Afterword from Yeshua: Boyhood of the Christ
This novel has presented the story of Christ’s birth and childhood through a Jewish lens. I replaced many names and key words, familiar to English-speaking readers, with either the original Hebrew or Aramaic equivalent. While Hebrew was the language of the Temple, Aramaic was the language of the streets and of the people. To ring truer to history, Jesus becomes Yeshua, Jerusalem becomes Yerushalayim and Judea becomes Yehuḏah. Mary is changed to Miryam, Joseph to Yosef, Bethlehem to Beit-Lechem, Jordan to Yarden, Gethsemane to GatShmanim and Nazareth to Natzeret. And so on.
I did make some exceptions to this protocol, however, retaining a few well-known Anglicised Biblical names. For example, I used English words for the books of the Bible which I referenced at the start of each chapter. And, somehow, I couldn’t quite bring myself to change Galilee to Galil. The Anglicised name has such a beautiful lilt to it and the word is seared into the collective memory of anyone in the English-speaking world brought up on Bible stories. While many of the Hebrew names I’ve used throughout have an authenticity, resonance, rawness and strength of sound which is impossible to replicate in their Anglicised forms, I’d become convinced by the third rewriting of the novel, that there should be a few familiar names and terms left in the text for English-speaking readers. I have added the Glossary, too, so readers can get to know names and words they don’t know well.
Since Jesus almost certainly spoke Aramaic, I have referred to The Aramaic-English Interlinear New Testament, The First Century Aramaic Bible in Plain English and The Original Aramaic New Testament in Plain English for a better understanding of some scriptures and teachings in the language in which they were originally spoken.
In this reconstruction of the birth and childhood of Yeshua, it was necessary to place events and characters in their correct historical context, without pulling any punches. That way, a sense of the real turbulence brewing in the Middle East could be created. As the hub of international trade between North Africa, Arabia, India, China and the great port cities of the Mediterranean, it was close to the centre of the world. And it had fallen squarely under the might of the Roman Empire. I tried to infuse the story’s settings with all the colour, vibrancy, tensions and growing desperation of the time.
It was also important to watch out for, and avoid, any anachronisms.
By imagining what life was probably like, at that time, for observant Jewish families, like the household into which Jesus was born and raised, we can gain a more nuanced understanding of our faith. The ancient Jewish religion is no less than the fountainhead of all Christian beliefs.
The cast of characters in this story is made up of both historical and fictional characters. The former I wanted to be as true to the facts, as we know them, as possible. For the fictional characters, such as my versions of the legendary three wise men, the aim was to make them historically plausible.
In addition, it was about understanding what the thought-climate was like two thousand years ago. This aspect refers to the prevailing concepts and accepted truths of science, philosophy, religion, astrology, astronomy, mathematics and politics in the Roman, Greek, Jewish, Arab and Babylonian cultures at the time.
In general, this era was intellectually very sophisticated. In addition, civil architecture and engineering were highly advanced. There were established global trade routes, too.
At the same time, beneath this veneer of civilisation, there was a toxic political and social atmosphere. Unrest was always bubbling just below the surface. The histories of Josephus are filled with the gory details of wars, blood sports, riots, treachery, assassinations and murder.
In researching for this novel, a re-discovery of the essential Jewishness of Jesus proved to be a personal revelation. It reinforced in me the need for a renewed effort to heal on-going rifts between Jews and Gentiles, and between Judaism and Christianity. It’s necessary to counteract, full-on, the dark forces of antisemitism in today’s world. All references to any human group, whether Jew or Gentile, as sub-human is, by definition, an act of dehumanisation. This kind of depersonalisation squarely contradicts the Biblical principle that humans are made in God’s image.
To further our understanding of the real Jewish roots of Christianity, I recommend keeping on our book shelves The Complete Jewish Study Bible and a recent translation of the Septuagint as reference works. While writing this work, I bought a messianic Jewish prayer shawl, which I keep in my study, as a tangible reminder of these roots.
