Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Michael J. Scott, who is here to talk about his new novel “The Lost Scrolls.”
Michael J. Scott specializes in action/adventure thrillers and suspense. His novels include “Jefferson’s Road: The Spirit of Resistance” and “Jefferson’s Road: Patriots and Tyrants” about an attempt to spark a second American Revolution by assassinating the President on Inauguration Day; “The Coppersmith,” about a serial killer stalking pastors in Upstate New York; “Spilled Milk” about a man who becomes a terrorist to rescue his children from a corrupt foster care system; and “Eye of Darkness,” a sword-and-sorcery fantasy about a mercenary ex-Sheriff and a girl outcast from her tribe who investigate serial kidnappings and murders. Michael lives outside of Rochester, New York with his wife and three children. Today, he is here to talk about his newest book, “The Lost Scrolls,” a Christian Adventure about finding the original, autograph manuscripts of the New Testament.
Tyler: Welcome, Michael. It’s a pleasure to have you here today. You’ve written lots of suspense and political thriller type books, but “The Lost Scrolls” is the first you’ve described as a Christian adventure. How would you say that this novel is different from your previous ones?
Michael: In one sense at least, it’s not. Every book I write comes from a Christian world view and expresses the truths of that world view. But the book is a “Christian” adventure in the sense that it deals specifically with themes regarding the historicity of the Gospel story.
Tyler: What made you decide to write a novel about the original manuscripts of the New Testament?
Michael: Two things inspired me. One was an idle conversation I had with some of my classmates back in Bible College about what it would be like if the original autographs of the New Testament were ever found. That idea stuck with me over twenty years. The second inspiration came from reading various archaeological suspense novels, most of which presented spurious and historically dubious claims that cast doubt on the truth of the New Testament. Recently, there’s been a spate of Gnostic literature making the rounds, rife with speculation about the Knights Templar and the meaning of the Holy Grail and other Middle Age myths, mingled with the recent rediscovery of third through sixth century Gnostic manuscripts, such as the Gospel of Thomas, in an attempt to deny the historicity of Jesus. I wanted to counter this trend in fiction by writing an archaeological suspense story that supports Christianity, rather than undermining it.
Tyler: Can you shed any light on those manuscripts? Are there really original manuscripts—are we talking about the gospels or epistles—and what kind of research did you do for the novel regarding the New Testament?
Michael: We can say with certainty there were original manuscripts (and in the case of “The Lost Scrolls,” we’re talking both Gospels and Epistles, but specifically focused on the Epistles of Paul), and we have some fragments of ancient manuscripts that are old enough to have been hand-copied from the originals. There was a recent fragment of Mark discovered that may be first century—the jury is still out. But the problem, even if we could date a manuscript to the first century with any degree of certainty, would be in identifying that particular manuscript as The Original. I suspect the only way to do that would be genetic testing, relying on, perhaps, the bones of St. Paul (buried in Rome) or St. Peter or something like that. There again, we’d have the problem, first of all, of access (The Vatican, for example has been quite resistant to the idea of disturbing Paul’s crypt, and understandably so). Even if we could find DNA, the most it would confirm is that the person whose DNA we tested had come into contact with the manuscript. It wouldn’t confirm authorship. But it would lend support toward that end.
Tyler: So, let’s get into the characters and plot. What sets the main characters, Jonathan and Isabel, on this quest to find the manuscripts?
Michael: Isabel’s brother, Dr. Steven Kaufman, is hired (secretly) by Jon’s university to verify a claim: the fabled (and quite fictional) “Domo Tou Bibliou,” which is Greek for “Home of the Book,” which the university believes has been accidentally uncovered by a construction company in Turkey. Steven breaks off contact with the University, which is why Jon is sent to find out what happened. The fact that Steven’s professional reputation is questionable at best is the stated motivation for sending Jon out there. Isabel herself is motivated out of a desire to see her brother’s reputation restored, as well as by the value of the claim.
Tyler: What about the manuscripts of the New Testament make them desirable to the killer?
Michael: The value of the manuscripts—if they could be verified as original (and the scroll found in the “Domo Tou Bibliou” makes that possible), would be inestimable. Collectors would pay millions for a mere page, let alone the entire collection.
