Everyone Please Welcome the Talented International Author JB Richards!
“More than anything else, it is important to study history.”-B.B. King
JB Richards is an historian and international award-winning Amazon, Goodreads, and Xlibris author. Her debut novel, “Miriamne the Magdala – The First Chapter in the Yeshua and Miri Novel Series”, was recently voted a Top 10 Best Historical Fiction Novel, Top 20 Best New Adult Novel, and Top 50 Best Young Adult Novel, and received a nomination for Best Romance Novel in the 2016 Summer Indie Book Awards (SIBA’s). “Miriamne the Magdala” has also been awarded a Readers’ Favorite 5-Star Seal and has continued to be nominated in multiple book award venues. Richards is currently a nominee for Author of the Year in the upcoming 2016 Indie Author Books Readers’ Choice Awards, while “Miriamne the Magdala” has been nominated in the Goodreads Self-Pub or Indie Books Worth Reading Awards. Her upcoming second chapter in the Yeshua and Miri Novel Series, “Yeshua the Christ: The Silk Road”, is due for publication in 2017.
Recipient of 5-Star Seal
2016 Summer Indie Book Awards
“Miriamne the Magdala” voted
Top 10 Best Historical Fiction
Top 20 Best New Adult Novel
Top 50 Best Young Adult Novel
Best Romance Nominee
What began your love of history?
My great uncle, Antes Boudreau, was an avid book collector. He kept stacks and stacks of books, novels, almanacs, newspapers, magazines—you name it, he had it—lined up along the walls, floor to ceiling, of his tiny, single-occupancy, one-bedroom apartment. At the age of 21, he had lost his wife in a tragic fire. He never remarried, and had no children, but he considered my dad as his son. Uncle was sort of a curmudgeon. He always led a solitary life, preferring to mingle with the pigeons in the local park rather than share breakfast and a cup of coffee with a friend. But because of his special relationship with my dad, he was always present at family gatherings where he felt most comfortable sitting on the sidelines wistfully observing everyone else having fun. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that my uncle was anti-social. Certainly, a few stiff shots of Canadian Club loosened his tie to the point that he’d enjoy playing the odd card game after dinner, or even regaling present company with all the precious knowledge he gained from his beloved books. As a young, impressionable 9-year-old feminist, whom Uncle thought would either be a future candidate for president or the first female astronaut, I absolutely adored him.
So, why am I telling you all about my uncle? Uncle taught me about the Classical Era, the “Hellenistic” period, Homer and Cato, the founding of Rome, Cleopatra and Marc Antony … and I was a sponge, absorbing everything and anything he cared to share with me. As I grew older and began college, I visited him frequently, avidly engaging in raucous debates about religion, theology, and philosophy. He was a self-proclaimed atheist, and we often focused on the historical lives and the times of the great prophets and sages, rather than writings which tended to glorify them. We often honed in on the life of the Buddha and the man called Jesus, the “Christ”. Because of my uncle, I developed a passion for this era, earning degrees in both History and Psychology. Decades later, when I could no longer work a 9-5 job due to chronic health issues, I happened upon some old books of his pertaining to the missing years of Jesus. Once I reread these books, did a huge amount of research on my own, and gathered all my notes, I finally found a place to start. That’s when I began writing the Yeshua and Miri Novel Series!
Wow. It’s amazing how those close to us can leave such an impression. Thanks for sharing!
Did you read historical fiction growing up?
It’s funny, but the great majority of the books I read—and there were many borrowed from the local library as well as my Uncle’s extensive personal collection—were textbooks, journals, and almanacs. My preference was always for fact, not fiction … even when I was a little kid. I was only 7-years-old when my dad’s employer offered the Golden Book Encyclopedia for Children to their employees at a discounted fee. Each Friday evening as my dad left work, he bought one letter from the collection (A-Z) and took it home. Night after night, I loved pouring over the pages of each volume before bedtime! I was barely able to contain my anticipation as I wondered what would be waiting for me between the pages of the very next issue. My love for history, science, and nature took hold when I began to read those wonderful encyclopedia volumes.
