July 16, 2011

Ben Witherington III and Ann Witherington, Papias and the Mysterious Menorah

Ben and Ann Witherington have done it again in this third installment of the Art West series of mysteries. Paipas and the Mysterious Menorah is a fast-moving archaeological thriller filled with tantalizing discoveries of "biblical" proportions. Biblical scholar and archaeologist Art West finds himself consulting on a new cache of scrolls in Turkey that seem to be from the second Christian century. And as he gets involved with the dig and the newly discovered documents, it quickly becomes evident they have unearthed something of grand significance: the home, church, and writings of the famous second-century bishop, Papias. But the plot quickly thickens as Art is trapped and nearly killed in a tunnel connected to the home. As he recovers from his near miss, Art and fellow archaeologist Marissa Okur, the supervisor of the dig and a person of growing "interest" to Art, find themselves on a whirlwind journey to both understand the significance of the Paipas house and scrolls and to understand the forces that seem to be nefariously aligning against them. Meanwhile, West's friend Kahlil el Said and his daughter Hannah have chosen a wedding gift from their antiquities shop for their mutual friend Grace Levine's upcoming wedding, but the provenance and mysterious contents of their fortuitously chosen menorah come to light, even more mystery and discovery ensue.

I greatly enjoyed the first two installments of the Witheringtons' Art West Adventures, and this third volume is certainly no different. The writing is solid, the settings are uniformly enjoyable, as are the characters. Especially valuable is the obvious familiarity with both the ancient and modern intricacies of the middle east, as well as the thorough knowledge of biblical studies and archaeology that they bring. And unlike Dan Brown's imaginative fiction concerning Christian origins, the Witheringtons' imaginings are informed and plausible, even if they occasionally indulge some of Ben's minority opinions (such as the fictional confirmation of Lazarus's identity as the "Beloved Disciple" in the fourth gospel), but none of these judgments can be argued to be misleading or distorting. And for me one of the greatest values of these great mysteries, beyond their obvious intrinsic worth as fun reads, is that they bring to life the investigation of the ancient world and its documents and dramatize the revelations that can come from the pursuit and interpretation of ancient sites and documents. So I highly recommend all of three of the extant Art West Adventures, and look forward to the unveiling of future volumes.

Special thanks to Bob Todd and Pickwick Publications for the review copy.

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