MTW Guest Author-JB Richards

The guest author in my spotlight today has been a long time coming.  She originally contacted me over a month ago and volunteered for my Blog.  I sent her a questionnaire that got lost in cyber space.  Yes, that does happen.  Luckily, I had one of those instinctual flashes of the brain that someone was missing on my list.  I went back through my conversations, and found JB Richards.  Her novel is Miriamne the Magdala.   I requested a introduction to get to know her and did a Q&A with her.  She has also been gracious enough to share a blurb and excerpt from her book.  

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Biographical Information

I have never been one to accept any sort of dogma easily and without question.  As an historian and skeptic who relied on facts and not fiction, it was inevitable that I eventually turned the tables on my faith.  I had been brought up as a Roman Catholic, believing that the Bible was God’s Word and that everything written in the synoptic gospels was fact.  It was during a class on the New Testament that my teacher pointed out the many conflicts that exist between each of the four gospels and their accounting of Jesus’ life.  I was stunned to learn that there were additional gospels, collectively known as the Gnostic Gospels, as well as other writings that had been excluded—banned—from the New Testament and labeled by the Church as heretical. What was it about these books that the Church patriarchs considered so dangerous … so threatening to our faith?  And, if they were real, then who was Jesus?  Was he really the Son of God as my Church claimed, or was he just a man mistaken for a messiah?  This need … This yearning to know the answers to all my questions spurred my research into the life and times of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the early Christian community.  What I found after a quarter century of research, led me to write The Yeshua and Miri Novel Series.

If there was anyone you could choose to meet, who would it be and why?

No question—it would have to be Mary the Magdala.  What stories Mary must have about her relationship with the man called “Christ!”  She was his most intimate confidante, his Apostle to the Apostles, and—I believe—his one true love.  Imagine the strength that woman had inside her to keep Jesus’ movement alive when all the other disciples were about to give up and run back to Galilee.  Imagine the strength it took to stand there at the scene of her beloved’s crucifixion and watch him enduring a slow and painful death. Imagine the fortitude it took for her to sail away from her homeland, to Gaul (modern day France), and to continue preaching, healing, and leading his flock.  I have heard of no other woman in History who loved so much in spite of having so little, for once she was on her own in the foothills of the Langedoc, she resided in a cave as a hermit.  The local townspeople brought her food in exchange for her prayers and blessings until she died—some say well into her 90’s.  She waited all that time to reunite with her Master—her Rabonni. The Magdala must have been an incredible woman, and it’s no small wonder that Jesus loved her so much!

Tell us something you’ve uncovered in your research that would surprise your readers.

Perhaps the biggest mystery of all time is what happened to Jesus (Yeshua in my novel series) during the so-called “missing years.”  Without giving away too much of my story, what I reveal through The Yeshua and Miri Novels Series about the relationship between Jesus and Mary the Magdala will shock some people and open the hearts of others.  My interpretation of the relationship between Yeshua and Miri paints the picture of a love like no other … a love based on a deep eternal bond—connecting heart to heart, spirit to spirit, soul to soul.  What I portray is a man and woman whose love is destined to reach beyond death into eternal life, and a family legacy that passes down from generation to generation, forever changing the fate of humankind.

What are your hobbies when you’re not writing?

I’ve always been blessed with my grandmother’s gift for handicrafts.  Crocheting, sewing, knitting, decoupage, macramé, etc.—I’ve done them all.  I once won first prize in a city-wide contest recognizing exceptional artisans with a popcorn-stitch crocheted lamb I made in just 2 hours.  What’s unusual about that is that the woman who lent me the pattern was an expert crocheter who taught classes, and it had taken her over 12 hours to complete the same project!  Of course, I mentioned her name when I accepted my trophy—just to keep the peace!

I’m also a pretty good artist—if I do say so myself—and I have a portfolio of over 300 pen & ink drawings, some of which I’ve sold for hundreds of dollars and others that have been displayed at galleries throughout my home state, New Hampshire.  Unfortunately, I now I suffer from a degenerative spinal cord injury (I’ve had 2 failed spinal fusions), Diabetes, and Myasthenia Gravis—a rare neurological disease that affects the nervous system and one’s ability to control their muscles.  It’s the Myasthenia that’s caused me to cut back so much on my drawing and handicrafts since it’s difficult, and on some days even impossible, to keep my hands from shaking and growing numb from repetitive movements.

