Why did you write about the adulterous woman from the Gospel of John?
I was asked to do a program for a woman’s group for a women’s group at a sister church on some influential woman in Scripture or church history. Many of my favorites, like Lydia the woman of purple cloth, had all been done. After some research, I thought the adulterous woman would be an interesting character to present. I prepared my program and was ready to go the night before, when I was told by that God-voice in my head that I was to become this woman. After some argument that I wasn’t an actress and I already had the program together. The God-voice said, “You must be her, she’s never had a voice.” Well that was enough. I went back to my computer and changed my whole presentation to first person. With little time to prepare further, I grabbed a scarf—from Mexico. Not very authentic, but I didn’t let that stop me. The presentation was awesome. One participant actually asked if I acted in the local theater. Of course, I gave the credit to God. I thought it would end there, but the spirit kept nudging me. I did the presentation for a couple of other groups, and still I was hounded.
Things fell into place when I began writing her story.
Why is she so young in your book?
Since she was to be stoned, that targets her age. The Book of Leviticus says betrothed women are to be stoned and married women to die, but does not specify. Because of the holiness code where everything had a place, I doubt a married woman would be stoned. Most likely she would be drowned, burned, or strangled by her husband. Most daughters would be betrothed between the ages of 12 and 15. This seems like children in our eyes, not so in the first century. Once a girl neared the time of menses, she was considered a woman.
Was the stoning scene accurate?
Accurate to a point. I could find nothing on first century stoning. According to the Book of Leviticus, two eye witnesses were necessary to charge of adultery the two eye witnesses there had to be two eye witnesses. Most likely the father and betrothed man would throw the next stones. They were the ones harmed by this sinful act. I expect that father’s in that time did everything they could to put fear into their daughters to remain chaste. That is why I added the pause and inserted the looks, just to emphasize this point. If looking forward to the Roman era when killing Christians was a sporting event, it is possible that a stoning was well attended. I cannot imagine a woman going willingly to watch the stoning of her friend or the daughter of a friend.
Neither Elitha nor her mother had any say in the betrothal. Is this accurate?
By tradition, the mother was to have some say in the choice of a husband for her daughter. Since men had ultimate authority, it is not out of line to present the husband as making the decision on his own. The betrothal was a contract between two men, the father of male figure of the woman and the husband-to-be. Love was not an expectation in this culture. That is not to say that love didn’t happen over time between the husband and wife. There are certainly wonderful examples in the Bible of loving couples, starting with Abraham and Sarah, maybe even a hint before that of Noah and his wife.
Were women considered property as you portray in When the Last Stone Falls?
Yes, they were considered property of the husband or father. Life in this time period was tough for women.
There is little know about this woman, why did you put her in a Sadducee family?
That was an easy call for me. She has no identity, so I could have chosen a number of family situations. I put her in a priestly family of Saducees it because I could retell many of the stories about John, Jesus and Mary from this priestly point of view, which would be different than a Christian point of view. The scene I enjoyed writing the most was in the kitchen with Grandmother Anora telling these stories.
You used three different family names in the story. Are they made up or are they true, and why prefaced with bar?
The bar means “from the house of” in Hebrew. It has the same meaning as bin in Arabic, and bar and bin are interchanged depending on the root of various authors. The tag is used with families of influence. Just to emphasize the importance of the tag bar tag in Scripture, consider the character Barabbas in the court scene with Jesus. It would translate: From the house of the father, but Abba is a loving father like a daddy. Let me continue with the question concerning these names. During archeological digs still in progress in Jerusalem, information was found information on these three priests Boethus, Hanan, and Asher. Apparently they were priests know to be corrupt. I changed their first names to make the book easier to read. I found this information interesting and thought it would be fun to include in the book. I expect they were considered corrupt because they were closely affiliated with the Roman leadership in Jerusalem. To make the book more interesting, I made them perhaps more corrupt than they really were—but who knows?
You use a lot of Scripture passages in the novel?
Yes, not just quotes, but also reversals and echoes. The novel is very readable to anyone even to those who do not know Scripture. Using Scripture will make it more interesting to those well-versed in the Bible. Have fun finding all of them.
You describe the house so vividly. Did you have a model?
One can find lots of examples of first century homes in Jerusalem on the internet. It was easy to find the outside model. The inside took more research. The Sadducees live in a specific area called upper Jerusalem that was walled off from other sectors of the city. It was distinguished by their red tile roofs where all the other houses had roofs made of poles and packed with mud to make them water tight.
As for the inside, I took examples from archeological findings from the “burned house” and another house, both excavated in Upper Jerusalem. The relief of the menorah was one feature I included from this information.
Did they have furniture as you described?
That is another hard one. Most first century homes would have been short on tables, but this was a rich family. The beds described in Anora’s bedroom would have been rare and only the very rich could afford it. The brushes, combs and mirrors would have been how I described. I had to search hard to find the formula used in the hair dying scene.
In the first chapter you describe Gehenna. Was it that close to Jerusalem?
Yes, according to the several sources I placed it correctly. It is known that this crevasse was on fire for many years and was used as the garbage dump for Jerusalem. It is a narrow valley, so I had to limit the number of people there. I made up the spot for the arena. The Hennom Valley today is a beautiful park.
You give many interesting situations like when Elitha and Grandmother Anora hunt for herbs and the basket weaving to name a few. Were these accurate or did you just make it up?
Research is imperative with any book. I tried to make all of the scenes as accurate as possible. I am not sure that I got the right ones growing in the early spring where I put that scene. I opted to put this scene where it worked the best within the structure of the story. The basket weaving was as accurate as I could make it with not a lot of information specific to the first century.
Where did you get the name Elitha?
I made it up. I wanted something different and, when this name came to me, it fit. Names were another area of research. On an early draft, I had my Roman characters with Greek names. Oops. That mistake was caught by one of my earlier readers. There were several names that I changed a number of times. The grandmother’s name changed at least three times and other characters changed. I had one of Elitha’s friends named Rachael until I wrote the scripture character into the story. Obviously my made-up character needed a name change.
You described a cave near Capernaum and springs with sweet and poison water. Are these real or made up?
I was in that cave when I visited Israel. It is very likely Jesus took his apostles to this cave for privacy. The springs are a well know attraction there, and is how I described.
A lot of the scenes are based on various feasts. Why?
Feasts were of paramount important to the Hebrews of the first century (and still are to Judaism of today). Feasts were a way of keeping track of time when there were no calendars. This area was again well researched. I did find it difficult if determine exactly what rituals were used in the first century or came later. I believe what I portrayed in the book to be accurate. I included those things I found most interesting.
Will you write more novels about Scripture characters?
I am in the process of writing two more with Elitha as the main character. In the next novel, Elitha will follow Jesus to his death. The third novel will take Elitha into the early church where she will meet Lydia, the woman of purple cloth in Acts.