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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Dead Sea Codex by Sarah Wisseman

July 1, 2006

Hard Shell Word Factory:  Amherst Junction, WI
2006 (pb)

Several months ago I reviewed Sarah Wisseman’s initial Lisa Dona hue mystery, Bound for Eternity, and found much that I liked about it.  The book was not without its shortcomings, however, and I concluded my review with hopes that future editions would see some of those shortcomings addressed.  I was very pleased with this second installment in the Lisa Donahue series, and I think there are several reasons for this.

First of all, author Wisseman incorporates a rather unusual plot device in that this episode takes place almost a decade before the first book, Bound for Eternity.  Not only is Lisa a younger heroine, but a more adventurous one.  The Dead Sea Codex takes place in 1997, before Lisa is married, becomes a mother and is widowed, and while those life conditions may lend substance to her character and gravitas to her life, they can also get in the way of a single-minded focus on the mystery at hand.  In this case, it is Lisa’s accidental involvement in the hunt for a First Century A.D. codex hidden the caves adjacent to the ancient site of Massada in Israel.

Her purpose in visiting Israel is to negotiate the loan of artifacts from an Israeli museum to the University of Pennsylvania Museum, where she is an ABD graduate assistant.  She meets up with a lover from the past, the peripatetic archaeologist Greg Manzur, who embroils her in the search for the ancient documents that may shed light on a very different interpretation of the early Christian religion.  This hunt becomes more than

A simple field excavation as dead bodies begin to pile up and it is evident that not everyone who’s looking for the codex is interested simply in the scholarship of First Century Christianity.  Bedouin relic hunters seek to maximize their profits by fragmenting the ancient documents; the Israeli and Jordanian governments both have a keen interest in the exact provenance of the codex; and a shadowy (and violent) fundamentalist sect called Les Agents de Dieu seek to destroy the documents at all costs—including murder.

Sarah Wisseman’s second entry in the Lisa Dona hue series is entertaining and satisfying.  It is a slim volume (only 150 pages in length) and this is a strength.  Her prose is spare but evocative and one gains an insight into the sights and smells and atmosphere of Israel, from the souks of the Old City to the incredible desolation of the Dead Sea area.  The characters are credible and the adventure and the danger—especially in the environment of the Dead Sea caves—are palpable.   I look forward to more of Lisa’s archaeological adventures—as either a care-free ABD or as a world-weary widow and single parent.

Three trowels for Sarah Wisseman’s The Dead Sea Codex.