Paul Maier scores another win in this his latest offering of historical fiction. This genre allows for and actually invites discussion of broader issues that the author may or may not have an agenda in promoting. Unlike the sensational claims made in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", Maier does not make attacks upon traditional Christianity (he himself being an Evangelical Christian). He does nevertheless touch upon subjects related to historical Christianity that the reader may never have thought about.
The most obvious of these that come up are the issues of canon and of textual criticism. Just what is the canon? Is it something the church decided upon such that the church stands over the canon, or is it something that the church received, such that the church submits to and stands under the canon? To what extent do issues related to the canon fall under church history or under theology? These are fascinating questions that Maier doesn't go in to, but implicitly invites the reader to explore.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Terrific read!June 4 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Dr. Maier has developed a gripping plot, with terrific characters! The "secondary" plot...a debate with an Islamic expert comparing Christianity with Islam...is one of Maier's outstanding writings. The twists and turns of the main plot are captivating and the people are fascinating. One can "see" the locations through his terrific descriptions. I may have read nearly everything Dr. Maier has written, but this is my favorite of his fictional works! OUTSTANDING.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Cutting edge Christian fictionJune 23 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
As a reader I'm so glad to see Christian writers thinking on the cutting edge at long last and taking a risk. It's been a wonderful 12 months for that. With The Constantine Codex Paul Maier has officially joined the ranks of other writers whose books are poised to expand the Christian fiction category to a level that must be reckoned with!
Out of the books from the last 12 months, I'd call some other Christian writers pioneers in this way. Definitely check these out-- Nike Chillemi's "Burning Hearts" is fascinating: Sanctuary Point Book One: Burning Hearts John Herrick's "From the Dead" is suspense and a gorgeous heart tugger: From The Dead
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Good concept, but needed a co-author (possible spoilers included)Dec 9 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Okay, let me start off by saying that I admire Paul Maier's gifts as a scholar and translator - his versions of Josephus and Eusebius are invaluable. His knowledge of the biblical world also eminently qualifies him to tell stories set at those times - his documentary novel "Pontius Pilate" can easily be set on the shelf next to works like "Ben-Hur" and "Quo Vadis". But brilliant men can't be experts in everything - in Maier's case, works of fiction set in the modern day. "The Constantine Codex" is worth reading for its premise alone, but it suffers from some of the weaknesses that have characterized the author's other novels.
Pros: * A thought-provoking concept - the discovery of missing manuscripts which may revolutionize the study of the New Testament * The content of the Islam vs. Christianity debate - not exhaustive by any means, but a good introduction * Giving venerable scholars like Daniel Wallace and Edwin Yamauchi a chance to be action heroes. * Fast-paced reading; makes scholarly concepts accessible to the general reader
Cons: * The author seems enamored of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and high-church Protestantism, and rather disdainful of evangelicalism, which hardly seems to have a place at the table. * Too-quick acceptance of the additions to Mark and Acts into the canon of Scripture. Though they might rightly have a place, little discussion takes place about signs of divine inspiration - the true test for Scripture. The writers of the New Testament probably wrote many other letters and books, which God has not chosen to preserve with His other inspired writings, and apostolic authorship alone does not make something inspired Scripture. If we found Paul's grocery list, it would be a great archeological find, but not necessarily a document meant for the church to use. * Inadequate conflict, resulting in a low degree of suspense. Even with all the shuffling of documents, the text is still safely preserved in photographs. And since the text complements Scripture, its revelation is not seen as a challenge. The one antagonist is very suddenly revealed, then fizzles. * Many of the same flaws as "A Skeleton in God's Closet" - bad dialogue, awkward romance, and unbelievable scenarios. My suggestion to Paul Maier is, that if he intends to keep writing novels set in the present, he form a writing partnership with a co-author more comfortable with characters outside of the ancient world.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Another riveting book by MaierAug. 8 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Shannon, about to call it quits wither her excavation of a possible site of great historical importance, almost on a whim visited the nearby current-day building with hopes of discovering ancient church records. But when Father Athanasius opened a precious copy of Eusebius's Historia Ekklesiastica to where Eusebius credits his original source, Hegesippus, the 5 pages of parchment serving as a bookmark stole her attention...5 pages that could bring sweeping changes to church history. With Jon, her husband and Harvard professor, the two poured over the Greek manuscript with UV and digital photo technology, to find that this was indeed Hegisippus' work, with shocking references to other documentation and facts. Curiosity peaking, their plans to investigate further get put on hold when an incorrect translation in Jon's book ignites worldwide demonstrations, violence, death threats, and a fatwa on his head. When Jon's friend, the world's foremost theologian in Islam, challenges Jon to a debate, there is little he can do but accept, despite the fact that attempts to support the Bible would be seen as discrediting Islam and the Qur'an, both held in sacrosanct awe. In a debate of worldwide importance, double standards would mean Jon would lose, even if he won. With CIA protectors, "Click and Clack", Jon proceeded to the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople for the debate. Just days before the onslaught, while taking a break to investigate archives, Jon loses his focus on the debate to a tome that Shannon discovered askew on a bulging shelf in the geniza, a room in the basement where old manuscripts are held with hopes of restoring, but more likely, to be held in disrepair or even weeded out. Further death threats, discoveries, and betrayals and suspense make this book impossible to set aside, and the conclusion does not disappoint.
