The writer, historian and self-styled ‘information-monger’ is the author of more than 70 books, including one of our favourites, The Longest Week, an account of the last seven days in the life of Jesus.
How did you get into writing about history?
I’ve always been interested in writing history.
But in terms of biblical history, I was sitting listening to a less-than-riveting sermon about Zaccheus and I thought to myself, ‘How tall was he?’
The Bible says he was small, but I wondered how small was small in those days?
And so I tried to find out – which meant reading a lot of articles about measuring 1st-century skeletons, but also lots of other fascinating books about the social and historical world of the New Testament.
And I thought, ‘Why don’t I hear about this stuff?’ So I decided to write about it.
That’s my aim really: just to write interesting stuff about things that matter.
What do you find most interesting about Jesus?‘Jesus actually intended us to be like disciples and live a life like his’
His Jewishness, for one thing. We only know two things about Jesus’ physical appearance: he was circumcised and wore a fringed Jewish prayer shawl.
Nothing illuminates the gospels more than understanding something of Jesus’ Jewish background.
Then there’s his disregard for rigid religious observance – he was always eating with the wrong people and doing the wrong things and generally annoying the religious authorities.
But, personally, I find the most interesting – and challenging – thing is that he urged us to do the same. He actually intended us to be like disciples and live a life like his.
Where’s your favourite place to write?
Outside; on a hot summer’s day, in a shady spot with a glass of something chilled.
Sadly, I only achieve this about once a year. Most of the time it’s indoors at the kitchen table.
Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?
Three heroes: G K Chesterton, George Orwell and John the Baptist.
Conversation, controversy – and the latter, particularly, would be good for the washing up.
What should churches be doing more of?
Teaching people to be like Jesus. It’s quite important to know stuff about Jesus, but it’s far more important to be Christ-like ourselves.
That’s what churches should be: local groups of Christ-shaped people.
Find out more
Church resources: reflections, daily readings and prayers
The Christian Aid Collective: info for youth groups and young Christians