Tyler: But would they make any difference in terms of the Christian faith? Would they help to confirm it?
Michael: Yes and no. The thing is, the New Testament is called into question like no other book in the world. We rely on less than a dozen manuscripts for documentary reliability for the works of Plato, Pliny, Tacitus, Euripedes, Caesar, around twenty for Tacitus and less than fifty for Aristotle. And all of these ancient documents are several hundred years removed from the time of their composition to the dating of the extant manuscripts currently available. And yet we call them reliable. The second best attested book in history is Homer’s Iliad, which relies on 643 manuscripts dating around five hundred years after Homer.
When it comes to the New Testament, however, there is no comparison. There are over five thousand manuscripts and more than twenty thousand manuscript fragments available to us, the oldest of which have been confirmed to date to the second century (and a few new ones that may well date to the first!)—old enough to have been hand-copied from the original autographs themselves. And yet, the New Testament is called into question for its authenticity and reliability.
Finding the autographs would make those questions more difficult, but given the lengths people will go to close their eyes to the truth, I have no doubt but that someone would find a way to ignore the evidence.
Tyler: Without giving away too much, what are some of the obstacles Jon and Isabel face in tracking down the killer and getting her brother’s reputation restored?
Michael: The biggest obstacle Izzy and Jon face is Jon himself. He doesn’t believe Stephen found the “Domo Tou Bibliou.” With that in mind, Jon is unprepared for the various mercenaries, assassin, and religious operatives who compete with him for the scroll. And Stephen, knowing full well what he was up against, “hid the scroll with style” (to borrow from the book). Jon has to piece together the puzzle and decipher the clues before he can locate the scroll—all while wrestling with whether or not it’s even real.
Tyler: Why do you think readers will find this novel interesting, and what makes the New Testament texts so fascinating to readers today?
Michael: I think people are naturally curious about ancient history—and there’s enough actual history in the novel to prompt exploration of both the claims for the New Testament as well as for some of the many historical sites that are visited in the novel. People want to know whether or not something that old that tells such a fantastic tale could possibly be true. That, and the action keep readers turning the page to find out what happens next.
Tyler: Besides the manuscripts themselves, you highlight several revered Christian sites in the novel. Will you tell us about some of those places and how they figure into the novel’s plot and their significance as Christian sites?
Michael: There are a few places that are both historically and currently significant—the Vatican Library comes to mind, but so does the peninsula of Mount Athos, which is under the control of the Eastern Orthodox communion. Mount Athos was quite fun to explore, because, generally speaking, we in the West are largely unfamiliar with the Eastern Churches—to the point where some people believe there are only two kinds of Christian—Roman Catholic or Protestant. They quite ignore both the Orthodox and the Coptic branches which predate Protestantism by several hundred years and which are quite independent (historically) of the Roman Church. Over twenty monasteries make the peninsula home, with more than 1,400 monks living either in the monasteries themselves, or privately in sketes (single person dwellings), such as the one Demetri Antonescu occupies.
And then there is the Qal at Simân, or Basilica of St. Simeon the Stylite. Simeon was an ascetic monk who climbed atop a pillar to get away from the crowds that often came to see him. He allegedly lived on one for over thirty-seven years, only climbing down when ordered to by his bishop out of concern that Simeon was staying atop the pillar out of pride. When he willingly began to descend, the bishop relented and let him stay up there. Ascetics such as Simeon were less about enduring hardship for the sake of hardship than they were about doing everything they could to focus on God. After Simeon’s death, a church was built around his pillar, and the remains of it still stand today.
Finally, we have the Sen Piyer Kilisesi, or Cave Church of St. Peter. Allegedly, the fisherman-apostle himself carved the cave where the church met. What is more likely is that Peter visited the cave and may have preached there. We know from Galatians 2:11 that Peter did indeed come to Antioch, and that during this occasion, Peter actually backed down to the circumcision group, with the result that Paul the Apostle confronted him before everyone. The Cave Church still stands, and services were even held there as late as 2009, but visiting the site is restricted due to unstable rock conditions.
Tyler: The book begins in Ankara, Turkey, and I just visited Turkey a few months ago, so I’m curious, Michael, whether you visited Turkey or what kind of research you did in that respect about Turkey and about the nationalities of the various bad guys?
