The CONSTANTINE CODEX
By PAUL L. MAIER
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.
Copyright © 2011 Paul L. Maier
All right reserved.
JONATHAN WEBER HAD EXPERIENCED much more than the fifteen minutes of fame often allotted to mortals. The recognition brought about by his bestseller and his archaeological sleuthing in Israel that had "saved Christianity" (according to his fans) had given him entrée at the Vatican, the White House, and even Buckingham Palace. Yet despite a string of extraordinary adventures, Jon would always count the return of his wife from her dig at Pella as one of the summit events in his life. It was not only the joy of seeing Shannon again—that lithe, sapphire-eyed, pert-nosed, Irish pixie who had taken him captive—but what she had brought back with her from Jordan as a little memento of her tour.
A day after she had unpacked, Jon and Shannon took the manuscript leaves to his office at Harvard. In an adjoining room he had a small but efficient manuscript laboratory with an ultra violet apparatus as the centerpiece. It had served him well in exploring palimpsests, vellum manuscripts on which the writing had been erased and the vellum reused. The penetrating, purplish rays of the instrument usually showed the original script quite clearly.
Shannon adjusted the window blinds to darken the room, while Jon turned on the UV apparatus. The hum of its fan covered the throb of his almost-audible pulse. "We're not looking for erasures here, Shannon," he said, "just the original script underneath those brownish accretions."
"Obviously. We could hardly make out anything at home last night, even with intense illumination."
"Okay. We're ready. Bring the first page over."
Shannon put on white gloves, opened a large portfolio, and—with care that bordered on a caress—lifted a protective muslin pad and extracted the first of the leaves. With both hands she laid it on the examining field below the instrument.
Jon peered closely at the document, studied it for some time, and then shook his head. "Here, have a look, sweetheart."
Shannon scrutinized the leaf for several moments. "Oh ... how disappointing. I can make out a little more of the lettering, but ..."
"I'll raise the intensity." Jon turned the gain knob thirty degrees clockwise, but the brighter light, while revealing more of the Greek lettering, failed to liberate enough script for them even to try to reconstruct the text without much guesswork and the insertion of long blanks.
Crestfallen, Shannon sighed. "I ... I'm sorry, Jon. I certainly had hoped for more than this. What an utter waste of effort!"
"Not necessarily, darling." Jon kissed her cheek. Was it actually moistened with a tear? "We'll do it just like they do at Palomar Mountain."
"By which you mean ...?"
"Our eyes can't store up light versus dark contrast. Film can. That's why stars that couldn't possibly be seen otherwise show up on their photo plates."
"Got it!" She chuckled.
Jon opened his photo cabinet, pulled down a 35mm Nikon, and loaded it with panchromatic film. He mounted it in a camera bracket adjacent to the ultraviolet instrument and focused on the document. The shutter snapped repeatedly as he photographed at various speeds and diaphragm settings.
They achieved no results that day, since from that point on, it was trial and error—overexposure, underexposure, too much contrast, not enough contrast. Finally they hit upon a formula that worked: inside a totally opaque chamber with a very low-intensity UV illumination of the leaves, the Nikon set at f/16, time exposure, and precision film development yielded beautifully readable Greek script on almost every line of the five pages of manuscript, when printed out on photo paper.
It took Jon another week to prize out a translation of the leaves. When he had finished, he gave Shannon copies of both the Greek text and his English translation. "You know Greek, honey," he said. "Please see if I got it right."
Shannon started reading the translated version immediately.
His own pulse in something of a gallop, Jon watched as her eyes widened and the jaw of his lovely wife sagged open.
She looked up and said, "Jon, there are details here about the martyrdom of Jesus' brother James—beyond what we have from Eusebius!"
"Then do you suppose this is from ... from Hegesippus?"
"Who else? Some old librarian at that church must have tried to keep the secondary and primary sources together. As a bookmark, no less."
"Well, this is just fabulous, Jon!"
"No, it isn't. You haven't come to the good part yet." The twinkle in Jon's eye had broadened into a huge expansive smile. "Read on," he said, "but it'll take a while since it's at the other end of the material."
Shannon flashed him a quizzical look and returned to Jon's typescript. Some minutes later, she looked up again. "Well, here Hegesippus seems to be talking about what he calls 'the sacred books.' Do you suppose he means the Canon?"
"Could be," he said, again assuming his mischievous grin. Soon Shannon would find the passage, he knew.
And she did, of course. She now dropped the typescript and said, very slowly, "Oh ... my. This ... this is just ... beyond belief."
"It looks like you discovered more at Pella than you ever thought, my dear. But now, we have to keep mum on this until the authentication is complete. We'll have to go to Pella, of course, to see if there are any more leaves—loose or bound—floating around Father Athanasius's library. And we'll definitely have to include Greece on the itinerary, since I want to try to date this thing if possible, and I'll need help from some of their best text experts. We fly over at the end of the spring semester, right?"
