Wednesdays Are for Writers: Jay Tyson Author Profile

Jay TysonJay Tyson grew up outside of Detroit, Michigan and graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Civil Engineering in 1976. Shortly thereafter he married Eileen Cregge. They spent four years in Liberia, West Africa, where Jay worked on road construction projects. They settled in Haifa, Israel for seven years, where he assisted with historic restoration at the Baha’i World Center. They returned to New Jersey in 1989, where they raised two daughters and Jay continued his career in engineering. Raised in a Presbyterian household, Jay wondered why God had sent Messengers on a regular basis from the time of Noah to the time of Jesus but seemed to have fallen silent for the past 2,000 years. This question led him to investigate and eventually accept the idea that there is a common Source of all religions-a theme which he first encountered while learning about the Baha’i Faith. Diving into the depths of religious prophecy, he has found the commonality between religions are much deeper than just a similarity of ethical teachings. For the prophecies, when carefully understood, can lead to a profound appreciation of an unseen Intelligence from which they emanate. In addition to his research and writing, Jay is an active proponent of recognizing the commonalities across religious traditions in his local community.

Book Blurb

America was ablaze with millennial anticipation in 1844. Reflecting upon Scriptural prophecy, signs in the heavens, and the gospel of the kingdom having been preached to all nations, religious leaders expected Christ’s return was imminent. Hundreds of thousands of laypeople also looked to the skies in joyous anticipation — or dread.

Clearly, their expectations were not fulfilled; were these wrong, or simply misunderstood? In Perth Amboy, New Jersey, devout Quaker Josiah Thompson is convinced the answers lie in the Holy Land, but is too aged to travel. So his son Zach and British scholar James Lawrence take up the quest, only to realize the question is far larger than they imagined. And what they discover will have profound implications for not only for them, but all humanity as the modern age unfolds.

Interview

1. Why did you choose the title, The Wise Men of the West?
It takes its title, of course, from the Wise Men of the East, that is, the Magi of the Christmas story. They traveled westward from the Zoroastrian empire of Persia in search of a new Messenger of God, because the Persian Prophet Zoroaster had predicted His appearance a thousand years earlier.

Jesus was born at the appointed time, just as predicted. And He later gave His followers wonderful teachings which laid the foundation for the Christian civilization. Then, before He left, He gave us some clues about the time of His return.

So, it is now time for those in the West to follow the example of the Wise Men of the East, this time unravelling the clues which Jesus gave, and heading eastward, in search of the next Messenger of God. So, in some sense, The Wise Men of the West can be regarded as the mirror image of the biblical story of the Wise Men of the East, but occurring in the modern era.

2. Who is this book written for?
–For anyone who has ever wondered why God spoke to mankind in the past, but doesn’t seem to be sending us any such guidance in the modern age.
–And particularly, for anyone who anticipates that God will speak to humanity again, through a Promised One, a Messiah or a figure similar to any of the prophetic Messengers of the past, who founded the world’s great religions.

The book is dedicated
“To everyone who has humbly hoped to see, or prayed to witness, the coming of the Promised One, and to those who have longed to be among the first generation of His followers.”

3. This is a novel—a historical fiction. How much of it is about history and how much of it is fiction?  

A very large amount of the story is historic. The storyline of two fictional characters traveling eastward during the 1840s in search of the fulfillment of their religious expectations provides an engaging opportunity for the reader to learn about real events and perspectives of various groups in various locations during that time. Since communication between different parts of the world was very limited in those days, one of the most entertaining ways to learn about what was actually happing in different parts of the world is to view it through the eyes of a traveler, who is doing his own exploration of the ideas and teachings and events of various religions.

The movie Titanic was a historical fiction. Rose and Jack were not real people. But following their story enables us to see and understand the historic time and circumstances as if we were living through it. Historic fiction gives you a “front-row seat” on history. It sets you down in the middle of the action.

