Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Scroll, by Grant R. Jeffrey and Alton L. Gansky



Biblical archaeologist David Chambers, along with his professional nemesis and his ex-fiancee, have been recruited to investigate the Copper Scroll--an ancient artifact rumored to contain the location of a host of treasures from the second Jewish temple.  From the start, their quest is plagued by violence and setbacks.  Someone is determined to keep them from succeeding--but who?  And why?  And how do these opponents know so much about their work?  And how far are they willing to go to keep Chambers' team from finding the lost treasures?  And will Chambers find what he's looking for--the temple treasure and, more importantly, the treasure of his lost faith?

I have to admit, I was not impressed.  The characters were caricatures at best--the boorish and bitter former Christian, the pious and compassionate Christian ex-fiancee, the jaded and smarmy atheist, the devout Jew, the crazed Muslim radical, the wealthy American businessman . . . The most interesting character in the mix is the head of security, and he's hardly front and center in the plot.  But then, the characters are really just vehicles for that plot, which is part redemption story (will the disillusioned Chambers find his lost faith?) and part 'end times' adventure. 

The theology here is a bit hard to pin down.  A Jewish character repeatedly reminds the Christian characters of God's sovereignty, which is certainly a plus.  However, the details of the Christian faith are muddy at best--Jesus and the Bible are mentioned, but the gospel is never spelled out.  Even Chambers' return to the faith is suspect--he originally left the faith because he resented his (Christian) father for being gone while his (Christian) mother succumbed to disease.  When Chambers finally returns to the faith, it is not because he has learned or accepted something about God, but because he finds out that his father didn't know his mother was dying.  This restores his father in Chambers eyes, and allows him to embrace his faith again.  Thus his 'redemption' is based more on the actions of humans than on a relationship with Christ.  And of course, there's some eschatology here that some Christians won't agree with (i.e., the rebuilding of the temple being 'God's work'). 

A couple notes on the writing: the exposition was particularly ham-handed and awkward.  I realize that some exposition is necessary in order to equip the reader for a trip through an unfamiliar field like archaeology, but Jeffrey (who teaches eschatology, prophecy, and biblical archaeology) and Gansky (novelist) should have come up with a more organic means of communicating information to their readers. Instead, they use such obvious ruses as a) explaining the backstory to a (random) back-up pilot on a private jet who has questions about their plans (she is never heard from again), and b) a preeiminent biblical archaeologist giving a junior-high level lecture/crash course in biblical archaeology . . . to two of the other leading professionals in the field. There are better ways to fill your readers in on the necessary details.

The authors also had a funny habit of telegraphing their reveals, and sometimes even double revealing (as in, a character would say something, and then a page later say the exact same thing to the exact same people and this second statement would be treated as a dun-dun-dun moment).  Even the premise itself made for a weird 'reveal'. If you tell a bunch of archaeologists that you want them to work on a 'secret project' connected to an artifact that is rumored to show the locations of lost temple treasures, telling them later that--surprise!--they're looking for lost temple artifacts . . . well, it's not actually a reveal. 

Bottom line:  This is a Christian novel, and I highly doubt that anyone other than self-identified Christians will have any interest in it whatsoever.  It simply does not stand up to the objective standard of good fiction--the writing isn't great, and the story isn't particularly compelling.  If you want an eschatological novel of unimpressive quality filled with cliches and featuring ostensibly Christian leads, then this might be the book for you.  Everyone else is probably better off steering clear. 

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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