Who was the real man? I’d often speculated about the carpenter’s son, born into a peasant community in Galilee. Underneath all that accumulated myth and theology, forming an almost impenetrable crust over the real people and the real events of two thousand years ago, there had been a real man, from a real family, living in a real village.
We can catch glimpses in the New Testament. There are references to his brothers (named) and his sisters (unnamed, though two are named in the Protoevangelium of James, part of the Apocrypha). We know that his mother and brothers tried to fetch him home from his early ministry in Capernaum, saying he was mad. So they weren’t happy about what was happening. There are moments of self-doubt and even of anger, so the man had believable human failings.
Where did he acquire his medical knowledge? At the time, he was famed above all for his healing powers, and recent discoveries in the Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed that many of his methods were also practised by the Essenes of the closed community which left these records. It seems likely that Yeshûa (his true Aramaic name) spent time amongst the Essenes, learning from them. But their exclusiveness would not have been in accord with his own beliefs, as his later teaching shows. Moreover, only those of aristocratic descent from the priestly castes could rise within the Essene community. Yeshûa came from a humble craftsman’s family.
And what was he doing, all those years until he was about thirty – except, perhaps, for time amongst the Essenes? And most baffling of all, why was he apparently betrayed by one of his closest followers, Yehûdâ? A man who was later revered as Yeshûa’s dearest friend amongst certain sects?
What did his own family make of it all? What would it have been like to be this man’s sister, to have grown up beside him and then to hear him proclaim his ministry and his divine mission?
Then one day Mariam walked into my head and virtually dictated her story.
Of course, I did a lot of research. I discovered that there was much more known than I realised. For instance, Galilee had been for some years a hot-bed of resistance and uprisings against Roman occupation – some of the previous leaders had even been named Yeshûa/Jesus. And something I hadn’t given much thought to before – the number of women in his following and in the early evangelising church after his death. This was a community and culture which kept its women under strict supervision. They did not go wandering about the countryside. To do so would brand them forever as immoral and outside all decent society. Yet a group of courageous and determined women, of varied social backgrounds, left their homes and joined this extraordinary band. Curious! So it would have been perfectly possible for Mariam to follow her brother and his friend, though it would cut her off from the rest of her family.
There was the problem of Yehûdâ’s alleged betrayal. ReadingThe Gospel of Judas, recently rediscovered and transcribed, opened a chink of light, and I developed my story from that beginning. What has been fascinating has been receiving letters from men of the cloth, saying they have always been troubled by the story of the betrayal and my version makes perfect sense of it at last.
What about that final, fatal visit to Jerusalem? The time of the Passover in Jerusalem was known to be dangerous. People flocked in until the city was seething with overexcited, unruly crowds. The slightest incident could start a riot. The Romans always brought in extra troops to keep order. The authorities were jumpy with nerves. Then this man from the unsettled area of Galilee rides in with a band of followers and starts making trouble through a series of provocative actions. The authorities reacted as authorities always will in such circumstances, and as Yeshûa must have known they would. It seems to me he was deliberately courting martyrdom.
As for his sister Mariam – what would a sister feel about such a brother? He was gifted, charismatic, much beloved… but divine? How could she believe that, who had grown up in the same house, the same family? He seems to perform miracles, but Mariam cannot quite believe. Often there seems to be some logical explanation, as for his medical cures. When he casts out devils, he is using the methods of the Essenes, a kind of hypnosis. Did he really walk on water, or was there a shallow sandbank there? Mariam keeps searching for answers. The arguments go round and round in her head. In the end…well, you’ll have to read The Testament of Mariam to find out!