That’s awesome! Your love for history and science is infectious.
What’s your favorite time period and why?
I think you can pretty much tell by now which historical era was my favorite! The centuries preceding and subsequent to the 1st century CE represent one of the true apexes of intellectual and philosophical evolution in modern human beings. Five-hundred years before the Christian Era and 500 years afterward, mark an early renaissance in humankind’s development. Our view of God and the Universe shifted in a big way, and we began to question what our place was in relation to Creation. It was during this time that sages, magi, prophets, philosophers, teachers, gurus, and bodhisattvas—enlightened beings like Jesus and the Buddha—flourished. These “Great Teachers”, as they are known to History, revolutionized science, astrology (which included the study of the stars, predicting fortunes and fates, and the marking of the changing seasons along with other astronomical data), mathematics, philosophy, culture, the arts, and—most importantly—religion. Although the list of advances in various genres goes on and on, it was during these accumulated 1,000-years in the history of humankind that represented a key turning point—a great shift in attitude—that completely altered our belief system. There was a great shift in how humankind perceived the Divine—not as a bullying and judgmental God/gods who remained impassive and far removed from the world, but as an inner spiritual force with each individual manifesting as an extension of the Divine. The Buddha and Jesus taught that we each hold within us a Divine “spark” (some call it the “Soul”), and that part of our Selves exists both separated and in conjunction with the Divine Itself. As Jesus taught, we are all sons and daughters of the Divine.
I’m probably not your typical person. I believe human beings are inherently tripartite beings as created by God. Having three distinct parts. Body, soul and spirit. In the old and new testament there are several references, but 1 Thess. 5:23 sums it up in one verse.
What did you experience researching you first novel?
I discovered that the telling of a story is not so much a dictation of the facts as it is the interpretation of a life subjected to all the outside influences put upon it. That realization alone can make for a story that is insightful, compelling, and terribly funny! For example, in choosing to become incarnate, Jesus (Yeshua, in his native Aramaic tongue) not only gained the ability to walk among us and teach us about becoming better individuals, he learned a lot about what it was to be an actual human being—to be subjected to the laws of both Man and Nature. Think about that and put yourself in his sandals for a moment … What a revelation it must have been for Jesus when he gained a corporeal form—a body—with all its natural … functions! I can’t help but be amused sometimes when I think about the first time Yeshua suddenly realized the end result of catching a stomach-flu, or getting a cold, or simply eating a meal! I’m sure he found it all quite … fascinating.
We tend not to see Yeshua as a human being. And one thing I was sensitive to in developing the storyline for “Miriamne the Magdala” was that he, the Magdala, and certain individuals in the early Christian community are seen by the members of many faiths as sacred beings who are to remain unsullied by everyday life and an everyday existence. Many of the faithful see them as pastoral, benign peasants that had an unwavering belief in God and their religion. The truth about Jesus and his followers, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. The profile of Yeshua that I uncovered in my research is vastly different from the idealized “Good Shepherd” modern-day Christians derive from the Synoptic Gospels. I doubt many would recognize Jesus the actual man—the Galilean rabbi who wanted to change the status quo and reclaim his homeland from the Roman Empire and the Hasmonean dynasty that had been put in place to rule Galilee and Judea. In researching the “historical” Jesus, I found that Yeshua—for that was his true name—was most certainly not a Christian. He was a Jew. He was born a Jew, grew up a Jew, lived the life of a Jew, worshiped as a Jew, and died a Jew.
