One day when visiting my mom, we strolled past the local branch of the public library. Stacks of discards were sitting outside, being sold for a quarter apiece. I picked out a couple, including On the Third Day, by Piers Paul Read.
This came as a fitting consequence — a reply, a sign even — to the brief, theologically weak, all-round blasphemous but highly entertaining discussion we'd had at supper a few nights previously: where was Jesus on the second day (in body or spirit)?
In brief, archeologists find what appear to be the remains of Christ in a cistern under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Catholic expert in the expedition is found dead shortly thereafter, an apparent suicide, but some people suspect foul play.
From this beginning I expected a solid murder mystery with a religious twist. The book tries to be much more, exploring Catholic dogma and the philosophy of religion in general, Israeli politics, and the psyche of our characters, each significantly marked by their childhoods. The book is far too short to do justice to these topics and suffers as result — it's unfocused and jumpy.
The religious subject matter I personally find compelling; the writing was less engaging. The characters were over the top, and the politics confused and bored me (it's something I simply don't know much about). (I read another book by Piers Paul Read some years ago — Polonaise. Again, the material was fascinating to me for personal reasons, but I wouldn't recommend his books to just anyone.)
So. If you find Christ's body, like any other dead man's skeleton, what does this mean for your faith? If the body remains, was he or was he not resurrected? Does it matter?
The author explores personal faith — how it is lost and how it is found — rather well. Also colourful is the politics injected into the scenes featuring Church officials — the fictitious order of monks (or so I discern it to be, to the best of my Googling ability) is a very conservative one and, along with references to Cardinal Ratzinger (the novel was published in 1991), is shown in a curious, if not exactly critical, light.
The questions raised are certainly worth asking.
(For those people who ask why J-F and I don't get married, and for whom the reply "We already are" is too cryptic, I have memorized this passage: "The Church only blesses a marriage. The state only registers it. A marriage itself is made between two people who commit themselves to each other forever.")