Writing is my first love now, and I try to work around my health problems by taking short breaks and laying down flat every 3-4 hours or so.  It’s frustrating sometimes, but hope springs eternal—I’ve just been put on a new medication that is increasing my stamina and overall health, and I hope to pick up my drawing again someday soon!

Do you have any pets?

I do!  I have a 12-year-old female Westie (White West Highland Terrier) named Monty, and a 4-year-old shelter-dog we’ve had in our home for 2 years now who is part Bassett Hound and part Golden Retriever named Ayden. (I’ve included pictures below).  My son has a gray and orange tiger cat named Mila who lives exclusively on the second floor of our house and refuses to come downstairs if the dogs are around.  Don’t tell the dogs, but she’s the one who really rules the roost!

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Do you have any addictions or indulgences?

My first love is writing. I am addicted to it, and I write whenever and wherever I can—on a car ride, at the dentist office, at the park, at the lake … I even took my writing pad with me to a mortgage closing!  I was the same way with my drawing, and I hope that someday soon I can get back to it.  There’s nothing better than sitting at a picnic table in a park and having a group of little kids come over to watch me draw!  I love to have them point to something they’d like to see me draw, and while they’re waiting for me to finish, I try to teach them a few things.  Before they leave, I always try to fit in a few caricatures they can take home to mom and dad!

My indulgence is my morning exercise routine.  It’s the only time I have all to myself and I’m religious about doing it. If I don’t, I run the risk of not being able to walk, and that’s much too scary to even consider!  So, every morning I spend 45 minutes doing a series of cardio, stretches, and calisthenics to counteract the symptoms of my disease while I watch the morning news. The payoff has been incredible! In 1 short year, I’ve ditched my cane, I haven’t had to use a wheelchair, plus I lost over 50 lbs and reduced my insulin intake by 30%! I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish, but I realize I still have a long way to go to keep my muscles working properly and my health in check.  Hmm … Maybe I should consider changing this one to an addiction—what do you think?!

BLURB:

Fall in love with the boy destined to be King of kings and the girl who captured his heart forever in “Miriamne the Magdala!”  Based on over 25 years of research and insight into the lives and times of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Author and Historian JB Richards’ introductory chapter to the Yeshua and Miri Novel Series—the greatest love story never told—masterfully tells the tale of the so-called “missing years” of Jesus (Yeshua—in his native Aramaic tongue), expanding on his intimate relationship with the young woman who would become his closest confidante, most loyal disciple, and one true love.  Forget everything you thought you knew about Christ and the early Christian community, and learn how Miriamne earned the nickname Magdala—“the Tower of the Flock”—in this groundbreaking new novel.  Once you read “Miriamne the Magdala”, you will never see Yeshua and the Magdala the same way again!

Excerpt from “Miriamne the Magdala”, Chapter 31 – The Romans:

This scene takes place at Miriamne’s ancestral family estate in the foothills of Sepphoris. An ailing Joseph, Mary, and their three youngest children—Yeshua (age 13), Sali (age 12), and Little Mara (age 5)—have come to stay at their cousins’ country estate so Joseph can seek medical attention.  Miriamne and Martha are trying to make Sali and Mara feel welcome and at home on their first evening’s stay …

The Romans

At first, Sali pulled her veil forward to hide her tears, but a moment later, she looked back at me through hollow eyes. Her bottom lip trembled and her tears spilled over as she sucked in a deep breath. “My apologies, Miri,” she whispered as she forced an unconvincing smile.

I gave Sali an encouraging jut of my chin as I continued to dry Mara’s hair with the towel, blaming her highly emotional state on simple exhaustion and the stress of just having left her home. Martha had a harder time coming to terms with her anguish. “What is wrong, Sali?” Martha asked as she wrung her hands nervously. Her green cat-eyes opened wide as she gasped, “I hope I did not say anything to upset you!”

Sali’s shoulders heaved and she began to cry uncontrollably. Martha looked at me with great concern, but she was at a loss for words.

“Slih’a,” Sali blurted out between sobs. She covered her face with her hands before she took in a deep breath and tried to steady herself.

“Sali,” I asked her again, “what is it?”

Sali gathered the front of her tunic in her two fists and held on for dear life as she tried to explain her outburst.

