Read The Testament of James (Case Files of Matthew Hunter and Chantal Stevens) Online

Authors: Vin Suprynowicz

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The Testament of James (Case Files of Matthew Hunter and Chantal Stevens) (4 page)

BOOK: The Testament of James (Case Files of Matthew Hunter and Chantal Stevens)
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“And then Paul added transubstantiation.” Lance’s gold neck chain glinted in the firelight. “‘Eat of my flesh and drink of my blood,’ which would have horrified Orthodox Jews of the time.”

“Unless he meant something else when he told them to eat of the flesh of the gods,” added Matthew, beaming his Cheshire Cat smile.

Richard looked around to see if everyone else was done, then shrugged. “At any rate, the Jews in Jerusalem wanted no part of all this improvisational theater, so there must have been a huge schism between Paul’s new Christian church in Greece and Turkey and the Nazareans, the observant Jews who honored Jesus for his attempts to restore their original faith. But the history of the church was written to paper over that split, they had to stick with the story that James the Just was pleased as punch with the way Paul was proceeding. So if James really wrote a book to challenge all that, to set the record straight, your new Christian church would have moved heaven and earth to suppress it.”

“You haven’t even talked about the main thing people claim was in the book, that they get all excited about,” Marian complained, though she still looked up from the floor only briefly.

“The crucifixion,” Richard nodded.

“Does this book or does it not say Jesus survived the crucifixion?” Marian asked.

C
HAPTER
T
WO
TUESDAY EVENING

“Who knows?” Richard shrugged. “We only have third-hand reports. But even your accepted gospels have Jesus showing up back in Galilee the week after the crucifixion to share a fish dinner and let the disciples touch his healing wounds.”

“Especially in Luke,” Lance added. “He then comes back and does it all again a week after
that
, to convince Doubting Thomas, because Thomas wasn’t there the first time.”

“Well, people who are dead don’t show up for dinner,” added Professor St. Vincent, shaking his head. “It’s one of the laws of the physical world. The great mystery of the Christian church is the fact that Christians claim to believe what’s in the gospels, but they get terribly upset when you tell them their own book demonstrates Jesus was the world’s greatest conjurer, and his plan — his very carefully laid plan — to appear to come back to life after being crucified was his greatest trick, better than Houdini chained underwater.”

“I don’t know that I’d say ‘conjurer.’” Lance White got a serious look on his face. “Conjurer sounds like a fake, a fraud. It’s pretty clear he believed he was fated to be the messiah, that he willingly shed his blood on the cross as atonement for the sins of his people.”

“And it actually worked,” Richard replied. “That’s the important part. Except possibly for getting stabbed in the side with that spear.”

“Like the horse that balks at the final jump,” Lance nodded, “even Schonfield finally figures the wounds were just too much; he has Jesus dying on Saturday night after being helped out of the tomb while he was still alive.”

Chantal looked at Matthew, lowered one eyebrow, and formed the name silently on her lips: “Schonfield?” Matthew responded by smiling and batting his eyelashes.

Now it was Richard who seemed to feel they were straying from the topic. “Anyway, the Christians celebrate the Ascension a month after Easter, forty days actually, the Book of Acts makes it pretty clear Jesus hung around with the remaining disciples for forty days. But if an infection from his wounds didn’t catch up to him, what did? Where’d he go?”

“Kind of makes you wish his brother had written a tell-all book, doesn’t it?” Matthew smiled as he passed around the room, offering people final refills on the wine or the coffee.

“If Jesus wanted to arrange to survive being crucified, the timing would have been crucial,” explained Lance White. “He’d have to have his most trusted disciple turn him in on a Thursday night so he could be condemned and crucified on Friday. The Jews didn’t want condemned prisoners hanging around moaning all through their Sabbath, so out of deference to Jewish sensibilities the Romans would break all the crucified prisoners’ legs with big mallets before sundown on Friday, the start of the Jewish sabbath. The refinement the Romans introduced that made crucifixion a torturous death was to bend your knees and nail or tie your feet to a footrest. That way you could straighten your knees and push up and catch your breath, for however long your strength lasted. But they didn’t break Jesus’ legs, because shortly after the women passed him the sponge soaked in vinegar he’d passed out and apparently died. So Pilate gave his body to Joseph of Arimathea, and Joseph of Arimathea immediately had Jesus placed in an empty tomb he just happened to have excavated nearby, which was very handy, since the normal procedure would have been to bury the condemned in a mass grave.”

