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.)


  1. I wonder why Maryam's genealogy was never spoken o f? The mystery of the paternal lineage was well done.

    1. Maryam and Yosef have a conversation about this as they travel to Bethlehem (The Carpenter, Chapter 9). Yoachim is her stepfather, but her biological father is Eli, a descendent of David. Yoachim tells the rest of this story to his grandsons at Shammai's wedding (Talmid: Water, Chapter 6). It's a bit convoluted, but it was based on the genealogy in Luke 3, which many believe is Mary's lineage.