Image: Tunic Cross from St. Hillary, Cornwall
Lettering: The Making of the Lamb
Lettering: A Novel by Robert Harley Bear
Lettering: A Novel by Robert Harley Bear

Frequently Asked Questions

How did The Making of the Lamb come to be written?

I conceived the book as I was preparing for my baptism in 2004. My good friend, Austin Mill, gave me a plaque for my sailboat honoring St. Joseph of Arimathea, the patron saint of sailors, miners, and funeral directors. He also introduced me to the Jerusalem Hymn, which sets in music the legend that Jesus traveled to Britain during his “missing” years. In the course of our travels, one of us got the idea that the legend could be a novel.

I started researching with The Traditions of Glastonbury: The Biblical Missing Years of Christ: Answered by E. Raymond Capt. Then I delved into primary sources closer in time to the legend, going back as far as Gildas, the first British historian. I also encountered some works that fictionalized the legend: I, Joseph of Arimathea by Frank C. Tribbe (2000) and Uncle of God, The Voyages of Joseph of Arimathea by M. E. Rosson (2010).

I read The DaVinci Code (2003) by Dan Brown and some non-fiction works that flesh out the Code’s backstory that Jesus survived the crucifixion and went on to father a bloodline that can be traced through the Dark Age Merovingian kings. I recognized the elements of Arian and Gnostic heresy, and then I watched distinguished commentators treat them as a valid alternative to traditional Christian teachings, perhaps equally valid.

That was when this book got its name and really took form. I realized that The Making of the Lamb could take the legend beyond anything already written about Christ’s visit to Britain. What was needed was much more than an ancient travelogue. I decided to show Jesus as a teenager in a distant land, struggling with his destiny to die a horrible death on the cross. Such a Jesus could touch the emotions of my readers and thereby really drive home the significance of his death and resurrection.

What do you hope to accomplish?

My hope is that my readers will find this book fun, engaging, and thought provoking, regardless of whether they are Christians or not. We read how the largest growing denomination now is “unaffiliated.” This book is tailor made for these questioning, doubting people, who sometimes fear walking into a church lest they be expected to drink the Kool-Aid.

One of the most surprising things I found from going to church was the level of discernment going on all around me. One of my favorite passages from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer is from the prayer said for the newly baptized. We don’t pray for them to obediently accept and pass on canned proselytizations. Instead we pray for God to give them “an inquiring and discerning heart.” People who enjoy thought provoking books may be surprised to find out how much they can enjoy going to church.

Thought provoking fiction can be a great tool for evangelization. It can be a way to break the ice with potential newcomers. I hope readers and others will come to this site, and post their experiences and ideas about this on the blog.

How was it challenging for you to write a novel with Jesus Christ as the main character?

Putting Jesus front and center as a main character in a work of fiction creates a dilemma for a Christian writer. Conflict is the driving force for good fiction. There’s not much point to putting Jesus up against a mortal antagonist; that fight is going to be over almost before it starts. The only really worthy opponents would need to be divine, but Christian doctrine seems to belie any notion of discord among the members of the Holy Trinity. Perhaps that is why many Christian authorities frown on any fictional accounts of Jesus’s life.

Another problem is that we want our fictional characters, even our heroes, to be flawed. But doctrine says that Jesus is the unblemished perfect man as well as the divine God. At first that may seem difficult to square with this novel’s truculent teenager, who screams his defiance from the summit of the Tor when he discovers his true destiny.

I believe I overcame this dilemma by focusing on Jesus's early life, the nature of his incarnation, and his ultimate choice to die for our sins as an extremely difficult one.

If Jesus was truly divine, wasn't he perfect as a child and as a teenager?

We need to start with the significance of Jesus’s incarnation. In his divine nature, he has been a coequal member of the Trinity since the beginning of all time. But at the time of his incarnation, he put aside his divine dignity to take our human nature upon himself. He came into our world as a helpless baby, and he had to be nurtured like any other baby through his childhood.

