The Messiah Scrolls, as digital literature was lost in an expanding digital blizzard

Author's Note: Predicting the future on the Web’s 25th anniversary Experts say the Internet will become ‘like electricity’ over the next decade – less visible, yet more deeply embedded in people’s lives, with many good and potentially bad results. This statement, thanks to friends at #DBW: HREF=""> sets up why such historical, biblical web books as The Messiah Scrolls are important to read and keep for reference, or (indeed make a film about*). Because it tells in a single, scriptural, imaginative narrative what we need to know about Christian beginnings and the lessons to be implemented for today. But when will this story be told. The Messiah Scrolls was lost in an expanding digital blizzard. "Between 2000 and 2010 the (digital) explosion in self publishing raised the number of new books issued per year to 3.1 million from 122,000." Quoted from a new book, "Sharing Stream and Stealing" by Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang .

Background: This web site presents an on-line novel in which Christian beliefs and history are explored within historical fiction. Publishers, elitist authors and secular essayists tend to dismiss Christian fiction and Christian themed movies. Nonetheless, our readers are exploring with excitement the pleasures of reading online. Web-books such as mine involve different kinds of interaction, in contrast to print books (which require only simple eye movements or the turning of a page). To fully enjoy them, readers must interact with the living pages, by choosing their preferred reading paths and level of detail, and in the case of my book, by actually following pop-up definitions, links to source materials and by an interactive annotating of the text.

Digital techniques can facilitate on-line reading, but the most important driver is providing "content with utility", according to Daniel Roth, Executive Editor of LinkedIn, in a video interview with Meghan Peters, Mashable's Community Manager. In my opinion, although many people over 40 (Christian or non-Christian) do not read online books, my digital media web-book is a good example of fictional/historical Christian "content with utility" for the believer. The pay-offs for those who persevere include understanding the origins (content) of the first Christian community as well as a deepened understanding of Scripture.

I argue that in the digital world (just as in the print world) scripturally based story telling or movie telling, nonfiction or fiction, will rule the religious day for both believers and skeptics. In agreement, Edelman PR has produced a YouTube introduction to the importance of stories:
content is more important than context, bandwidth, networks, big data, social media, or virtual experiences

*I also argue that the Messiah Scrolls is destined to be scripted, produced and viewed as a movie for a time and age, truly appropriate, as the world culture shreds and absorbs the heritage of the Christian culture. My father, Arthur B. Chatelain (20th Century-Fox Studio), received a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1946 for the design, construction and use of the 20th Century-Fox film processing machine. I dedicate any effort or success in selling movie rights or participating in any film production related to the Messiah Scrolls, to him.


The Messiah Scrolls' organizing question in the novel is, "How did ten to twelve rag-tag apostles and their cult leader, Jesus, not only stand down the Roman Empire but, by 74 AD, build two hundred Messiah Communities that eventually established Christianity as a dominant personal, social, cultural and literary force for the next two thousand years?"

In other words, the goal of the full Messiah Scrolls novel is to show in a Biblically inspired fictional narrative the formation and stunningly rapid growth of the original Christian community. I was saddened by what Paul Elie wrote in his article "Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?": "This, in short, is how Christian belief figures into literary fiction in our place and time: as something between a dead language and a hangover. Forgive me if I exaggerate. But if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature." Christian literary fiction, more so digital media, is alive and well if authors will remain with variations within the confines of the basic Christian story, it's history and historic characters.

Scott Turow's essay about the slow death of the American author argues that “a diverse literary culture, created by authors whose livelihoods, and thus independence, can’t be threatened, is essential to democracy.” In his concern for the livelihoods of authors, particularly the elite caste of authors who dominated the “diverse literary culture” prior to the e-literature revolution, Turow fails to mention that the hallmark of a diverse literary culture will be content utility, whether fiction or non-fiction.

Where Christian content is concerned, I see a pitched battle between Evangelicals, both Catholic and Protestant, and secularists, both atheistic and non-affiliated. TM Luhrmann calls for a dialogue between skeptics and believers, from which both sides would benefit. My contribution to this dialogue is the Messiah Scrolls online novel hosted on this web site.

Essayist James Wood has his own idea about why novels themselves can be regarded as post-Christian: "It was not just the ascent of science but perhaps the ascent of the novel that helped to kill off Jesus' divinity." Wood's implication is fiction has not just lost, but crucified, its faith. Channeling Paul Elie, I would say the spirit of Wood with counterpart elite publishers and authors eliminate the believer as well. According to Elie, ". . . literary fiction has all these things. All that is missing is the believer." According to New York Times Book Review editor Parul Sehgal, James Wood was, "...raised in the evangelical tradition . . . He (Wood) reads messianically, with a hunger for fiction to answer the questions religion once did." Along with Martin Heidegger who believed that natural types of theology were never salvific, I wish Woods good luck with that.

In summary, given this bias by the literary elite, and given that static print still dominates book culture, digital genres, again thanks to larger mobile reading screens, are rapidly gaining reader acceptance, and will continue healthy growth as application entrepreneurs, users, readers and players further experiment and produce successfully with them. The ninth wave of digital content utility has come (The digital blizzard mentioned in the introduction). Again, thank you my readers for your encouragement and support of my contribution to this dialogue and adventure. If not already a Scrolls online reader, you are invited to register (no charge, email confirmation required) and read part of the novel.


