Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Guest Blogger: James Becker

Please join me in welcoming author James Becker as the special guest blogger here at Thoughts in Progress today.

James’ current release is THE MESSIAH SECRET, the third book in the popular series featuring detective Chris Bronson and his archaeologist ex-wife, Angela Lewis. THE MESSIAH SECRET (ISBN: 978-0451412980) is slated to be released today by Signet.

James dropped by to answer a few questions about his latest book, as well as his writing. Due to prior travel plans, James won’t be able to drop back by today. However, if you have any questions I’ll be glad to forward them to him along with your e-mail information.

Mason: Now James tell us a little about your research for this book.

James: I try to be as careful and thorough as I possibly can when doing my research. One of the problems when talking about this murky period in human history is that so many of the things which people absolutely know to be established facts are actually nothing of the sort.

Let me just give you two examples.

Everybody knows that Jesus Christ was born on December 25. In fact there is no evidence to support this whatsoever, and what evidence there is directly contradicts this assertion. According to the Gospel of Luke, shepherds were tending their flocks in the fields when he was born. If that is correct, then the month was most likely to have been June, because that was when the sheep were first allowed into the fields to graze on the remains of the wheat harvest, and it would almost certainly have been some time during the summer. The reality is that the December date was chosen by the early church because it was an important pagan celebration, the Festival of the Unvanquished Sun, and it was felt vital to try to subdue all other religions so as to establish Christianity as the one true faith. December 25 as the date of Christ’s birth was never recorded in any document at any time until the middle of the fourth century A.D. when it first appeared in a Roman calendar.

And everybody knows that Jesus lived in Nazareth. In fact, He’s often referred to as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. Actually, it’s almost certain that Nazareth didn’t exist as a settlement when Jesus was alive, and the expression is actually a mistranslation which occurs in the Gospel of Matthew. In the original Greek, He is referred to as ‘Iesous Nazareneus’, which translates as ‘Jesus the Nazarene’, and had nothing to do with where he lived. A Nazarene was an ascetic, a holy man who lived simply with few possessions, and spent a lot of time praying, which is actually a far more accurate description of the Jesus of the Bible.

What I always try to do is to ignore the modern interpretations of these events that took place some two thousand years ago and go back as far as I can, ideally to the original source documents, or at least to accurate translations of those original documents, as I can’t read Greek or Aramaic, though I can get by in Latin. The results of this kind of research are often surprising, and frequently disturbing, not least because of the completely new light which is then cast upon modern assumptions and beliefs.

As for the mechanics of the research, the Internet is an enormous resource, but inevitably you will encounter websites designed and written by people with a particular agenda to follow, and a specific point of view to promote, and it is vital to always check and double check the information which is presented. I also have an extensive library of reference books which I use constantly, and on my laptop, which has a very large hard disk, I have scanned copies of literally thousands of ancient texts and translations of those texts.

Mason: What was your inspiration for the story?

James: Each book in the series has been inspired by a real event or series of events. For example, the first book – THE FIRST APOSTLE – owes something to Thomas Jefferson, of all people. He was so utterly opposed to the teachings of St Paul that he actually tried to have all of his writings excised from the Bible. That slightly shocking discovery made me start thinking about both St Paul and St Peter, and the story grew from that.
The idea for the latest book – THE MESSIAH SECRET – was
based upon the very obvious hole that exists in the recorded life of Jesus Christ. In the Bible, which is actually the only work which records His life in any detail, His birth is described, and His appearance at the Temple at the age of about twelve or thirteen. He next appears as an adult, aged about thirty, and already clearly an accomplished prophet. That begs the obvious question, in fact the obvious two questions: where did He spend the intervening eighteen years or so? And how did He become a prophet?

That started me thinking about what could have happened, and my research then led me to investigate some quite compelling evidence which suggested, not only that Jesus might have traveled the Silk Road to India as a youth, but that He might even have returned there after His supposed execution in Judea. That idea formed the basis for the book.

Just as an aside, it’s worth pointing out that there are a tremendous number of problems relating to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, because almost everything about it is contradicted by well established and unarguable facts, beginning with the conduct of the Sanhedrin and the Romans, through the location of the site of the execution, to the actual mechanics and result of the crucifixion.

Just one small example: crucifixion was a brutal and agonising punishment inflicted by the Romans on people who broke Roman law (which Jesus had apparently not done) and was intended as a warning to all. For this reason, victims of crucifixion were never, ever, taken down from the cross, and guards were posted at places of execution to ensure that this didn’t happen. Only when all that was left of the victim were the bones was the cross able to be reused.

The new book – THE MESSIAH SECRET – was released in Britain earlier this year. As with all the books in this series, it attracted both complimentary and scathing reviews, probably because the subject matter might have offended some people, as it casts doubt on deeply held religious beliefs. But sometimes there are unexpected responses. A couple weeks ago a package was delivered to my British publishers, and then sent on to me. Inside it was no note or any form of communication whatsoever from the sender, apart from a single large book. The title of this extremely scholarly work is Jesus in heaven on earth, subtitled Journey of Jesus to Kashmir, his preaching to the Lost Tribes of Israel and death and burial in Srinagar.

