E I've ever written since 1974 involved historical research. It's been VERY NOVEL my delight that no matter how many supernatural elements were involved in the story, and no matter how imaginative the plot and characters, the background would be thoroughly historically accurate. And over the years, I've become known for that accuracy. If one of my novels is set in Venice in the eighteenth century, one can be certain that the details as to the opera, the dress, the milieu, the values of the people—all of this is correct. Without ever planning it, I've moved slowly backwards in history, from the nineteenth century, where I felt at home in my first two novels, to the first century, where I sought the answers to enormous questions that became an obsession with me that simply couldn't be ignored. Ultimately, the figure of Jesus Christ was at the heart of this obsession. More generally, it was the birth of Christianity and the fall of the ancient world. I wanted to know desperately what happened in the first century, and why people in general never talked about it. Understand, I had experienced an old-fashioned, strict Roman Catholic childhood in the 1940s and 1950s, in an .
A ' N UTHOR S OTE Irish American parish that would now be called a Catholic ghetto, where we attended daily Mass and Communion in an enormous and magnificently decorated church, which had been built by our forefathers, some with their own hands. Classes were segregated, boys from girls. We learned Catechism and Bible history, and the lives of the saints. Stained-glass windows, the Latin Mass, the detailed answers to complex questions on good and evil—these things were imprinted on my soul forever, along with a great deal of church history that existed as a great chain of events triumphing over schism and reformation to culminate in the papacy of Pius XII. I left this church at age eighteen, because I stopped believing it was "the one true church established by Christ to give grace." No personal event precipitated this loss of faith. It happened on a secular college campus; there was intense sexual pressure; but more than that there was the world itself, without Catholicism, filled with good people and people who read books that were strictly speaking forbidden to me. I wanted to read Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Camus. I wanted to know why so many seemingly good people didn't believe in any organized religion yet cared passionately about their behavior and the value of their lives. As the rigid Catholic I was, I had no options for exploration. I broke with the Church. And I broke with my belief in God. When I married two years later, it was to a passionate atheist, Stan Rice, who not only didn't believe in God, he felt he had had something akin to a vision which had given him a certainty that God didn't exist. He was one of the most honorable and conscience-driven people I ever knew. For him and for me, our writing was our lives. In 1974,1 became a published writer. The novel reflected my guilt and my misery in being cut off from God and from .
307 salvation; my being lost in a world without light. It was set in the nineteenth century, a context I'd researched heavily in trying to answer questions about New Orleans, where I was born and no longer lived. After that, I wrote many novels without my being aware that they reflected my quest for meaning in a world without God. As I said before, I was working my way backwards in history, answering questions for myself about whole historical developments—why certain revolutions happened, why Queen Elizabeth I was the way she was, who really wrote Shakespeare's plays (this I never used in a novel), what the Italian Renaissance really was, and what had the Black Death been like before it. And how had feudalism come about. In the 1990s, living in New Orleans again, living among adults who were churchgoers and believers, flexible Catholics of some sophistication, I no doubt imbibed some influence from them. But I also inevitably plunged into researching the first century because I wanted to know about Ancient Rome. I had novels to write with Roman characters. Just maybe, I might discover something I'd wanted to know all my life and never had known: How did Christianity actually "happen"? Why did Rome actually fall? To me these were the ultimate questions and always had been. They had to do with who we were today. I remember in the 1960s, being at a party in a lovely house in San Francisco, given in honor of a famous poet. A European scholar was there, I found myself alone with him, seated on a couch. I asked him, "Why did Rome fall?" For the next two hours he explained it to me. I couldn't absorb most of what he said. But I never forgot what I did understand—about all the grain for the city hav- .
A ' N UTHOR S OTE ing to come from Egypt, and the land around the city being taken up with villas, and the crowds being fed the dole. It was a wonderful evening, but I didn't leave with a feeling that I had the true grasp of what had happened. Catholic Church history had given me an awareness of our cultural heritage, although it was presented to me early and quite without context. And I wanted to know the context, why things were the way they were. When I was a little child, maybe eleven or younger, I was lying on my mother's bed, reading or trying to read one of her books. I read a sentence that said the Protestant Reformation split Europe culturally in half. I thought that was absurd and I asked her, was this true? She said it was. I never forgot that. All my life I wanted to know what that meant. In 1993, I dug into this early period, and of course went earlier, into the history of Sumer and Babylon and the whole Middle East, and back to Egypt, which I'd studied in college, and I struggled with it all. I read specialized archaeological texts like detective novels searching for patterns, enthralled with the Gilgamesh story, and details such as the masonry tool which the ancient kings (statues) held in their hands. I wrote two novels during this period that reflect what I was doing. But something happened to me that may not be recorded in any book. I stumbled upon a mystery without a solution, a mystery so immense that I gave up trying to find an explanation because the whole mystery defied belief. The mystery was the survival of the Jews. As I sat on the floor of my office surrounded by books about Sumer, Egypt, Rome, etc., and some skeptical material about Jesus that had come into my hands, I couldn't understand how these people had endured as the great people who they were. .
