Today is my birthday. It is also the day I received my first copy of my newly published book, The Jesus Dynasty in 2006. We had quite an occasion for celebration that day. The book came out officially on April 4, 2006–as it was “embargoed” by the publisher, Simon & Schuster, in order to co-ordinate national and international publicity. But there is a special moment, every author knows, when one holds in ones hands the first physical copy of a newly published book! There is nothing like it, and that thrill never leaves. For me that it was March 2, 2006–and it just so happened to be my 60th birthday! You can’t make this stuff up.
The Jesus Dynasty burst on the scene with massive publicity–featured on Good Morning America, Nightline, and ABC’s 20-20–as well as the cover story of US News and World Report, along with hundreds of other stories, interviews, and media outlets. There was also major publicity all over Europe. It shot to the top of Amazon’s list the first week and made the NY Times best seller list soon thereafter. It was eventually translated into twenty-two languages, and is available in hardcover, paper, and all e-book formats, as well as a studio produced audio version that I personally read aloud! That Spring I did a European tour promoting the book in five countries. It was quite a heady ride–though not without plenty of opposition and controversy.
On Easter Sunday that year, which fell on April 16th–just days after my book was released–Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Michael Egan stood up in the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC and denounced my book by name from the pulpit. I was of course “thrilled,” as that act alone shot sales through the roof. Telling people they should not read something is a sure way to spur them to do the opposite–especially with lots of free-minded, though very devoted, Roman Catholics, see for example, this Catholica Spiritual site.. I never considered the book any kind of an attack on Jesus, quite to the contrary–in my view I was seeking to represent him as he truly was–so far as historical investigations allow. I have tried to patiently respond to my critics, academic and otherwise, and you can easily find some of these critiques and my responses by searching for “Jesus Dynasty” at this blog site using the Search feature.
So that was fifteen years ago today. I will post some personal pictures below of our grand family celebration fifteen years of my book and my birthday, but today I wanted to write something about book itself–looking back on fifteen years when I was the young age of 60!
The Jesus Dynasty has continued to sell well and I have heard from thousands of readers over the years–and tried to respond to them personally as I have been able. So many of them have told me that reading this book was a key milestone in their quest to understand more about the one we scholars refer to as the historical Jesus. Many of them say they have read it numerous times, and that they have totally marked it up.
So what made and makes this particular book on Jesus different from all others? Here are a seven major differences that come to mind. Of course I am not saying that no other books on the historical Jesus include these elements, many do–but I don’t know of any that have them all:
- The Jesus Dynasty, although non-fiction, provides the reader with an accessible, readable, even “page-turning” experience–much like a gripping novel might do. So many find it “hard to put down” and my guess is word-of-mouth publicity likely sold more copies than all the massive media. When people enjoy and gain from a book they mention it to others. Every author knows this is the underlying key to a book’s success.
- The Jesus Dynasty is not a book written for my academic colleagues. Although it is thoroughly and extensively documented, with hundreds of detailed notes, my references are almost entirely primary rather than secondary, with an emphasis on original sources. I want readers to delve into the texts themselves, rather than rehearse all the many ways this or that scholars has understood them–after all, two scholars usually represent three or four opinions–as the saying goes. We hardly agree on anything.
- The Jesus Dynasty relies heavily on my twenty-five years of “on the ground” experience in the Holy Land. I begin the book with my first trip at age 17, and by 2005, when I finished the book, I had made twenty-five additional trips–sometimes staying as long as a month. The places I write about and the scenes I describe are based on that kind of “hands on” research, and I try to give my readers a “you are there” experience. This is the kind of book that could not have been written in libraries–though its underpinning research was based upon 25 years of teaching at three major universities, making full use of their research facilities.
- The Jesus Dynasty is heavy on material evidence and archaeology. Not only are many books on Jesus written by authors who have little or no experience in the Holy Land, but they are often based solely on reading New Testament texts without any material contexts. There is no question in my mind, as Bargil Pixner used to say, that geography and archaeology provide us with a kind of “fifth gospel” in doing Jesus research. For that reason the book contains over 80 photos, graphics, and illustration.
- The Jesus Dynasty relies upon a critical sorting and evaluation of texts, both within and outside the New Testament writings. Although untrained readers might see such as “picking and choosing,” there is a careful method that is employed throughout. What one accepts or does not accept, as historically reliable, is not arbitrary or predetermined. It is based upon these methods. See my blog post, “Picking and Choosing: How Scholars Read the Gospels,” for more on this kind of approach.
- The Jesus Dynasty takes a historical approach Jesus but this does not mean I wrote with some kind of “anti-supernatural” bias. I have my assumptions and presuppositions, but I make them clear, and readers are left to shape and form their own views accordingly. My task was to always address the central question–what do we most likely know–and how do we know it? See my blog post, “Do Historians Exclude the Supernatural,” for further clarifications on this.
- Finally, the title of the book itself–with its emphasis on a royal Dynasty or Caliphate represented by the Davidic family of Mary, mother of Jesus–provides a mostly neglected but absolutely essential aspect of the earlier Jesus Movement that pulls everything together. The “Christianity,” or perhaps better, “the Christ following” of Paul is not that of James the brother of Jesus and those original apostles whom he led for nearly forty years. The Jesus Dynasty provides that vital context in a way that offers new and fruitful insights.
Here is a very short 10 minute overview of the book in my own words that I recorded in 2006 for Simon & Schuster, how up on Youtube: The Jesus Dynasty from Simon & Schuster
Also, here are a couple of things on-line that you can access. Were it not for Covid-19 and our worldwide “shutdown” this week would be our Spring Break and I would have been heading off to Israel leading a large tour group on the “Fifteenth Anniversary Jesus Dynasty Tour” this past weekend. Since that is not possible, here is one full report, with extensive photos and narrative, by the editor of Popular Archaeology, Dan McLerran, who went with us a an investigative reporter on our Tenth Anniversary Trip in 2016. You will also find, liked below, an substantial excerpt from the book itself. I challenge you to read it and then decide if you need to get the entire book!
In Search of the Historical Jesus, from Popular Archaeology 10th Anniversary Jesus Dynasty Tour
ABC News 2006 Excerpt of The Jesus Dynasty on-line.
So whether you are a long term fan of the book or have never read it I encourage you to give it a try. Believe it or not, even as the author, when I have read it again, I have noticed things I have forgotten. I think that is the experience of a lot of authors.
Here below are a few personal photos from my 60th birthday celebration in 2006. I am a bit more gray, and both the book and I are fifteen years older, but I hope it has aged well. To tell you the truth, there is very little I would change.
These times and memories are not without sadness. My dearest lifetime friend, James Olof Ribb, who was my main reader of the manuscript, died of cancer January 17, 2006 without getting to ever see it in print. The work was immensely improved, in both substance and style, by his sharp insights and suggestions. He read every chapter as it was drafted and turned it around promptly with lots of helpful notes and input. I was able to take a copy of the page proofs for him to see two days before he died. Olof was always with us on holidays, truly a member of our family. And my two precious “girls,” so joined as soulmates, were right there with us during our birthday/book celebration–one left us 10 years ago this week, the other just last summer. They watched me write the book from start to finish, piled together like lovers in their little day bed, as I sat at that dining room table. We will celebrate tonight, thankful to be together, but ours is a house of shadows without these three we loved so much.