How can we get closer to the real Yeshua, when English-speakers the world over are two languages removed from his original words and teachings? What he said in Aramaic was later translated into Greek, when the first gospels were written. The Greek New Testament was then translated into different English versions, as well as into hundreds of other world languages.
It’s not just language that can erect barriers between us and a true understanding of the messages and mission of Jesus. It can also be habits of thought and codified traditions of thinking, rooted in the influence which the Ancient Greek worldview and philosophy has had on the development of Western thought. The more I find out about the real, historical Yeshua, and the times in which he lived, the more convinced I’ve become of the need for a greater understanding of Christ’s essential Jewishness.
It’s clear that Jewish monotheistic thought and ethics inform the entire New Testament, while standing in firm opposition to the polytheism and paganism behind much of Graeco-Roman culture. There was a fork in the road, separating the Jewish moral tradition, embraced by Jesus, from the “broad road” of the Roman Empire, which headed for oppression and mass destruction. For reasons of truth and authenticity, I’m much more interested in the “Jewish Jesus” than in a “Christmas Card” Christ. And believers should steer clear of the “broad road” of post-modernist thinking, which has been profoundly influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche and which has thrown overboard the ancient Jewish ethical tradition, renewed and perpetuated in the Lord’s teachings.
A second revelation I experienced during my research for this book was how recent astronomical evidence has been matched to known historical facts around the time of Jesus’ birth and to the accounts in the gospels of Matthew and Luke of his birth. This provides a plausible timeline linking a believable Star of Bethlehem to the Nativity.
I found astronomer Michael R. Molnar’s theory in his book The Star of Bethlehem – the Legacy of the Magi to be scientifically and historically compelling. The planetary alignments on 17th April, 6 BC were seen in the thought-world of the time as representing rare and powerful portents of the birth of a new, potentially immortal, king. Molnar’s explanation of planetary movements and alignments on this date fits in with the timeline of the gospel accounts. The gospels testify to the birth happening before the death of Herod the Great, which occurred in 4 BC (please note that the Christian calendar tied to the birth of Christ has been based on a miscalculation all along, and the Lord was most probably born in 6 BC).
As a novelist, I couldn’t have imaginatively depicted the Lord’s birth and boyhood without the treasure-chest of historical information available, especially in the works of one of the greatest historians of antiquity, Josephus, and in the many study guides and Bible handbooks outlined in the References & Links section. Respected scholars like Alfred Edersheim, too, have helped millions to visualise what life might have been like for Jews like Jesus in the Holy Land of the time.
Speaking of Israel, it’s Nature itself which helped me to breathe some real life into the novel’s setting. The mountains, lakes, rivers and terrain Christ encountered are still more or less as they were when he walked amongst us. The country’s geography is, indeed, fascinating, as it lies at the meeting place of two major climate zones – the coastal Mediterranean climate and the desert climates of Arabia and Sinai, where the hot winds from the Sahara bring little moisture with them.
In addition to history and geography, the discipline of archaeology has unearthed a host of new evidence backing up places and persons forming the backbone of the Biblical story. For example, Biblical archaeologist, Dr Titus Kennedy, has pointed out in his new book Excavating the Evidence for Jesus – the Archaeology and History of Christ and the Gospels that excavations in the caves under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem show that caves, sometimes next to human dwellings, were actually used in this part of the world to shelter animals at night at the time of Christ. Some of the earliest writings in the Christian tradition, outside the gospels, testify that Jesus was born in a cave, given that all the guest-rooms were full at the time. The gospel of Luke states that the baby boy was then placed in a feeding-trough.
Finally, a small, but pleasing, personal note. As I was writing the word “Septuagint” in the Sixth Tableau of the book, a few minutes after 1 p.m. on 27th May, 2022, I received, at that very moment, a phone call from a courier of an online retailer, to inform me that he had a delivery for me. It turned out to be my order of A New English Translation of the Septuagint. It felt like being in the right place at precisely the right time. I found this apparent “coincidence” to be noteworthy, reminding me of the privilege of being inspired to write a story about such a momentous time in history.