309 It was this mystery that drew me back to God. It set into motion the idea that there may in fact be God. And when that happened there grew in me for whatever reason an immense desire to return to the banquet table. In 1998 I went back to the Catholic Church. But even then I had not closed in on the question of Jesus Christ and Christianity. I did read the Bible in a state of utter amazement at its variety, its poetry, its startling portraits of women, its inclusion of bizarre and often bloody and violent details. When I was depressed, which was often, someone read the Bible to me, often literary translations of the New Testament—that is, translations by Richmond Lattimore that are wondrously literal and beautiful and revealing and that open the text anew. In 200Z I put aside everything else and decided to focus entirely on answering the questions that had dogged me all my life. The decision came in July of that year. I had been reading the Bible constantly, reading parts of it out loud to my sister, and poring over the Tanach (Old Testament), and I decided that I would give myself utterly to the task of trying to understand Jesus himself and how Christianity emerged. I wanted to write the life of Jesus Christ. I had known that years ago. But now I was ready. I was ready to do violence to my career. I wanted to write the book in the first person. Nothing else mattered. I consecrated the book to Christ. I consecrated myself and my work to Christ. I didn't know exactly how I was going to do it. Even then I did not know what my character of Jesus would be like. I had taken in a lot of fashionable notions about Jesus—that he'd been oversold, that the Gospels were "late" documents, that we really didn't know anything about him, that violence and quarreling marked the movement of Christian- .
A ' N UTHOR S OTE ity from its start. I'd acquired many books on Jesus, and they filled the shelves of my office. But the true investigation began in July of 2002. In August, I went to my beach apartment, to write the book. Such naivete. I had no idea I was entering a field of research where no one agreed on anything—whether we are talking about the size of Nazareth, the economic level of Jesus' family, the Jewish attitudes of Galileans in general, the reason Jesus rose to fame, the reason he was executed, or why his followers went out into the world. As to the size of the field, it was virtually without end. New Testament scholarship included books of every conceivable kind from skeptical books that sought to disprove Jesus had any real value to theology or an enduring church, to books that conscientiously met every objection of the skeptics with footnotes halfway up the page. Bibliographies were endless. Disputes sometimes produced rancor. And the primary source material for the first century was a matter of continuous controversy in which the Gospels were called secondary sources by some, and primary sources by others, and the history of Josephus and the works of Philo were subject to exhaustive examination and contentions as to their relevance or validity or whether they had any truth. Then there was the question of the Rabbis. Could the Mishnah, the Tosefta, and the Talmuds be trusted to give an accurate picture of the first century? Did they actually mention Jesus? And if not, so what, because they didn't mention Herod, who built the Temple, either. Oh, what lay in store. But let me backtrack. In 1999, I had received in die mail from my editor and longtime mentor a copy of Paula Fredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. I had read a .
311 substantial part of this book in which Fredriksen re-created beautifully the Jewish milieu in which the boy Jesus might have lived in Nazareth and in which he might have gone to the Temple for Passover along with his family. Fredriksen made the point strongly that Jesus was a Jew. And that this had to be addressed when one wrote about him or thought about him, or so it seems to me. Now six years later, I have produced a book which is obviously inspired by that scene which Fredriksen wrote, and I can only offer my humble thanks to her and acknowledge her influence. Of course my beliefs are the polar opposite of Fredrik-sen's as the book Christ the Lord reveals. But it was Fredriksen who steered me in the right direction as to exploring Jesus as a Jew, and there my serious research of him began. But to return to the year 2002. As I began my serious work, a call came from my husband. He was experiencing the first symptoms of a brain tumor from which he died in less than four months. We had been married for forty-one years. After my return to the Church, he had consented to marry me in the great old church of my childhood with a priest who was my cousin saying the words. This was a marvelous concession coming from a committed atheist. But out of love for me, my husband did it. Forty-one years. And he was gone. Was I given the gift of purpose before this tragedy so that it would sustain me through it? I don't know. I do know that during his last weeks, my husband when he was conscious became a saint. He expressed love for those around him, understanding of people he hadn't understood before. He wanted gifts given to those who helped him in his illness. Before that he had managed, though half paralyzed, to create three amazing paintings. I must not neglect to say that. Then .