Guest Post: How to Characterize Christ in a Novel by Cotton E. Davis

1 Comment

When I presumed to make Yeshua bar Yosef (Christ) a character in my recently released time-travel novel TimeWarp, Inc., I had to make numerous decisions regarding how to portray him.

The physical part wasn’t as difficult as one might imagine.  Though the New Testament leaves us with no physical description of the man, Isaiah 53:2 described the coming Messiah as rather ordinary looking.  No Max von Sydows or Jeffrey Hunters here.  I set aside the classical image of a blond-haired, blue-eyed European-looking gent for a swarthier dark-brown or black-haired fellow more in keeping with the Jews who inhabited Lower Galilee at the time.  Short-cropped hair and beards were the style among Jewish men then, so goodby to the luxuriant locks seen in so many paintings and movies.  One more fact: most skulls unearthed from the first-century holy land were rounder than the traditional long-faced image.  Decidedly so.

I also made my character well-formed.  Physically powerful, even.  This was not the namby-
pamby weakling depicted in Renaissance art.  Jesus was in the building trade.  That’s hard work, especially back then.  Mathew 13:55 describes Jesus as the son of a tekton, while the Gospel Mark 6:3 calls Christ himself a tekton, the classical Greek term meaning, among other things, a builder or artisan.  That’s a skilled jack-of-all-trades, rather than the translated “carpenter” we’re accustomed to reading and hearing about.  In short, a tekton worked with wood, stone, even metals.  And, since the Romanized capital of Galilee, Sepphoris, lay only a few miles from Jesus’ village of Nazareth, he and his father Joseph must have traveled there for the kind of gainful employment a village of four hundred people could not provide.  Greco-Roman cities were constructed largely of stone–black basalt from Capernaum in this case.  By necessity, Jeshua bar Yosef undoubtedly possessed masonry skills.  Strength too.  Ever try to lift a stone block?

Maybe I should say something about TimeWarp, Inc.  It is basically the story of an agnostic ex-soldier from the 21st century who travels back in time, where he meets and becomes Christ’s best friend during the latter part of the “lost years” between Jesus’ birth and ministry.  The Jeshua bar Yosef the reader meets is a year or so from going out into the world to proselytize.  He is a young man, not yet thirty.  Reading between the lines of the Gospels, it’s easy to picture a Jesus who not only had his share of friends but also possessed a keen mind and sense of humor…which is exactly how I portrayed him.

What else do we know about Christ?  Here again, we must look between the scriptural lines.  We’ve read about his knowledge of the Torah in Luke, but what else can we be sure of?  (One) He spoke both Aramaic and Hebrew, as was common among Jews in Roman-occupied Palestine.  (Two) He probably also spoke Latin and possibly Greek.  Plying his trade in Sepphoris, Jesus would almost certainly have had to converse in the Roman tongue, and don’t forget Greek was the trade language of the region, plus Alexander the Great conquered the area about 200 years before Jesus was born.  Also, most educated Romans were bilingual, speaking Greek fluently.  Moreover the Gospels were originally written in Greek.  (3) Christ had a keen understanding of human nature.  If the Gospels tell us anything, they tell us that.  (4) Jesus was almost Lincolnesque in his ability to tell stories or, in this case, parables: simple, easy-to-remember, image-filled allegories.  But, unlike our 16th President’s tales, which were usually communicated for the sake of humor, Jesus’ stories were meant to convey a subtle message central to the man’s teachings.  If you want a good laugh, check out the practice parable the pre-ministry Jesus comes up with in Chapter Fifty-One.

That leaves one glaring question about my character.  Was he divine?  That is left pretty much up to the reader.  TimeWarp, Inc. is not a biblical supplement.  It is a story, a novel about time travel, after all.  Jesus, though painstakingly researched, is one of many characters, some from the 21st century, others from the time of Herod Antipas.  I will say, however, that the question of Jesus’ divinity is a running argument among the time travelers–particularly my agnostic hero and his Christian girlfriend–throughout the book.


About the Book
When historian Gwen Hoffman first meets time traveler Mike Garvin, an ex-Special Forces weapons sergeant back from ancient Gaul where he was embedded as a centurion in Julius Caesar’s elite 10th Legion, she is more than a little put off. Scarred and dangerous-looking, the man appears more thug than time traveler. Yet he is the person TimeWarp, Inc. is sending back in time to protect Jeshua bar Yosef (Christ) from twenty-first century assassins; the man Gwen was assigned to prepare for life in first-century Galilee. Gwen, of course, has no idea she and Garvin will become lovers. Nor does she realize she herself will end up in Roman Palestine, where she will not only meet Jesus but face danger alongside Mike in the adventure of a lifetime…

You can find out more about the author and the book here.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

One thought on “Guest Post: How to Characterize Christ in a Novel by Cotton E. Davis

  1. This sounds fascinating. It sounds as though you have really put yourself into your character's shoes, and thought about the sort of Christ that you would like to explore. That already has the makings of an interesting story.

Leave a Reply