Despite the title, the beginning of this blog is about the book The Lost Testament, by James Becker.
A really really really badly written book I read because of the premise and because I'm researching bestselling thriller authors. But this was truly bad:
"Excellent," the emperor purred. "Now summon help." (5)
"This is a private matter," he said. "Kindly leave us." (2)
That's Emperor Constantine, perhaps from the 60s Batman show. But that dialogue is terrible.
Characters are always "suddenly realizing" things. And I love this one:
"Instantly both figures froze into immobility beside the wall." (7)
If you freeze, of course you're also immobile. And when a reader sees "instantly," he expects to see some kind of action, not a lack of action.
(And, yes, I realize I've quoted from just the first seven pages. I did read the whole thing, and I'm tired and lazy, and it's 1:07 a.m.)
The lost testament of the title is shown only a few times in the book, and for some reason nobody seems in a hurry to translate it. People associated with it are dying all over the place, and the flaps tell us the real document it's based on, yet we're not told what the document in the book says until the very last few pages. I'll ruin it for you: It says what the flaps say the real thing says. Ugh.
There's an ex-husband and ex-wife team, but they don't seem excited or scared about anything, and neither's smart enough to be another Robert Langdon. Chris Bronson (not Charles Bronson) is an ex-cop, but he doesn't seem to know the laws of anything. It's unclear if he's on vacation, on sabbatical, or on suspension. He doesn't seem to know where he is much of the time. Angela Lewis is a historian, but she hates dating things, especially old jars, and she doesn't seem terribly interested in the document, which could blow the lid off the Church and make blowhard politicians in the American South rather unhappy. (This is actually hinted at in the book.) The author and characters seem to be British, but you only know that because British towns are frequently mentioned, and words like "tram" and "lift" are used. Yawn.
Though most of this book takes place in and near Vatican City and Cairo, none of that is described. The Vatican isn't described. Neither is Rome, or any city in Egypt, or the document itself. Later the book takes place in Portugal and Spain, but you only know that because the characters say so. Bleh.
The document in question, for real, is much more interesting than this book ever hopes to be. It's a document of a trial, supposedly written by a lawyer-ish guy. The trial is of a Roman soldier, a certain Panthera (or Pantera) who has raped a local woman, and impregnated her. Raping your captives during times of military occupation or war was a crime then like it is now (though it happens all the time now, and I'm sure it also did then.) Anyway, Panthera is on trial for this rape, and the document insinuates that he's clearly guilty, and witnesses are produced to prove it. This would often lead to the rapist's death, as the military, then and now, wants to show it's in charge of its own soldiers. However, then as now, such things are hushed up. In this case, he was found not guilty.
All of this refers to the Pantera Rape, which if you don't know, [if you're a severely religious Christian, you might want to bow out here] is the story that Mary was not impregnated by the Almighty, but (as alleged by a man named Jerod of Cana) by a Roman guard named Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera (or Panthera), who rapes her. (Or it's consensual, as was the belief at the time, for those who believed this to begin with. Scholars have complained for years how the many Marys of the Bible seem to be confused with each other--not good, if one is the mother and the other a reformed prostitute.) At any rate, a Yusef bar Heli (Joseph) of around Tzippori (a town in Israel attacked by the Romans in 4 BCE; notice the similarity to Moses's wife, Zipporah) is upset with her (and not the Roman archer, per se) because she's pregnant, (and no longer a virgin, nor a woman first taken by her husband). And so, as she's now considered defiled, he turns her out, and she gives birth to Jesus in the middle of nowhere. She would've been barely in her teens at this point, perhaps 11 or 12.
This is actually not a new story, as this book and my research point out. It may even pre-date many of the Gospels. An ancient writer / philosopher, named Celsus, was the first to fully write of this, but a great many others did soon thereafter. Celsus and the others say this story was widely known during their day, and during the days of the Disciples. Celsus's work, titled The True Word [or Account, Doctrine or Discourse] is lost, but much of it is quoted by Origen, about a hundred years later, so he can refute it in a book of his own, which is called Against Celsus [Contra Celsum].
Whether you accept this or not, this is already more interesting than a book written by a guy who's watched too many bad 50s beefcake gladiator epics and bad 90s cop shows, right?
A few points:
--Celsus (who was clearly biased and anti-Christian), in about 177 A.D. (when the Christians were being persecuted in Rome, and long after Jesus and Paul and the others had died), said, in defense of his belief, that the original Christians were maybe a little confused. He gave examples:
--If Jesus is born as an infinite God, why would an angel warn Joseph and Mary and Jesus to hit the road before Herod kills Him? Furthermore, wouldn't God, His Father, be able to protect Him from Herod, a finite human?
--How can an immortal man die, on the cross or otherwise? If you're resurrected, you've died first, by definition. Literally, not figuratively. Like how Lazarus had to die first, by definition.
--It's said that Joseph and Jesus were carpenters. But Jesus is also said to have taught at a synagogue. Would the Jewish leaders let a carpenter from a tiny backwater teach at the synagogue?
--If not, then the word in this document attributed to Jesus and Joseph being carpenters (vulgar Latin "naggar") could mean its other connotation: "craftsman." As in, a "craftsman of words," perhaps. Like I would be a wordsmith, but not a blacksmith, today. But, either way, a "craftsman."
--Why didn't His disciples fear Him as a God? Instead, one betrays Him, one doubts Him, and another perjures Him.
--And why didn't they cease these actions, if they thought of Him as a God?
--And if they didn't think of Him as an infinite God, who else ever would?
--Celsus mentioned it was commonly known in his own time (and that of the previous 80-100 years of the NT) that the Bible had been "corrupted from its original integrity" and "remodeled" to try to explain discrepancies or paradoxes in the text. I'll provide an example from the OT: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" and "Thou shalt not kill." Can't be both, right?
--If Jesus is descended "from the first man, and from the kings of the Jews" then why are Joseph, Mary and Jesus seemingly unaware of their "illustrious descent?" If I'm descended from Adam or from King David, I'm always going to know it, and I'm going to let it be known. Several times.
--"After so long a period of time, then, did God now bethink himself of making men live righteous lives, but neglect to do so before?" I've pointed this out before: Since the first man walked, why would just one Savior appear only at that one time in human history? Why not also at any other time thousands of years before--or about 2000 years since? The OT is at least 3,000 years old, and the NT is about 2,000 years old. A novel-in-progress of mine now is about a small group of people who attempt to write their own Bible. "It's overdue," one of them says. "It's time," says another.
--Celsus is amongst the first to point out that the Bible uses the word "day" before the heavens, the sun and the Earth are fully created. Without all three in existence already, there is no "day."
--As I've also mentioned: Why does God need to rest? "After this...He is weary...who stands in need of rest to refresh himself..."
Lastly, one of my preferred beliefs: "One ought to first follow reason as a guide before accepting any belief, since anyone who believes without first testing a doctrine is certain to be deceived."
Indeed--How strong is an untested belief?
Anyway, whether you're with him or not, it's more interesting to research the Pantera / Mary document than it is to read this book. So read the Bible, and read Celsus, and Origen, and ponder all this stuff, and don't waste your time reading Becker's book.
In fact, the book didn't make me want to know more about this stuff. Dan Brown's books (not masterpieces, either) do make me want to know more about the Vatican, or the Louvre, or D.C., or Da Vinci or Michelangelo and The Last Supper, and---Yeah, I had to supply the interest with this one.
The only kudos here to Becker is that he brings up the document to begin with.