Excerpt from The Jesus Thief by J.R. Lankford, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Jesus Thief

by J.R. Lankford

The Jesus Thief
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  • Published:
    Mar 2003, 287 pages

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On the surface it was as planned—he in his white lab coat, Father Bartolo in black, the silence broken only by the slow, measured tread of their feet and the whine of cameras. From the solemnity of the few trusted observers in the hall, the casket might have held a man who died yesterday, not an image on an ancient linen cloth.

They entered the sacristy and conversations stopped.

Felix and Father Bartolo placed the casket on a long wooden table. Then Felix went to stand with his scientific team, all of them dressed in white lab coats and surgical gloves. They stood deferentially aside and made room for him. He was their superior in science, unswerving in his faith.

Not one of them would guess he was a Jew.

Until two hours ago, Felix himself hadn’t known. The word rang in his mind—the sound of it, the idea of it—and made all else recede.

He watched the priests cut the crimson ribbon, open the casket, and remove what appeared to be a bolt of crimson taffeta. When they unwound it, a faintly dank scent arose. Lifted, the taffeta revealed the Holy Shroud of Turin, its linen the color of milk-laced tea.

For a moment no one moved.

The scientists, the observers against the walls, the priests about the room, the Poor Clare nuns who’d stitched the Shroud’s special backing and would remove it, all seemed transfixed by this Sacred Linen on which so few had ever directly gazed.

Felix paid no attention to the quiet prayer being said:

O Blessed Face of my kind Savior

by the tender love

and piercing sorrow

of Our Lady as she beheld You in

Your cruel Passion,

grant us to share in this

intense sorrow and love

so as to fulfill the holy will

of God to the utmost

In his mind, he was back in his suite at the Turin Palace Hotel two hours earlier. His sister, Frances, was calling from New York to tell him Enea, their aunt, their last living relative, had died from her long illness. Before she passed away, she’d given Frances a key and a locked box full of letters—one addressed to him in his father’s hand. Stumbling over the Italian, Frances read a few over the phone—letters to their parents from relatives in Italy they’d never heard of, unmailed responses written by their mother in Italian. Over and over he heard the words Ebreo, Italian for Hebrew, Nazi and sinagoga. Felix had paced in confusion, listening to descriptions of old passports with their parents’ photos, but the passports carried an unfamiliar surname: Fubini. Eventually, Frances said the obvious aloud. Their parents had left Italy to escape the Nazis during the war because they were Jews. Why did they hide this fact? They’d come from Turin, this very town.

As the scientists went to work around him, uncovering their sterile instruments, Felix noticed that his friend, Father Bartolo, remained at the end of the table. He was a kind, frail priest who ought to be in bed. This morning, Felix had examined him in his cell and encouraged him to stay there, but Felix had known only death would keep Bartolo away. The priest’s beliefs were simple—Jesus, God’s Son, had lain under this Shroud. Bartolo’s gaze was always fixed on his own inner light of truth unless something caught his interest. Then his eyes locked on and followed. Presently they were focused on Felix. Max also watched. He was a Jewish scientist Felix had picked for the team and because of his credentials the church had quickly approved. Max lived in Turin and had taken Felix home last night to share in Max’s joy as the family named a new daughter in a touching ceremony full of music, poetry, candles, and Hebrew prayers.

Felix felt self-conscious under their gazes, as if two Gods vied for him through them. Who was he now, if not a man for whom Christ’s passion had been the guiding symbol of his life?

Copyright © 2003 Jamilla Rhines Lankford. All rights reserved. Used with permission of Great Reads Books LLC

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