Mostly, they like to project things onto Jesus.
They make him Republican. Or Democrat.
They make him Calvinist. Or Arminian.
They make him a wise sage. Or a badass who likes to whup up on Satan in the boxing ring (thanks, Carmen…)
This often comes in the form of people asking what Jesus would do if he showed up today? Would he be mad about all the babies we’ve aborted? Would he wave the American flag while riding a velociraptor into Iraq? Would he look like a vagrant, a homeless person whom we pass by every day, ignoring their pleas for spare change? We like to paint Jesus as we want to see him; it’s something every Christian does, this blogger included.
Here’s the bigger question for Christian Piatt, though: what if Jesus actually physically came back? Better yet, what if we MADE him come back?
Blood Doctrine is an interesting little thriller about a group of people called The Project who, after taking a blood sample from the Titulus Crucis (the sign they hung on Jesus’ cross when he was crucified), decide they’re going to clone Jesus back into physical existence. The book starts with the birth of a baby boy yanked from a surrogate’s arms by an unnamed man, who vanishes into the night. We come in around twenty years later in the offices of the New Yorker, where a reporter named Nica decides to investigate the supposed finding of the aforementioned Titulus Crucis, which leads her down this big rabbit hole with the Project and cloning the Messiah.
Now, I like this as a premise. What WOULD happen if he somehow got a sample of Jesus’ blood (there certainly was enough of it, if the Passion of the Christ is historically accurate…oh wait…), and with the advances in science that we’ve had with genetic engineering and such were able to produce the Word in Flesh? Would he have all the divine abilities the Gospel writers attributed to him? Would he go around feeding the poor and tearing up Citibank offices and being all like “Love one another, yo!”
Well, if you’re Christian Piatt, you’d be a teenager in Denver who skateboards and plays jazz trumpet, and works at a record store (projecting a little bit here, Christian?). At least that’s the part of the Messiah’s life where we enter the story.
I’m pretty OK with this, actually. Why COULDN’T the Messiah just lead a quiet, unassuming life as a hipster living with his girlfriend in a co-op in Denver? Oh right, because Jesus wouldn’t do that, right?
This is actually something I really like about this book; it feels like Piatt is reminding us that Jesus, divine attributes aside, led a pretty ordinary life prior to his ministry. He built stuff with his (earthly) dad. He probably hated the Romans just as much as his countrymen did. He was a human, and there’s no getting around that. I like that Piatt focused on that; Jesus was a human being, and a twenty-first century Jesus is going to look and act differently than a first-century Jesus. Granted, Jacob (our Jesus clone) doesn’t know who he is until three-quarters of the way into the story, but, since we readers have more knowledge than he does, we see how he acts a little bit like Jesus, even if by accident.
I suppose it should enter into this review that this is supposed to be a thriller. Remember, there’s this clandestine group called The Project (presumably connected with the Catholic Church, but we don’t know that), that made Jacob through this cloning experiment. Anyway, they think it’s time to reclaim Jacob, so they send in a hired man to do just that. Espionage and chase scenes and guns abound!
…or they just break into the guy’s hotel room to find out who he is, then he kidnaps Jacob’s girlfriend about 70 pages later.
This is where the book falls flat. Though based on a good premise…it just isn’t well executed. The dialogue is either predictable or boring (as in not really thriller-esque), and the characters aren’t really well developed to carry on this book’s genre at all. At only 189 pages, you blow through the story before you even have the chance to get excited that things are going down. I want thriller’s to take me for a wild ride, yeah, but I don’t want that ride to be over in 30 seconds! It just left me wanting a whole lot more. Why doesn’t Jacob feel moral conflict about his origins? Does he even care? What’s going on with The Project? They’re made out to be dangerous, but there’s next to nothing said about them. Clandestine organizations are fun, sure, but give me a reason to be afraid of them! Some books spend too much time in exposition and development; this one needed a LOT more.
I suppose there’s hope, though. It’s definitely set up for a sequel, which could plunge us even more into Piatt’s universe, and I would look forward to that, but there’s barely enough in the first book to keep me interested. I guess I am hooked in spite of the novel’s shortcomings, but it’s a small, small hook.
For a first novel, though, Christian didn’t do too bad. Good start, Piatt. I’m a huge fan of your articles and the CultureCast, and this is by no means a bad book. Here’s to really, really hoping you carry it on; it’s got so much potential.