BLOOD DOCTRINE: A Novel. By Christian Piatt. Portland: Square Core Media/ Samizdat Creative. 186 pages.
Reviewing a piece of fiction is not easy, especially when you’re used to reading and reviewing non-fiction works. This is just a feeling, but reading fiction is a more subjective experience. You know what you like – genre wise – and that influences the way you read and respond. I enjoy mysteries and science fiction, and I’m a theologian. So, when you bring these together I’m happy. At the same time, I tend to become anxious about the theological elements of a book that delves into theology. I can become overly critical and miss the point of the book. Oh, and you have to deal with the question of how much plot to reveal in the review! If you like to go into a novel knowing little about the book you might want to wait, but if you'd like a little introduction keep reading. I'll try to offer my reflections without ruining the joy of reading it.
With that said, I approach my review of Blood Doctrine by Christian Piatt with a sense of openness to something new. I’ve read and reviewed a number of works written/edited by Christian. We’re both part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Christian is married to an ordained pastor and he serves on the staff of his wife’s church in Portland, Oregon. He is a blogger and writer and media creator as well. He likes to write and produce materials that are provocative, push boundaries, and make people think. That’s what I like about him. Even when I disagree, I appreciate the spirit in which he works. So, in this book he invites to consider what might happen if someone got a hold of some genetic material belonging to Jesus.
So, what do I make of Christian’s first attempt at writing a novel that has an affinity to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code? I have to state here that while I enjoyed the page-turning nature of Dan Brown’s book, I wasn’t impressed with his theological acumen. Christian is a much more theologically attuned writer. He’s liberal/progressive in orientation. He’s not afraid to raise problematic questions. After all he’s edited several volumes that bear the title “Banned Questions.”
As one would expect of a first novel, it’s not perfect. Not all characters are fully developed and the story line tends to jump from scene to scene. And the ending leaves one either wanting more, or at least the assurance that a second novel is forthcoming to help us better understand the point of the book.
At the heart of the story is the true identity of Jesus – a character that stands behind the book but rarely appears in the story -- and a possible connection to the present. I should note that the reference here to blood really has nothing to do with atonement theory.
It is a story that has two time periods – first century CE and the twenty-first century. Jesus (Yeshua) is dead and buried and resurrected (though as to the manner in which Jesus is resurrected is left to the imagination). We’re introduced to Jesus’ brother Ya’aqov, his mother, other brothers, and Mariamne (Mary Magdalene). There is the suggestion here that Yeshua was part of or influenced by the Essenes. The nature of Ya’aqov’s involvement in leadership of the fledgling Christian community is part of the story, and we return to it throughout the book. As a theologian and student of the Bible, part of me would like to have had an appendix where Christian explained the basis of his portrayal of the early Christian community. Trying to go too in depth in the story itself would detract – but perhaps something at the end of the book would be helpful to those of us with such interests and questions.
The primary plot, however, focuses on a young man named Jacob, whose identity is in question. The book focuses on a mysterious religious group that is up to something, though we’re not sure what, and what appears to be either genetic engineering or cloning based on recovered DNA from the Titulus Crucis (the board that would have hung around Jesus’ neck announcing the charges made against him). Jacob experiences what seems to be something akin to the stigmata (bleeding). The other characters in the story include a journalist named Nica, who is trying to track down a conspiracy that has religious implications, a priest named Scratch who has helped raise Jacob but who might be involved in the plot, and a young woman who is Jacob’s girl friend Elena.
The plot leads us to Jacob’s sense of discovery of his identity and the revealing of some aspects of the plot – but not the full form of it. The ending of the book suggests that more is to come.
The book is an interesting read that keeps your attention. There is plenty of action (something that appeals to my tastes in novels), and it raises interesting theological questions. There is one aspect of the book that I’ll point out, while admitting this might be a generational thing, and that is the use of “language” throughout the book that was taught not to use in polite company while growing up. I know that times have changed and what is acceptable is changing – but I think it is worth noting.
That all said – I congratulate Christian Piatt for taking this bold step to enter the world of the novelist. He has allowed his creative side to fully engage. If he chooses to continue pursuing this track, the works produced will become increasingly sophisticated. With that, I look forward to the next installment in the story, so I can find out what The Project is doing!
Note: I made use of an advanced reader’s copy – so some elements could have been adjusted in the final product.