“Bevakasha, Martha and Miri, do not misunderstand me, for I am most grateful to your family, but—” She looked at each of us in turn. “It is just that … that—” She choked on her words, unable to contain her sorrow.

Martha rushed over to her. “Sali, I am simply beside myself,” she said as she pushed Sali’s hair back away from her face. “Bevakasha—tell us what is wrong!”

Sali caught her breath and she gave Martha a grateful nod of her head. “Truly, I did not mean to offend you, Cousins. It is just that I have never seen such a beautiful home before—let alone eaten a meal fit for a queen. Nor have I ever been invited to sleep in such splendor.” She bowed her head and looked up at us through her long dark lashes. “My bed has always been on the rooftop in the summer and on the floor of the Common Room by the brazier in the colder months, wedged in between my brothers, or their wives, or my sister and my nephews.”

Sali wiped a tear away with a shaky hand. She laughed cynically before she forced herself to speak further. “Never have we had such things as … as … these!” She extended her arm and swept it over the mikvah and past the doorway into the bedchamber. Still, more troubled her beyond the lavishness of the Manor House—something dark … something heinous, and Martha and I were stunned by what she shared. “May I ask who is keeping guard tonight, Martha?” Her eyes darted about anxiously. “I am certain Dod Micah has a plan in place should the Villa should be attacked, but Mara and I have not been given the signal, nor have we been shown where to hide.”

Martha and I exchanged concerned glances as Sali cowered against the corner of the wall. She was panicked and breathing heavily as she scanned the opulence of her and Mara’s bedchamber, searching for a route of escape. I had never seen anyone—much less a young woman with Sali’s usually blustery disposition—so scared.

Before we left for Nazareth, Abba and Ima had warned the two of us about the sparser living arrangements and adverse conditions our cousins suffered here in Galilee, and had explained to us the reason for the Galileans hatred of Rome.

Ever since the rebellion and destruction of Sepphoris two decades ago, the Romans had given little leeway to the populace of Galilee. It was the Commander’s dear friend, Centurion Crassius Draco Cyprianus, who summed up Rome’s position by repeating Caesar’s own words, “Keep these Galileans under a heavy yoke and they will be controlled. Those who do not succumb to the Law will be made to die by the Law.”

The Legionaries had come down hard, sacking their villagers and pillaging their farm goods at least once every few years. Rumors of atrocities, such as murder and rape, were common. Thus the Galileans—who suffered immensely under Roman rule—always had their backs to the wall. Once alerted to any Roman patrols heading their way, women and children were sent scurrying down into a system of tunnels that wound their way beneath village streets—tunnels that were well-hidden and secreted away from prying Roman eyes. They remained cowering underground—sometimes for days at a time—until the all-clear signal could be given. I gulped when I realized, This is the reality of Sali and Mara’s world.

While Sali’s family pieced-out their daily existence—hiding from soldiers and bandits—my own family had lived in relative safety. Life in Jerusalem and Bethany was much more cosmopolitan. There were no rogues—other than a few pick-pockets and wine-sots—and the Roman influence in Judea was incidental. The legions attached to the Holy City were a fact of life, and although it could sometimes be quite obtrusive during religious holidays, many Roman soldiers and their families took up residence right alongside the Jewish families abiding in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns.

Do not misunderstand me—a very tight rein was kept by the Roman Consulate and the Temple Hierarchy to keep the peace. Together, the two forces maintained a discretionary eye on those who would dare disrupt the Pax Romana, and the result was worth it, for we all lived in peace as neighbors of the Holy Temple and the Fortress Antonia. Back in Jerusalem, and throughout Judea, the Commander had many Roman friends: citizens, politicians, military leaders, and soldiers. As a Temple Guard, he had received his own military training from Cyprianus and the Roman Garrison at the Antonia. Over the years, he had become close friends with many of the soldiers stationed there, and those friendships only grew stronger as Abba was promoted through the ranks of the Holy Temple Guard.

In Bethany, it was not at all unusual for our family to host banquets for the Commander’s closest Roman friends and their families. They were always welcomed warmly at our former home. Even now—despite the distance from Jerusalem to our new home at the Villa—many of Abba’s Roman friends still stopped in regularly to visit their old comrade and lodge with us for a few days before returning to Rome or Jerusalem for retirement or reassignment. The Commander’s former comrades-in-arms were welcome just as much here at the Villa as they had been in Bethany—with open arms and perked ears, we yearned to discover how the rest of our dear friends and family were faring in our old community.

