Two Earlier Works

One of the things that struck me about studying at a Bible college was that there are a lot of truly excellent books and articles that are really helpful for understanding the Bible better. However, not many people find them, and if they do, some can be difficult to read. (One author that always made me laugh would have untranslated Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French and German quotations!)

So when I came across a book (Gerald Eddie Gerbrandt’s Kingship According To The Deuteronomistic History) and an article (Sam Dragga’s “In The Shadow Of The Judges: The Failure Of Saul” in Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament 38) that really helped explain what was happening in the book of 1 Samuel, I thought I should do something about it. I decided to write a play that would follow the text of 1 Samuel but would also include the conclusions of these other scholarly works. The end result was Saul: First King of Israel (available here).

Saul cover

But this wasn’t the first time I tried to intersect theology and the arts. Back in 1996 I was asked to write a musical based on the book of Esther. It took a while, but in July/August 1998 Lilydale Baptist performed Esther over 4 spectacular nights. A recording from one of those nights is now available (for free download) from NoiseTrade (here). I hope you will check it out!

esther_cover

An Interview (and a Giveaway!)

I thought it was worth posting a link to an interview I did recently on a friend’s writing blog. Check it out here: https://www.ephesusscroll.com/ephesus-scroll-qa/

To give you an idea of the content, here were the questions I was asked:
1. What made you decide to dedicate hours and hours of your life to sitting behind a screen and touching little buttons?
2. Describe your writing history until this point in 25 words or less.
3. What is your writing style: plot it all out or discovery writing? one draft or many? Little bits everyday or mammoth writing sessions?
4. Best piece of writing advice you have ever received or given.
5. Inspiration behind this novel?
6. Do you have a favourite part of this novel?
7. While you were writing this novel, you were working full time with a wife and two daughters and living in a foreign country: did you develop any good techniques for finding time, or is it always hard?
8. What are the top tips you have learned about self-publishing?
9. Any new projects on the horizons?
10. Mystery questions: answer any question you feel I should have asked 😀 (and I chose “Since marketing is the big problem with self-publishing, how can people help a struggling author out?”)

And there is a giveaway, too. So check it out!

Inspiration 2: G.B. Caird’s Commentary

caird cover

G.B. Caird’s The Revelation Of Saint John would have to be my favourite commentary of any book of the Bible (Gordon Fee’s The First Epistle to the Corinthians would be a close second!) Caird does something entirely unexpected in this commentary: he manages to make sense of a complex and controversial book and he does it in a surprisingly non-scholarly way. Many (most?) commentaries are difficult to read; you only delve into one when you have to. You don’t generally sit down with one of an evening as part of your ‘reading for relaxation’ regime. Not so with Caird’s little classic! This commentary is quite readable, almost conversational in style. You can just read it through, from cover to cover, like a novel. And like a novel, the story he brings out from the pages of the book of Revelation is really quite gripping.

Caird comes at the text from the perspective of what did it mean for the people who first read it. To that end he places the book firmly within its historical context: sometime during the last decade of the first century, at a time when Christians were experiencing increasing persecution from the civil authorities. The other major interpretive tool Caird brings to the text is an awareness that much of the imagery used in Revelation comes from the Old Testament. Much of the time, we can have a good idea about what is going on in the text by seeing how the original author is using stock imagery from various OT prophetic books, but applying them to a new situation.

I first read this commentary during my years in Bible college. There were a couple of events that led me to want to write The Ephesus Scroll (see here for more details). However, once I had the idea, one of the central components was that the novel would be a disguised commentary of the book of Revelation, much like a rather well-known series. But in my case, the commentary that would be being disguised would be Caird’s. So in much of the novel, I am paraphrasing Caird to a greater or lesser extent. It is my hope that if the reader cares to explore this particular way of approaching the book of Revelation they will start with Caird’s commentary. I don’t think they will be disappointed.

Inspiration 1: Cryptonomicon

cryptonomicon cover
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…

Welcome!

Welcome to www.ephesusscroll.com, a place for information about The Ephesus Scroll, a novel by Ben Chenoweth.

The novel was inspired by a visit to Ephesus in 2004. There are two timelines and the action cuts back and forth between them, like Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. The first timeline is set in 93 AD, during the reign of Domitian. The second is set in the recent present (2005-6), mostly in St. Petersburg, Russia. Having two timelines is my way of answering two important questions about the book of Revelation: “What did it mean for those who first received it” and “What does it mean for us today?”