The End of the Story and the Podcasts

Today I published the last of the podcast segments to the novel. The entire book is now available on this site for listening or downloading. The series of podcasts are also available on iTunes.

Why would I spend weeks recording and converting those recordings into audio files and podcasts for public consumption after spending three years researching and writing, the designing and publishing the book? As any author with something to say, I want my story to be read, or in this case, read or listened to, by as many people as possible.

The Q Fragments is a well told tale, a mystery that rests on characters and action, a story that arose from mystery and persists in that vein to this day. It does not have to be, though. There are evidentiary and rational explanations for why a simple, illiterate Jewish country prophet was later transformed into a magical, mysterious god who still holds sway over those who are vunerable to simple belief. This story is meant to open the doors of the mind to a rational but sympathetic approach to how Christianity might have been born, and how it may someday be put to rest along with the hundreds of other supernatural mystery stories that humans have long forgotten.

The Genesis of the Story

Historically, there is little doubt that some number of the Jewish apocalyptic prophets living in first century Judea, were tortured and executed by Jerusalem's Roman occupiers. The usual Roman execution was by crucifixion. The condemned were nailed and tied to a wooden cross structure shaped like a "T" or a plus sign, and usually left there to die of suffocation or exposure. After the victims were dead their bodies were thrown into common graves and covered with lime, or sometimes left to hang until the vultures and the dogs did their work. Today, many people believe that one of those executed in Jerusalem in the first century, a man named Jesus from the one-donkey village of Nazareth in Galilee, was not human, but was in fact a divine being, the son of the Jewish god, sent by his godly father to suffer and die in this horrible manner then to be brought back to life and lifted corporally into the sky to a place called Heaven.

Like the divine prophet himself, this is a fantastic story that won't die. But, there remain questions. When the religious doctrines, miracles and apologia are stripped away and the bones of what actually might have happened are examined, many things don't make sense. Why was the body of an executed criminal allowed to be interred in a Jewish tomb? This was against Jewish law and practice at the time. 

Was there actually a tomb at all? Historians examining the many conflicting manuscripts on which the Gospels are based think the tomb story is an addition made hundreds of years after the earliest gospel manuscripts were written.

If there was a tomb, why was the body not there a few days after it was interred? Was the body ever there? Was it removed and buried elsewhere? All of the Gospel and non-canonical gospel accounts differ in significant detail and reflect confused and wildly conflicting accounts about these and many other events in the life of the man Jesus.

What really happened that might have accounted for the many miracle stories that abound in the Gospels? The multiplication of the loaves and fishes, raising people from the dead, Jesus miraculously escaping certain death at the hands of his home town mob? Although it is likely that many of these miraculous events were created from whole cloth, some probably have their origin in actual historical events, told, retold, enhanced and modified from person to person, year after year before being committed to writing.

One of the main reasons these fantastic stories, for there are multiple stories and different versions of those stories present in the canonical Gospels, have endured is that there exists no objective, unbiased evidence of the events described in the Christian holy books. The first non-Jewish or Christian reference to the alleged son of God appears almost one hundred years after his death. For someone who is today perceived by millions of people to be the most important person who ever lived, we have no record of him until then. We have birth records, trial transcripts, the writings of philosophers, scientists, government functionaries and more, but nothing at all mentioning Jesus of Nazareth until the year 112 CE. For the purposes of discovering anything historical and objective, something based on actual evidence about his life and work, we have only the documents of his later followers, none of whom knew him directly, and only one, Paul, who personally knew anyone who had known Jesus of Nazareth. The body of information we have from these sources is subjective at best and apologetic, even false at the worst.

A group of one hundred fifty religious scholars who were interested in discovering as much historically about Jesus and his followers as possible began the Jesus Seminar in 1985. The Seminar operated through 2006, formally disbanding after the death of its founder Robert Funk. While the conclusions of the Seminar have drawn criticism from the expected sources, the most strident being the fundamentalist Christians and the generally discredited band of "mythicists" who deny any historical validity to Jesus, the conclusions reached were still based exclusively on various historical and analytical techniques applied to the canonical and gnostic writings of those early periods. There is no material, physical evidence dating from those early years to analyze.

Enter anthropology and physical evidence. As primary investigators like the police, forensic anthropologists and engineers know, physical evidence trumps other sources of information such as written or eye witness testimonies, sworn recollections and assumptions. Examples are DNA comparisons, archeological artifacts, laboratory evidence, etc. Probably the most classic examples in religious studies were the discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the documents found at Nag Hamadi which were proven to be written before, during and after the period of Jesus of Nazareth's life. Unfortunately for the Jesus story, they shed absolutely no light, mention of, or information about Jesus or any of the people or events narrated in the various gospels, canonical or otherwise.

After reading extensively about this early period of Christian history, and being an anthropologist who is familiar with the value evidence brings, I had to ask, what would the discovery of actual physical evidence relating to the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth tell us? If someone who was present during that time and had seen, perhaps met and interacted with Jesus and his followers and his enemies, had observed many of the actual events that stories in the Gospels later relate, and who had first-hand knowledge of the death and aftermath of Jesus' execution, had recorded these events, what would that document say?

The Q Fragments is my historical novel about what might have happened two thousand years ago, based on the best evidence, historical and textual analysis of the surviving early manuscripts and the cultural anthropology of the times for context. It is not a religious story, rather a story of dramatic events that have been shaped and modified to fit the religious needs of those who long after the actual events created the Christian Gospels as we know them. The Q Fragments is a story based on scholarship told by characters, dialog, action and events, meant to be enjoyed as a tale worth telling and to promote independent reflection and consideration of a long held, but essentially fantastical story.