4. Why did you choose to write about the 1840s?
Because it is arguably the dawn of the modern age.
Of course, like dawn, there was some light leading up to the time. But two of the most critical events underlying our modern world occurred in 1844-5: a) the first practical use of electricity (invention of the telegraph) and b) the first transatlantic crossing of a modern, steam-powered and propeller driven ship. But revolutions of thought and discovery were occurring in many fields, not the least of which was the field of religion.

One of the great tragedies in Western religion was that this period was recognized by many as the time that Jesus had accurately predicted as the date of His return, and yet, in spite of that clarity of vision, most people suffered from an equivalent degree of blindness with respect to the manner of His return, choosing to interpret Biblical description of His descent from Heaven in literal terms rather than in spiritual ones. And so, the Great Disappointment occurred in 1844, when Christ apparently failed to return. It was the first of a string of disappointments which has continued to the present day. But I say “apparently” because, had these people looked with larger eyes—had they been able to see the big picture of God’s religion—they would have realized that their prediction of the year was exactly correct. They were just looking in the wrong place. And that’s what the book is about.

5. You have described the story as a journey over four ‘theological mountain ranges’. What did you mean by that?
My characters are explorers both geographically and spiritually. In the journey to find the Promised One, there are some hurdles which any Christian must overcome, in the same way that an explorer must be able to pass over some mountain ranges. The first is fairly simple: It is the recognition that the Wise Men of the East were Zoroastrians, who had been guided by their own religious prophecies to find Jesus at the time of His birth. What does that tell us about the truth of the religion of Zoroaster? If your conclusion is that Zoroaster must have also been a true Prophet from God, then you have successfully crossed the first mountain range.

A second range involves letting go of some of the manmade theology that has clouded our minds for many centuries. As to the third range, which I think of as the Himalayas, and the fourth, you’ll just have to read the book.

6. Where did you grow up and what was spiritual life like growing up?
I grew up in a suburb outside of Detroit, Michigan. I regularly attended the Presbyterian church with my parents and 3 brothers.
But even as a kid, I always wondered why God had spoken to us thru a series of great Messengers—Noah, Abraham, Moses & Jesus, but had stopped almost 2000 years ago and has not spoken to us since then.

I was in high school when I heard that there was a religion that believed that there was more to the story—some things that I had missed. It seemed clear enough to me that we in the West had missed Islam. But these people also taught that most of the world had missed a more recent outpouring of Divine wisdom, which had begun in the land of the original Wise Men, in 1844.

I also learned that, in that same year, there had been a widespread movement in this country, anticipating the return of Christ. Especially in the Northeastern US and in parts of Europe, many could see signs that the time was ripe for the next appearance of Christ. It was called “the Great Awakening”.

Joseph Smith of Palmyra, NY, started the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the 1830s, with the firm conviction that the Latter Days, so often mentioned in the Bible, had indeed arrived.

Another leader of the Great Awakening was a self-taught preacher named William Miller, who lived in NY state, near the border of Vermont, just south of Lake Champlain. As self-taught preacher, he unlocked the meaning of some prophecies of Daniel—the prophecies that Jesus Himself had cited as holding the key to understanding the date of His return.

I learned about all of this during my introduction to the Baha’i Faith. What led me to believe it was a recognition that there are many mansions of religion which are all encompassed within God’s great house. This is exactly what Jesus Himself had said in John 14:2.

7. How did you decide to write on this particular topic?
It began after I visited the William Miller Farm in Low Hampton, NY in 2012. I learned more about the details of William Miller’s story—and his understanding of prophecies related to the return of Christ and the very public apparent failure of those prophecies. But although the Adventist caretakers of the farm were very well-versed in the story of 1844 in America, they were very ignorant of what was taking place in other parts of the world in that very same year.

A few months later, as I was driving a rental truck from my childhood home in Michigan to my current home in NJ, I was wondering if there was some way to connect the story of what was happening in America in 1844 with what was happening in Persia at that same time. It dawned on me that it might be possible to write the story of a traveler going from America to the Holy Land and then to Persia, who would have the opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences of the expectations of various religious communities along the way.

