- News & Blog
When asked about the research processes involved in creating all this, Richard cited the internet and Google as a huge boon. He was able to search for quotes using specific words, and choose which quotes apply to his story. For example, if Yeshua and Lazarus are discussing chance and improbability, quotes related to these key words (and variants of them) can be used to help Yeshua and Lazarus navigate their discussions.
The decision to make Yeshua and Lazarus literate was intentional. Zimler has encountered work that constructs Jesus as illiterate and he does not find this convincing, so he sought to offer a contrasting version in his novel. From his research, Zimler believes that young Jewish men who showed ability in Jerusalem will have been educated. He believes that the historical Jesus’ magnetic charisma was developed by a good education, because he must have been an articulate and moving speaker. Who would teach this young, promising man? The ancient rabbis, of course. Ergo, a key text in his learning will have been the Old Testament.
Zimler believes this construction of Jesus is evidenced in the New Testament itself. Jesus arrives to Jerusalem on a donkey, which fulfils the Old Testament Prophecy of Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9: “your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey…”). To Zimler, this is the intentional decision of a learned man who wants to evoke the Old Testament in his actions.
Throughout all of Disnaeland’s drafts and rewrites, it has always been a darkly funny book. But by 2020, with the onset of the gloomy pandemic lockdowns, D.D. found himself placing comedy in Disnaeland more prominently. He missed the camaraderie of laughing together and healing through jokes.
More generally, Mike appreciates classic jokes which have fallen by the wayside a little with the rise of memes and internet humour. What’s really better for the human spirit than sharing a laugh? Disnaeland is full of comedy moments and jokes, from the ironic to the slapstick, despite the darkness of its premise.
What if your beloved friend brings you back from the dead, and you see nothing of any afterlife? And what if that friend is the Jewish mystic Yeshua, who will come to be known as Jesus?
Yeshua’s miracles are stirring the authorities in Jerusalem, and Lazarus finds himself scrambling after his childhood companion during Passion Week, the turbulent final chapter in Yeshua’s life. Meanwhile Lazarus struggles to return to his work and family, feeling a great sense of fragility and lost identity since his return to the living world. He can’t help but wonder if he was resurrected to save Yeshua in his time of dire need…
Richard Zimler’s impeccably researched novel draws you into to Roman-controlled Jerusalem, the Jewish communities within it and the permeating Greek cultural influences. A cast of biblical figures, from Mary and Joseph to Mary Magdalene, are restored to their Jewish roots. Jesus is presented as a mystic within the practises and traditions of ancient Judaism. Zimler brings us a fascinating and highly moving read.
Richard Zimler’s eleven novels have been translated into twenty-three languages and have appeared on bestseller lists in twelve different countries, including the UK, United States, Australia, Brazil, Italy and Portugal. Richard is Jewish and American. He grew up in New York and since 1990 has lived in Porto, Portugal with his husband.
The Lost Gospel of Lazarus was partly inspired by the death of his brother by AIDS. He would return to Richard in recurring dreams as a resurrected but deeply changed and troubled man. This was the genesis for Richard’s Lazarus. The novel was also inspired by a desire to return biblical characters to their Jewish cultural roots, and deals with how Jesus’ legacy was handled by early Christians.
A note from the Author:
My goal with The Lost Gospel of Lazarus was to create an immensely moving and insightful page-turner. I wanted to breathe new life into the New Testement story of Lazarus, turning it into a fast-paced tale of deep friendship, murderous betrayal, magical beliefs and – in the end – redemption.
The Jerusalem of this novel – and indeed of this time – is multicultural. Lazarus and Jesus (who in this book is called Yeshua), have an interesting command of Latin, Greek and Aramaic words. Zimler constructs puns and wordplay that enrich the story and reveal the close connection between the two men.
Richard identifies ancient graffiti as a key inspiration. During this time, there was graffiti on monuments and public furniture, which demonstrated regular people using language in comedic, clever, and satirical ways. To replicate this himself, Richard made lists of Greek, Latin and Aramaic words and would play with them as a poet would.
It was important for this wordplay not to become a distraction to the story. If it didn’t make sense in the context, or didn’t further the story, Richard cut it. He dislikes writing by overly-clever authors who always bring attention back to their own intelligence or sensitivity, and so was careful when using wordplay.
In Richard Zimler’s The Lost Gospel of Lazarus, Jesus – in this novel known as Yeshua – is a Jewish mystic who is presented as a bringer of revolution. He seeks to lift up the oppressed peoples in Roman Jerusalem through social uprising.
