On February 4th, I blogged about A Most Anticipated Book of Spring 2015: About the Shroud of Turin. Publishers Weekly had picked a fiction book about the Shroud of Turin as one of The Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2015. The book was The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell.
At the time, I said the book would not be available until the middle of March. Well, I was wrong. You can buy it, starting today, in Hardcover, Kindle and Audible.
Ian Caldwell, whose previous book, "The Rule of Four," was on the New York Times bestseller list for 49 weeks and translated into 35 languages, has a fascinating article in Salon, Inside the pope’s bedroom, Vatican secrecy and the lives of married priests: My 11-year quest to write “The Fifth Gospel”
The novel’s genesis traces to 2003, when I came upon the surprising fact that our modern notion of Jesus’ physical appearance – the bearded, long-haired man of Christian art – goes back to about 400 AD, before which no one seems to have agreed what Jesus looked like. The Bible offers no description, so where had this image come from? Around the same time in history, mysterious relics appeared in the Christian East, purporting to be divine portraits of Jesus not made by human hands. In 1978 a British scholar proposed that the cloth we know today as the Shroud of Turin might in fact be the most famous of these early relics: an image widely known and revered in early Christendom. Even though carbon-dating tests declared the Shroud a medieval fake almost 20 years ago, millions of faithful continue to travel to Turin during the Shroud’s periodic expositions, making this single cloth more popular than any museum on earth. Increasingly, they share a conviction that today’s Turin Shroud is indeed that celebrated relic of times past. Is it possible, then, that the Shroud is the most influential image in Christian history? That, when it first emerged, it was considered so authoritative that all subsequent images of Jesus can be traced to it?
There is this:
In the years that followed, I would buy 600 research books on the Vatican, all of them aimed at solving one question or another in this way. The books would arrive at my door from almost every country in Europe, including the Vatican itself. My private obsession to know the history and appearance of every building within the pope’s walls, and as much as possible about the important rooms within them, provided a welcome distraction from the harder work at hand: understanding what Catholics believe about Jesus. For, in order to do that, I could no longer rely just on books.
Today, looking back on it, the terror of reaching out to my first priest seems overwrought. In the time since that first interview, I have traded phone calls and emails with Holy See diplomats, Vatican priests, Church lawyers, the wives of Eastern Catholic clergy, the Jesuit former editor of America magazine, and the papal caretaker of the Shroud of Turin. That first time, though, unnerved me.
Of this new novel, world renowned novelist David Baldacci writes, “Masterful…The Fifth Gospel is that rare story: erudite and a page-turner, literary but compulsively readable. It will change the way you look at organized religion, humanity, and perhaps yourself.”