out what daily life was like for women in first-century Palestine, and I spent hours talking to a Jewish friend and scholar, Steve Gens, and his wife, Fredrika, about the laws, customs and practices of that era. We also consulted a rabbi for additional resources. Temporal history books and anthropology resources, as well as early church history books, provided copious information with which I filled notebooks.

Everything else was imagination and invention.

These stories are fictional as far as what happens to my main characters, but they are intertwined with recorded Biblical events. I develop stories from the perspective of what I think it was like for a Jewish woman to live at the time of Jesus and what it might have been like to meet him, talk with him, and act on his message. Then I try to capture what that impact might have done to her and to the other people she knew.

Each story illustrates one central theme, or message, of Jesus as he might have applied it to the people of his time, and these themes are developed in ways that – I hope – relate to problems and issues we face today.