The Shroud Codex by Jerome R. Corsi. Threshold Editions (New York, 2010). 332 pp., $26.
Reviewed by Nancy L. Roberts/CNS
The Shroud Codex, the first novel from author Jerome Corsi, opens briskly with a description of the strange visions that begin to trouble a parish priest after he is revived on the operating table. Father Paul Bartholomew, formerly a brilliant quantum physicist, now finds himself seemingly transported to ancient Golgotha, experiencing all of Jesus’ agony on the day of his crucifixion.
One Sunday as the priest celebrates the Mass at his parish church, the fictional St. Joseph’s in upper Manhattan, deep wounds in his wrists suddenly appear and bleed profusely. As his parishioners watch in horror, he collapses and appears to be near death. But these stigmata are just the beginning of the priest’s mysterious transformation into a man who resembles the Christ-like figure represented in the Shroud of Turin in an uncanny and even frightening way.
When word gets out that Father Bartholomew is healing his parishioners from the confessional, the public swarms to St. Joseph’s and the Vatican takes notice. Worried about a potential hoax, the Holy Father hires a top psychiatrist and scientist to investigate.
The case of Father Bartholomew turns out to be the most baffling that either authority has ever encountered. Is the priest seriously mentally ill? Is his subconscious desire to emulate Jesus just exceptionally strong? Or could his “stigmata” really be a mass hallucination? The investigators consider these and other explanations that take them into the fascinating realm of faith and reason.
Corsi leads us on an intriguing journey through quantum physics, time travel, ancient history and religious mysticism. He seems to suggest that faith and religion can coexist comfortably, looking to quantum physics to help explain how souls may survive physical death to reach an afterlife in what is essentially another dimension of reality. Indeed, quantum physics may even help explain the mechanics of the Resurrection — but not entirely, because faith is still a requirement.
Corsi, who earned a doctorate in political science at Harvard University, has written several popular nonfiction books, including The Obama Nation. The Shroud Codex, his first work of fiction, is a page-turner. Here he describes one of Father Bartholomew’s visions: “Here, in a distant place separated from New York City by countless miles and what felt like thousands of years, he found himself stripped naked, lying flat on the ground, atop what appeared to be a long board. Though it made no sense at all, a Roman centurion was holding down his right arm with his knee, preparing to pound a nail large enough to be a railroad spike into his wrist.”
The Shroud Codex draws from research about subjects such as early Christian history, particle physics, the Romans and crucifixion, and of course, the Shroud of Turin. Corsi weaves all these pieces into a fast-paced narrative. Some of the physics information presented seems fairly simple, but the level of complexity is probably sufficient for most readers.
The history and details of various religious and scientific examinations of the shroud are amply and respectfully given. While the story’s Mary figure seems a bit contrived, nevertheless this first novel entertains, enlightens and even educates. Believers and nonbelievers both will find The Shroud Codex thought-provoking. Be prepared to drop everything and even read straight through to the end.
Roberts directs the journalism program at the State University of New York at Albany. Her books include Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker.