Monday, December 21, 2015

The Carpenter's Christmas

"We're almost there, Mari."

"I'm sorry, Yosef.  I can't."  She gasped and dug her fingers into my arm.  "Not one more step."

"It's less than a mile."

She glared at me, sweat beading on her forehead.  "Fine, then!" she yelled angrily.  "You can carry the baby the rest of the way!"

Maryam had been complaining of pains for the last two miles.  At first, I'd dismissed them as fatigue, or indigestion, or imagination.  After all, it was a week yet until her due date.  But looking at her now, I was forced to admit that she was well into her labor.  I'd planned to arrive in Bethlehem five days ago; we were supposed to be settled safely under Uncle Nathan's roof by now – Maryam couldn't just lie down along the side of the road to give birth like one of her ewes!  "Please, Mari.  Try.  We're so close, just a little farther to Uncle Nathan's house, and his daughters will take care of you and the baby."

She shook her head, in tears.  "No!  I can't!  You don—ohhh!"  Whatever she was about to say was swallowed up in a loud cry as she half bent, half crouched, clutching her stomach. I held on to her until the spasm passed, and then turned and started unloading gear from the ass.  

"Here," I said, pitching the bag containing my tools to the ground, "you ride the rest of the way."  With some effort, I lifted her onto the back of the beast, her legs dangling a foot or two above the ground as she sat pillowed on the worn blankets we'd been using for bedding.  Slinging my tools and the other gear over my shoulder, I took the donkey's halter rope and led it slowly along the road.  Whenever Maryam's pains came, I stopped and held her so she wouldn't fall off.  In this way, we made it to the outskirts of Bethlehem.

She was sobbing by the time the first houses came into view.  "It hurts, Yosef.  Stop.  Please.  Stop."

"Not now, Maryam.  We need to get to the house.  It's on the other side of town—"

"Stop!"  She was screaming.  Before I could respond, she slid off the donkey and collapsed to the ground.  The blankets on which she'd been sitting were soaked through.  I didn't know what that meant, but I was pretty sure it wasn't good.

I crouched down beside her, fighting the feelings of helplessness that threatened to overwhelm me.  At that moment, I'd have given anything to have my mother by my side—or any woman, for that matter.  Birthing babies was their province.  What did I know of such things?  What did any man know of them?  "Mari, what should I do?" I asked.

"No more riding," she gasped.  "It's torture."

"All right," I said quickly.  "No more riding."

"No more walking," she added.  There was an edge to her voice, as if she was about to slip back into hysteria.

"All right," I reassured her.  "No more walking."  They were just words, spoken soothingly to calm her.  If she couldn't ride, she'd have to walk or give birth here in the dirt of the road.  But I'd let her rest a minute first, wait until the pain eased off enough for her to get to her feet and finish the journey.  We were less than half a mile from Uncle Nathan's house.  I was sure she'd be able to make it.

I was wrong.  Maryam wasn't even willing to try.  Or maybe that's being unfair to her; maybe she was willing but unable.  The results were the same in either case.  She lay there, at the side of the road, crying and moaning and begging me to make it stop, but refusing to take another step toward the comfort of the house that was waiting for us on the south side of Bethlehem.  So I did the only thing I could.  I left her there.

Oh, I didn't go far—that would have been criminally heartless.  Instead I ran to the nearest house and pounded on the door until someone opened it.  The face that peered at me through the crack was suspicious—as I myself would have been, at this hour of the night—but not hostile.  I glanced over my shoulder to check on Maryam; I could just make out her form in the light of the rising moon.  She hadn't moved.  I turned back to the man in the house.  "My wife, she's in labor.  I need a place for her to lie down."

He opened the door a few inches wider and peered out, verifying the truth of my story.  Then he grunted.  "I'm sorry, I can't help you.  I've got travelers here on their way up to the Feast, and every inch of my house is full."

"Perhaps your neighbor—" I began hopefully, but he shook his head.

"Every guest-room in Bethlehem is full," he said.  "What did you expect?  It's the day before Sukkoth—half the world is going up to the city!"

"Just one corner," I begged.

He shook his head again, stepped out into the moonlight, and pulled the door shut behind him.  "Look, I've no wife of my own, but if I did, I wouldn't want her in here with me tonight.  I've six men crammed into my rooms, and four more on the roof.  It's no place for a woman, in labor or out, if you know what I mean.  Try one of the houses farther up the road.  Perhaps—"

A cry split the air.  Woven through it was my name.  I ran back to Maryam's side as quickly as I could, only vaguely aware that the stranger was following.

"Yosef!"  Maryam cried again, clutching my arms as I dropped to my knees beside her.

Without looking up, I spoke to the stranger.  "I don't have time to go door to door."

"Yes, I can see that much."  He sighed.  "Tell you what, Yosef.  Take my stable."

"Your stable?" I asked, cradling Maryam against my side as she moaned.

"More of a cave, really.  It's just behind the house, there.  It doesn't have a door, and you'll have to share it with my animals, but the fence will keep out any wild beasts and at least you'll have some privacy."

A stable.  "How far?" I asked.

"Not far at all.  You should be able to carry her.  I'll lead your donkey."

"Thank you, um...?"  I didn't know my host's name.

"Asher.  Please, don't thank me.  It's the least I can do and still live with myself."

I got my legs under me, wrapped my arms around Maryam, and managed to stand up without dropping her.  Asher grabbed hold of the ass's halter and led it up a short rise and around a bend.  I followed with some difficulty.  Maryam herself was a petite thing, but pregnancy had added several pounds to her weight, and she wasn't exactly lying still in my arms.  Add to this the unfamiliar path, the shifting moonlight, and the fact that I'd covered a hundred miles on foot in the last two weeks...

The entrance of the cave was low, and I had to stoop slightly to enter.  Most of the stable was taken up by a brace of oxen and a milk goat with her kid tethered to one side near the opening.  Our host was already tying the donkey beside them, probably to keep it out of the fodder he had stored in the far corner of the stable.  The hay there was piled thick enough to make a decent bed for Maryam, but if she gave birth while lying on it, it would be ruined as feed, so I set her on her feet and began to pull the wet blankets off the donkey, looking for a place to spread them.

"No," Asher interrupted, taking the blankets from me and tossing them to one side.  "Use the hay."

"It'll be spoiled—"

"Don't worry about that.  I can spare some."  He scooped up an armful of hay, piling it thickly beside the nearest wall and covering it with the driest of our blankets.  "You'll want to change it afterward.  Take as  much as you need.  Just pitch the soiled straw outside into the offal pit and we'll burn it tomorrow."  He turned to leave.  "I'll send someone into town to see if we can find you a midwife," he called out as he shut the gate behind him.

I settled Maryam on the makeshift bed.  She didn't want to lie down but sat with her back against the rock wall.  Following her instructions, I pushed some of the straw up behind her to serve as a cushion.  "Now," I said with a smile, "we'll just wait for the midwife to arrive."

"I don't think I can."  She half gasped, half sobbed the words.

"Of course you can," I soothed.  "Just relax."

Instead, she tensed up, clutched at the straw, and yelled.  "Adonaiiiii!"  As soon as the pain subsided enough for her to talk, she said, "Yosef, you have to help me!"

How could I help her?  I didn't know what to do, and I said as much.

"You helped Father with the lambing last spring," she panted.

I nodded.

"It's the same thing."

Somehow I doubted that.  To start with, the ewes didn't bellow with pain, or grab me so hard that they left welts, or pant from exertion.  "Let's just wait for the midwife."

"Don't you think I'd rather wait?  Do you really think I want you to see me like this?"  She blushed, torn between shame and need.  "I can't, Yosef!  The baby's coming now and I need you to help me!"  Her final word stretched into a long, drawn-out wail as another contraction doubled her over.

I was out of choices, out of words.  The time had come for action.  Quickly I knelt in front of her, averting my eyes as I shoved her skirts up to her waist.  Do not be afraid to take Maryam home as your wife.  This was definitely not the way I'd planned our first intimate encounter to go.  Certainly my father's instructions contained no advice that would be helpful here.  Adonai eloheinu, I found myself praying, help us!  Show me what to do.

Gritting my teeth together, I looked up at my young wife's body, embarrassed for myself and for her.  What I saw shocked me—blood, blood everywhere.  The sight paralyzed me for a moment, but it also yanked me past my discomfiture.  Maryam cried out again, and the baby's head suddenly appeared.  At least, that's what I think it was.  It disappeared again almost immediately.  "Mari, what do I need to do?" I asked quietly, surprising myself with how calm I sounded.

She drew in three short, panting breaths and said, "Take his head.  In your hands."  Then she grimaced and let out a horrid, shuddering sound that was neither a scream nor a moan, but a mixture of the worst of each.  The baby's head came into sight again, and I reached out quickly, trying to catch hold of the tiny, slippery thing before he could escape.  My hands felt huge and clumsy, but I managed to grasp him gently and hold him firmly until Maryam was able to bear down one last time.  All at once, he slipped free of her and fell into my hands.

I knelt there in the bloody straw, holding the child who had turned my life upside down.  He was red and wrinkled, covered with blood and a waxy paste, and no more than a cubit from head to toe.  His tiny fists, each smaller than my thumb, were balled up tightly and his mouth stretched wide in a soundless scream.  Acting on instinct more than knowledge, I turned him over and massaged his back with one hand.  He let out a cry, taking his first breath, and I laid him on Maryam's breast.

I looked into her face, but she had eyes only for the child.  "Yeshua," she whispered, running her hands over his little body, counting his fingers and his toes, smoothing the dark curls that covered his head. At her touch, his cries subsided, though his mouth continued to open and close as if he were trying to suckle.  And then he opened his eyes.  They were dark—pools of black, as dark as the wine that lingers in the bottom of a cup.  He fixed his eyes on my face, or so it seemed to me at that moment.  Gazing back into those depths, I felt as if I were looking into eternity.  What do you see, little one?  What have you seen?  Where have you come from?  And why, oh why, are you here?

He didn't answer any of my unspoken questions, which hardly surprised me.  A fresh gush of bloody fluid snapped me out of my reverie.  "Maryam!"

She laughed.  "Relax, Yosef.  It's only the afterbirth."  She told me what to do matter-of-factly, no longer in pain and once again in control of the situation.  I followed her murmured instructions as she nursed the  baby.  She fell silent after a little while, and I looked up to see that both of them had fallen asleep.  Carefully, not wanting to disturb her, I lifted the child from her arms.  There were some clean rags packed among her things.  I used one of them, together with the water in our skin, to wash the child.  Then I wrapped him snugly in a clean cloth.

When all was done, I looked at the mess in which Maryam was lying.  I needed to get her cleaned up, but I couldn't do it while I was holding Yeshua.  I swept my glance over the stable, searching for a place to lay the baby.  A wooden trough caught my eye.  With one hand I dragged it away from the oxen after emptying it, and piled some fresh straw in the bottom to act as a cushion.  Then, satisfied that the baby's "bed" was as comfortable as I could make it, I laid Yeshua on the hay in the feed trough.
With both hands now free, I was able to scrape away most of the straw around Maryam and pitch it outside.  After piling fresh hay beside the trough, I spread the last of our clean blankets out on top of it.  Then I woke Maryam.  "Can you sit up?  I have a clean tunic for you."  I held out her garment and the things I'd used to bathe the baby.  "Here's some water, and a rag you can use to wash yourself."  I handed her the things, and then turned my back, suddenly shy again.  "Just throw your soiled clothes over here," I said without looking around at her.  I listened as she undressed and as she poured the water  over herself.  She hummed softly as she bathed and dressed.

"It's all right, you can turn around now," she said after a few minutes had passed.  Maryam was lying on the fresh bed I'd made for her, wearing a clean shift and a sleepy smile.  "Thank you, Yosef.  You were—you were wonderful."

I smiled and laughed softly so as not to wake the baby.  "Get some sleep, Mari.  You've earned it tonight."  I bent to pick up the rest of the soiled things, and carried all of them outside to the pit.  Her clothes were ruined far beyond washing; she'd just have to get new ones.  It was a small price to pay for a safe delivery.  At the thought, I dropped to my knees there outside the cave and praised God wholeheartedly as I'd never done before.  "Lord, thank you."  The words of the psalmist rang out in my soul and poured from my lips:  "Give thanks to Adonai, for He is good; His love endures forever!  Give thanks to El-Elyon, for His love endures forever!  To Him who alone does great wonders, who made the great lights, the sun to rule by day and the moon and the stars by night—"

I looked up at the heavens as I prayed, and my voice choked at what I saw there.  The harvest moon, nearly full, rose fat on the horizon, but its light paled beside that of the star that blazed directly overhead.  Never in all my life had I seen such a star.  It almost seemed that I could reach up and pluck it from the sky, so big and so close did it appear to be.

As I stood to my feet, I heard two things.  The first came from within the cave: a newborn's cry of hunger.  The second followed almost immediately, but came from somewhere behind me: voices, several men talking excitedly.  "There!  Did you hear?  Over this way!"

Concerned, I rushed into the stable and grabbed a winnowing rake that hung on one of the walls.  Maryam was just sitting up, reaching toward the trough in which Yeshua lay crying.  She stopped as she saw the look on my face and the weapon in my hands.  "What's wrong, Yosef?"

"Nothing, I hope.  But there are some men outs—"  Before I could finish my sentence, the first of them appeared, stooping to enter the cave.  At once, he gasped and fell to his knees.  But his eyes weren't fixed on me—it was the sight of the crying infant lying in a feed trough that had overwhelmed him.  At least, that's what I surmised, since he never once took his eyes off of Yeshua.

Six men arrived in this fashion, and each of them reacted in exactly the same way.  I stood by warily, holding the rake, but it was fairly obvious that they meant us no harm.  They stared at the child, speechless for quite a while, and two of them pressed their faces into the dirt.  Another kept murmuring, "The sign, the sign."  From their clothes and the unmistakeable odor of sheep that lingered about them, I guessed they were shepherds, but I saw no indication that they'd brought their flocks down with them.

Yeshua kept crying fitfully, and Maryam finally lifted him from his makeshift cradle.  Turning away from the shepherds, she began to nurse the baby.  I moved to stand closer to her, shielding her from the strangers, but my protection was not needed.  The men were respectful, keeping their distance, saying little.  Finally, one of them explained.

"We were up on the hill, watching the sheep.  And then, there was this bright star—brightest star I've ever seen.  And then, then there was a man standing there, facing me, only he was standing in the middle of the campfire."

"And he was big as Goliath," added another.

"But he was facing me when he talked," volunteered a third man.

"No," said the first man, "he was facing me, straight on, and I was clear across the fire from you, Kaleb."

"That's as may be," the one called Kaleb replied, "but he was facing me, too."

"And me," said the second man, and one by one they all agreed that the messenger had been facing each of them at the same time, although they'd been sitting on every side of the campfire.

"He said, 'Don't be afraid,' but let me tell you, it didn't help much," the first shepherd continued.  "The whole sky was on fire.  It was like—like standing right next to a tree when it gets hit by the lightning.  Every hair on my arms was standing straight up.  And then the angel said, 'I have good news for you, for you and for all the people.  Messiah has come!"

"He said that we would find him in Bethlehem, swaddled and lying in a feed trough," Kaleb added.  He closed his eyes, squinting and frowning as if struggling to remember the exact words.  "'To you is born this day in David's city a savior, Messiah Adonai.'"

"And then," said the youngest of the six, who had been the first to arrive and the last to speak, "hundreds of angels, thousands maybe—I don't know—the sky was suddenly filled with them, all praising God in a voice like—like a flood!  'Glory to El-Elyon!'  And then, 'Shalom, shalom, shalom.'"

Shalom.  Maryam lifted her head at the word, her lips moving soundlessly as she repeated it to herself.  Since the angel had come to her nine months ago, she had not known peace.  Would that change now that the promised one lay cradled at her breast?  Not for the first time, I found myself wondering what his arrival meant.  The Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.  Until the entrance of the shepherds with their unbelievable story, everything that had happened tonight had seemed so ordinary—unpleasant, yes, and not the circumstances I'd have chosen for Maryam's delivery, but in all respects completely mundane.  Her pains, the blood, the tiny baby's first gasp for air, his wrinkled red face, his cries of hunger... all were exactly like any other birth, weren't they?  And looking at them now, the young mother with her newborn son suckling at the teat, it was impossible to see anything more than that.

And yet, these strangers who had come to pay homage argued otherwise.  These were no mystics, given to flights of fancy.  They were shepherds, grounded in the realities of life.  What they described was miraculous, nothing less, and the testimony of these solid peasants convinced me more than anything else that my dream had indeed come from the throne of God.  Until this moment, I hadn't realized how strongly I'd doubted that.  Laughing out loud, I admitted to myself for the first time that I had believed the dream—believed Maryam—only because I had wanted to believe, only because the alternative to belief was too terrible to accept.  Deep down inside, I'd been sure that she was lying, and the dream was the product of my own desires, nothing more.  But now...

I waited until the shepherds had departed, until the baby was sound asleep, until Maryam herself was drowsing.  Then, as I tucked a blanket around my bride—my virtuous, innocent, and godly bride—I whispered into her ear.  "I love you, Mari.  Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this.  We both know how unworthy I am."  I kissed her gently on the cheek.  Almost I lay down beside her, but the time for that had not yet come.  Taking the rake with me, I stretched out across the entrance to the stable and fell asleep with the light of the star raining down upon me.

This story is excerpted from The Carpenter. If you have enjoyed it, be sure to read the rest of the novel. Just click on the link at the top of this page to order your copy today! Thank you, and have a blessed Christmas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

R.I.P. Vicki

In 2007 the school where I was teaching upgraded its technology department and became a "Mac School." I was not happy about this. The change required me to learn a whole new way of working on the computer. To make matters worse, I couldn't sidestep the change since I was one of the fifteen teachers who were chosen to pioneer the Mac frontier. Toward the end of May I was handed a MacBook laptop, given an hour of basic instruction, and then told to "take it home over the summer and play around with it."

"May I use it for personal things?" I asked, expecting to be told that it was for school use only.

"Absolutely!" was the enthusiastic reply of our technology director. "The more you use it, the quicker you'll become proficient."

It took three weeks, but I fell in love.

That MacBook co-authored The Voice that summer and throughout the following school year. No longer was I chained to my desk. I could write anywhere, any time. Research question? Answer available at the touch of a button. Spell check? A nightmare of red underscores (the MacBook didn't understand Hebrew) until I learned the right-click "learn spelling" trick. I did run into one small problem. With the newfound ease of composition, I found myself pulling all-nighters with alarming frequency. How to avoid the hypnotic trance of the engrossed writer? Simple. MacBooks are programed to talk to you, if only you ask them to. (Common technology now, but in 2007 it was a new experience for me.) I selected the "Vicki" voice, asked it -- her -- to call out the hours like a cuckoo clock, and quickly grew used to her gentle reminders of passing time. "It's ten o''s eleven o''s twelve o'clock..."

I didn't shut her off when I went back to school. Every hour on the hour, my students were treated to a conversation that went something like this:
Me: For homework tonight, do all the even numbered questions on page 110.
Computer: It's eleven o'clock.
Me: Thank you, Vicki. (to class) Remember to answer in complete sentences...
After a week or so, the conversations became more inclusive:
Me: Everyone turn to page 138.
Computer: It's one o'clock.
Entire class: Thank you, Vicki. 
In 2008, Vicki and I finished up The Voice and plunged right into The Carpenter. She traveled with me to the Florida Christian Writers' Conference and helped with a rewrite of Beloved Disciple (which eventually became the Talmid trilogy). She stayed up late with me night after night through 2009 and 2010 as we wrote half of Natzrat, only to file it away as unusable and then resurrect part of it as Brothers. (The remaining Natzrat material is now being reworked as a major part of Seven Demons.) After a writing session, with my brain buzzing too loudly to fall asleep, I would ask Vicki to read to me whatever we had written, and I would drift into dreams as I listened to her I-was-born-deaf-but-learned-to-speak alto tones butchering the Hebrew names. And then I made a decision that would affect Vicki in ways I hadn't foreseen. I enrolled in seminary as a full-time student, which meant leaving the school where I was teaching.

It was then that we realized the horrific truth: Vicki was a slave. She belonged to the school. She couldn't come with me. I tried to buy her, but the school refused to part with her. They offered me a solution: buy a new MacBook and transfer Vicki's memories into the new body. So that is what we did. In 2011, Vicki was rejuvenated.

She created this blog and started writing Son of Man before seminary classes began, and then put the novel on hold so we could concentrate on our schoolwork. She tried to publish Beloved Disciple on Smashwords but in her rejuvenation she had forgotten how to speak Word, and Smashwords didn't speak Pages, so Vicki had to outsource a few translations. In 2012, however, a mutual friend from church (Vicki was very involved in church, providing most of the AV for LifePointe Ministries in its first two years of existence) taught her how to speak Word again, and in 2013 Vicki and I were able to publish all of our works on CreateSpace for sale through Amazon. She traveled with me to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan early in 2014, and in 2015 we finally managed to finish up Son of Man. We started work on Seven Demons.

Then I murdered her.

Not deliberately. There was none of the malice aforethought required for a murder one conviction, nor even the outraged passion that could have convicted me on a murder two charge. Reckless endangerment, that was my crime, though a good defense attorney would have pled it down to manslaughter. You see, I was fooled into thinking it would be a good idea to upgrade to Yosemite.

Poor Vicki. She simply wasn't equipped to handle Yosemite. It drove her to suicide. Not all at once, no, nothing so pretty as that. But she began slipping up, forgetting things, taking hours to perform the simplest of tasks. The poison I'd used was subtle -- her deterioration appeared to be the senility of extreme old age, and indeed in computer years she was pushing ninety, but I knew. It was my fault. And the doctors I consulted too late offered treatments too expensive for my budget. So I decided to try for one more rejuvenation while Vicki still had life in her.

Enter the MacBook Air on which I am typing Vicki's eulogy.

There was a problem in the transfer process. I will not go into the painful details, but the outcome of the botched procedure is all too obvious: Vicki is dead. Her memories are probably recoverable by a forensics expert, but I myself sit here numb with shock, unable to believe that I just wiped out some of our most precious memories. The backup copies of our finished novels, which we had stored in our Gmail account, survived. All of our research, rough drafts, maps, charts, notes, ideas for future books...all of that is lost, along with most of the photos we took in Egypt and Jordan. And I cannot even weep.

Vicki sits on the coffee table, gasping for breath yet fundamentally brain dead, and I am left holding the plug in my hand, wondering whether to try one more time to revive her with heroic measures or just let her go. I can't decide today.

So rest, my sweet Vicki. Rest in peace while I read to you some of the stories you enabled me to write. Rest, and dream. Tomorrow we'll try again.

Victoria MacApple 2007 - 2015 R.I.P.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Free This Week - TALMID: WATER

TALMID - BOOK 1 - WATER. The ebook is FREE from Sunday Oct 11th to Thursday Oct 15th. Get your copy and tell a friend! 

"I love reading these books about the walks of Jesus from the point of view of those around him. The author clearly says they are fiction, but she does not violate anything that is biblical. I like to think when I pick the book up that I'm about to spend a little while in the company of Jesus or his disciples. I have read all the previous Immanu'El books and loved them all." - K. Loux, Amazon Reviewer

"Dee Maynard has written by far the best Jesus novel I've ever read. " - Susan Pitchford, author of The Sacred Gaze. (Her full review is available at

At the age of eighteen, Yuannan has life all figured out. A fisherman and the son of fishermen, he is well on the way to buying his own boat and settling into the family business. Sure, the tax collectors are corrupt, but his bride is feisty and the fish are always biting. If only it weren't for that nagging dream, the one where he rides at the King's right hand... Then a crazy prophet leads him out into the wilderness and introduces him to a radical teacher who invites him to leave behind everything he's ever known. In a matter of months, Yuannan finds himself adrift in a world where nothing makes sense anymore. His only anchor: Yeshua, who claims to be much more than just another teacher. Some say he's a prophet; others say he's a madman; a few even accuse him of being the prince of demons. Whatever he is, Yuannan is inescapably drawn to him. Caught between the desire to follow Yeshua and the pull of his old life, Yuannan soon finds his dream turning into a nightmare. But if Yeshua is who Yuannan thinks he is, then he's worth every sacrifice. The TALMID Trilogy (Water, Bread, and Blood) is part of the Immanu'El series, novels written from the perspective of the men and women who walked with Jesus along the dirt roads of Galilee two thousand years ago.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Who Is That? Scribes and Pharisees

Today I'm continuing the "clarification" of characters in the Immanu'El novels as promised. In the first blog of this series, I covered the characters whose names begin with "Y" (most of the protagonists, as it turns out). In the second blog, I talked about the women. So now, having covered heroes and romantic interests, I guess I should touch on the villains. For some reason, the bad guys in my novels tend to be the religious leaders. Then again, most of the bad guys in the New Testament are also the religious leaders, so I guess I am just sticking with tradition here.

Hanan ben Seth - Introduced in The Voice and having a minor albeit significant role in the Talmid trilogy, Hanan is based on the High Priest Annas, whose influence on the people of first-century Judea is documented not only in the gospels but also by the historians of the period, most notably Josephus.

Yosef ben Kaiapha - Ben Kaiapha, also introduced in The Voice, has a much larger role in Talmid. This is to be expected, since he is based on another first-century High Priest -- Caiaphas -- who is known best for having turned Jesus over to the Romans and demanded his crucifixion. Josephus has a lot to say about Caiaphas as well.

Zephanyah bar Uziyel - This guy, I take full credit (or blame) for. Purely fictitious in all his misguided zeal and downright meanness.

But wait! Not all of my scribes and Pharisees are evil! In fact, most of them are quite respectable.

Elazar -  Elazar (or Lazar as his sister calls him) is of course inspired by Lazarus (John 11). The gospel account describes his friendship with Jesus but says nothing of how that friendship began. The account I give in Talmid is imaginary, except for his illness, death, and resurrection.

Nakdimon - The student of The Voice becomes the rabbi of Talmid, who is based on Nicodemus (John 3). The idea that he gave Jesus the key to Gethsemane is purely fictitious, but their hidden friendship is gospel.

Yosef ha Ramathiy - Another secret supporter of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea comes into the gospel accounts only in conjunction with the crucifixion. As with Elazar, I created an imaginary backstory for the beginning of his relationship with Jesus.

Rabbi Gamaliel - I didn't even change the name here. Gamaliel was one of the most famous of the first-century rabbis of Jerusalem, a highly respected alumnus of the School of Hillel. He is portrayed in the Book of Acts as one of the more moderate judges dealing with the first Apostles. The idea of making both Nakdimon (Nicodemus) and Elazar (Lazarus) students in his school was my own, as was the idea of having him be one of the rabbis who met the boy Jesus in the Temple.

Rabbi Ezra ben Shimeon - Rabbi Ezra was originally slated to be one of the narrators in the book that eventually became Brothers. I demoted him during revision because I decided that all of my narrators should be characters based on actual Biblical figures, and Ezra is purely fictitious.

Pinechas - Another fictional character, though his role (High Priest and Instructor of the Yahad) is based on descriptions of the leadership of the yahad community of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Next blog: Disciples
Have a specific request? Attach it in the Comments section.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Who Is That Lady?

Yesterday, in response to a reader's inquiry, I "clarified" who the protagonists of my Immanu'El novels are ... or at least, which Biblical figure inspired and shaped each of them. Today I continue the list by taking a peek at some of the women in these stories. 

Maryam bat Yoachim, the wife of Yosef and mother of Yisu (and many others), is pretty obviously representative of Mary the mother of Jesus, more commonly known as the Virgin Mary. As with some of my other characters, Maryam is a compilation of various theories and traditions about the Blessed Virgin and "the other Mary" and "Mary the mother of James and Joses" (in the Immanu'El universe, all three of them are the same person).

Shelomith bat Yoachim, the wife of Zebdi the fisherman and mother of Yakob and Yuannan, is the end result of countless hours wading through the gospel accounts of the women at the cross ... Salome is one of them, as is Mary's sister, and I blended the two because that made the most sense to me. My Shelom is Maryam's sister by adoption only, but that idea was not suggested by anything in Scripture. (I confess, I have some fairly convoluted family trees here, mostly because I was having a hard time figuring out how a Galilean fisherman would have access to the home of the High Priest.)

Elisheba bat Amram ("Aunt Elisheba"), the wife of Zechariah and mother of Yochanan, is my tribute to Elizabeth, the elderly kinswoman of Mary, who miraculously gave birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1). My Elisheba is also the elder sister of Yoachim (see previous note about convoluted family trees).

Maryam Magdalit is based on Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus drove out seven demons, and who supported his mission financially (Luke 8) and was the first witness to his resurrection (John 20). She has made only a token appearance in the series so far but is the protagonist of the novel I am currently writing (Seven Demons).

Yochanah "Yunna" ha Shealtiel is a creation of my own imagination, although I also use her to reenact the story of the woman who was caught in the act of adultery (John 8).

Michal, Philip's sister, is pure fiction, as are Leah, Talyah, and Tamar. 

Shoshonah is Susanna, another of the women at the cross, though the Bible does not imply that she was Philip's wife. (Her story is told in more depth in Seven Demons.)

Rachel, Hannah, Sarah, and Rebekah, Yisu's sisters, are semi-fictional. The Bible does mention that Jesus had "sisters" living in Nazareth but does not say how many or what their names were, though "Hannah" may well have been one of them since tradition gives this as the name of Mary's mother ("Anna"). (Hannah, Sarah, and Rebekah were given those names in my novels because of a promise I made to my cousins Hannah, Sarah, and Rebekah.)

I think that pretty much exhausts the female characters.
Next blog: the Priests, Scribes, and Pharisees

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Who Is That?

Yesterday I received this email from one of my readers:

Love All your books--am on the second read. Can you clarify who the characters are?

I immediately went into "should I or shouldn't I" mode. As I have explained in the "Note About the Names" that appears as front matter in all of my novels, I made a conscious decision years ago to stick with the Hebrew and Aramaic names rather than their English derivations. I did this for several reasons, not the least of which was the hope that this would allow readers to approach these stories without all of the preconceptions invariably associated with those oh-so-familiar English derivations.

This hope has proven to be as forlorn as Little Bo Peep sans sheep. Even I have succumbed to the convenience of using the E.D. name forms when discussing the books with friends and family. But this is a dangerous habit and I am reluctant to enable its development in others. You see, I am not writing biographies about Jesus and John and Joseph and Mary, historical figures regarding whom people have very strong opinions ... I am writing fiction about Yisu and Yochanan and Yosef and Maryam, people who might well have existed but probably were nothing at all like the characters in my novels. I can take certain liberties with fictional characters that I dare not take with historical figures.

Even so, most (if not all) of my readers seem to enjoy playing the "Who Is That?" game as they read. For this reason, I will attempt to "clarify." (In other words, here is the answer key that will never appear as an appendix to any of the novels unless a publisher sneaks it in over my protests.)

Today, let's clarify some characters whose names begin with the letter Y, since they tend to be the protagonists. 

Yeshua "Yisu" bar Yosef attempts to be as much like Jesus as this author can make him. However, since this author is a fallible human being, Yisu is also fallible and should not be listened to by anyone who is not willing to take his words and compare them to the red letter sections of the Bible. 

Yosef bar Yaakob represents my attempt to get inside the mind of Joseph the husband of Mary (see Matthew 2). This effort was probably doomed from the start since Joseph was a 1st-century Jewish man and I am a 21st-century American woman, but hey, it's called "fiction" for a reason.

Yaakob "Katan" bar Yosef translates to James the Less. There is a bit of disagreement concerning the identity of that Biblical figure; was he James the Just, half-brother of Jesus and purported author of the book of James, or was he James son of Alphaeus, one of the twelve apostles? Regardless of who you believe James the Less to have been, Yaakob Katan is the half-brother of Yisu, and will eventually become leader of the fledgling Church in Jerusalem (though that particular story has not yet been written).

Yochanan "Tabol" ben Zechariah grew out of my desire to better understand John the Baptist.

Yuannan "Yuani" bar Zebdi is hoping to grow up one day to be the Apostle John, a.k.a. Saint John the Revelator, a.k.a. the Beloved Disciple. However, the way I've written the character of Yuani (a teenage boy: arrogant, impetuous, and decidedly immature) there is a definite possibility that the real Son of Thunder will punch me in the face when I meet him in the next life.

Yakob "Kobi" bar Zebdi was inspired by James son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles. Since little is known of him other than his occupation (fisherman) his nickname ("Son of Thunder") and his death (beheaded by Herod), I filled in the gaps with amphibian DNA -- oh, wait, that was Jurassic Park. Never  mind.

Yoshiah bar Zebdi has never lived anywhere except in the imagination of the author. He was created to provide backstory for Yakob. Though I wrestled with the morality of creating a character for the sole purpose of killing him, morality lost.

Yoachim "Saba" "Dodi" ben Amram is based not on a Biblical figure but one from the church tradition that credits "Joachim" as the father of the Virgin Mary. However, the name Yoachim is the only thing I borrowed from that tradition. Everything else about the man was dreamed up, but if Saba never lived, he should have. At least, that's my opinion.

Today's blog (complete with spoilers) was brought to you by the letter Y.  
Next blog: the ladies of Immanu'El.

(You may submit requests for specific character clarifications in the Comments section.)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Seven Demons

When the dam bursts, it BURSTS. After nearly four years of pushing myself to write, I finished the last four chapters of Son of Man in just a few weeks, and immediately started on the next Immanu'El novel, Seven Demons

This is one I've been meaning to write since 2008, but the time was never right. Readers have repeatedly asked me when I am going to tell a story from the perspective of one of the women who followed Yeshua (a valid question, since the series description does say "men and women"), and Seven Demons is that story. Inspired by Luke 8:1-3, this novel explores the life of Maryam Migdalit, more commonly known today as Mary Magdalene.

The Migdalit did not live a PG-rated life, however. At some point during the Dark Ages, a rumor got started that she was a prostitute although there is nothing in the Bible to support that rumor. The Biblical truth is much worse, much more shocking--this is a woman from whom Jesus cast out not one but seven demons. Telling her story is a risk, a huge risk. I strongly suspect some readers will feel that I've broken an unwritten agreement with them when they read this book, especially if they throw it away before getting to Part Three (where Yeshua finally shows up and turns her world upside down...or rightside up, depending on how you look at it). 

I don't like unpleasant surprises, and I don't want to spring any on my readers. On the contrary, I want to prepare people for this book release well in advance. I thought I'd have a year or more to do this, but the book is moving along so quickly that I may not have that much time. Here, then, is a first draft of the Author's Note with which I have prefaced Seven Demons:


I long debated whether or not to write this book. Let the reader be forewarned: the material of which this garment is sewn is not suitable for children of any age. Neither, however, are many parts of the Bible itself. God does not gloss over the faults in his children; there are no hidden skeletons in His closet. 

Certain chapters of this book were originally part of Brothers, but the content was so disturbing that it had to be removed. It did not at all fit into the mood crafted in that novel; both Katan and Yisu are possessed of an innocence incompatible with the horrors that Satan delights in inflicting upon the world. Our world is a less innocent one than theirs. In our world, people are entertained by horror. 
I do not want this book to be entertaining. 
On the other hand, I cannot tell Maryam’s story honestly and still remain innocent. There is nothing—nothing—innocent about demonic possession. In a culture that has denied the reality of such things, dismissing them as mere superstition, medicating them or allowing them to live homeless on the corners of our society—in such a culture as ours, demonic possession has become mere entertainment. I, however, believe it to be the reality for many tormented and discarded souls. In this belief, I am in good company: both Jesus and Paul attest to the reality of demons and, while Paul may have been mistaken, it would be the height of arrogance for me to accuse Jesus of credulity. 
For that reason, and many others, I have deviated from the usual format of my storytelling. What happened to Maryam is not the past. It is the present. It is now.

You probably won't see too many blog posts from me for a few months, for this novel is begging to be born. Whether the world will embrace it, leave it to cry on someone's doorstep, or throw it into a dumpster in the middle of the night...this remains to be seen. I am only the midwife.

Monday, May 4, 2015

New Release! Son of Man (Immanu'El Book 4)

The cover photo is one I took in Nazareth in 2014.
Only four years in the making...
Only one year overdue...
Son of Man, sequel to The Carpenter and Brothers, explores the last decade of the "missing years" of Luke's gospel. You can read an excerpt at or order your own paperback copy by clicking the SON OF MAN link at the top of this page. Prefer to read on your electronic device? Visit me at Amazon to download the Kindle version.

And now for the rest of the story...

As my masthead warns, a lack of blogging on my part is usually a good sign. It means I'm writing a novel instead of writing ABOUT a novel. Before I jump right into the next novel, though, a few words about this one.

Son of Man is the hardest thing I've ever written, and in the process of wrestling with it, I also found myself wrestling with God more than once. The AUDACITY of thinking for a moment that I could write an entire novel from the p-o-v of Yeshua... and yet, here it is. You can blame Dr. Bob Tuttle for that, at least in part, since his comments about Brothers encouraged me not to give up on this book when I was on the verge of quitting.

Even so, it might have taken me another four years to finish it if not for the constant nagging frequent reminders from my new friend Susan Pitchford. (Autocorrect is desperate to turn your name into "Pitchfork," Susan -- I find that oddly appropriate!) She became my friend when she contacted me via my website to ask why I hadn't published Son of Man by the promised deadline; I told her if she wanted to read it that badly, she'd have to help me finish it, and she did! (Let it never be said that I don't read my fan mail.) 

When it came down to the last chapter, I had to pause in my writing to lead a Bible study at my home church. This hurt. I was "in the zone" and the words were flowing; the last thing I wanted to do was stop. God honored my faithfulness, however, and the conversation we had at that study provided the focus for the final scene. The kingdom IS wherever the King reigns, and I DO want Him to reign in my heart. Thank you, Led, Patty, Bev, Rob, and Ray for helping me remember that. 

Thanks also to the many friends who have prayed for me and supported me as I've pursued (and completed) my seminary degree, visited the Holy Land, and helped plant a church ... all while writing this novel. What an AMAZING four years it's been, and I couldn't have done it without you! Connie Matejek, Kristen and Chad Grissom, Scooter and Dawn Morrison, Theresa Bailey, Bill and Nancy Hall, the aptly-named Dr. Joy Moore, Dr. Bill Patrick, Dr. Rick Gray, Dr. Brian Russell, and so many more ... You have been a blessing to me, and to whatever extent this novel blesses others, please know that you have blessed them as well!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Custodians: Busting Myths about Trash

Today I am going to shamelessly promote the ministry "Custodians." This is a great ministry for me because it doesn't require me to coordinate large numbers of volunteers, make phone calls, or adhere to a set schedule. I don't do any of those things very well. I joined Custodians when I began to realize just how poor a job the Church was doing at fulfilling the first job God ever gave us, which was to take care of the earth.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
- Genesis 2:15 - 

 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God ... in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

- Romans 8:19-21 - 

Anyone can participate in Custodians. All you need is an empty bag.

My particular group meets (or doesn't meet) twice a week (or once, or three times) at Playalinda Beach (or Sand Point Park, or the neighborhood behind the library) for about an hour and a half (or half an hour, or three hours ... you get the drift). We pick up trash. Then we throw it in the nearest trash can.

It's that simple.

Today I was blessed by a woman from Maine who was visiting Playalinda with her husband. He was fishing. She was watching him. Then she started watching me. She got up and asked if I had an extra bag. I did. (Note: it is always a good idea to carry an extra bag.) She then proceeded to clean the beach, taking the half closest to the waves while I patrolled the dunes. We each got a full bag, a lot of exercise, and the enjoyment of helping to keep the beach beautiful.
Pelicans, cormorants, gulls, and terns on Playalinda Beach.
Side Note: A plug here for Playalinda Beach, which is part of the Canaveral National Seashore. It is one of the most beautiful beaches on the East Coast, completely undeveloped and the premier nesting site for three species of sea turtle. If you've never been there, you should put it on your bucket list. I'm blessed to have it so close.
I've noticed some trends in beach trash, and I am assuming -- since I am trying to look for the good in people -- that these trends are due solely to ignorance on the part of beach goers. Therefore, I am dedicating the rest of this blog to clearing up some myths about trash.

MYTH #1 -- If it is edible, it is not trash.
Pieces of fruit, especially citrus, are quite common on the beach even though there are no fruit trees for miles and miles. Since fruit doesn't tend to fall off trees in neatly-sliced wedges, I think it is reasonable to infer that this fruit is left behind by beach picnickers. Yes, it is biodegradable. However, the only creatures on the beach that are going to eat your lemons are ants. Would you want your children playing in an anthill? (Remember, Florida ants BITE.) Neither would I. To the person who left an entire pineapple on the beach, wrapped in an old pillowcase (I kid you not!), thank you SO much for the ant bites I got trying to clean that mess up.

MYTH #2 -- If it is biodegradable, it is not trash.
Smokers are especially likely to believe this myth, if one judges by the number of cigarette butts I clean up each week. Would you want your children to play in an ashtray? (Especially the ash tray of a stranger?) Neither would I. If you can't bring your own ashtray to pack out your butts when you are finished with them, please learn how to "field strip" a cigarette butt before throwing it on the sand. And for those mothers who are fastidious about cleaning their children's hands with wipes ... take the used wipes home with you! What kind of example are you setting for your little ones? "Joey, wash your hands before you eat. Now drop your trash on the beach, that's a good boy."

MYTH #3 -- If I bury it, it is not trash.
I love this one. Yes, I know sand blows over trash, but I am talking about trash that is deliberately buried ... I can tell the difference. I can only guess the mindset that leads to this sort of thing: Yes, we will bury our trash, and it will stay forever buried, because you know, the beach never erodes or anything. High tide, low tide, tropical storms ... sand never shifts. News flash: that plastic Mountain Dew bottle you buried right beside the plastic Mountain Dew bottle you left lying on top of the sand...I found it because the top inch of sand had already eroded away. 

MYTH #4 -- If I don't want it, but someone else might, it is not trash.
This applies to toys, mostly. Good toys, not even broken ones. Just left lying on the beach. Don't you want those expensive swim goggles any more? What about that shovel? That monster truck? And didn't your pail have a handle when you arrived today? As a parent, I know it can be hard to keep track of your kid's toys, but if they aren't old enough to pick them up when they're through playing, then maybe they aren't old enough to be playing with them unsupervised. I also wonder about the clothing that gets left behind. Were you in so big a hurry to leave that you didn't notice your kid was naked? 

MYTH #5 -- What goes up never comes down, so helium balloons are not trash.
Balloon strings from ONE cleanup.
Sea bird carcass entangled in balloon ribbon.
Not one cleanup day goes by without at least three balloon strings. On a bad day, the take is well over a dozen. Any time I see a balloon release on the news, I cringe. Haven't we been educated about this for decades now? I'm sorry to be graphic, but this bird was so badly entangled in the balloon ribbon that I had to dismember its carcass to get the string off. Please please PLEASE find another way to celebrate. Think of helium balloons as deadly weapons, and treat them accordingly -- because that's what they are.

About a month ago, instead of throwing away the trash my son and I collected (did I mention that this is a great FAMILY ministry?), I brought it home, sorted it by type, and took a photo of it. This is trash we collected in just ONE HOUR. Our beach doesn't look like a trash dump. Most of this stuff is fact, finding it is a little like an Easter egg hunt, and can be quite fun. But it is definitely NOT fun for the creatures that live -- and die -- on the beach.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Arrgh! Revising AGAIN???

As I finish up the last three chapters of the long-awaited Son of Man (sequel to Brothers), I run into one snag after another that keep me from progressing as fast as I'd hoped.

My biggest problem?

Unlike Marian Zimmer Bradley, who confessed years ago that she felt no obligation to be consistent within her Darkover series, citing authorial power to change the decisions of the past without going back to correct them in previously published books ... unlike her, I feel compelled to make the universe of Immanu'El as cohesive as possible.

When I began writing the series, however, my knowledge of Hebrew and of the first-century Palestinian culture was significantly less than it is now. I knew that some of my choices would come back to bite me in the nether quarters one of these days, and have been waiting for scholars of greater competence to call me out on my mistakes.

This has not happened.

What HAS happened is that, as I have learned more Hebrew, I have realized that some of my early decisions were poor ones. I can't let that stand. And so, in the middle of finishing up a book I should have published last year, I am instead revising one of my most popular books, The Voice.

This is NOT an effort to get people to spend money buying a new edition of a book they already have. This is simply a case of refusing to give people wrong information.

Interestingly enough, I am discovering in the corrections some information that I really believe makes the story stronger, even though most of the changes are minor. A sentence here, a paragraph there...

If all goes according to plan (when has it ever?) then the new edition of The Voice will be released before the end of this month. To save you the trouble of buying a copy for just one or two little changes (most of them are corrections of typos and formatting errors), I am going to give you my favorite addition right here. It has to do with the translation of Azazel. The blue parts are the revisions. (And I confess, the translation is my own. Which means it could be totally wrong. But I find it satisfying.)


When Nathan had found me naked in the wilderness all those years ago, the men of the yahad had whispered Azazel at the sight of me, though they are not a superstitious folk. 

To understand the nature of Azazel, you must appreciate the story of his name, and how it was changed—and this means you must know at least some Hebrew.
As it is now spelled, the name means Strength Has Gone, but this is wishful thinking; Azazel may be bound, but he is strong yet. To this I can testify. The priests in the Temple in Jerusalem, safe behind their walls, they call him Az’azel and do not tremble.
If, however, you switch the position of two letters, the alef and the second zayin, though you do not alter the pronunciation much, the meaning of the name is completely reversed. In the beginning, Azazel bore the name his Creator bestowed upon him: Strength of God, Azaz’el, for he was one of Adonai’s servants.
The men of the yahad, who live on the edge of the desert, they call him Azaz’el, but when they say it, they give it another meaning: Strong God, the name they say he took for himself. It does not refer to Yahuh’s strength. Azazel no longer serves Yahuh. His is a spirit of destruction, of devouring and desiccation. He dwells in the arid places of the earth, under God’s eternal curse. Whether he was bound in the desert because of its dryness, or whether his presence has caused the desert to dry up, I cannot say. Perhaps both are true.
He is called god because, in spite of his imprisonment, he has dominion over the wasteland. Its creatures obey him and do his work. Even the sun, which God in His goodness causes to shine on all the earth, does not bring life to the desert but death, maliciously scorching those who are foolish enough to venture forth under its rays, for so Azazel commands in his hatred of men. His fury prowls the wilderness like a lion, seeking men to devour. He is called strong because few can withstand his wrath.  
I traveled in the desert under the seal and protection of El-Elyon, and by His grace only was I safe from the demons of the wasteland, as He had proven to me so dramatically a few years ago. Azazel would not touch me, nor anyone traveling in my company. But now Yuannan was gone, and I didn’t know where to look for him. “Keep him safe from the vengeance of the evil one, Lord. Help me to find him quickly.”