FQ: You have such a vast background in education, from earning your Master of Divinity to a Master of Arts in Hebrew Studies. What made you begin to walk down such a highly extensive educational path?
JOHNSON: Like the main character (and narrator) of Dancing with David, Stella Maris, I entered ministry early, at the age of 20 in 1974. Within a couple of years, I was struggling with the sense of a “Call” to ministry. I chose to turn my passion for the Greek and Hebrew of the biblical text toward academia. Stella’s struggle with her “Calling” resembles my own. In Dancing with David, I allow David to also struggle with his Calling. Were it not for Stella’s Muse-like urging, my David might have resisted the Call to appear before the prophet Samuel to be anointed king, choosing instead to stay in the Shepherd’s Fields where he was tending his father’s sheep.
FQ: With all the awards you’ve earned, as well, can you tell readers what is one that sticks out in your mind as being the most unforgettable?
JOHNSON: Without doubt, the award that sticks out for me was the American Bible Society Award for Excellence in Biblical Language Study. That was in 1984 at my graduation in Memphis, chosen from among all students by our language professors.
FQ: I learned about your research background and was wondering if diving into history and researching/exploring ancient cultures, religions, and texts is a passion of yours? If so, is there a legend/subject that you have yet to delve into that is on your list to explore?
JOHNSON: Oh yes. My studies in both Memphis and Ann Arbor introduced me to Akkadian (Babylonian) and Ugaritic (Canaanite). I did work on a collection of cuneiform tablets from Mari, located on the Euphrates River in modern-day Syria. The city, destroyed in 1800 BCE by King Hammurabi of Babylon, was located in 1933. Excavations revealed the palace of Mari’s last king, Zimri-lim, its library yielding over 20,000 tablets! In similar fashion to Dancing with David, which takes the non-biblical Psalm 151 discovered at the Dead Sea in 1956, then imagines a 2021 discovery in another cave that unearths the original, full text of David’s long-lost song, I hope to someday do the same with one of the most mysterious of the Mari texts.
FQ: How did this particular story come about? Were you researching King David and came across data, or is this more of a creation forming in the imagination that you wished to present in a fictional story?
JOHNSON: While studying Hebrew poetry in the late 1980s with the renowned Hebrew scholar David Noel Freedman in Ann Arbor, he introduced our doctoral seminar to Psalm 151, discovered in Cave 11 in 1956. In autobiographical form, David writes of his being called from the sheep to be anointed by Samuel, and then of his defeat of Goliath. After that...NOTHING. What if, I’ve always wondered, some future archaeologist one day discovers a much more extensive version of the same psalm? Not wanting to wait and see...I decided to make it happen! Thus...my archaeologist, David Aaronson, discovers the full story of David on six tablets (but not the mysterious, lost/hidden seventh tablet). The six tablets bring David’s story all the way to his lewd dancing as he led the Ark into his newly conquered City of David, Jerusalem. Will the Seventh Tablet take us all the way to his deathbed, and to his dying prophesy of one day returning in spirit to father a miracle child for the healing of the nations?
FQ: I believe it would be very interesting for readers to see David Aaronson again. Could this be a series character, or will this remain a single title?
JOHNSON: I am pleased to hear you ask this...I think the story ends in such a way that demands a continuation, a sequel in which not only David and Stella play a role, but also the baby, Regina.
FQ: Along those lines, are you currently working on your next project? If so, can you tell readers a bit about it?
JOHNSON: I am working on the next project, but in such embryonic form that I probably shouldn’t issue any teasers just yet. I will say that I want the story to intertwine the future and past – weaving Regina’s story with that of the Shomrim (Keepers) who preserved David’s Seventh Tablet for 3000 years.
FQ: Your foray into being the Arkansas Director of Travel Ministries, leading and lecturing over thirty tours to the Holy Land, Europe, etc. sounds like a thrilling job. Can you tell readers a few “favorite” sites that you’ve set foot on in these locales?
JOHNSON: Absolutely. Of all the faith-based journeys I’ve led (or encouraged other pastors to lead), my favorite is, without question, the Holy Land, a truly life-changing experience where the delineation between a tourist and a pilgrim becomes evident. The pilgrim’s quest is for more than to feel relaxed or to have fun or to behold beauty in an exotic landscape. The pilgrim’s quest is to discover something of themselves that can only be revealed by the Land, by the holy sites. My favorite in Israel? The Old City of Jerusalem with all its gates, its ancient walls, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Pool of Bethesda, Hezekiah’s Tunnel and, of course, where my story concludes – the Mount of Olives, especially the Church of All Nations and Dominus Flevit. Other sites? Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Ephesus and its ruins, especially the library and the amphitheater. Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica, there to meet Michelangelo at the Pieta, and Bernini at the Dove Window. Vienna and St. Mark’s golden ceiling. The list is endless.
FQ: If there is one historical icon/figure you could choose to spend an hour with, who would that be and what is the one question you would love to ask them?
JOHNSON: With Dancing with David consuming two years, it would be natural for me to answer David. I think, though, that I might not aim that high, but satisfy myself to sit with his royal sopher (scribe), Shemaiah ben Nethanel. He is described in 1 Chronicles 24:6 as a scribe, “a Levite who recorded in the presence of the king.” I make this Shemaiah the one who records David’s last psalm on six tablets and hides them at the Dead Sea in the cave we know today as Cave 53. Shemaiah is my mystery character who hides the seventh tablet, and with mysterious powers guides its transmission to the point, on March 17, 2022, when Stella and David find the tablet (or, rather, it finds them). My question for him? I think I should ask Shemaiah if he’s offended by my musings, or if he had as much fun as I did!