Mystery, Suspense & Troublesome Texts

November 2, 2020 in Library Corner

By Robin Jacobson.

A fun suspense novel topped with a generous scoop of Jewish history is a winning combination, even if the history relates to the origins of dark anti-Jewish tropes. Here are two entertaining and informative reads: The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols by Nicholas Meyer and The Order by Daniel Silva. Both books offer the allure of glamorous foreign settings – London, Venice, Rome, Odessa – a treat during this time of limited travel. Meyer’s novel even encompasses a luxurious trip on the fabled Orient Express.

The Peculiar Protocols

Nicholas Meyer’s fourth Sherlock Holmes adventure reunites the famous detective and his loyal assistant and chronicler, Dr. John Watson. In an elegant London restaurant in January 1905, Sherlock and Watson are celebrating Sherlock’s birthday when Sherlock’s brother Mycroft arrives with a mission. Mycroft, a mainstay of Britain’s Foreign Office, has come into possession of a shocking document entitled The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The Protocols purports to be the minutes of a secret meeting of powerful Jews plotting to take over the world. Quickly ascertaining that the document is a forgery, Sherlock and Watson embark for Tsarist Russia to unmask the forger and try to halt further dissemination of the scurrilous Protocols.

The novel draws on the real history of the Protocols. First published in a St. Petersburg newspaper in 1903, the Protocols appeared to expose a sinister Jewish conspiracy to manipulate the economy, media, and other institutions. The inflammatory text was used to justify a recent bloody pogrom in Kishinev; the implication was that the Jewish victims got what they deserved. Pavel Krushevan, a far-right journalist, is the probable author of the Protocols, which was largely plagiarized from an 1864 French pamphlet demonizing, not Jews, but Napoleon III and his government.

Denounced as fraudulent by multiple authorities on multiple occasions, the insidious Protocols persisted, embraced by Hitler, Hamas, and entities hostile to Jews and Israel. Today, the Protocols continue to vilify Jews on numerous websites across the internet. For more of the history underlying Meyer’s novel, see Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Steven Zipperstein (2018).

A Secret Gospel

The Order is Daniel Silva’s twentieth suspense thriller about Israeli spy Gabriel Allon. Now chief of Israel’s secret intelligence service, Allon is taking a rare vacation in Venice when he receives an urgent summons. His old friend, Archbishop Luigi Donati, private secretary to the Pope, suspects evil doings in the Vatican. The Pope has died under suspicious circumstances, a letter the Pope was writing has mysteriously vanished, and scheming clerics are trying to manipulate the election of the next Pope.

Allon discovers that the Pope’s missing letter concerned a long-suppressed “Gospel of Pontius Pilate,” unearthed from the Vatican’s Secret Archives and later stolen. This (fictional) gospel attests to the Roman governor Pilate’s responsibility for Jesus’s crucifixion and fully exculpates the Jews. Crucially, Pilate’s gospel squarely contradicts the New Testament’s account of Jews urging Pilate to execute Jesus and accepting blame with the fateful phrase: “His blood shall be upon us and our children!”

These “nine terrible words,” Donati tells Allon, led to 2,000 years of persecution and slaughter of Jews as murderers of God. Although the Second Vatican Council issued a landmark declaration in 1965 that today’s Jews do not bear guilt for Jesus’s crucifixion, that declaration still blamed Jews of Jesus’s time for his death.

Determined to disprove this centuries-old accusation once and for all, Allon obsessively pursues the stolen Pilate gospel. At the same time, the Israeli super spy must prevent the papacy from being stolen and save the Catholic Church. Can he succeed on all fronts?