The last we hear about Jesus in Scripture before the onset of his ministry is in Luke, when Jesus, at the age of twelve, tarries behind to teach in the Temple. His parents lose him for three days, much to their sorrow, and when they find him his Mother asks why he has dealt with them so (Luke 2:41-48). Rather than defend Jesus’s behavior, the gospel writer puts it in the context of natural human growth: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in the favor of God and man” (Luke 2:52). In other words, at the onset of his teenage years, Jesus in his human nature was an unfinished work with some growing to do.

Even as an adult, the Gethsemane episode on the eve of the crucifixion shows that Jesus submitted to death on the cross because he was obedient to God, the Father, not because he wanted to. Christians always say that Jesus lived without sin, but do we even understand what it would mean to apply that concept to Jesus as a teenager? What would a “perfect” teenager ever do when everything he has lived for is suddenly taken from him? I believe that it must have been quite a struggle for Jesus to accept his awful destiny, and that does not negate his divine nature.

If Jesus was perfect even in his human nature, why would he struggle with a destiny that was the will of God?

In the novel, Jesus suddenly discovers that everything he has lived for is being ripped out from under him. The promised throne of David is not going to be of this world. He will suffer a horrible death at an early age. He will never become the conquering heroic messiah of his people. Perhaps worse than the prospect of such personal pain and suffering is the emotional pain of knowing that he will die helpless to ward off the coming suffering for both his own Jewish people and the Britons, whom he has come to love. Despite all this, he starts traveling the path of obedience, which he knows will lead to Calvary.

Is our concept of perfection in Christ’s human nature so rigid that we would really deny Jesus the emotional space he needs, even as a teenager, to deal with all of this? I believe that if we do, we make so much of Jesus’s lack of sins that his human nature effectively becomes indistinguishable from the divine. Perhaps he can be Emmanuel, the God living with us, in a physical sense, but not with the same emotional connection. If Jesus had never struggled to accept his destiny, his sacrifice would seem less meaningful.

If Jesus had any human nature, then the teenaged Jesus portrayed in the novel would not have been the first righteous man to struggle with God. It’s not clear from the passage in Genesis whether Jacob wrestled with God or with an angel sent by God when he was on his way to meet Esau. In the Book of Job, God holds Job to be his worthy servant throughout the sound and fury of Job’s anger with God for all his tribulations. Ultimately, they are reconciled as God renders justice to Job. It is Job’s friends who are called to account for telling him to make an insincere repentance. Job is sometimes considered a figure in the Old Testament who actually foreshadows Jesus. In Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job (2004), Robert Sutherland provides an objective guide to the subtle nuances in the Book of Job that a reader needs to understand.

The question of how Jesus came to accept his destiny to die on the Cross is a great mystery of the Bible that wants exploring. This book does not purport to be a book of theology. It’s a novel, hopefully a thought provoking one. I have had people tell me with great fervor that Jesus must have been aware of his true destiny from his childhood. Others were equally fervent that Jesus knew nothing about that until the onset of his ministry. In debating this, we cannot help but realize the significance of Christ’s sacrifice. That is why I hope people will sound off on the blog about this.

How historically accurate is your depiction of life among the Late Iron Age Celts of Britain?

Some people have questioned the relatively advanced level of the late Iron Age portrayed in the book, but the archaeological evidence shows that the Britons of this period were remarkably sophisticated. The Celts at this time carried on trade over extensive networks. Julius Caesar admitted that their seafaring skills were superior to those of the Romans. They were adept with metals and all manner of crafts. The reeve system of their farms evidences a sophisticated division of labor.

