First, I have had a nearly lifelong interest in studying Jesus, using a discipline known as "the quest for the historical Jesus," a field of study which attempts to establish all that can be known about Jesus from a purely historical perspective. I have found such study to be valuable, and want to share its results with others, both Christians and non-Christians, believers and unbelievers.
Second, I have been involved with numerous churches in six American states (see the Acknowledgements page in my book), and have often wanted to be more open and honest with everyone about what historical scholarship has revealed about Jesus -- including that which is easy to accept, and that which is not so easy to assimilate.
Also, It seems to me that in these troubled times, as never before, absolute honesty is called for.
Writing this book is one way of attempting to do that, and I hope many people, both inside and outside the Christian faith, will find the attempt not only challenging but helpful.
QUESTION: I was told in seminary that it is impossible to psychoanalyze the historical Jesus. And yet, your protagonist, Brad Chase, tries to do just that, attempting to "peer into the mind of Jesus." Is that possible?
ANSWER: To a limited degree, I think, yes. For although it is true we cannot psychoanalyze Jesus in depth, that should not mean that we can gain absolutely no insight into some of his mental workings: Whenever we see any historical person in deep distress, we can usually get some sense of what that person was going through. Pay attention to the times in Q and in Mark when Jesus seems to be going through times of difficulty.
Q: Several Jesus Seminar scholars are convinced that Jesus himself never claimed to be the Messiah -- and indeed, in the earlier gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Jesus does not go around calling himself "the Messiah," but rather "the Son of Man." Why do you feel so sure that Jesus believed himself to be the Messiah?
A: Three times Jesus could easily have said that he was not the Messiah:
First, when John the Baptizer sent messengers to ask him, "Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for someone else?"
Second, when Peter, speaking for the Twelve, flatly declared, "You are the Messiah!"
Third, when the high priest directly asked Jesus, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?"
On each of these occasions, Jesus could easily have answered, "No. I am not the Messiah, and I have never claimed to be."
The fact that he did not -- not even when he knew that such an affirmation would lead immediately to his death! -- is a powerful indication that he was convinced he was the Messiah.
Q: You mention "preterists" in your novel. Do they actually exist?
A: They do -- just google them -- and in my opinion what Brad Chase says about them is quite true (though they themselves will surely dispute that!).
Q: Do you honestly think that an atheist, a progressive Muslim, two progressive evangelicals, and an emotional Jewish woman could actually agree with Dr. Chase's findings regarding Jesus?
A: Yes, for they would simply be accepting credible historical evidence as to what Jesus himself believed. That would not necessarily mean that they themselves would or could believe as he did.
Q: You frequently use the word "challenging" to describe your novel. Is it really all that challenging?
A: I think so. I think liberals and conservatives, progressives and fundamentalists, believers and skeptics and atheists may find it both informative and challenging. But also, I hope, helpful.
Q: I see you live in Normal, Illinois. Isn't your fictional Central Illinois University (CIU) a thinly disguised reference to the state university (ISU) located there?
ANSWER: Yes and No. There are similarities, but Illinois State University has no secret retreat in its library basement(!) and its president is not called a chancellor. Nor is it located in Normal, but in Lorman (ahem), Illinois.
I am intrigued by the portrait on your novel's cover. Is that supposed to be Jesus? And if so, where did you find it?
I too was intrigued the moment I first saw it, and yes, it is supposed to be Jesus. It is a detail from cover art I first saw on a small paperback around 1978.
I was immediately struck by it, thinking, "That probably comes closer to how Jesus looked than many of the Jesus portraits I've seen."
I later copied the image as you see it here, cropping out everything but the facial features. I like it that way because it does not show how Jesus wore his hair, or how long his hair or beard were, or what kind of clothing he wore.
Also, the fact that his face is in partial darkness suggests that although careful historical study may make Jesus appear more clearly to us, he will always be partly hidden in mystery.