Richard tells us that presenting Jesus this way is not new; in fact, in the bible Jesus frequently defied power structures. For example, when he casts out the merchants from the temple in Matthew 21:12–13.
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
However, Yeshua’s position as a revolutionary is just as important as his spiritual leadership. In The Lost Gospel of Lazarus, Yeshua is presented as having a unique relationship with Jewish faith and the ‘Palace of the Lord’. It’s these two parts of him that makes Yeshua a special and captivating figure, and also what got him into trouble in the end.
In this short clip, D.D. Johnston talks about finding light in darkness while writing about the apocalypse.
He identifies a process of crisis and positive change that can be applied to the lives of individuals and to wider society. Terrible wars, revolutions and disasters sometimes result in positive change. The same is true for personal tragedy; it can cause important personal development. This isn’t necessarily to say that all crisis lead to good things (they absolutely don’t), D.D. just suggests that some difficult times can lead to better things. This sentiment is the foundation of Disnaeland, a novel which inverts dystopia and creates a utopia of sorts.
Richard Zimler explores the intimate relationship of Jesus and Lazarus in his novel The Lost Gospel of Lazarus.
In the clip, Richard tells us that the relationship between Jesus (who in this book is the Jewish mystic Yeshua) and Lazarus is many things; it’s homoerotic and romantic in some ways, in other ways it’s divine and metaphysical, and in others it’s a simple, cherished childhood friendship. It doesn’t have clear boundaries, and this reflects the nature of social relationships during this period. It is not easy to define Yeshua and Lazarus’ relationship, and that is part of its richness and beauty.
Author D.D. Johnston tells us how his ideas for Disnaeland were really a reaction against various apocalypse media.
In apocalypse stories, humans are often presented as awful and savage. Without the boundaries and rules that society sets for us, humans seem destined to destroy each other. In Disnaeland, Johnston takes a different perspective. He’s inspired by the likes of Emily Mendel’s Station Eleven. Also, notably, Colin McCarthy’s The Road, because it’s a book that says things about belief and faith that he wanted to demonstrate in Disnaeland. A difference is that The Road might suggest there’s only two good people left in the world. In contrast, Disnaeland presents all people as capable of goodness, even if they fail or are bad to start with.
D.D. tells us that his creative journey with Disnaeland began in 2014, and was marred by writer’s block until the birth of his son in 2020. For this project, the symptoms of writer’s block were often external.
The idea of Disnaeland originally came from the early 2010s’ cultural fixation with the apocalypse and disaster fiction. The idea of writing an apocalypse that wasn’t so, well, apocalyptic was appealing to D.D. He wasn’t quite sure of how he’d execute it. He fixated on a paradox – we were so occupied with the apocalypse, yet we did not care to write fiction about stopping it, or creating something good from it.
And then, in 2020, the world had its own apocalypse of sorts. Mike tells us of a memory from February 2020. He was on a train, travelling through rain. Lands were flooding because of Storm Kiera and Storm Dennis, and people were all staring at their phones. The voice overhead told them all to report anything that looks suspicious. It occurred to D.D. that this scene would not be out of place in a dystopia novel. This reignited the spark for Disnaeland – it was not to be a book about building up to an apocalypse, it would be about surviving the one we’re already in.
His editor asked D.D. to write the book again, once it was done – something still wasn’t quite right. In the summer of 2020 his son was born, and that proved to be the final thing that shattered his writer’s block. There was a new urgency to Disnaeland, because the issues it explores wouldn’t only effect D.D., but also his son.
Ultimately, Mike’s journey to overcoming writer’s block was waiting for the right moment.
D.D. Johnston tells us about how he fleshed out his characters and gave them nuance in Disnaeland.
He admits that at first, his characters were mostly satirical. It was his editor that encouraged him to flesh them out. To create these characters, D.D. drew on aspects of himself – even the most heinous characters in Disnaeland are informed by parts of him.
He recalls that Gustave Flaubert, when asked who the eponymous character of Madame Bovary was based on, replied, ‘Madam Bovary is me!’ D.D. tells us it’s important to think sympathetically about unfortunate or unlikable characters.
There are several tools at an author’s disposal when it comes to creating characters. Using description and dialogue can convey personality. Having your characters engage dynamically with the world around them is another vital step. If all D.D.’s characters responded to the apocalypse in the same way, they wouldn’t be rounded or fleshed out.
Subscribe to our mailing list to receive our newsletters, deals and updates. Join the Barbican Press family!