  1. An authorial viewpoint concerning ancient literary materials, which as of 74 AD are soon to be established as a factual body of God’s work in Christ Jesus propagated by the Holy Spirit, to be known as the First Century Old and New Testaments.
  2. An authorial viewpoint concerning a group of mythopoetic scrolls (the “Messiah” scrolls), which provide the narrative context for the behavior of the first factual/fictional disciples as they prepare to and propagate the Old and New Testaments through the centuries. The Messiah Scrolls are to the Old and New Testaments as the Silmarillion is to The Lord of the Rings.
  3. Exploring multiple ways of interacting with text using the tools of digital media. I have been reading Espen Aarseth’s Cybertext and Markku Eskelinen’s Cybertext Poetics, and will say more about this in a future on-line essay.

The opinion of modern scholarship is that the origins of Christian writing are primitive, from oral scratchings, and not literary in any sense. For the disciple authors portrayed in this web-book, their eyewitness to the Presence and teachings of God on earth set firmly God’s agenda in their hearts. The Holy Spirit stirring within allowed them to not only project, narrate and scribe the character of God through Christ, but bequeathed a community, a Christ Culture, ensuring the preservation and transmission of what He wanted believers and hearers to know through scripture: Himself and his plan for the world.

Latter day authors acknowledge that the disciples could speak it, but could they write it? Or would the authorship of the New Testament, as post-modernists claim, require erudite scholars and theologians another three centuries later?

However, these latter day post-modernist scholars, who presently know, and historically knew, only what Christ taught by others' grapha and hearsay, possess none of His back story or the answers to why Christ did what He did: precious knowledge required for a full Testament hermeneutic that only first century, direct eyewitness can bring.

Jesus Christ did not find His disciples ready and fit to scribe His Message, but sent the Holy Spirit, to “bring remembrance of all I (Jesus Christ) have said to you,” making them fit to scribe His message. (See John 14: 12-17, 25-26)

No, for those at Pentecost and those like Paul, who directly experience the presence of Christ, the Holy Spirit infuses not only actions and works, but a literary skill into those disciples chosen to author and scribe and tell the story of the Christian revolution.

At Pentecost and afterwards, the Holy Spirit also infused the first Christians with a "community hermeneutic" - precursor to the full first century communal entity known as Community Zero – establishing what Laurence Kohlberg of Harvard and Jim Fowler of Emory call "Community Norming", and creating sustainable community [Footnote 1].

The Messiah Scrolls web-novel envisions that the New Testament, except for the three Epistles of John and the last six chapters of Revelation, was completely written before 74 AD, setting literary benchmarks for scripture from that time to our own. Hardly primitive, this is the true literary impact of the praxis [Footnote 2] of the New Testament authors.

This Scrolls web-novel further posits that most texts of the New Testament were produced in the Alexandria region (New Rhakotis) and in Judea (Villa Joppa, near modern day Tel Aviv). Using papyri made from organic material from the Nile delta, all Testament texts were produced by the Therapeutae Religious Sect and possessed the characteristics of clarity of Hebrew and Greek meanings, with brevity in grammatical form and style. These testaments have become known as the Alexandrian Texts.

New Testament texts acknowledged to have been reviewed or written in the next three centuries after 74 AD are given names like Western Text, Syrian text and Caesarean Text. These texts are characterized by the paraphrasing of the Alexandrian Texts, many times omitting verses or even editing out an entire grouping of verses from the original Alexandrian Texts.

The text for the Gospel of John was larger than other New Testament Texts, with each leaf of papyri measuring 36 inches wide and 42 inches in height, 90 leaves total, scribed on both sides (recto and verso). In that the Gospel of John was to be preached from in the Messiah Follower communities, its calligraphy was larger and more pronounced, making it easier to read aloud in public.

So, dear friends, I invite you to engage with the Messiah Scrolls and judge for yourself whether it's possible to present Christian fiction in the form of a digital novel. To follow a discussion on the topic of Christian fiction survival visit #NovelZero on Twitter. You may purchase full access immediately, or there are free preview chapters (which let you sample the novel's setting and themes) available in return for registration and confirmation of your email address. Previewers may click through to purchase full access at any time. Enjoy reading! Again, thanks for your support.

SPRING 2012 Don Chatelain
UCLA BS '57 MBA '67 Bethel Seminary MDiv '99
Twitter: @messiahscrolls

[1] sustainable community: the Greek term for “sustainable” is “poiesis” (poy-eh-sis). As defined in the Messiah scrolls, it includes:

(a) Living, loving as Jesus is and as His Spirit guides, with civility toward one another;

(b) Magistrated justice in a chaotic world;

(c) Merciful sharing of natural, material blessings;

(d) Ethnic and gender equality in relationships;

(e) Contributing culturally to stable polities;

(f) Working economically within a Community of Goods;

(g) Propagating community ethos (showing moral character);

(h) Leaving all vengeance to Maker God. (Romans 12:19)

In other words, "poesis" or "sustainable" as used here brings together the original ethical intent of Maker God for life events (praxis), aesthetics and art, philosophy, science, culture, technology, the environment, economics, communications, and politics.

[2] praxis: the Messiah Praxis scroll is one of seven Messiah scrolls. This scroll explicates the "rule of true community". Praxis combines the Etruscan loan word supposition with the Greek word conduct to mean “act of freely submitting ideas and actions to suppositions learned and skills enacted”. The seven Messiah scrolls, part of a large, non-canonical group based on the Alexandrian Tertian Tablet, are identified by the names Life, Praxis, War, Nature, Spirit, Formula and Knowledge.


Cybertext Poetics: The Critical Landscape of New Media Literary Theory by Markku Eskelinen (2012)
Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature by Espen J. Aarseth (1997)