The Jesus Thief, by J. R. Lankford

the-jesus-thief-by-j-r-lankford coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Great Reads Books
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by Heather Hunt

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Dr. Felix Rossi, the protagonist of The Jesus Thief, has every intention of creating a clone from DNA stolen from the Shroud of Turin. He deliberately studies, schemes, and prepares for years. This novel goes into great microbiotic detail of the cloning process, including descriptions of high-tech lab equipment, mitochondrial DNA structure, egg harvesting, implanting procedures, zygote formation, etc.

Author J. R. Lankford has done extensive research and it shows. After reading The Jesus Thief, I almost feel like I could create a clone if I wanted to. But should I? This novel doesn’t delve too deeply into the ethics of human cloning in general; instead it concentrates on cloning dead humans and in particular very famous and influential dead humans. Which makes this a very difficult book to review.

The science is impeccable, the writing superb, the plot exciting, the climax breathtaking. But the very premise is offensive, of course, and even sacrilegious from a certain point of view.

Indeed, the weakest part of the story is the part played by religious leaders-a part which, arguably should be the strongest. Lankford includes Presbyterian and Catholic leaders and makes the clone’s surrogate mother a Baptist. The fact that all these church-going, Bible-reading people think that a clone is the real thing, that in fact, by cloning DNA from the possible blood of Jesus they are bringing on the Second Coming of Christ is misguided at best and sacrilegious at worst.

Dr. Rossi himself, who in a melodramatic subplot, discovers that he is Jewish, uses this information to justify his theft of Shroud particles, because he thinks by bringing back a clone of Jesus, he will save the Jews from being called Christ-killers. These are the far-out musings of a mad man. Logically, what has one to do with the other? The original Jesus was still crucified. Those who blame the Jewish race for the crime are wrong already, so bringing a Jesus clone back is like treating a brain tumor with a knee brace. Totally unrelated.

There is also a huge silence as to the subject of the Holy Spirit’s role in the birth of the original Jesus. How can this clone be the true Christ when there is no Holy Spirit involved? No one, even the religious leaders, seems to find this a problem.

This is a well-written novel that nevertheless tries to do too much, perhaps in an effort to fill the pages with material that doesn’t have to deal directly with the spiritual implications of human cloning in general and Jesus-cloning in particular. Sub-plots include an interracial romance, Jewish-Christian relations, a Black Mary, racism in the South, and the international networks of powerful men with semigod delusions.

I give The Jesus Thief a guarded recommendation for readers who enjoy science fiction that emphasizes science. If you like Michael Crichton, you’ll like J.R. Lankford. Indeed, many people seem to be in this category, because the novel has already appeared in amazon’s top 20 in the mystery-thriller category, just two weeks after its release.

I give The Jesus Thief an R rating for graphic descriptions of medical procedures and some sexual situations.

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