Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Gatekeepers (book)

The GatekeepersThe Gatekeepers by Stephen Moss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: In this marriage of modernity to antiquity, two mysteries, one contemporary, the other ancient, twist their way to the startling origin of Christianity.

The Reverend Richard Jim Hamilton built the powerhouse Hamilton Ministry, and now has his sights on the US Presidency. Arrayed against him though are his wife, his Chief Lieutenant, and his son Joshua, who in the pursuit of exposing his father, also exposes the Bible’s greatest secret—and turns religious convention on its head.

MY REVIEW: At the heart of this novel is a very controversial thesis that St Paul (as he his known) was merely an entrepreneur who picked up on the apocalyptic-teaching Jesus, radically altering Jesus' message to allow everyone into "God's kingdom" and, by promoting this lie, made lots of money which contemporary Christian religious organisations have continued to do - particularly televangelists. This central thesis is wrapped around by a fairly straightforward set of thriller sub-plots.

The central thesis takes a number of proof texts from the New Testament documents, combined with what we now know about the chronology of the writing of those documents, to propose that Paul was a capitalist - capitalising on the potential money-making opportunity that creating a new religion - albeit based on an existing one - would bring.

The book most certainly presents a thesis worth considering - all ideas should be considered fairly and critically before determining their validity. I would like to read a non-fictionalised argument for the proposal of the book along with the scholarly argument and evidence in support of it. If someone knows where to fond that, I'd be very interested! In particular, the argument offered doesn't deal with any potential objections. The believers in the story who meet at the conference to discuss the thesis offer no substantial objections - one on particular is constructed as merely emotionally collapsing as his threat is threatened by "the facts". The author would have had a more substantial and believable thesis if he'd had someone at the table like N T Wright (fictionalised, of course!) arguing critically with the thesis.

The fiction part of the story - the story of the televangelists and his motives, the way his followers are ripped off and emotionally damaged - resonates with what we know of the worst forms of contemporary Christian evangelism. Enough has been documented about the nefarious activities of televangelists to fully accept the way in which the author presents the story. There is no doubt the story comes across as authentic.

Having said all this about the generally positive aspects of the story, it is written in what comes across as a first draft. It could do with a good edit and the misspellings became very irritating. It shouldn't, though, put you off reading what is quite an engaging story. It's provocative and presents a very different view of the origins of Christianity to the dominant narrative throughout the history of Christianity. It's going to be interesting to see what sort of responds the book receives from Christians - lay and scholars - if any. It does smack, somewhat, of being a bit Dan Brownish with its theories - but time will tell. Check it out and see what you think.

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