If you’re like me, every so often you end up enjoying a book way more than you should have. For some folks that book could be a predictable mystery. For others, a cheesy romance. Some readers can’t resist cheap, shoot ’em up bang-bang detective thrillers. For others, it’s those mass-marketed pieces of science fiction or fantasy that draws them in like moths to a flame. Let’s be honest; we all have our guilty pleasures.
That’s how I’m feeling right now about ‘s 2011 novel The Constantine Codex. It’s not everyday I read something published by Tyndale House, which is known for its long line of evangelical Christian books. The novel’s author Paul L. Maier is currently Third Vice President of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, after serving as the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University.
The hero of Maier’s story is Jonathan Weber: Harvard Professor of New Testament Studies, devout Lutheran and Christian apologist. After his archeologist wife Sharon finds evidence pointing to the existence of a long-lost Biblical manuscript, the intrepid couple soon find themselves flipping through dust-covered ancient texts as they hop from one Old World monastic library to another. Just to make things interesting, there’s powerful forces secretly working in the background trying to throttle their mission. As an international thriller blending elements of mystery, ancient history, church politics and geopolitical intrigue, The Constantine Codex comes across like The Da Vinci Code for the orthodox Christian set.
Crazy thing is I found myself enjoying it.
What makes the sought after codex so special is, besides being older than any Biblical manuscript in existence, it contains two ancient pieces of scripture that would reaffirm, and in essence re-energize the traditionalists’ view of Christianity: a lost ending for the Book of Mark that describes in detail the resurrection and the great commission and a Second Book of Acts that chronicles St. Paul’s life beginning where the previous Book of Acts abruptly ends. The Da Vinci Code is about the secrets that could destroy Christianity. The Constantine Codex is the race to confirm it.
I found it chaste, but not stupid. While written for a Christian – at the very least fairly sympathetic – audience, I never found my intelligence insulted. (But then again, when should that be anyone’s chief concern!) There’s not a lot of depth to the characters, but they do have their charm. Like any decent story there’s a bit of humor thrown in as well. There’s also a side story involving a progressive Muslim cleric which at first seems to detract from the main story. However, without revealing too much let’s just say his role ends up being far from insignificant.
After having a surprisingly good time with ‘s The Constantine Codex, I’m tempted to read a few of his other novels. His More than a Skeleton and A Skeleton in God’s Closet both look promising. It’s also inspired me to read two other books dealing with long-lost ancient texts. Matt Friedman’s The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books would make a fun follow-up to The Constantine Codex, as might Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza. Thanks to Maier it looks like I have some reading ahead of me. ‘s