Shannon nodded slowly, in wonderment. It seemed as if great discoveries were not limited to excavating the good earth. Good libraries, evidently, were also fertile ground.
* * *
Must good fortune be balanced off by bad? Jon and Shannon never made the trip.
How could things go wrong so instantly, so emphatically? And why did it have to happen on one of the loveliest days in May? One moment, Jon and Shannon were looking forward to their trip to Jordan and Greece. But the next, Jon heard his own name being shouted by an angry jumble of voices from Harvard Yard below. He hurried over to the open windows of his office to see at least seventy or eighty students gathered in the shape of a crescent below Sever Hall. Many stood with raised fists waving at him in unison.
"Weber? Never! Islam is forever!"
As he listened, the chant grew louder and became a full-throated chorus: "Weber? Never! Islam is forever!"
"What the ... ?" Jon asked himself; then the phone rang.
"This is Captain Rhinehart at Harvard Security, Professor Weber," the voice on the line said. "I should warn you that the Muslim Student Association on campus was granted a demonstration permit, and we just learned that you may be the subject."
"They're already here. Any idea why they're after me?"
"Haven't the foggiest. We're sending our men over now. I suggest you lock your office door immediately."
Outside the window, the mighty mantra continued, as each leaf fluttering on the ivy-covered walls seemed to waft the message in Jon's direction. Now he saw some of the placards sprouting above the crowd:
PROF. WEBER WILL PAY 9/11 IS ON ITS WAY! WEBER IS THE CANCER ISLAM IS THE ANSWER! WEBER'S A PROFESSOR? WE NEED HIS SUCCESSOR!
Again the phone rang.
"Dr. Weber? It's George Gabriel of the Boston Globe."
"Hey, George. I've been meaning to call and thank you for doing that nice piece on our ICO conference. But just now we've got a big demonstration over here—"
"I'll bet! We just got an AP dispatch from Tehran that the grand ayatollah of Iran is convening a council of Shiite clergy to determine if charges of blasphemy should be lodged against you."
"It's the new Arabic translation of your Jesus of Nazareth bestseller. It seems they're going to urge the faithful to buy up copies at all the bookstores and burn them. Hey, at least that should help sales!"
"But in Iran they speak Farsi, not Arabic," Jon replied, ignoring the levity. "So why would—?"
"Apparently the offending passages were translated into Farsi, and they pounced on them."
"But what offending passages, for goodness' sake?"
"Don't know. The only item mentioned in the dispatch was ... let's see, here it is. 'The Iranian clergy feel that the author treated the Prophet Muhammad with great disrespect, if not outright sacrilege.'"
"Impossible!" Jon almost shouted into the phone. "Most of my book covers the first century, not the seventh! I mention Muhammad only in the final chapter, which does a quick summary of Christianity since Christ."
"Yeah, but you know how sensitive Muslims are. Remember the Danish cartoon business or the pope's comments in Germany?"
"But I can't think of anything in the book that would be offensive. Anyway, I gotta go; someone's at the door. I'll get back to you."
The knocking persisted as a voice resonated through the wood of the door. "Harvard Security—Captain Rhinehart here, Professor Weber. I have the president of the Muslim Student Association with me, and he'd like to speak with you."
Jon opened the door to find Captain Rhinehart standing with a tall, bronzed figure dressed in a galabia and a maroon fez. A small crowd of campus police and curious students filled the hallway behind them. The student introduced himself—in excellent English—as Abdoul Housani, an Egyptian graduate student in international studies. Jon invited him into his office, and Rhinehart followed without waiting for an invitation.
"Have a seat, gentlemen," Jon offered.
"I prefer to stand, Professor Weber," Housani said.
"As you wish. Perhaps you'd be kind enough to explain why this demonstration is taking place?"
"Yes, of course. You are on record as insulting the Prophet Muhammad—may his name be blessed."
"Why in the world would you ever think that?"
Housani opened the book he was carrying—Isa al-Nazrani, the Arabic edition of Jon's book—and turned to a bookmark he had inserted at page 490. Pointing to the last line of the text, he said, "Here, sir, you have grievously offended all of Islam by what you wrote about the Prophet—may his name be blessed. I shall read your own words back to you as I translate."
"On this page, you deal with the great expansion of Islam, and the last line reads, 'Undoubtedly, Muhammad introduced the greatest evil Christianity ever faced.' Now that is an outrageous—"
"I never wrote that!" Jon exclaimed as he rose, stood next to Housani, and peered at the page. His Arabic wasn't exactly conversational, but he had a reading knowledge of the language. Slowly, he read the offending line aloud: "La yujad shakk, qaddama nabi Muhammad al-radi al-'athim allathi wajahat al-masihiyah."