Today, far removed from his time, many have a tendency to view Jesus as a Christian. But Christianity never even existed until decades after his death. James, who was named as leader of the disciples by Yeshua himself should anything happen to him, strongly upheld the tenets of Judaism and Jewish culture because that was what his brother wanted. In fact, James, and the disciples who were with him, continued to worship in synagogues that were accepting of their particular manner of worship as long as it maintained its roots in Judaism. It was Paul who radically departed from Judaism to form his own idealized version of what Jesus had taught. Sure, his theology was still based on the teachings of Jesus, but geared toward the Gentiles who were flocking in droves to him and his own cadre of disciples. Shortly after he began preaching, Paul had sought to gain the approval of James to relax the rules, but James would not wander from the tenets of his Jewish faith and culture just to please a self-declared Apostle. Eventually, the disagreement between Paul and James escalated to a standoff, and caused a great schism between the two communities. This is what led to the formation of a more popular belief—Christianity—Paul’s version of Jesus’ teachings.
I also found that my own view of Jesus changed as my research continued. Yeshua grew up in Roman-occupied Galilee, and like other young Galilean men who matured under these same conditions, he yearned for his people and homeland to be free. He was not, according to our traditional view, some passive, itinerant preacher wandering about the countryside performing miracles, encouraging people to be kind to one another, and patiently telling them to wait for the coming of the Kingdom of God. No … Yeshua was a rabble-rouser, a revolutionary, and an outspoken challenger of the status quo. He, like most of the other Jews in his homeland, wanted the Romans gone—expelled from Galilee and Judea. They wanted the right to practice their religion and maintain their traditions freely—without the scrutiny of Rome, or come to mention it, the Temple Priests, the Pharisees and the Sadducees who put–what Yeshua saw as—ridiculous restrictions on the Jewish people. Yeshua was so vocal in his preaching and forceful in his choice of words, he became an outlaw—a man on the run from the authorities—and for three long years he carefully planned out how he was going to avoid capture as he went about fulfilling his Mission. This purposeful, determined, and passionate young champion of a suppressed and beleaguered people is the Yeshua that I present in “Miriamne the Magdala” and the Yeshua and Miri Novel Series.
Wow. Sounds like you learned a lot!
Did you almost give up after 20 years?
No way! Never!
Tell us about the main characters.
Miriamne, aka Miri, is a 12-year-old entitled aristocrat—daughter of Commander Micah bar Abram, the former Hekatontarchus of the Hyperatai (the Holy Temple Guard) and his lovely wife, Salome—when she first meets her bedraggled and estranged Galilean cousin, Yeshua bar Joseph, at the Grand Marketplace in Sepphoris. At first sight, she thinks he is a simple peasant and wonders how he could possibly be related to her family. But as she comes to know the story behind their family’s estrangement, and begins to see Yeshua as a charming and sensitive boy with a keen intelligence and wit to match, she quickly falls in love.
Young Yeshua is the fifth son in line, youngest among his four brothers—James, Joses, Judas, and Simeon. His four older brothers come from the union of Joseph bar Jacob and his first wife, Miriam. He also has two younger sisters, Sali and Mara, who are both born of the union between Joseph and Mary. Yeshua’s own mother, Mary, does not consider Joseph to be Yeshua’s natural father, and this causes problems with the local villagers in Nazareth who label her son a “mamzer”—a bastard. The family has just returned to the region after a trip to Jerusalem, where Yeshua has only recently made his Bar Mitzvah. The ceremony awakens the inner soul of the 13-year-old, and Yeshua comes to recognize that His Mission is fast upon Him. Weeks later, Yeshua considers it a mitzvah—a token of good fortune—when his family is suddenly reunited with their estranged cousins from Bethany. He finds a pleasant distraction from his woes in his beautiful young cousin, Miriamne, and the two begin a friendship that binds them together in some surprising and unexpected ways. When a family tragedy suddenly strikes, Yeshua is sorely tested, and He is suddenly torn between using His miraculous powers and keeping His allegiance to His Divine Father intact.
This should be an interesting read. Especially from a historical standpoint!
