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May 17, 2021

A wealth of little-known historical information provides the basis for Sanford’s historical series Cry for Jerusalem. The first book in the series, Resisting Tyranny, covers 63–70 CE, leading up to the burning of Herod’s Temple and the siege of Jerusalem.

What is the story behind this book—why and how did you write it?

My interest in the history of first-century CE Jerusalem led me to read Josephus’s The Jewish War in modern English. Despite its dry, textbook style, I was amazed by how much detail this eyewitness recorded in the years leading up to the siege in 70 CE. I thought to myself, why have I never heard about these dramatic stories and events? I thought that if they were put in the form of a dramatic novel, people would want to read them. I began piecing together characters, plotlines, and cliff-hangers. But I also knew I needed help. So I hired a professional to help me with the writing details. Ultimately, the idea seemed like it could become such a great set of historical novels that I could not leave it alone.

What kind of research did you do to ensure historical and cultural authenticity?

Much historical detail comes from Flavius Josephus’s The Jewish War. No other history from this era has so much recorded detail to draw on. I researched the Roman culture, including all the Latin words for everyday items the soldiers use, and how the people lived. I also researched how the Temple Mount looked. The surprising results of this research are on my website——and I have been blogging about my findings there. Josephus gave us enough clues for a 19th-century Josephus scholar, lawyer, and historian to put all the pieces together. The scholar’s published work was forgotten in a London library and was only recently rediscovered via Google’s tireless efforts to scan obscure books.

To what extent do you draw from real life, and what responsibility do you feel to reimagine or change characters based on real people?

Historical fiction tends to fall along a continuum. At one end, the setting is historical but the characters are fictitious. At the other, the characters are also real and the writing simply functions to dramatize real events. Cry for Jerusalem falls closer to the latter. Josephus wrote about so many characters that most of our main characters are mentioned by him. But we needed to take literary license to fill out their personal stories and expand their roles and characteristics. We also wanted female characters to play critical roles. Finally, we gave Josephus a sister to help include the assassins of the day called the Sicarii.

How would you convince someone to read the Cry for Jerusalem series if she didn’t typically read religious fiction?

The books are full of action, intrigue, and personal struggles for survival in first-century Judea and its surroundings. Despite being set at a time when religion guided the actions of many, this book series and its plot do not have a religious focus. Religious issues come up in conversations occasionally, but that simply reflects the times. The worldview that human lives were influenced directly by the gods or a single god was then the norm. We follow the lives of five main characters, four of whom are not religious, as they react and respond to the same dreams, passions, and adversities that we do today. More than once I have realized that what they were going through is happening again in our 21st-century world. It’s uncanny.

What can readers expect from the third entry in the series, due in fall 2021?

In book three, readers will find that the now familiar characters are getting pulled in deeper to the plot lines as their predicaments and peril continue to increase. Eventually, civil war erupts in the Roman Empire in the “year of the four emperors,” and chaos and anarchy develop in Rome as well as in Judea and Jerusalem. One character travels to far-flung parts of the empire. Another, in hiding, grows attached to her new cultural surroundings. More than one character faces gut-wrenching, soul-searching decisions regarding whether the ends justify the means and what role they are to play in the inevitable climax of the war at Jerusalem.