Irving Wallace’s The Word is not a religious novel any more than Elmer Gantry is.
It’s a suspense-packed novel about Steve Randall, a public relations man who has had a buy-out offer that would give him enough money to be able to go write a novel.
There’s a hitch: He first has to organize a PR campaign for a new translation of the New Testament incorporating a recently-found gospel by James, the younger brother of Jesus, that contradicts existing accounts.
An international syndicate of religious publishers and theologians are risking their fortunes on the success of the new translation.
Steve, who has no faith, is intrigued.
Doing background research for the book launch, Steve comes upon various bits of information that don’t add up. Digging deeper, he finds a tangle of deceits with deadly consequences.
Since The Word is an Wallace novel, the leading man must have minimum of three sex partners in 500 pages and wind up doing something of redeeming social value.
Despite those preset parameters, Wallace holds readers’ attention. There’s plenty of technical detail to make the story seem mysterious, and plenty of weird characters to make it feel threatening.
The Apostleis a fictional retelling of the story of Saul of Tarsus, the Jewish Pharisee who became the Christian missionary to the Gentiles.
Sholem Asch goes over the same ground covered in the Book of Acts but adds in all the New Testament epistles, which makes the story much longer and far less interesting.
Asch is out to show how central the Jews are to Christianity and he can’t be bothered with trivia like plot and characterization. Events that might have been interesting if told by a storyteller get short shrift.
In place of dialogue, the characters quote scripture— from the King James version of the Bible, no less. Why would someone writing about the first century from the vantage point of the 1930s have the characters speak in Elizabethan English?
Asch tries to account for some of the New Testament references that perplex today’s readers. He makes Paul an epileptic, blind in one eye, to account for his thorn in the flesh and his visions. Unfortunately, Asch isn’t able to blend his suppositions into anything resembling a human being. Paul is about as credible as a paper doll.
The Apostle is neither a good novel, good theology, or good history. It’s just a bore.
By Sholem Asch
Trans. Maurice Samuel
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1943
1943 bestseller # 7
Rather than post the list of 1943 bestsellers I’ve slated for review, since today is Easter on the Christian calendar, it’s perhaps appropriate to mention a novel related to the events of Holy Week.
I first reviewed The Robeby Lloyd C. Douglas on the 50th anniversary of its first appearance on the bestseller list, which was in 1942. The novel not only stayed on the list a second year, but rose from seventh place in 1942 to first place in 1943.
In 1953, The Robe made a comeback, again hitting the top spot on the bestseller list, as the film version of the novel appeared in movie theaters with Richard Burton in the role of Marcellus Gallio, the Roman centurion who presides over Christ’s crucifixion.
A novel that makes the bestseller list three years out of 11—and two of those in the number one spot—deserves rereading if for nothing more than the novelty. However, I think you’ll find the story worth your time.