Articles From the June 1994 Unification News


The Negev Project: A Completed Testament Novel

The Negev Project by Larry Witham. Meridian Books, College Park, MD. 1994, hb, 301pp, ISBN 0-9640428-0-0
Reviewed by Dr. Thomas G. Walsh,

Great fiction is seldom merely the expression of imagination unrelated to a theoretical framework or worldview. Popular writers may write simply to appeal to the entertainment interests of literate consumers, but a civilization's better writers combine form and style with moral, and even theological content. None could understand Dante without an appreciation for medieval Catholicism; Hawthorne or Melville without Calvinism; Dostoyevsky without both Russian Orthodoxy and Russian nihilism; Walker Percy without Southern culture and Roman Catholicism. There are few important literary works which are not ideologically or culturally rooted. Where then are the literary expressions of Unificationism? We have scholarly literature, commentaries on Divine Principle. We have works on spiritual growth. Where are our novels? Well, wait no more. One is here. Larry Witham (UTS Class of 1978), Religion Editor at the Washington Times, and author of two previous books of nonfiction, has produced his first novel, The Negev Project.

As a popular novel, this work has all the engaging elements of a good thriller, with suspense, forces of good and evil, a gallery of interesting characters, a love triangle and a half dozen exotic locations. More than this, however, The Negev Project fits in the literary genre of theological fiction, that is, fiction which explores theological and religious themes. The work, set in 1991, embeds its characters in a plot that centers around the discovery of two sets of ancient texts. The first text, recovered by Bedouin in the Middle East, are first century manuscripts written in Aramaic, Jesus' own native language, and seem to be the original and undiscovered "Q" (from quelle, German for source) manuscript of "Jesus sayings" that the authors of the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, drew from in constructing their Gospel narratives. The theory of a "Q" manuscript used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke is a well-accepted theory among Biblical scholars; however, its discovery in the novel is wholly fictional, and yet creates an effective "What if..?" experience for the reader. The content of the discovered fragments indicates that Jesus came as Adam and was to be married, and that John the Baptist had somehow failed his mission. The other set of texts -- again we have a fictional discovery of texts made plausible by an accurate reading of early Christian church history and the Nestorian "heresy" - - reinforce the content found in the fragments of the "Q" text. These are ancient, seventh century Nestorian manuscripts discovered in China and held in the archive library in Leningrad/St. Petersburg, and which refer directly to passages from the ancient Q manuscript, passages which had not been included in the New Testament. Nestorius was declared heretical at the Council of Ephesus for his emphasis on the humanity of Jesus; Nestorius' followers, unwelcome among the dominant powers of Christianity, migrated eastward, with some even going as far as China. Of the Q text we read, in the words of the British ally of protagonist, Nick Hampton, "All the Christian writings we know of are in Greek, but this seems to be in the original Aramaic. We'll have to look closely and see if it's translated from Greek [back to Aramaic] but my hunch is that these may precede the writings of the Gospels."

Brought together through the discovery of these manuscripts are various interest groups. There are Muslims who hope that such rediscovered texts will shake the foundations of Christianity. There are other Muslims, working with Jews, hoping the search for truth can serve the cause of peace in the Middle East. In addition, the Vatican, conservative American Christians, and establishment academics in the fields of Archeology and Biblical Studies, all taking a somewhat less than pure interest in the findings.

The novel is really a fascinating, imaginative exploration into the world of ancient scripture. It stimulates in the reader an original thinking about the time of early Christianity, of when, by what means and with what information the New Testament canon was formed. It raises the issue of how one might rethink the life and ministry of Jesus on the basis of either newly discovered texts, or newly revealed ideas. Consider the following excerpt, a discussion that takes place in the Vatican library between archivist, Bishop Sadano, and Biblical scholar, Jack Winslow:

Usually, theologians in Antioch vied with those in Alexandria over the nature of Christ, Sodano explained, with Rome leaning toward Alexandria. This was the same battle that pitted Cyril of Alexandria against Nestorius, a bishop of Constantinople who preached Antiochan theology. Cyril said Nestorius made Jesus too human. Nestorius charged Cyril with overly divinizing the man.

"I understand that debate was not well-documented," Winslow said.

"No it wasn't." Sadano frowned. "We have records from the Council of Chalcedon which rules Nestorius anathema on twelve points. The little that survives of Nestorius' work is mostly in Syriac, so we know him best by Cyril's damning excerpts."

Winslow's brow had wrinkled. "Cyril and Nestorius disagreed on whether Mary was Theotokos, the Mother of God, or merely the mother of man."