Tell us about the setting of the 1st century in the common era.
“Miriamne the Magdala” takes place in Roman-occupied Galilee, only a decade after a Jewish uprising ended in the razing of Sepphoris—the main hub of commerce near Nazareth, Cana, and Nain. In retaliation, the Romans not only burned the city to the ground, they crucified 2,000 rebels along the main roads connecting the small towns to the bustling city on the hill. The remaining population of Sepphoris—men, women, and children—were all rounded up within days of the rebellion and were sold off as slaves.
Not a stone lay upon a stone when the Romans left the hilltop burning like a bonfire that terrifying night as the villagers of Nazareth hid their children and themselves away in the maze of secret tunnels burrowed beneath their little town. By the time Miriamne’s family returns to the region, and her father, the Commander, takes over his deceased father’s huge estate, Sepphoris is a newly rebuilt city perched on the top of the hill overlooking the Kaveelah—the Bar Abram paternal family home. It is in this city—recently populated with Jewish aristocrats sympathetic to Rome, and dubbed “The Jewel of the Galilee” because of the newly-built King’s Palace and Grand Marketplace—that Miriamne, her mother, Salome, her older sister, Martha, and her 6-year-old brother, Lazarus, meet Yeshua.
This will be a great history lesson. Admittedly my worst subject!
Can you tell us some factual elements of history that aren’t in your book?
Oh, my goodness, where should I begin? There was so much going on in Judea and Galilee during Yeshua and Miri’s childhood and early teenage years, and I tried to be as thorough as possible in explaining the Roman influence on Jewish culture during that time. One thing I might not have gone into detail about, which I will cover more extensively in the subsequent 4 novels in the Yeshua and Miri Novel Series, is the divisions that existed between the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Zealots—the three main groups who provided the Jews with an interpretation of the Law of Moses in that era. These three factions will have a more important role in the third chapter of the Yeshua and Miri Novel Series, “Thomas the Twin: The Sefer Revealed”.
Oh, that would be a good one to explore. The differences between the Jewish sects of the time.
Name 3-5 customs or traditions of 1st century CE.
One of my favorite Jewish customs is hanging a mezuzah. A mezuzah is a small piece of paper or parchment inscribed with a Hebrew prayer that is sealed inside a tiny decorative box affixed to the front doorpost of a home. In “Miriamne the Magdala”, everyone touches the mezuzah and recites a short prayer before entering their home.
One custom that bothers the girls—Martha, Miri, and Sali—in “Miriamne the Magdala” is the tradition of arranged marriages. It was common in those days for girls who had started their menses, as young as 9-years-old, to be lawfully betrothed, then wedded to a man who was in his 30’s or much older. Fathers were in complete control of the arrangements, and betrothals were sealed between the father of the bride and the bridegroom with a Ketubah—a marriage contract. Once the dowry was presented, the terms of the marriage were haggled over, and a Ketubah was drawn up by a scribe. It was reviewed and signed by the fathers of both families and the bridegroom. The Ketubah could not be broken without severe and irreparable damage to the withdrawing party’s family reputation.
Another Jewish tradition that Yeshua, and all Jewish men, were careful to observe was the Shaharit—the Morning Prayer. Each day when he arises, Yeshua follows a specific ritual, donning his tallit—prayer shawl—and his phylacteries in a step-by-step, prescribed manner. He then recites the prayer, “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God is one!” It’s a beautiful custom, and I sometimes find myself thinking of the words of the Shaharit each morning when I arise.
I love the mezuzah tradition! That sounds quite lovely. Pass on the arranged marriages part, the Shaharit is agreeable. Prayer is always good!
Tell us about the upcoming 2nd book.
In “Yeshua the Christ: The Silk Road”, Yeshua and Miriamne leave their home in Galilee to join their uncle, Joseph bar Abram, and his Caravaneers on the road to the Far East. The wonders of Syria, Persia, the Sind, and the Indus fascinate and delight the young couple who, as guests of their sponsor, Prince Ravanna of Orissa, are shown the grandeur of the Far East as they are treated to the luxuries of palace life.