Jon stopped reading and returned to his desk, fighting the impulse to clench his fists. "Unbelievable!" he almost whispered. "That's exactly what it says!" Then he looked up and said, "You translate well, Mr. Housani."
The swarthy face of his guest warped into a grim smile of triumph. Captain Rhinehart's brow corrugated into a facial question mark as he looked on rather helplessly.
"But that's not what I wrote!" Jon fairly bellowed. "It should be tahaddi, not radi—challenge, not evil." He went to one of the bookcases insulating the four walls of his office and pulled off a copy of the American edition of Jesus of Nazareth. Quickly thumbing his way to the last chapter, he swooped down to the final line and held the book out for the student. "Now, Mr. Housani, please read what I actually wrote."
Glowering with suspicion, the student read aloud, "'Undoubtedly, Muhammad introduced the greatest ... challenge ... Christianity ever faced.'"
"Challenge, Mr. Housani. Challenge, not evil!"
The Arab student seemed perplexed and was mute for several seconds. Finally he stammered, "I ... I don't understand...."
"It's really quite simple. Either this was a wretched typographical error, or it's a translation error. Believe me, I'm going to find out which."
Slowly, Housani nodded, while Captain Rhinehart stopped wringing his hands and smiled.
Jon didn't want to overdo the injured innocence bit, but he did have a few questions he wanted answered before this student left his office. "Might I ask, Mr. Housani, why you and the Muslim Student Association didn't check the original English version of my book first before staging this demonstration? I can't imagine it would have been difficult to find a copy. I think the Harvard Coop keeps about fifteen in stock at all times."
"I ... we ... find Arabic easier reading than English."
Jon nodded. "Okay, understandable. But something strange seems to be going on here. How in the world did you and your demonstrators even learn about all this? The publication date for the Arabic edition isn't until a week from now."
Housani was silent for some moments. Then he answered, "We have a contact in Cairo who mailed us a copy air express in order to help us ... stay on top of things as much as we can."
"As well you should," Jon replied, now smiling. "I trust you'll explain all this to the Muslim Student Association?"
"Yes. I'll do that, Professor Weber. But please let us know how that terrible error got into the Arabic translation."
"Of course. In fact, the moment you leave this office, I'll be phoning my publisher in Cairo to stop the presses—literally—and make that correction. Then I'll instruct him to recall as many of the faulty first editions as possible."
"Thank you, Professor Weber. And ... I apologize if any of our people went overboard during the demonstration."
"Accepted. Thank you. By the way, how come you have such a perfect command of English—even our colloquial expressions— and hardly any accent?"
Housani smiled. "Well, as a boy growing up in Bahrain, I listened to Voice of America as much as I could, and I tried to imitate American English."
"VOA? Well done, sir. Your association certainly seems to have picked a worthy leader."
They shook hands. The moment Housani and Rhinehart left, Jon reached for the phone. Never mind that it was nearing midnight Cairo time. If his publisher didn't roust himself out of bed and act quickly, much of the Islamic world might erupt into rioting that could make the demonstration in Harvard Yard look like a party in the park.
* * *
Jon's second call was to his translator, Osman al-Ghazali, a Christian Arab who was a professor of Islamic sudies at Harvard, but he failed to reach him either at the university or at his home in Belmont. The messages Jon left on both answering machines were quite impassioned.
His third immediacy was to compose a written statement for the media on the glaring error in translation and proofreading. His two-page statement concluded:
The offending word in the final sentence of the last chapter of Jesus of Nazareth has been correctly translated as "challenge"—not "evil"—in the twenty-nine foreign languages into which the book has been printed, as will become obvious to anyone taking the time to make the search. I deeply regret that the new Arabic edition contained a typographical or translational error that is understandably offensive to Islam. The printing of the first edition has been halted, and the publisher is in the process of recalling as many of the defective copies as possible. Those who have purchased a copy of the faulty first edition may exchange it for the corrected version or receive a full refund. All future editions in Arabic will contain the appropriate correction. Thank you for your patience and understanding in this matter.
"There; that should do it, Marylou," Jon said to his secretary. "Better run off a hundred copies of this. The media will be hungry."
"Not 'will be'—they are hungry. Look out the window."
Below, mobile television trucks were already desecrating the sacred turf of Harvard Yard, and reporters and camera crews were milling through the still-vocal crowd of demonstrators. Jon threw his hands up in frustration. "I haven't gotten through to al-Ghazali yet, so there's nothing I can add to that statement. Please just hand it out, and they'll have to be satisfied with that for now."
Excerpted from The CONSTANTINE CODEX by PAUL L. MAIER Copyright © 2011 by Paul L. Maier. Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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