“If anyone else knew how Jesus arranged to survive the crucifixion,” Richard explained, “— and what happened to him afterwards — it would have been his own brother, James the Just.”

“But it’s a fairy tale, right?” Chantal asked. “No one survived being crucified.”

Richard looked toward the ceiling, as though asking to be spared the inquiries of students who refused to do their assigned reading.

“Actually, they did. Josephus, you’ll remember, was the Jewish historian who went over to the Romans. One day he’s passing by some Jews who have been crucified and he recognizes three of his former comrades in arms. He asks if they can be taken down, and they are. He writes they’d been up there for two days. Two died and one survived. So there’s evidence people could survive even after two days on the cross. Jesus was probably up for only five hours or so, which is why Pilate was initially so suspicious when they told him Jesus had died.”

“But if Jesus survived, wouldn’t someone else have mentioned that?” asked Chantal.

“They did,” Richard replied. “Mohammed says in the Koran that Jesus didn’t die on the cross; the Romans were fooled. That was the Arab tradition.”

“But Christians are taught that Jesus rose on Easter Sunday,” Chantal frowned.

“Meaning no offense,” shrugged the old professor, “but I rose last Easter Sunday, and I expect to rise this coming Sunday as well, as I dare say you all will, God willing. We all rise on Easter Sunday, even if it’s just to turn on the TV and watch a ball game. The original Aramaic word — the one we’re pretty sure came down in the oral tradition — doesn’t mean arise as in ‘ascend into heaven.’ It just means ‘get up.’ Our visitor from California mentioned Paul Schonfield, a serious Bible scholar, one of the men who translated the Dead Sea Scrolls. Back in the ’60s, Professor Schonfield wrote a best seller called
The Passover Plot
, which laid out this whole scenario. He said it was the only interpretation of the known facts that has Jesus showing the same care and singleness of purpose with which he arranged every other thing he did to match the detailed prophesies of the coming Messiah.

“At the last supper, Jesus says ‘This night one of you will betray me.’ The modern Christian reader assumes, ‘Well, he has God-like powers, he can see the future.’ But of course if he was God he also could have flown through the air to get away from his tormentors, turned into the Goodyear blimp, leveled them all with a thunderbolt, whatever.”

“That’s right,” Lance agreed. “The only way a mortal Jesus could be sure he was going to be betrayed at a specific time was if he arranged it, a job for which he’d naturally pick his most trusted and competent disciple, the guy in charge of the petty cash, Judas Sicarius, Judas of the Dagger. In fact, at the Last Supper Jesus turns to Judas and tells him when it’s time, he says ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’ That’s John 13:27. Controlling the time of his arrest meant he could dictate the time of his trial, which let him plan, within a matter of hours, when he was likely to be crucified, which had to be as late as possible on Friday.”

“The story is that
The Testament of James
confirms that Jesus had a plan to survive the crucifixion,” Richard explained, “a plan that wouldn’t have worked if he’d been condemned in a Jewish court; they’d stone you to death. It had to be a Roman court, it had to be crucifixion, and it had to be on a Friday.”

“But if he didn’t die on the cross, where
did
he go?” asked Chantal.

Richard smiled, finally glancing at his watch. “Did the brother of Jesus really decide the best way to cut the legs out from under this weird new cult that was using his brother’s name, the best way to discredit Paul of Tarsus, was to make a clean breast of things, explain how his brother Jesus pulled it all off . . . and where he went? If he did, such a book would pre-date all four canon gospels by decades. Now
that
would be some lost book.”

“The Holy Grail of lost books,” said Lance White, getting a far-away look in his eyes.

Professor Richard St. Vincent stood and stretched. “And with that, my children, I must make an end. The fire has died, the night grows late. If Matthew and his friend propose to start searching for this lost book tomorrow, they’re going to need a good night’s rest. Let us each to his bed, and God Bless You All.”

* * *

“You should stay,” Matthew said to Chantal.

Everyone else had gone. They’d found Skeezix still asleep on the rug with big Tyrone. On the coldest nights from December through March the grown-ups had been known to just throw a blanket over the little scout and let him sleep in, but it was April now and Skeezix, stretching and yawning, had insisted he had somewhere to go.