Here in Galilee, the people feared and hated the Romans. Galilee was a hotbed of rebels and prophets proclaiming the Lord’s wrath upon the Empire and the imminent destruction of Rome. Within the last few decades, several unsuccessful coups and uprisings had resulted in disaster for the Galilean populaces, and the Roman authorities had reacted with swift and terrible vengeance. Many Galilean families had lost fathers, sons, brothers, and nephews to the Roman lance, sword, or arrow, but the manner of death feared the most was crucifixion. Fewer than two decades ago, an armed revolt by Galilean revolutionaries had taken place in Sepphoris, and the Roman legions had swept into the city like wildfire. The rebels were easily defeated and the Romans razed the city—burned it right to the ground! Many of the people who lived in Sepphoris at that time were either executed or sold as slaves. But the greatest horror the Galileans had endured took place when the Two-Thousand—those labeled as rebels by the empirical authorities—were crucified by order of the Roman Legate, Varus. This harsh action instantly squelched any further talk of rebellion, but the Galileans’ hatred of the Romans was still palpable, even to this very day.

Roman soldiers who patrolled the villages around Sepphoris were distrustful of the peasantry, and they oftentimes found ways to harangue and persecute them given the least opportunity. The Roman regime plagued the Galileans with routine raids on the villages and severe over-taxation of a people who could barely subsist on the meager rations they had. The sight of rebels and instigators mounted on crosses along certain town roads was commonplace, and the average Galilean would say the only action anyone could take was to pray to God for deliverance from their abusive overlords.

During our brief overnight in Nazareth, Martha and I had hardly been exposed to the fear of attack and the harsh living conditions our cousins suffered each and every day: the lack of proper sanitary conditions to wash and relieve oneself, the constant rationing of food, water, and other provisions, the pounded dirt floors, the persistent layer of chalk-dust that covered everything in sight, and the smoky, overcrowded rooms that offered virtually no privacy from others who were hurriedly disrobing and dressing up.

Dod Joseph’s dilapidated little home on the outskirts of Nazareth had provided scarce comfort to Martha and me as far as amenities were concerned, but what unnerved us the most were the three limestone guard towers situated behind the property. They had been built—and were routinely manned—to warn the villagers of any raid or attack, but the towers certainly provided no defense at all for the town since they left my uncle’s house open to every possible affront. Any band of thieves could see that Nazareth afforded an easy opportunity to pillage the annual harvest, rob a few houses of their treasured goods, or seize a few women and children who could be taken away and sold off as slaves or servants for the houses of the wealthy.

On the way back to the Villa, Yeshua pointed out a lone figure crouched atop his family’s house. When the apparition stood up and waved to us, I recognized the hulking shadow of his brother Judas. As Yeshua waved back to him, he explained that he and his brothers took turns sitting up on the rooftop—day and night—watching keeping an eye on the distant horizon and looking for any sign of trouble. Apparently, the men who were stationed inside the towers drank often and fell asleep at their posts.

Sali had lived all her life under the constant threat of raids and attack from foreign bandits or soldiers who would certainly not hesitate to seize her once they noticed her youthful beauty and healthy, firm body. She would bring a fine price in the slave market for any corrupt landowner or aristocrat seeking to use and exploit her. As a slave, she would be subjected to the whims of her master. If she was lucky, she would be sold to King Herod, or one of his Court Attendants, and treated as a concubine, cherished and pampered, but never truly free. More often than not, however, even girls as beautiful as Sali were raped outright by the crass and lustful bandits or soldiers who tore them from their family’s arms. These unfortunate victims were fated to be murdered, butchered beyond recognition, and buried in unmarked graves. Ultimately, no evidence would be left to prove that these girls—and sometimes young boys—had ever existed at all. 

These were the conditions Sali grew up with and feared all of her young life. Liberty, freedom, and security were luxuries for the privileged class only. If Sali was like every other Jew in Galilee, she prayed for the day when the Anointed One would finally rise up and deliver our people from the oppression of Roman rule, foreign bandits, and the corruption of Herod Antipas.

Tiny Link to “Miriamne the Magdala” on Amazon:  https://www.tinyurl.com/z8vtvtp  Check out a sample of the first seven chapters.

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