First, let me apologize for taking so long to announce the winner of Bruce Judisch’s For Maria. Life got really hectic and then computer woes. Anyway, the winner of For Maria is Diane Dean White! Diane, please contact me with your snail mail information.
Now on to the my final interview with Bruce Judisch on one of my favorite genres-Biblicals
Christina:Can you tell us what scripture inspired Ben Amittai?
Bruce:Ben Amittai is based upon the first reference in Scripture to the prophet Jonah, 2 Kings 14:25. It centers on vv. 23-25, which tell of the land being restored to Israel “from Lebo Hamath to the Sea of Arabah” under Jeroboam II. Ben Amittai introduces some of the characters and sets the story line for the remainder of the “A Prophet’s Tale” series.
Christina: My current story is inspired by a scripture from the New Testament and from the Old. It was one of those God moments where they seem to be completely unrelated, but God brought them together for me. I saw something there and wrote the story in less than 55 days. What did you see in your scripture inspiration to create your story?
Bruce: Regarding the whole “A Prophet’s Tale” project, and as I noted in an earlier post, the idea of novelizing Jonah’s story rose in my mind during research for teaching the Old Testament book of Jonah. He was such a fascinating, unique character, and yet we knew so little about him. There were also questions left hanging in the Biblical account; for example, there are roughly 500 miles between the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and Nineveh, yet we know nothing of his journey. What could have happened to him along the way? Was there any spiritual warfare aroused as a prophet of Yahweh went to preach to a city so firmly in the grip of the Enemy? Why was Jonah so vehemently against Assyria in the first place, enough to make him turn and run from God’s commission to preach? How did he alone reach a city of 120,000 people in 40 days? Did he speak Assyrian and, if not, how did he preach to them? How might God have prepared Nineveh to receive His message? Jonah 3:6 speaks of “the king of Nineveh,” but the seat of government was in Kalhu (Nimrud); i.e., there was no king of Nineveh. Oh, and here’s an obscure one: during the storm at sea, the sailors jettisoned the cargo to keep the ship afloat (1:5). After the storm, they sacrificed to God for their salvation from death (1:16). If they jettisoned everything, what was left to sacrifice? You know, stuff like that. J While voicing these questions might sound like I question the accuracy of the Biblical account, nothing could be further from the truth. I have the utmost respect for the veracity of Scripture. These questions are answerable, and, although my story is fictional and is in no way meant to fill in gaps with suggestions of what actually happened, what I offer to address those questions is historically feasible and, hopefully, at the same time entertaining.
Christina: When I was researching for my Biblical I came across many questions as well, questions that were either vague or weren’t answered in the Bible. One of the things I did was look for original meanings of words as well as look into Hebrew to English translations.
I have found the Biblical period the most fascinating, if not one of the hardest, time periods to research for writing. You’d think with all of our advance technology it wouldn’t be so difficult. Unfortunately, I found there to be many experts and they’re not always correct. Did you run into contradictory research?
Bruce: The farther back you go in time, the hazier and fewer the facts become. The 8th century BC is pretty far back. J You expect there to be different takes on the era from different scholars, depending upon their predisposition toward their subject. Researching documentation from the period itself—in this case, reading raw verbatim translations of dozens of Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets—helps cut through some of the bias you get in modern interpretations of their meaning. I tend to avoid commentary that denies the truthfulness of Scripture as a presupposition, as that leads to intellectual chaos and is rarely helpful. Having said that, I do review acutely critical commentary, just to get a sense for where those scholars prone to disbelief go with an aspect of Biblical history. Such research doesn’t find its way into my story, however.
Christina: Glancing at all those commentaries can make one’s head spin. What was the most interesting research you came across while writing this story?
Bruce: The Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets were fascinating. The most unique bit of research I did, though, was with NASA. I wanted to use a solar eclipse in my story, but I didn’t know if one took place during that time that would have been visible from Nineveh. So I plugged a formula from NASA’s Web site into a spreadsheet, and tracked ephemeral data (which is cyclic, and therefore predictable forward and backward) back to around 780 BC. Unfortunately, the closest solar eclipse in time was 756 BC, so I couldn’t in clear conscience just create one. There was, however, a penumbral lunar eclipse at that time, so I used it. It worked just as well, and I didn’t lie to my reader. 😉
Christina: Wow! That is cool! I’ve tried doing that type of stuff with more recent history, but not my Biblical. What kind, if any, of creative license did you take with Ben Amittai?
Bruce: The above answer gives you some insight into how important I think being historically and Biblically accurate is for an author of the genre. If I were writing fantasy or sci fi, I can just make things up in my unreal world to accommodate my story. “A Prophet’s Tale” adheres to the Scriptural account of Jonah, adding in fictional characters and events to propel the story forward in a reasonable and entertaining way. But I won’t violate what I can reasonably discern from research as historical fact; for example, I couldn’t contrive an eclipse when I knew there wasn’t one. Was Jonah a tanner by trade, did he have two brothers, and was his mother’s name Deborah, as I have in my story? There’s no way to tell, but, hey, he could have. All we truthfully know of his relations was that his father’s name was Amittai. Therefore, giving him the family I did was reasonable—and fun! (I absolutely loved Deborah; she was a joy to create!) J Oh, by the way, at the beginning of the two major parts of “A Prophet’s Tale” (The Journey Begun and The Word Fulfilled), I include a cast of characters that identifies which are real and which are fictional. I don’t want anyone walking away from one of my books with a misconception of what’s true and what’s made up, vis-à-vis the actual Biblical account.
Christina:I completely understand the importance of Biblical accuracy. Whenever I came across something that I just wasn’t sure about, I did a lot of praying.
Can you tell us a little bit about your story?
Bruce: Ben Amittai, a novella, opens the story with a prologue showing Jonah as a young teenager after a battle in the Jezreel Valley. The scene gives an important clue that comes into play not only later in the book, but is revisited throughout the entire series. He joins up with a childhood friend, Elihu, who was King Jehu’s armor bearer while young, but an Israelite commander and war hero later. God gives Jonah the commission to tell King Jeroboam about God’s plan to restore the land to Israel under Jeroboam’s reign. So, with Elihu, Jonah undertakes an eventful trip from his home in Gath-Hepher to Samaria, where he must find some way to gain audience with the king during a time of crisis.
Christina: Sounds like an interesting story. Bruce, thank you for spending your time here and for your patience with my delay. I’ve learned a lot about your stories and can’t wait to read them. By the way, readers, look for a review of Katia in a few weeks.
All right, any questions or comments for Bruce? One commenter will receive a copy of Bruce’s Ben Amittai.