Michael: The only countries I’ve ever been to, besides the U.S., are Canada and the Bahamas. I’d love to visit Turkey, or any of the Holy Land sites, but the opportunity hasn’t presented itself as of yet.
I had to find another way to get there. Toward that end, I relied heavily on Google Earth, Sacred-Destinations, 360cities, YouTube, Panoramio, and various travel sites on the Internet to get a “feel” for the place. The Esenboğa airport website was quite helpful in that regard as well. Lots of pictures.
But I still had one question that couldn’t be answered by the Internet: how the city smelled. I wanted to capture that sense as well, but I had no way to do it. Fortunately, I discovered that one of my family’s home-schooling associates had been a missionary in Ankara, and I was able to interview her briefly for the book. She was most helpful with this question.
The bad guys in the novel all come from various places—though ironically, none are actually Turks. The closest are the Kurdish mercenaries that Sean MacNeil hires. I chose them because I knew of the tensions between the Turkish government and the separatist Kurds, so they seemed an ideal scapegoat for the Turkish Gendarmerie—a bit of a red herring for the cops to chase. Beyond that, we’ve got Irish mercenaries, an infidel assassin from Pakistan, some questionable academics in Michigan and a wayward Catholic priest from Baltimore.
Tyler: Besides the Christian manuscripts, is there more to the Christian theme of the novel?
Michael: Yes. The theme of “The Lost Scrolls” is integrity—whether it’s the integrity of the Church as a whole in sending someone after the autographs, the integrity of the Bible as it relates to manuscript reliability, or the integrity of the central characters. Will Jonathan sell himself out to possess the scrolls, or to win love? Will Isabel trade love for security or wealth? Will Demetri turn his back on his conversion to obey his religious leaders?
Most importantly, what does man profit if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul (Matthew 16:26)? I hope, through this novel, to entice readers into asking these same questions. What is their integrity worth?
Tyler: What kind of feedback have you received so far on the book? Do you think people are “getting it” in terms of the response you were hoping for?
Michael: I think so. The reviews I’ve seen have been fairly positive, with the only objectives being raised over the action-elements. Given that I’ve written the book to compete with other archaeological suspense novels that are out there, I’m okay with that. I want my characters to think, act, and speak in realistic ways, and that means being honest about the fact that good people don’t always behave, and that even bad guys are made in God’s image.
Tyler: You mentioned several novels today that are almost anti-Christian or Gnostic in their viewpoints. Did you read these books, and what effect would you say they had on you in telling your story, or were you inspired by any other great writers of mysteries, thrillers, or adventure stories?
Michael: I did read some of the more well-known Gnostic thrillers out there, and while I find the theology they present to be parasitic and reprehensible, they are, nonetheless, well-told stories.
But I’m also a sucker for anything written by James Rollins—I think he probably leads the pack when it comes to archaeological suspense.
Tyler: Michael, I understand this is the first Jonathan Munro mystery in a proposed series. Can you give us any clue about what the next mystery will be about and when it will be available?
Michael: The next installment is called “The Elixir of Life.” It is an adventure tale that takes Jon deep into the heart of Medieval Europe and then on to Ephesus trying to rescue a colleague and friend who’s been kidnapped. The kidnappers are in pursuit of a fabled substance that can cure any disease and prolong life, and are themselves being pursued by agents of a far more dangerous and sinister nature. The story asks the question: what makes life worth living? In it, I weave several Middle Age myths together into a cohesive (and, I hope, plausible) whole with direct ties to the origins of Christianity.
Tyler: Thank you, Michael, for the privilege of interviewing you today. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about “The Lost Scrolls”?
Michael: Thank you, Tyler. I can be found at MichaelJScott.wordpress.com, where I also give more background information on the places of “The Lost Scrolls,” a listing of some of the bibliographical evidences for the reliability of the New Testament, as well as information about the Egerton Papyrus, a second century manuscript discovered by the British Museum in 1934. Egerton is a genuine fifth gospel without any discernible Gnostic heresy in the pages that have survived. Most of the manuscript contains elements which are also found in the four Canonical gospels, but it also includes a miracle of Jesus not recorded elsewhere. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide for himself whether or not the story is genuine.