This might have been just one of those fleeting thoughts which would have been soon overwhelmed with the more mundane thoughts of returning to work, except for an odd occurrence: A few moments after thinking of the idea of the story, the steering wheel of my rental truck started to lurch right and left. I pulled off onto the shoulder, called the rental company, and was soon waiting in a mechanic’s shop for his diagnosis. The good news was that he had identified the truck’s problem. The bad news was that the replacement part would not arrive until the following morning. So, suddenly I had 24 hours with nothing to do. All I had was a pad of paper, my pencil, and this strange idea for a novel. And so the work began.

8. You indicated in the video trailer that many of the prophecies have been misunderstood. Can you give an example?
One example that is noted near the beginning of the story, is the idea that the return of Christ is associated with the “end of the world”. That was an unfortunate mistranslation when the King James Bible was written in the early 1600s. When you go back to the original Greek, you find that the word that is consistently used is “the end of the eon” rather than the “end of the cosmos”. So the return of Christ is to occur at the “close of the age” not at the “end of the world.” So that changes the whole framework for understanding biblical prophecy.

Clearly, the world has not ended. But just as clearly, we live in a new age. No fair-minded observer would claim that we live in the same age as Jesus. If you lived in 1800, you might say that the people of that time lived in an age that was similar to the age of Jesus in many respects. Travel via walking or on horseback was common. Sea travel was by wind-driven wooden ships. Candles and lanterns were the main source of light at nighttime. Animals assisted men in tilling the fields to produce food.

But all of that changed suddenly, in the 1800s. Unquestionably, we live in a new age. But Christ was supposed to return at the close of the old age. So where is He. It is beginning to dawn on people that perhaps instead of looking toward the future for the return of Christ, we should be looking toward the recent past. And, for most people, that requires a radical reassessment of the nature of the Return.

9. Can you summarize the book in a few lines?

The short answer to this question is “No”.
In the same way that I could not attempt to summarize a tour of the world, I would not attempt to summarize this book. All I can say is that it is a journey that all must eventually take. As with most journeys, the traveler will grow and change as a result of the journey. Growth of this sort takes both time and reflection. To attempt to have it all at once is a recipe for failure.

10. Now, without giving too much away, you indicate that the search for the Promised One came to a successful conclusion. Yet, isn’t the Promise One supposed to bring with Him the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth?
Yes, this is true. And I want to tell you that I now live in that Kingdom. It is a Kingdom that consists of people from every race, class, every religious background and age, who live in harmony with each other because we all recognize that we are first and foremost spiritual beings, that is, children of God. It is a Kingdom in which gossip and backbiting have been strictly forbidden, in which we are required to look upon a person’s good qualities and ignore his bad ones. It is a Kingdom in which all of the problems of drugs and alcohol, of sexual relations outside of marriage, of gambling and political argumentation and a host of other things, have been banished by obedience to the new law in this, the New Jerusalem. It is a Kingdom in which authority rests with elected groups of volunteer rather than paid individuals—groups who are trained to apply spiritual principles in a group consultative process. It is a Kingdom in which the fear of death has been replaced by the certain knowledge of a much larger life beyond this world.

Now I can travel to all of the countries of the world, with all of its different cultural ways, and find a group of people who will welcome me like a brother, in spite of any outward differences, because we are all a part of this Kingdom.

And the Kingdom is growing. Members of the Baha’i Faith stand by the gates of this Kingdom and invite people to come in. And the most amazing thing about this Kingdom is that its gate is open wide–everyone can ascend to it and enter it. All you need to do to ascend to the Kingdom of Heaven is to be willing to release your grasp on the kingdom of hell to which most people cling.

So, yes, the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth has arrived. It is still small, but it is growing, as it welcomes and transforms all those who wish to enter.

 

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