The Making of the Lamb is the product of many years of research. Here are some of my principal sources. Iron Age Communities in Britain, An Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC Until the Roman Conquest (1974, 4th edition 2005) is Professor Barry Cunliffe’s advanced college-level archeology textbook on the subject. Cunliffe has also written a number of other books that do not require a background in archaeology, such as Britain Begins (2013). Other noted works include The Atlantic Iron Age (2007) by Jon C. Henderson and Exploring the World of the Celts (1993, reprinted 2002) by Simon James. Artifacts from Iron Age Britain and related exhibits can be seen in the British Museum in London, the Iron Age Museum in Andover, and the Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester.

I have more information about Celtic Iron Age life and some pictures taken at some of these exhibits on the Legend Trails page.

Where did you get your ideas on how Iron Age Celts sailed and navigated across the English Channel?

The methods of navigation and sail rigging that I describe are more of my own hypothesis based mainly on my experience racing small sailboats. There is scant historical or archaeological evidence on this.

The lateen rig was known to the Romans by the middle of the first century BC. This fore-and-aft rig greatly improved the ability of sailing vessels to progress into the wind over square-rigged vessels, but the swinging gaff high above deck and the unbalanced force of a triangular sail would have been problematic for craft venturing far into the stormy North Atlantic. The lug rig would have been a relatively simple adaptation of the square rig. By adding a single spar along one vertical side of the square rig, a leading edge can be presented to the wind when the sail is swung into a fore-and-aft position. At the same time, the force of the wind is much more balanced over the mast than with a triangular sail. An adaptation such as the lug rig would have been essential for the Celts to easily maneuver against the Roman vessels in battle without oars the way that Julius Caesar described.

Navigation certainly would have been problematic over one hundred miles of open ocean between the tip of Armorica (Brittany) and the tip of Cornwall. The compass had not yet been invented, and late-eighteenth-century mariners were still trying to find an accurate method for resolving longitude. Nonetheless, we know that ancient Phoenicians sailed vast distances across blue ocean waters. Indigenous Pacific islanders used wave patterns and ocean swells, and I hypothesize that the Celts might have supplemented their navigation this way when clouds obscured sun and stars. Barry Cunliffe came to a similar conclusion about the use of ocean swells in Britain Begins, cited above.

What sources did you have for your depiction of druids?

Archeology tells us a great deal about how people lived, but not so much about what they believed. The druids abjured writing, particularly anything of a spiritual nature. Some of the tribes minted coins with Greek letters, and they had calendars, but we don’t have anything more substantial written down by the Celts themselves. Julius Caesar wrote about the druids in his account of his war against the Gauls, but one needs to take what he said with a grain of salt because the Celts were his enemies, and his annals were a propaganda piece against people he wanted to portray as barbaric. Irish folktales were written down centuries after the time of the druids by Christian monks who brought their own biases.

As I conceived this book, I knew that Jesus would have encountered druids if he stayed in Britain for any length of time, but everything I read about them just sent me in circles. I finally came across Jean Markdale’s book, The Druids, Celtic Priests of Nature (1999), and this became my guide to sorting out the pantheon of druidic deities and making some sense of them. Some of the concepts, such as the idea that they learned Greek philosophy, might very well be overly romanticized. On the other hand, we know that the Celtic people often crossed paths with the classical cultures of Greece and Rome and that each druid went through twenty years of training.

How much of the tunic cross story is factual?

Tunic crosses are found across Cornwall. As far as I know, E. Raymond Capt was the first writer to suggest that they might represent an ancient memory of Jesus’s visit to England. I came across the tunic cross in St. Hilary’s Parish churchyard during my visits in 2004 and 2005. The more modern plaque marking the burial of Father O’Donohue was attached to it. Father Bernard Walke and his wife, Annie Walke, were real, but Father Walke’s involvement with the cross and its secret is fictional. The story of the riot that took place in 1932 is loosely based upon Father Walke’s account in his autobiography Twenty Years at St Hilary (1935, 2002). The discovery of the Roman altar on St. George’s Island and the related BBC documentary are real. All of the other events and characters associated with the tunic cross are fictional.