Cryptonomicon, the epic historical, cypherpunk novel by Neal Stephenson, is my favourite novel of all time. I had loved Snow Crash, Stephenson’s break-through cyberpunk novel, but then I had got a little bogged down in The Diamond Age, its follow-up. I bought Cryptonomicon without question but was a little unsure what to expect.
What I soon became totally immersed in was a gripping historical / technological novel with two timelines. One timeline concerns code-breaking efforts during World War 2; the other timeline concerns the establishment of a data-haven during the late 1990’s. The action jumps back and forth between these two timelines. The two timelines are also connected in that some of the characters in the later timeline are descendants of some of the characters in the first timeline. Then throw in a number of real-world characters for some brilliantly funny cameos. I found the novel extremely funny in places. There are some highly amusing incidents, many involving rather technical details, scattered throughout the novel. In fact, there was usually some description or phrase on every page that made me smile, chuckle or laugh out loud. At the same time, there are a number of nasty, quite upsetting scenes – World War 2 features in one timeline, remember – giving the book a very serious feel, too.
So how did this novel inspire my own novel, The Ephesus Scroll?
There are two central questions that face us when we examine any book of the Bible. Firstly, what did it mean for the original readers (or hearers)? And secondly, what does it mean for us, today? I firmly believe that we cannot correctly apply a specific book or passage to ourselves unless we first understand what it meant for the original readers. This is especially true of the book of Revelation. One of my personal presuppositions about the book of Revelation is that the people who first read this book would have understood what it meant and that it applied to them in their historical situation. How it might apply to us is a secondary issue.
I wanted to examine possible answers to these two questions (what it meant for the original readers and what it means for us) in the form of a novel. I decided that the use of two timelines was one way to do this. So the first timeline in The Ephesus Scroll, and the most important one, is the one set in Asia Minor towards the end of the first-century AD. In this timeline, you will read about Loukas as he receives the scroll of the book of Revelation from John on Patmos and then takes the scroll to read in the seven churches named in chapters 2 and 3. The significance of the scroll is then seen in its original historical context, against the backdrop of state-enforced emperor worship. The second timeline is the modern-day one, set in St. Petersburg, Russia. In this timeline, you will read about Dima and Natasha who come across an ancient scroll and learn that it originally came from Ephesus, Turkey. The significance of the book of Revelation for us, today, can then be discussed, against the backdrop of a recent history of state persecution of Christians.
So that’s how Cryptonomicon inspired my novel. In the next post, I will discuss my second inspiration: G.B. Caird’s brilliant commentary of the book of Revelation…