- The Word (novel)
The plot of the novel is based around the discovery of a new
gospelwritten by Jesus' younger brother, James in the first century. In the gospel, many facts of Jesus' life, including the years not mentioned in the Bible, are revealed not to be as factual as they once thought to be. Steven Randall, a divorced public relationsexecutive running his own company in New York City, is the man hired by New Testament International, an alliance of American and European Bible publishers, to give publicity to James' Gospel as published by them.
Randall, despite his success, is a man of contrasts. His wife, Barbara, is estranged from him; his father Nathan, a
United Methodist Churchpriest in his home state of Wisconsin, derides Steven's love of alcohol, cynicism and overall lack of faith. When the novel begins, Nathan has suffered a stroke that draws Randall to him and, aside from the obvious concern about his health, Steven finds out his teenage daughter, Judy, had been expelled from school due to being caught with drugs.
Randall lived in a condo with his lover, Darlene Nicholson, whom he met sometime after separating from Barbara, and whom he considered merely interested in pleasure.
George L. Wheeler, a big-time religious publisher backed by Oklahoma millionaire Ogden Towery III (who is looking to absorb Randall's company), hires Steven on NTI's behalf to publish the new Bible project, codenamed "Resurrection 2". Wheeler warns Steven that there may be a larger threat to publication of Resurrection 2, namely
Netherlands Reformed Churchchief Maertin de Vroome, who is described by Wheeler as an apostate who is skeptical of miracles.
The trip to Europe
Steven finds himself on a
transatlantictrip from New York to Southampton. He had initially tried to send Darlene somewhere else, but she refused to be away from him. Thus, he had to register her as his factotum, despite her mere interest in sex with him after hours. Although the ship's final destination is Le Havre, France, Steven and Wheeler need to meet Dr. Bernard Jeffries, the British scholar of Aramaic who translated the scroll's text. Jeffries tells them about the (real-life) Codex Alexandrinusand Codex Sinaiticus, and bemoans that his top student, Dr. Florian Knight, won't be joining him in Amsterdam as a result of personal differences.
After leaving Knight and Valerie, Steven reads the local "London Daily Courier". He finds out that Maertin de Vroome has hinted at the discovery, but that he is skeptical of its impact on the faithful.
Arriving in Amsterdam, Steven is led into the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, which serves as NTI's temporary headquarters. The security staff, led by former
Interpoltop guy Insp. Heldering, gives him a security clearance and specifies his responsibilities. The security detail is designed to counteract Maertin de Vroome, who is based in town, and
Randall is able to obtain a copy of the two documents, the Petronius Report scroll and the Gospel According to James, from Dr. Deichhardt, and begins to read them. There is nothing new in the Petronius Report; so Randall focuses his attention on the James gospel.
The Gospel According to James
James begins the story by stating that all the rest of the remaining family of Jesus had fled Judea, thus only he remained to talk about Jesus.
Jesus is shown as very concerned for his parents, even praying to God for the eternal rest of his adoptive father Joseph when the latter dies.
According to James, Jesus had remained alive during the Burial, although he was very weakened. An
Essenephysician restored him back to full health, and the Ascension had been just Jesus' vanishing act so he could continue preaching his teachings, this time going abroad, although not on Paul's travels.
James, quoting Paul, states that the real Death and Resurrection of Jesus had taken place in
Rome, some twenty years after the original. The process was done in a similar way; the
Randall meets Angela
After reading the Gospel, Randall feels his faith actually increase, and he phones Barbara to tell her that he won't fight her demand for a divorce. Barbara forgives him and accepts him as a friend. Darlene, who had been listening in, appears after Steven hangs up the phone, and demands he marry her now that he's rid himself of his wife, but Steven refuses. Darlene and Steven fight verbally and Darlene ends up leaving to return to America.
To take his mind off the breakup, Randall asks Naomi to schedule meetings with the next three important people in the project: Prof. Agusto Monti in Rome; Prof. Henri Aubert, the
radiocarbon datingexpert in Paris, and Karl Hennig, the German Bible publisher, in Mainz. Due to a scheduling conflict, Randall agrees to meet Monti at Milan, but when he gets there, he only finds his daughter, the beautiful Angela. After talking about the project, Angela shows him around town, they hit it off and Angela actually finds herself falling for him.
