The rapid-fire pace of this book was rather intriguing. What interested me about this book was the weaving together of a number of historical figures, as well as a number of contemporary issues that are at work in Israel. However, I found the treatment of the Christian threads playing to very conventional notions, and her attempt to weave the story into Islam was really playing to the lowest instincts in the media.
The premise of finding Jesus' bones is believable. There is a long tradition of the notion of the burial of Jesus' family. The Ahmadiyya Muslims, for example, tend a tomb in Northern India which they have claimed for many centuries to be the tomb of Jesus. What's interesting is that there's a long history of how bones, particularly ones treasured by cultures, have been used and abused. The primary free trade deal in medieval Europe, about 80 percent of all the trade that was going across borders was trade in relics. This book deals with a modern form of that huge bone trade.
This book is an example of people who have not really understood how a religious worldview works. It's very revealing of the mindset that somehow, if you get the facts out there, you are going to mitigate, deconstruct, and dismantle the religious worldview. But religious worldviews have a kind of depth and texture which fact is only a small part of.
With this book, author Kathy Reichs is playing on the genre that's becoming popular with books like The DaVinci Code. However, of all the books that have come out, this one is probably the least convincing in weaving history and pseudo-history together.
In fact, she really fails to explain why any of the groups believed to have kidnapped or lost the bones would have done so. For example, she wants a Jewish character to have thought that these were truly Jesus' bones and therefore gotten rid of them. In the Jewish tradition, I don't know why we would have a problem finding Jesus' bones! It's not a religious problem for us one way or the other. Another example is when she is talking about Islam and she assumes that if these were Jesus' bones that the Muslims would be shouting it around the world. In actuality, Jesus plays almost as significant a role in Islam as he does in Christianity. In Islam they believe that Jesus didn't die on the cross but was take up to heaven and will come back as the Messiah of Islam.
I felt that Reichs was creating a caricature of the orthodox world right from the start. She made a lot of mistakes and assumptions about how people would be or react or act because she didn't dig deep enough to understand what it would be for an orthodox Jew living in the modern world. She made mistakes with terminology in her description of the Jewish communities in Montreal and Israel. Reich's almost anti-religious stand caused her to make assumptions about Hevra Kadisha, her burial society villains in Israel - that their concern about bodies was something illegitimate or surprising or out of the ordinary for the modern world. Because it connects so much with who I am as a person and my religious tradition, I found every time she made a mistake it was jarring and made the book more and more unconvincing and disappointing.