As a sponsored scholar, Yeshua discovers a whole new system of beliefs among Persia’s Magi, and the Brahmana of the Indus. At the Temple at Jagganath, the priests are highly impressed with their young protégé and they entrust him with their most sacred and secret teachings usually granted only to a privileged few. Yeshua, however, believes no one, including the lower castes, should be excluded from this important teaching, and he challenges his teachers, insisting that—just like the Torah—these sacred writings were meant to be shared with all the people of the world.
When Yeshua decides to leave the Temple after a heated argument with his mentors and sets out on his own, the brash young preacher brings down the wrath of the Chief Lama who immediately censors him and orders him to cease his public teaching. But Yeshua has a will of His own. And when he continues to preach the doctrine to the Sudras of the lower caste, and refuses to bow down to the Lama—even upon penalty of death, an assassination plot is hatched by the Brahmana, placing his life, and the lives of his family and friends, in mortal danger!
Will Yeshua escape the Indus unscathed, and if he does, who will pay the price for his betrayal of the Brahmana? Find out in my upcoming novel, “Yeshua the Christ: The Silk Road”—due for publication in 2017!
Let us know when you’re up for publication and we’ll help promote it.
Name 3 things you really enjoyed about writing this book.
The humorous, and sometimes farcical, situations that Yeshua and Miriamne find themselves in, particularly when the Commander or the Brothers Bar Joseph get out of hand. Writing the love scenes between Yeshua and Miriamne—that always seemed to end up in some sort of embarrassment for both, or either one, of them—was a lot of fun, too!
Dreaming up the various dishes that Haggah, the Head Cook for the Bar Abram family, would prepare for the Commander, his family, and guests were also quite challenging. But it was fun to research all the ingredients that would have been available in the region of Galilee during that time and put them together in a dish that Haggah would have been proud to serve at the Bar Abram dinner table.
Last, but certainly not least, coming up with the personality clashes between siblings; the testing of brotherly bonds and sisterly love; and the strange and curious circumstances of everyday life at the homes of Yeshua and Miri, was sometimes difficult to conceive, but writing these types of scenes was always an eye-opener! It’s nice to know that there are good days and bad days for both the Bar Jacob and Bar Abram families, but in the end they always seem to pull together, take things in stride, and carry on!
Oh clashes between siblings is always a good one.
Name 3 of the most difficult aspects of writing this book.
Writer’s block is a plague for most authors, but when you’re trying to come up with situations to put “the Boy who would be Christ” in, while trying to remain sensitive to the fact that—for some people, much of this material might be considered heretical—it can be downright agonizing. I spend a lot of time getting into my character’s heads, but Yeshua always seems to speak louder than any of the other characters—including Miriamne. While I wrote Miriamne, he always pointed me in the right direction, and I in the editing process, I found that he was seldom wrong. He even sent me signs! Many times, I wanted to remove certain scenes from the final manuscript because I was worried how the scene would affect my readers. Inevitably, some chance encounter with an old friend or a certain song on the radio would tell me that I was on the right track. Truthfully, Yeshua was pretty hard to ignore. Eventually, I just gave in and wrote what he gave me.
I was also very worried about the size of the novel. Let’s face it, at 850 pages, Miriamne is big enough to use as a booster seat for a toddler! I consulted with editors and several other authors, but no one could figure out where to cut the book in half, or what to take out. Believe it or not, there are whole chapters that were cut from the end product, still wasting away in a huge bin up in my attic! All those pages in “Miriamne the Magdala” explain the history, cultures, and traditions that support this story, and each is as necessary to explaining the rich and detailed tapestry that is Yeshua and Miri’s lives as they are essential to understanding their purpose and Mission. And “Miriamne the Magdala” is just the beginning of our Journey! She is the introductory chapter that will lead us through to the conclusion of Christ’s life and the centuries beyond. In essence, she’s really two books in one, and neither part can be presented without the other.