In Paris, he meets Prof. Henri Aubert, who had been raised as a Catholic but later stopped practicing, only to come back under the banner of the
Opus Dei. After explaining to Randall the radiocarbon datingprocess and its advantages and disadvantages, they meet Aubert's wife, Gabrielle, who is pregnant. Steven then crosses the border into Germany on a train to Mainz, where he meets Karl Hennig, in charge of the European edition of the NTI. Before meeting him, however, he finds that Cedric Plummer was in town, obviously trying to go straight to the source of publication. Hennig is an eccentric man, having had on/off affairs with several young socialites and an actress, but is reputed as a stern boss whose staff have differences with him. After meeting with him, however, Steven finds that Plummer, who was ironically staying at the same hotel, was planning to meet Hennig after hours anyway.
After returning to Amsterdam, he finds Angela waiting for him. They go on a date and after the day is over, they go to Steven's room and make passionate love, and Steven realizes that Angela is more than just a beautiful woman; she is very special to him.
Confrontation with de Vroome
Following a seemingly miracle
Randall's skepticism grows
The trip to Italy: Monti and Lebrun
Steven asks Angela to go to Rome and meet her father, and Angela agrees. It turns out that Prof. Agusto Monti had been insane for a year, and was confined in a
mental institution. Angela apologizes to Steven for lying to him several times, and Steven forgives her. During his interview with Prof. Monti, Randall is unable to get any coherent answers to his questions; the only clues he gives him are the correct paragraph of the opening sentence of James' Gospel (which had been missing from the original scroll and Steven did not know about) and a drawing of a fish speared with a harpoon. Steven goes to see the doctor in charge, Dr. Venturi, who explains to him the meaning of the fish drawing, but not of the harpoon.
After Randall goes back to his hotel, he runs into Maertin de Vroome, who had followed him to Rome. de Vroome reveals to him that he's found out the Gospel According to James is actually a forgery made by a French expatriate, Robert Lebrun, who is living somewhere in Rome. Although Steven initially brushes it off and leaves, he then makes an effort to locate Lebrun. By coincidence, the restaurant below the hotel building is one of Lebrun's favorite hangouts, and they meet.
Lebrun tells his story. As a lifelong criminal and expert forger, French law had caught up with him, and convicted him to the
Devil's Islandin French Guiana, where he met a priest who thought could save him.
The trial in France
Randall returns to his routine life, only to find it unsettling because he was unable to prevent the launch of Resurrection 2. The proposed Cosmos Enterprises (Ogden Towery's zaibatsu) merger is put on hold when Towery demands he not publish any book attacking the International New Testament; all his old lovers have gone away, leaving him with only bottles of liquor and his loyal secretary Wanda, who provides sexual solace for a time, but then decides to just be friends with him. All the while, Steven pounds away at his
typewriter, writing his black book on the false Bible that he once helped publish.
At last, a postcard from Rome bearing Angela's signature arrives, with a message of hope for him. He then cancels the Cosmos Enterprises merger, effectively telling Ogden Towery off; and then he contacts Jim McLoughlin, offering him to publish his work, as long as Jim agrees to read and publicize Randall's exposé.
By Christmas, Randall is back in Oak City, Wisconsin. Nathan Randall has stepped down from his position as chief priest and handed it over to Tom Carey. After Mass is over, Steven and Nathan drive around town, Steven listening to Nathan praise God for bringing the International New Testament (he refers to it as the "discovery at Ostia Antica"). and then dies in Steven's arms. At Nathan's subsequent funeral, Steven uses the same prayer attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of James to pray for his father's soul.
As he returns to his family home, he sees two female figures making a
snowman. One is Judy, who greets him and keeps on playing. The other is Angela, to whom Steven declares his love. Angela reciprocates and hugs him, and Steven then realizes that she is the one he'd never let go.
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.