I first became enamored with Paul Maier's writing in "Pontius Pilate", a book I read and reread many times. In The Constantine Codex, Maier enlightens the reader with his vast knowledge of places, times, and biblical history, often through friendly, though unnatural, banter between Jon and Shannon. While those communications did not work for me, that should not dissuade readers. It is a great book that will captivate from beginning to end.
This is my honest review of the Kindle formatted ARC from Tyndale House, through NetGalley.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Very DisappointedJuly 30 2012
Lawrence G. Farlow
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
The premise is intriguing. A biblical scholar and his wife discover a copy of the New Testament older than any that currently exists - going back to the time of the emperor Constantine. This by itself would be a major find and a boon to biblical scholarship but there's more, it's not just an older copy but one with additional text never before seen. This raises the question of canonicity - should this new material be included in the Bible? Against this backdrop the protagonist also finds himself involved in a Christian / Muslim debate before a world-wide audience which subjects him to the wrath of radical Muslims.
Given the potential in this plot, I dove into this book with much excitement - most of which quickly evaporated. The book is not well written. It is full of clichés and the descriptive language is often downright corny:
"Silence in the room was deafening..." (p. 263)
"The explosive joy suffusing Jon when they kissed rapturously after that first hug he later called "one of the greatest moments in my life." (p. 370)
The historical data woven into the story often seems tacked on just to get the information in rather than flowing naturally from the plot. For example, when crossing to Mt. Athos, we read:
"Jon could only hope that the weather would stay favorable, recalling that a fierce storm had destroyed an entire Persian fleet off the coast of Mount Athos in 492 BC, two years before the great Battle of Marathon." (p. 75)
What does a storm that happened over two thousand years ago have to do with the outlook for the weather today? That's like going to Naples and saying, "he could only hope the volcano didn't erupt destroying the city, recalling that Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed by it in 79 AD"
The plot has great potential for intrigue and excitement but unfortunately everything happens easily and right on queue. There's little suspense and no attempt to make very unlikely events seem believable. After hundreds of years, one of the most sought after copies of the New Testament in all of history is found simply lying at the bottom of a bookshelf in plain sight in the Orthodox patriarchate in Istanbul after a five minute survey of the room by our heroes.
But, what bothered me the most were the theological assumptions of the book. To be sure, this is a work of fiction, but all fiction is to some degree based on truth. And for Christian writers, when writing fiction that touches on theological topics, precision and accuracy are as important as in non-fiction books - perhaps more so. To be fair, there were several times when theological topics were handled well. For example there's a good discussion about the double standard that exists when criticizing Islam as opposed to Christianity. But, there were also times when precision was required but was lacking. For example, when thinking about the whys of monasticism Jon (one of the main characters) notes that it is common among the world's faiths. He also notes that St. Paul spent three years in the desert after his conversion then, without skipping a beat, relates the story of Siddhartha Gautama, who left his wife and child to explore the meaning of life:
He was there for seven years until he finally found the answer while sitting under the Bodhi tree and became the first "Buddha," or "Enlightened One." (p. 56)
He wonders ("ruminates") to himself why such behavior is common and concludes that perhaps it's easier to hear God in the desert. But the passage makes no differentiation at all between Buddha's experience and Paul's. Did Buddha find the "the answer" and was his experience as legitimate as Paul's? I doubt Maier (or his character Jon) would answer "yes" but lack of precision leaves the reader wondering.
Then there is the fawning deference given to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy:
"...it was quite an honor to be hugged by no less than the eastern pope himself--and even be kissed on both cheeks." (p. 234)
"Wow! Coming from the pope himself, that's . . . quite humbling." (p. 288)
This kind of effusion happened whenever Roman Catholic or Orthodox leaders were encountered. It was like listening to a teenage girl who vows never to wash her cheek again after being kissed by Justin Bieber. The deference also showed itself in other ways. Those who use the questionable longer ending of Mark's gospel to sanction snake handling are "pathetic" (no argument there) but the Orthodox monk who thinks his monastery has the finger of John the Baptist among their relics is "sincere" and a "dear brother." This double standard seems to be a result of the author's selective ecumenism as revealed in a passage about Jon and his Roman Catholic friend:
As they matured, however, each had moved from a right-wing conservatism to a centrist, more ecumenical stance. (p. 293)
Christian maturity is the willingness to ignore real and significant theological issues - things such as the nature of justification - and those who don't are "right-wing conservatives" who probably use the Bible like a talisman (p. 102) - which is apparently worse than using the petrified body parts of saints that way.
The overarching assumption of the book is the existence of a "Christendom" where the Reformation never took place (or has little importance) and the Church is primarily Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy - with a bone thrown to a couple of the more liturgical protestant denominations (the main character is Lutheran). Trouble is, "Christendom" no longer exists - if it ever really did. In the end, it's not just a lost codex that needs to be rescued from the early middle ages but the world-view of the characters in this book as well.