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Kingsbury Explores "The Family of Jesus" in New Book Release

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

CBN.com - Karen Kingsbury has distinguished herself as the Queen of Christian Fiction in a career that has spanned 25 years.  Along the way, her 60 novels have sold more than 25 million copies.  Yet, her latest book is a departure of sorts.  With The Family of Jesus, Karen is taking the leap into non-fiction … well, sort of.

In The Family of Jesus, Karen brings you a fictional view of six of the family members of Jesus, all anchored in Scripture.

I recently sat down with Karen to discuss why she wanted to take on such a high-profile topic, who she believes to be the most compelling member of Jesus’ family, and whether she is prepared for any negative feedback related to her “tinkering” with the Bible.

Your new book, The Family of Jesus, is a departure of sorts for you. Obviously it’s a nonfiction book and you’re known for writing fiction. Why the departure off to non-fiction?

Such a good question.  This book is non-fiction in the sense that these are real people, but it’s fiction in the way that I’ve told the stories. So I have six short stories in this book, the characters in Jesus’ family; so you’ve got Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Zachariah, Elizabeth and Jesus’ brother, James; and I felt like we see a glimpse of them. Certainly we have Scripture on each of these characters in the Bible, so I wanted to take Scripture as an anchor point, and then I wanted to color in between the lines and let us be able to see what might have been the case.  I think for me, I love hearing from people that my stories are changing their lives, and one of the things that I’ve put in the back of every one of my novels is if you gave your life to Jesus, renewed your faith in Christ, are interested for the first time in a faith in Christ, and if you don’t have a Bible and you don’t have a church you go to, please let me know and I’ll send you one.

So while I’m trying to get them to fall in love with Scripture that way, I felt like why am I not using my storytelling that God’s given me to bring Scripture more to life, to help people to see these characters? You pay a price for being in a family; you have a story, you have a family, Jesus did, too, and I would love for my readers to be able to say, ‘I love your storytelling. Now take me into the family of Jesus.’ And my prayer is so that they would then find their way into the Bible.

Let’s dig into these six characters—not characters, they were real, living, breathing people.  As you mentioned, you chose to write about Mary, Joseph, Zachariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist and James. Of these six, who is the most compelling figure to you?

They all had their reasons that they tugged at my heart, and I cried when I was writing these stories as well just imagining what they went through, but I think John the Baptist is the most compelling. Zachariah and Elizabeth letting him go off to the desert, their chosen son who was chosen to prepare the way for the Savior, had been filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and here he goes now to the desert to learn at probably a very young age, 13 or 14 years old. That goodbye scene about killed me, the parents saying goodbye as he goes off.  But now, John the Baptist is in the desert learning all of those years, eating honey and locusts and just living this very sparse life.  And he paid a price. You don’t see a wife in his life.  He didn’t have any children.

He gets called to go to the Jordan River.  Let’s tell people about Jesus! This is what he’s waited all of his life for. He’s so excited. He barely gets there and starts talking.  He baptizes Jesus, but then before you can blink, he’s being arrested by Herod and being put into this dank, dark cave-like prison.  Certainly he had to be thinking this is a mistake.  He was likely thinking, “Someone’s going to set me free here. Someone tell Jesus, I’ll get out of this.” This is because he thought he would have had more work to do. If he hadn’t thought that, he wouldn’t have had that low moment that we can all relate to where he says, “Will someone go, find Jesus and ask him if he was really the one that I was supposed to prepare the way for?” What a low moment, and then the word coming back, ‘Hey, no one was greater born to a woman than John the Baptist, but greater is the least one in Heaven.’ There was a message there from Jesus, because that’s where John was headed. He was only days away from being executed and Heaven was where he was going.  So the reassurance that he’d done it right, he’d gotten in right, he’d fulfilled his mission, short though it was, I think is just gripping. I feel like John the Baptist in prison waiting for that execution, I picture him preaching to anyone else who would have been listening in that moment and renewed in the words of Jesus, his final message from his cousin before he dies, that he did indeed do what he was supposed to do. But what a gripping story!

The Bible obviously served as your main sourcebook for writing The Family of Jesus.  Did you rely on any other sources or commentaries just to flesh out the big picture?

I did a lot of Internet research, which is always dangerous.  But I did a lot of online research on culture and location, and time period. Those were the things beyond scripture that I needed.  For example, I have Joseph bringing Mary wild orchids so I had to make sure wild orchids did indeed grow at that time in Nazareth. I had to make sure that it was possible.  Early on in the writing process I decided that I just couldn’t come across with some detail that would have been jarringly not relevant to the culture and time period.

Things like John the Baptist just liking to sit on the couch.

Exactly, or ordering a pizza or something.

You alluded to the wild orchids, so obviously you’re taking nonfiction elements and you’re interweaving them with fictional elements to create the storyline. Was this a difficult task for you, knowing that somebody is likely going to step forward out of the bushes and say, “You are tinkering with the greatest story ever told.”?

As it is when I write a novel, if I have a nurse for instance who’s in the book and she’s giving an IV, I’ll have a nurse who will write in and say, “You know, you had them giving an IV on the right arm and I really think most nurses would do the left arm.” You get those. This will be a whole other thing, because people write in and they will say how dare you. But I’m trying to be really up front with the fact that it really is biblical fiction. I’m anchoring in scripture, wouldn’t dare to change that. For instance, Jesus appears to James one on one after he rises from the dead. I felt like that would have been a very intimate moment of forgiveness and healing. That obviously is my take on it and that’s the fictional part of it, because we don’t know what was exactly spoken, but we do know that that moment happened. So I would not materialize, change things in the way that they are in the Bible.  But I’m willing to take that risk, because I feel like the benefit is so great, to have people fall in love with God’s Word.

In writing The Family of Jesus, was there ever a time you had an “Aha!” moment where you stepped back and said “I had no idea?” I’m guessing you probably had several.

I think one of them would have been the day that Jesus was arrested, and the crowd, who only just days earlier, was laying palm branches down and calling, “He’s the Messiah!” And they’re so excited about him, and now they’re not. So, I feel like in the crowd there would have been a lot of these Pharisees and religious teachers who would have infiltrated that crowd. That crowd probably had gathered in support of Jesus initially, but as the hours went by and Jesus was behind gates being beaten and questioned, this crowd turns. And I think the feeling Mary would have gone through was this very big “aha” moment that these people who were all on her son’s side, which would have felt good, you know, if you have children you know that when everyone’s praising them it’s like, yeah, that’s my son, that’s so great, but all of a sudden something happened, and I’m feeling these religious leaders infiltrated and said, “Obviously he’s not the Messiah. Look, he can’t even get out of the prison. What’s happening? He’s being beaten; obviously he’s not your king.” And just that rebel rousing that would have gone on, and Mary realizing that this is the beginning of the end. That was a big “aha” moment for me.

As an author, what is your greatest hope for this book? What do you want your readers to get out of that experience?

It’s pretty simple. I want it to turn the hearts of the people back to God, and I feel like my storytelling goes a long way to helping them to turn their hearts sometimes back to their spouses. God puts a story on my heart, but He has all these other hearts in mind and of course only He can do that, but I saw that over and over with my novels. I really know that God gives me these stories to change peoples’ hearts and to help them to be taught through the back door, but this is different because this can send them running to God’s Word and to the wisdom, the redemption, the hope and the salvation that only Jesus can offer. I can’t give you that in a novel, but in this book I can tell you I can lead you to the One who can.

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