Theological thriller” may sound like a contradictiom in terms, but On the Third Day by Piers Paul Read, the British author of the best-selling Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, is a good, fast-paced contradiction in terms. The premise is, like most heretical thoughts, simple: What if the skeleton of a crucified man were found hidden in a sealed Roman urn beneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem? And what if, according to two archaeologists, one an Israeli, the other a devout Catholic monk, some recently discovered documentary evidence backed up its identification as the mortal remains of Jesus Christ? As you might expect, these provocative what ifs bring to boil a large pot of international ecclesiastical intrigue laced with urgent theological conversations among Jews, conservative Catholics, liberal Catholics, atheists, and agnostics. As ecumenical sex, fanatical Zionism, the Israeli Mossad, and the Soviet KGB are stirred in, the plot thickens, as does the implausibility. But the story has enough clever twists to get past the reader’s mounting resistance, especially since the reader is likely to be agreeably distracted by the compelling exchange of ideas. The author’s own ideas clearly militate toward conservative Catholicism and against hardline Zionism, but readers can militate in whatever direction they like and still enjoy the cerebral suspense. A-

On the Third Day
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