The Qumran Mystery
by Eliette Abecassis
(UK Orion, 1998)

Reviewed by Sue Feder

Not being familiar with the French publishing scene, I can't say
whether the dustjacket comment that this first novel "took France by storm"
is hyperbole or simple truth. I can say that, as translated by Emily Read,
is a fascinating story touching on a number of areas of study revolving
around the bible -- from the development and spread of Christianity to the
discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls to the creation of a Jewish State to what
it means to be a Hassid (ultra-Orthodox Jew). 

The story is told through the voice of a young man who is a strange
mix of sacred and secular. He is the Hassidic son of a renowned
paleographer. The father is an atheist who, in his own youth, was a pious
one. The two men are asked to search for a scroll that was discovered in
1947, stolen some twenty years later, and has been leaving a trail of bodies
in its wake ever since. 

Since the life purpose of the typical Hassidic male is to get as
close to the God experience as possible through never-ending study of the
Talmud, its commentaries, and the Kaballah, the reader should not be
surprised to find that the book consists largely of explications of various
sacred texts in an attempt to uncover who killed Christ, and why. However,
in much the same way that Josephine Tey opened the lay reader's eyes to the
human triumphs, tragedies and mysteries behind historical texts relating to
Richard III, so Abecassis uses a similar technique to paint a picture of a
much older and more profound subject.

As the sad and timeless voice of Ary tells the story of treachery,
betrayal and death separated by two thousand years, readers of all beliefs
gain insight into the earliest days of what the world now calls
Christianity, as well as into the arcane areas over which biblical scholars
of all religious and political persuasions have joined in battle ever since.