Now, here’s a True Confession … I found it a tremendous and oftentimes overwhelming challenge to understand, interpret, and explain Jewish culture and traditions to my readers. You see, I’m not Jewish. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, attending parochial schools that had little to no exposure to Judaism. I didn’t even know there were Jews in my hometown until I attended college! My second confession is that I don’t speak Hebrew or Aramaic—the native language of Yeshua and Miriamne. Although I can, now and then, adeptly turn a phrase or two thanks to a wonderful and generous young man in—of all places—Hobart, Tasmania who volunteered to translate dozens of phrases from English to Hebrew for me via online communications.
I was lucky in that I had the pleasure of connecting with some amazing people on social media who helped guide me through any cultural traditions I found confusing or difficult to understand. These individuals are mentioned in the Acknowledgements section of my novel, and I am indeed fortunate that they are still standing in the wings, ready to assist me with “Yeshua the Christ: The Silk Road”! It is to them that I owe my deepest gratitude and thanks because Miriamne would not have a single shred of authenticity without their cooperation and hard work.
Well, I highly commend you on such an achievement. Really, I find that utterly amazing.
What 3 things from history would you bring into our society today?
First and foremost, I would bring forward the strong sense of family exhibited in “Miriamne the Magdala”. Too many families today are split-up and living great distances apart. I had a huge family when I was younger, and I remember family get-togethers, picnics, and beach parties that would last from morning to late at night. Those sorts of regular family reunions just don’t happen anymore, with family members so busy with personal and professional lives and homes scattered all over the country.
Next, I would bring back some form of proper etiquette. I’m not talking about the stuffy, highbrow manners authors like Emily Bronte exemplify, but a small taste of plain old chivalry and civility. There was a time when a man wouldn’t hesitate to dash out of his house in his slippers to help the elderly woman across the street drag her trash out to the curb. There was a time when a teen would cheerfully hold the door open for a pregnant woman loaded down with grocery packages so she could easily pass through. There was a time when kids went door to door offering to shovel neighbors out after a big snowstorm. Nowadays, people are too afraid to glance at one another, let alone speak to anyone. Today, suspicion and rudeness prevail. No one sees a fellow human being standing at their front door, but an enemy with a hostile intent to pillage whatever meager assets one might hold dear. We need more enmity in our world today.
I often wonder what society would look like if we had maintained, from days gone by, a strong belief in the Divine. How different our lives would be if we still believed that there was some Thing or some One greater than ourselves running our Universe (or as science seems to dictate … Universes). Considering all the scientific advances mankind has made–the discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle, the development of the Big Bang and the Big Crunch theories, and cracking the code for the human genome, just to name a few—we still have no explanation for what Life represents. We don’t know what the true essence of Life is, or where it comes from, or where it goes once a creature ceases to breathe. In the past, things were much simpler … Humanity seemed guided by Fate, steering mankind toward a Destiny. Today, many people shun their belief in a Higher Power. And those who do believe are often much too embarrassed to admit it. All in all, there seems to be no guidance, no dream, no ultimate goal for humanity nowadays, and it causes me to wonder whether we really have advanced as much as we think we have, or if we have lost our Selves in the process.
All great thoughts here. Thanks for sharing.
Would you like to be a time traveler?
Only if I could return to my own time whenever I wished … I’d enjoy taking a peek or two at life in the past or in the future, but the present is Home, and Home is where I belong.
There’s no place like home!
Wow, this is a toughie! There are so many great and awesome quotes that have come down to us through history, and it’s hard to single any one of them out! But, if I have to choose, I suppose I’d have to go with Anais Nin – “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” This one quote exemplifies my entire life in a nutshell.
“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”-Anais Nin
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