Mythos Christos is an intriguing and though-provoking thriller penned by first-time author Edwin Herbert. The novel features three inter-related elements that, when linked together, create a unified whole: First and foremost, it is a contemporary thriller pitting a young and somewhat naïve paleographer—one who studies ancient writings—named Lex Thomasson against a shadowy cabal of thugs and assassins—the Knights of St. George– who view themselves as defenders of Roman Catholic orthodoxy against heresy. Second, and perhaps most effectively, it is a work of historical fiction recreating the unsettled world that is the waning Roman Empire as the new religion of Christianity rapidly, and often violently, replaces the syncretic paganism that was the Empire’s hallmark from its very beginnings. Woven within these two plot elements is a critical discourse on the very essence and historical veracity of Christianity.
With a newly-minted master’s degree in paleography in hand from Oxford University, Rhodes Scholar (and Wisconsin native!) Lex Thomasson is offered the opportunity of a lifetime by his advisor: He will join an archaeological team working in Alexandria, Egypt, under the auspices of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, as a translator of ancient writings discovered at an important and new discovery of great importance to the Church. Lex utilizes his considerable academic skills to unlock—literally—a series of clues that promises to ultimately unearth some of the most important documents thought to have been lost when the Great Library of Alexandria was burned in antiquity. The invitation to uncover this treasure trove of lost scholarship, addressed to Philaltheion—“Lover of Truth”– and the series of clues were left by Hypatia, a 4th Century C.E. Neoplatonist philosopher. With the aid of Junior Vatican Archivist Theodora (Thea) Durante and Alberto Sicari, chief project excavator, Lex deciphers a series of incredibly arcane riddles and codes that takes them on an odyssey of discovery from Taposiris, some 20 kilometers southwest of Alexandria, to Eleusis and Delphi in Greece and ultimately back to Egypt to the ancient site of Heliopolis, where the ancient treasures of the Great Library have lay hidden for more than 1,600 years. But among these literary treasures are esoteric texts that dispute the historical existence of Jesus Christ, and thereby the veracity of the Bible and the very raison d’etre of Christianity. It is because of the possible existence of these texts that the murderous Knights of St. George have been commissioned to destroy them when they are unearthed, and to leave no witnesses. The seemingly benign hunt for ancient literary treasures suddenly turns deadly and Lex and Thea find themselves in the crosshairs of the ecclesiastical assassins.
To give historical perspective to the contemporary treasure hunt undertaken by Lex, the author recreates the world of the philosopher/scientist Hypatia who was in the eye of the storm as Christianity not only supplanted pagan beliefs, but also began to identify Jews as “the other.” From the late 4th century to the early 5th century C.E., Alexandria was a cauldron of unrest as Church and secular authorities vied for hegemony. The unrest exploded into violence against Jews, pagans and philosophers, and in 415 C.E. Hypatia was murdered by followers of Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria. But in 411 Hypatia, sensing that Christian zealots were in the ascendance, plotted, along with her followers, to hide some of the most important literary treasures of the Great Library, including documents putting in question the essence of Christianity, in scattered sites around the Mediterranean. She left clues for a future “Philaltheion” to discover the caches and to bring them to the light of day when the world is again safe and ready to deal with the truth. These are the clues that Lex, the contemporary “Lover of Truth,” deciphers. The clues lead Thea and him—and the deadly Knights of St. George—to the hidden texts and the ultimate denouement.
The third element of Edwin Herbert’s novel—and very likely the most important from his perspective—is the deconstruction of the Christ of the Gospels. There are lengthy and erudite discussions and discourses among the novel’s protagonists—both contemporary and historical—that make the case for the “mythos Christos” of the novel’s title. Numerous mythologies drawn from ancient sources invite comparisons to the Biblical story of Christ. While critical to the author’s intentions, one wishes he might have woven these polemics a bit more seamlessly into the contemporary plot line. Too often it seems as if a “time out” is called in the thriller narrative for a discourse on the weak nature of the historical Christ—and then it’s back to the story.
Nonetheless, the story is intriguing, the plotting moves along at an ever-accelerating pace as the dangers increase, and the historical and philosophical researches that went into creating this novel are self-evident.
Three trowels for Mythos Christos.