So Chantal had helped Matthew clean up and then they’d carried their wine glasses upstairs to his apartment, as had long been their habit, on a kind of autopilot.

“I would love to stay. And then I feel like I’m blackmailing you for something you don’t want to give, or can’t give, whatever. I know it’s harder because of how it started out between us, Matthew, but I can’t be just your Saturday party girl any more.”

“There’s never been any Tuesday girl, Chantal.”

“I know that. I appreciate that. You’re used to going it alone, I get that, too. You’re the hero of your own adventure novel,
Matthew Hunter, Tracer of Lost Books
. A housewife in curlers and a squawling rug rat don’t fit in.”

“Are we expecting a squawling rug rat?”

“A girl can dream.”

“And you don’t use curlers, God be praised.”

“Overseas deployment can be hell on a girl’s hairstyle. But if you want me you’ve got to take the whole package. I won’t sit pining by the telephone.”

“You’re always welcome here.”

“If that were true, we wouldn’t have a problem,” Chantal sighed. “What you mean is ‘You’re welcome here any time.’”

“That doesn’t make—”

“Yes?” she asked, all innocence, batting the eyelashes.

“OK, maybe there is a difference.” He sighed. “Chantal, I’m afraid of what you want.”

“What did I want that was so wrong? You wanted me, too, unless that’s changed.”

“I want you.”

“So?”

“I’m old enough—”

“To be my father. Women starting families with teen-age boys who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up does not have a great track record. Next problem?”

“I run off at the drop of a hat. I’m set in my ways. I don’t know if I’m cut out to set up housekeeping. You want babies.”

“In God’s good time, yes.”

“Babe, when we’re together we mate like bunnies.”

“I believe the phrase is ‘fuck like bunnies.’”

“I accept the correction.”

“This is bad?” Chantal asked, fluttering her eyelashes again.

“It’s wonderful. What I mean is that God’s good time won’t take long. And you’re not going to be content sitting home changing diapers when the phone rings and the Earl of Balmoral has died and nobody can find half the books that are supposed to be in the country house and off I go and who’s going to take little Heather to her piano lesson.”

“You got that right. So I’ll miss a few trips when I’m in labor. This is really the deal breaker? I’ve got a passport. When dropped I do not break easy. OK, I don’t remember on which line it’s supposed to say ‘man-woman.’ But it’s on page 20-something, I find it eventually. I’m very teachable, you said so yourself. Plus they’ve got these cool hand-held computers now, dear, you wouldn’t believe what I find online while you and Bob are . . . sorry. While you and Bob were arguing about which reviews were supposed to be on the back of
The Hunt for Red October
. I didn’t mean to talk down Bob.”

“No fault of yours. On the other hand, if I’d been here . . .”

“Oh stop it. He loved it when you left him in charge. Was he trying to pull off some deal that he should never have tackled alone, trying to impress you?”

“That’s exactly what worries me. We should remember Bob’s good qualities now, he was a bookman, he knew the classics, who the hell else is going to sit around, now, quoting
Northanger Abbey?
But Bob was ambitious, impatient, he wanted to make a big score he could brag about. He could have missed the danger signs.”

“Well if he did it’s not on you.” Chantal took him by the arm, pressed up against him, starting the old electricity again, though possibly not on purpose. “I will not let you play the Butterfly Game. If only I’d turned left instead of right, if only I hadn’t picked that day to do my laundry, if only I hadn’t gotten that call from London. Are things OK in London? How long can you stay away?”

“It’s Hurry Up and Wait, as usual. Pinky’s convinced it’s the real thing, he’s lining up backers, I told him he’s nuts to be taking anyone into his confidence till he’s got the book in hand, word is gonna get out. He’s got good security people right in his own organization, he should go out-of-pocket for now and concentrate on actually getting the piece in his hands; send a private jet, borrow some guys in colorful berets. He’s always trying to think two steps ahead, he takes his eye off the ball.”

“So we’ll get you back there as soon as we can, so Pinky doesn’t spend all that money till you get a look. And don’t think I missed ‘Heather.’ Heather?”

“I’m not against parenthood, Chantal, although by the time Junior is ready to play catch I may have to shuffle out to the yard with my walker.”

BOOK: The Testament of James (Case Files of Matthew Hunter and Chantal Stevens)
5.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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