Mason: What readers can expect next from you?

James: The fourth book in the series is entitled THE NOSFERATU SCROLL, and is rather different to the preceding three titles. It’s a darker and more disturbing book, because it deals with matters which lie outside mainstream beliefs, and which call into question some of humanity’s oldest and most terrifying monsters. The book is set in the present day, entirely in Venice and the Venetian Lagoon, and pits Chris Bronson and Angela Lewis against a group of people whose core beliefs are literally the stuff of nightmares. I won’t say any more about it, because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone!

Mason: Was a series planned with first book or did characters develop their own stories?

James: The idea of having a couple of people – in this case a former husband-and-wife team but from very different backgrounds and with different skills – investigating ancient mysteries seemed to work, right from the start. But even if I’d only had a plot for a single book, the two-book contract I signed with Transworld in the UK would have ensured that I came up with a second idea fairly quickly. As it was, even before I wrote the first book – THE FIRST APOSTLE – I already had about half a dozen plots worked out to some extent.

Having said that, I’ve always found in my writing that the characters have a nasty habit of hijacking the plot, and sometimes they drag it off in unexpected directions. It’s been said that there are ‘tree writers’ and ‘wood writers’. A ‘tree writer’ works everything out beforehand and, metaphorically speaking, he stands at the foot of the tree and can see every fork and every branch of the story all the way to the top, where it will end. I’m definitely a ‘wood writer’: when I start the book, it’s as if I’m walking into one end of a wood. I know where I have to come out at the other end, but when I start I have no idea how I’m going to get there. That’s when the characters help me out by taking over and leading me to the inevitable conclusion.

To some extent, this series of books is both a group of stories which I hope shed some light on one or two of the darker aspects of our ancient history, but it’s also a journey of personal exploration for the two protagonists – Angela Lewis, and her former husband Chris Bronson.

Mason: Who would play the roles if books turned into TV series or films?

James: Oddly enough, that’s quite a difficult question to answer, because although I have a clear mental picture of what Chris Bronson and Angela Lewis look like, they don’t resemble any actors and actresses who are popular at the moment. I suppose if I had to choose one person to play Bronson, it would probably be somebody like Daniel Craig, essentially a strong and silent type, to use an old expression. He’s the muscle, if you like, while Angela is definitely the brains of the outfit, and I see her as looking something like an English version of Michelle Pfeiffer.

James, thanks so much for answering my questions. It’s always interesting to learn more about how a book developed and it sounds like you’ve got two protagonists that keep you on your toes.

Now for a bit of a blurb about James’ latest release: “For history-mystery thrillers fans of Paul Christopher and Dan Brown, James Becker captivating plot and non-stop action will keep readers entertained. In a crumbling mansion tucked deep away in the English countryside, museum conservator Angela Lewis comes across a shocking discovery: a wooden crate nailed shut and covered with dust. Within the crate lies a dozen sealed pottery jars, one which contains an ancient scroll inscribed in Hebrew. The parchment, as noted by a first century Jewish scholar, details the final resting place of the Messiah. Is the scroll referring to the Christian Messiah? And could, as the scroll suggests, his body still be entombed in a remote cave high in the Himalayas? It soon becomes clear that they are not only in a race to uncover one of the greatest mysteries of all time, but they are in far greater danger than they ever imagined…"

James has spent over 20 years in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. Throughout his career he has been involved in many of the world’s hotspots, including Yemen, Russia and Northern Ireland. He lives in the UK. 


  1. James, it's a pleasure to have you guest blogging here today. Your book sounds very interesting. Wishing you the best of luck.

  2. A very interesting series of books. Not something I would have checked out on my own. Thanks for the interview.

  3. James, I'm impressed by the deep level of research you put into your work. That's exactly what I love to see in books I read, especially when they're based on history. This looks like a very interesting series.

    Great guest post, Mason!


  4. Mason - Thanks for hosting James.

    James - Thanks very much for sharing the background of research you've done. As a linguist, I think it's fascinating how much effect things like translations have on what we believe about history, and I do enjoy historical mysteries. I wish you much success.

  5. Research is one of my favorite parts of writing. It provides such a wealth of information that can be used to layer and shape the story, as James' suggests here. Thanks for the interview.

  6. Hi Mason and James .. sounds very interesting & I'm sure I 'noted' some of the hullaballoo here in England - but was tied up with other things .. it passed me by.

    Very interesting and another aspect on life of long ago .. thanks so much Mason for organising this interview .. sounds a great read .. Hilary

  7. Linda, hope you enjoy the series. It does sound interesting.

    Jai, thanks for stopping by. There does seems to be a lot of research involved in this series.

    Margot, I thought the historical aspect of this series would appeal to you.

    Joanne, research in the case of this series does add another layer to the story. I think I'd get lost in doing research and forget to write.

    Hilary, it does sound like a great read doesn't it? It is a different look at long ago.

    Alex, thanks for stopping and glad you learned something.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.