Sodano nodded. "And Nestorius lost, partly for political reasons. Was that fair to Nestorius?" He shrugged. "Now we come to sources little known in history," he said, raising a finger like an instructor. "Cyril and Nestorius debated one other big thing, though we don't hear about it at all. The theologians had one more kind of dualism they needed an answer for."

"Was it..?" Winslow was confounded.

"It was woman."

Winslow gave out a nervous laugh. "You mean a female clergy."

"More than that. They sought the female nature in the universe."

"I see. Wasn't that answered by the idea of the Virgin Mary or the church as the bride of Christ?"

"Yes, those were answers, " Sodano said. "But they came later. There was another idea, a much earlier one. It came from the Nestorian camp. Let me explain. There was a priest in the Antiochian school who argued that the Logos had both male and female sides. His name was Michael of Damascus. He used Genesis, God creating male and female in His image. More important, he used what he claimed to be sayings of Jesus. In these sayings, Jesus said he was to have a bride. Not a church, but a wife, a female incarnation. An earthly bride. Like a second Eve."

"My God! Why didn't I ever hear about this?"

"It was lost. Suppressed. Who knows? Remember the times. The Bible was being canonized to protect what seemed true, and certain texts or letters were excluded. The question of woman was explosive. Jesus had female followers. Paul gave women a role and he endorsed marriage. And many women built the early church."

"So why was the question explosive in the fifth century?" Winslow asked.

"Because they had to come to grips with Jesus' death."

In addition to its creative discussion of issues in Christian church history, the novel also provides characters which embody classic theological points of view: the Christian fundamentalist, the authentic Christian truth seeker, the careerist academic, the pure- hearted Muslim peacemaker, the Muslim fanatic, the idealistic Jew and a non-religious Russian librarian who, ironically, is perhaps the most theologically gifted of all the characters. The leading role is played by an American scholar, Nick Hampton, who finds himself drawn into the center of controversy with the discovery of both the Q and the Nestorian manuscripts. In the process Nick is forced to reexamine his own priorities, the comfort of a tenured faculty appointment versus his search for truth and true love. We meet the Muslim, Habib Muhammed, who worked with the Jew, Simon Rabin, to forge a path to inter-religious peace, a project resisted by Jewish and Muslim extremists alike.

There are various ways in which to educate or instruct others about Unificationism. At the most basic level, arguably, is the teaching of fundamental concepts, terms, issues, and problems within a given field. In addition, one also teaches the history of efforts to deal with particular issues and problems in the field. In theology, for example, one can consider the general topic of God or salvation, and one can teach the history of efforts, by Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth and so forth, to present, coherently and systematically, a doctrine of God or a doctrine of salvation. Much theological instruction is demonstrative in nature. That is, one seeks to demonstrate, giving reasons and evidence, the truth or validity of the position one puts forward. The demonstrative approach, following basic standards of reason and logic, is presented in such a way that any reasonable person can follow the chain of reasoning and, if the basic premises are accepted, conclude that the claims made are valid. For example, based on Divine Principle Unificationism teaches that John the Baptist failed to fulfill his primary, providential mission, to follow and support Jesus' ministry. Drawing both from the New Testament, and the principle of Cain/Abel restoration, Divine Principle seeks to demonstrate the validity of its claim about John's failure.

An auxiliary approach is represented through the presentation of stories or narratives. The New Testament, for example, is primarily a narrative account of both Jesus life and ministry, on the one hand, and the life and ministry of Jesus followers. Divine Principle itself is a combination of the presentation of basic theoretical principles and concepts -- four position foundation, the three blessings, indemnity, returning resurrection, foundation of faith and substance, etc. -- along with the retelling of biblical narratives -- Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Moses, and so on -- retold in light of the principles and concepts presented earlier.

There is still another way to teach, a way that further supplements the demonstrative and the historical narrative approaches, and this is the way of imaginative narrative, or fiction. Although the way is more oblique, indirect, and less immediately confrontational, it is also true that wider audiences may be reached. This is evidenced clearly not only in Hyo Jin Nim's own music, but in all the music and video projects he produces at The Manhattan Center. The Negev Project, too, is an artistic expression of philosophical and theological truths. Larry Witham's novel will be exceedingly interesting for Unificationists, and for anyone who appreciates well-written novels that explore some of the deeper dimensions of human experience and divine providence. And that's not all, it seems. According to the press release for The Negev Project, Witham has completed a second novel, due out in 1995, a "suspenseful tale that moves between Japan, the United States and Europe, exploring the modern tensions between revelation and science."

Larry Witham is a reporter at The Washington Times.The book is available through bookstores or directly from Meridian Books, PO Box 659, College Park, MD 20740. (301) 277-3448. Dr. Walsh is the Executive Director of the International Religious Foundation.


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