An Interview with Author Dr. Juan Marcos Bejarano-Gutierrez

Dr. Juan Marcos Bejarano-Gutierrez
Dr. Juan Marcos Bejarano-Gutierrez

Rabbi Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez is a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas. He earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering. He studied at the Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Cleveland. He received a Master of Arts Degree in Judaic Studies. He completed his doctoral studies at the Spertus Institute in Chicago in 2015. He studied at the American Seminary for Contemporary Judaism and received rabbinic ordination in 2011 from Yeshivat Mesilat Yesharim.

Rabbi Bejarano Gutierrez was a board member of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies from 2011-2013. He has published various articles in HaLapidThe Journal for Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Crypto-Jews, and Apuntes-Theological Reflections from a Hispanic-Latino Context. He is the author of What is Kosher? and What is Jewish Prayer? and eighteen other books on Jewish history and interfaith dialogue.

  • Where are you from?

I am a native Texan.  I was born in Dallas and currently live in the suburb of Grand Prairie. I have traveled extensively in the US and abroad but enjoy living in Texas.

  • Why do you write? 

Writing is a unique vehicle to communicate the things I have learned. My undergraduate degree was in engineering. But my master’s and doctorate were focused on Jewish studies. I also received rabbinic ordination, and a vital part of communicating a lesson or class is through writing. Every graduate class required extensive research papers. My thesis and dissertation were challenging projects, but they helped cultivate my love of writing.

  • What do you write about? 

I write on three primary topics. The first is the history of Sephardic Jews, i.e., the history of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. The second is on the Jewish background of Christianity and Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue. I believe this second topic is critical in today’s world as we seek to foster a better understanding of these two historic religions. The last area I write on is about general Jewish topics related to Jewish life, practice, and observance.

  • Do you have a specific writing style?

Most of my writing is academic because of my studies. However, I recently started writing fiction. It’s an adventure for me since I have not done this before.  I still do quite a bit of research for my novels, but obviously, creativity is essential here. The story is not “fixed” as my academic titles are.

  • What are obstacles that come in the way of writing? 

The critical issue is time. I am an engineer by day. I am a husband to a beautiful wife and a father of three little boys. I am also the rabbi of two small communities, so fitting in writing is challenging. It usually happens before everyone is up or while I am holding the baby.

  • Whats the most memorable thing asked/said by a reader about your work?

A reader of one of my books titled Killing the Torah: The Origins of Christian Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism noted that they had reconsidered their previous theological assumptions after finishing the work. It was extremely encouraging because it highlighted my goal of thoughtful consideration and reassessment of age-old views.

  • How long have you been writing?

I started writing my first book when I was in college ~1993. I didn’t finish that book until 2004. I dropped writing beyond my academic requirements until 2016 and have been writing consistently since.

  •  When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?

I was always an avid reader. I won an award for reading the most pages in the second grade, but I didn’t imagine my love for reading would translate to writing. Books have always been part of my life, and I have owned small bookstores in past years, so the jump to writing was not a radical one, I believe.

  • What is your work schedule like when you are writing?

I am a full-time engineer, so my writing is limited to mornings before work, sometimes during lunch, mainly in the evenings. My time is rarely focused solely on writing. I usually have the baby in my arms, trying to give my wife a break. So it comes in spurts.

  • What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I suppose I set an unrealistic schedule for finishing a project. It makes me motivated to write more, and while no one is setting the due date, the pressure seems to add some energy to the project.

  • How long does it take to write a book? (if you’ve written one -published or non)

This all depends on the type. I have one book that is 562 pages long. It’s a scholarly review of early Christianity in its Jewish contexts titled Forgotten Origins: The Lost Jewish History of Jesus and Early Christianity. I believe that one took me a solid six months. I have other works that are much shorter and can take roughly two months.

  • Do you have suggestions on how to become a better writer?

I think reading your writing aloud or having someone do that can be very helpful. I am converting many of my books to audio now. When I hear the narrator read certain sentences, they sound very different to me. I think it’s a necessary process to help the writer to improve the style of their manuscript.

  • What challenges do you come across when writing/creating your story?

In my academic writing, there is always a challenge in how much to include or how much to leave out. Some books are intended as a basic introduction, and then I receive comments about how the book needed more explanation. However, if I write a more in-depth work, it can be challenging for many people.

  • What do you think makes a good story?

As far as fiction is concerned, I think the unexpected. This is a new genre for me, so I am drawing from fiction writers that I like. Translating that to my stories can be complicated, but I feel that it’s a process like anything.

  • What does your family think of your writing? 

My wife is incredibly supportive. She also writes. My eight-year-old son just finished a short book which he published through Story Jumper. He was so excited to receive a physical copy. He was proud to show it to me and said it was just like the books I published.

  • Do you see writing as a career?

It’s a dream. I’ve sold ~20,000 books so far since 2018, so I am far off from that goal, but I feel I am making progress. I am working toward that goal every day.

  • Do you have anything specific you’d like to tell the readers?

If you are interested in the nexus between Judaism and Christianity in a respectful manner and yet also want something historically accurate which delves into complicated issues like anti-Semitism,  I believe you will enjoy my books.

  • When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Amazon has the Best Sellers Ranks for various categories. Once I saw my books appearing regularly on the top 100 list of several categories, I felt legitimate enough to say I was a writer. Of course, I want to see this consistently for more titles, but it gave me the confidence to continue writing.

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