Over the past year I’ve read several novels that the Book-of-the-Month Club calls “artifact thrillers.” Others call them “religious thrillers,” while others just call them rip-offs of The Da Vinci Code
. Beliefnet called them “heretical beach books
They usually involve a lost manuscript, Mary Magdalene, the Knights Templar, hidden messages in artwork, Cathars or Essenes – you get the picture. They almost always involve some deep dark secret that, if found out, will supposedly destroy the Christian faith. So the bad guys in these novels often turn out to be high-ranking officials in the Roman Catholic Church, who are all too willing to commit murder in order to protect the faith.
If you’ve read The Da Vinci Code
, or seen the movie Stigmata
, you know the basic drill. Thing is, I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code
. As well as Stigmata
. Yes, they have their flaws, but they’re entertaining, and they do have some
basis in historical fact. (Notice I italicized some
.) So I keep on reading these “artifact thrillers,” just like I keep on reading Hard Case Crime
novels. Even though at times the religious thrillers – unlike the Hard Case Crime novels – strain credulity and make me wonder why I waste my time on them.
Take, for example, the one I recently finished reading: The Expected One
, by Kathleen McGowan. If you think you might read it, stop reading this blog entry now. If you don’t want to know the “deep dark secret” of this novel, click away from my blog now and visit another blog. Here’s a good one
. And here’s a little blank space before I launch into the spoiler:
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
Refreshingly, in The Expected One
, the Roman Catholic church is not
portrayed as evil. But in this novel, which is subtitled “Book One of the Magdalene Line,” Mary Magdalene is not only married to Jesus, she was also previously married to John the Baptist, who apparently was a complete jerk given to domestic violence. So Jesus was part of “an intricate love triangle that altered the course of history” – as it’s breathlessly phrased on the author's website
It’s an interesting, although creepy, plot device, but here’s the thing that really bugs me: in the lengthy and heart-felt Afterword to the novel, the author presents all this as fact. She also presents as fact the long-lost “gospel” of Mary Magdalene [not the actual Gospel of Mary Magdalene
; the one in this novel is more like a memoir], which is excerpted in the novel – and which reads like a modern-day confessional, not at all like a first-century manuscript. Of course, the author can’t reveal the sources of her new knowledge “for reasons of security,” but she does maintain that the document is authentic, as is the “fact” of Mary’s two marriages. The author fretted over revealing this knowledge to the world: “I don’t think I’ve slept through the night in more than ten years as I have agonized over the details in this book and its potential repercussions.”
A bit melodramatic, yes, and in some ways it spoils an otherwise-entertaining novel to know that the author actually believes
her own farfetched fiction. But she is following the basic premise of many of the novels in this new genre, the idea that there is some hidden secret that, if discovered, will supposedly destroy the Christian faith. In some of the novels it’s a long-lost gospel, sometimes (as in Stigmata
) a gospel written in Jesus’ own hand. Sometimes the horrible secret is an ossuary containing the bones of Jesus, or some other “proof” that he didn’t resurrect from the dead.
All this makes me wonder: Could any such thing ever really destroy, or even threaten, the Christian faith? Or even one
individual’s authentically-held faith?
Is there anything, dear blog readers, that you can think of that would destroy your own faith? Can your faith be shaken by an archeological find, or by a scientific theory or discovery? I invite you to respond by clicking on the “comments” button below. I’d really like to know.