The Fire Gospel

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From The New York Times best-selling author of The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber’s The Fire Gospel is a wickedly funny, acid-tongued, media-savvy picaresque that delves into our sensationalist culture. Theo Griepenkerl, a Canadian linguistics scholar, is sent to Iraq in search of artifacts that have survived the destruction and looting of the war. While visiting a museum in Mosul, he finds nine papyrus scrolls tucked in the belly of a basrelief sculpture: they have been perfectly preserved for more than two thousand years. After smuggling them out of Iraq and translating them from Aramaic, Theo realizes the extent of his career-making find, for he is in possession of the Fifth Gospel, and it offers a shocking and incomparable eyewitness account of Christ’s crucifixion and last days on Earth. A hugely entertaining, and by turns shocking story, The Fire Gospel is a smart, stylish, and suspenseful novel.

Praise

The author of The Crimson Petal and the White sends up the publishing industry in this stillborn satire. Visiting an Iraqi museum in the present-day, Aramaic scholar Theo Grieppenkerl discovers nine preserved parchment scrolls. After smuggling the documents home, he discerns that he has discovered a 2,000-year-old gospel composed by an associate of Jesus named Malchus that throws into doubt the New Testament's narrative of Jesus' last days and final words. Theo approaches (and is rejected by) every commercial publisher in America, eventually taking a $250,000 advance from an academic house called Elysium and undergoing the standard indignities of book promotion: reviews from ignorant readers on Amazon, humiliating interviews by bland media personalities and, of course, the eager attention of disturbed readers. The novel takes a dark turn after allowing its feckless protagonist to temporarily hobnob with high-flying literary types, but the scenes featuring Theo in danger are as unlikely as the humorous chapters are strained. The end product is less than the sum of its could-be interesting parts. -Publishers Weekly

In Faber's novel, a Canadian linguist is visiting an Iraqi museum when the place blows up. A bas-relief cracks open, revealing nine papyrus scrolls, which turn out to be the Gospel of Malchus, a man mentioned only once in the New Testament, when his ear is cut off by Peter in Gethsemane. Unlike other recently discovered early Christian testimonies, this one is not of an especially lofty character: Malchus seems as interested in his own troubles (My innards make noises when all else is quiet) as in Jesus. He reports no Resurrection; the disciples, he says, had a vision of Jesus making some gestures, but that was it, and drugs may have been involved. The publication of the gospel gives Faber the chance to satirize a number of sitting ducks (book tours, fundamentalists, Amazon reviews), plus some less likely targets (anti-Semitism, disputes among early Christian sects). Unsettlingly, the book at times rises to a great pitch of exultation, or just of sorrow. -The New Yorker

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