DECATUR - The son of the late Walter Maier, speaker for "The Lutheran Hour" radio program in the 1930s and '40s, Paul Maier had a natural curiosity about the Bible that often confounded his Sunday school teachers.

His hobby of comparing the sacred and the secular grew into a lifelong study of ancient history that has shown him that historical accounts not only prove the events recorded in the Bible but offer additional insights as well.

"This is an incredible amount of fact, not fiction, we're dealing with here," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Oshtemo, Mich.

Maier, a professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, is the author of "In the Fullness of Time," about Jesus and early Christianity. He is coming to Decatur in two weeks to lead a public seminar on the New Testament.

A bit embarrassed to admit he's passed through Decatur a time or two but never visited, he said he plans to address archaeology as one of God's "backup systems," share new perspectives on Jesus and his life, crucifixion and resurrection, and discuss the subsequent explosion of Christianity.

Topics include the Magi, the Star, Herod the Great, the raising of Lazarus, Holy Week and the politics behind the crucifixion.

"We know about six times as much about Pontius Pilate, the judge who condemned Jesus, from outside the Bible as we do inside," Maier said. "This shows that everything he did at the trial is quite consistent with his being a fairly honest judge trying to do the right thing."

Maier is second vice president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and has also written religious fiction, including "A Skeleton in God's Closet" in 1994 and "More Than a Skeleton" in 2003. "A Skeleton in Rome" is scheduled to be published next year.

But he sharply criticizes Dan Brown and other writers of religious fiction for errors in their background information.

"I don't care what he does with his foreground characters, but there are about six errors per page in 'The DaVinci Code,' " Maier said. "If Brown were writing about World War II, he'd have no trouble saying Hitler won and put Roosevelt on trial in Washington."

If you go

SEMINAR: "New Horizons in the New Testament."

SPEAKER: Paul Maier.

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21.

WHERE: Lutheran School Association, 2001 E. Mound Road.

TICKETS: $12 adults; $8 age 60 and older and age 18 and under (lunch included).

ALSO: Maier will preach Sunday, Aug. 22, at 8 and 11:30 a.m. services at St. John's Lutheran Church, 2727 N. Union Blvd.

RESERVATIONS: Call St. John's at 875-3656.

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