THE 13th APOSTLE:
Three Souls,
Two Thousand Years,
One Truth


by RICHARD and RACHAEL HELLER

#1 New York Times' bestselling authors

 



Editorial Review from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY:

The Hellers, a husband-and-wife team known for their health titles (The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet, etc.) make a thrilling fiction debut in this fast-paced, well-researched adventure, a foray into Da Vinci Code–style papal mystery. American cybersleuth Gil Pearson, a semifamous antihacker, gets tapped to help translate an ancient copper scroll that's meant to lead to a fabulous treasure. Accompanied by striking, strong Sabbie Karaim, a translator and former Israeli military operative, Gil travels to Israel, where he's introduced to the dangerous conspiracy that surrounds the scroll, and soon realizes the perilous position he's gotten himself into; apparently, the scroll contains not just a treasure map but the truth about the life and death of Jesus. As rival factions try to claim the scroll for their own agendas (to protect Christianity, to destroy Christianity, etc.), Gil and Sabbie head on a breakneck quest around the globe trying stay one step ahead of their pursuers while teasing out the secrets of the age-old document. A satisfying, well-structured entry into the still-hot subgenre, the Hellers have a definite crowd-pleaser on their hands.



FIRST PAGES OF THE 13TH APOSTLE:

Among the most sacred of texts it is written:

In each generation there are born thirty-six righteous souls who, by their very existence, assure the continuation of the world.

According to Abraham's Covenant, once each millennium, God shall return to earth and count among the many, those who remain righteous.

Were it not for these tzaddikim, the righteous ones, who stand in God's judgment, mankind's fate would be in grave and certain peril.

These tzaddikim have no knowledge of each other;
neither have they any understanding of their own
singular importance.

As innocents, they remain unaware of the critical consequences of their deeds. Save for one.

To this tzaddik alone, is granted knowledge of his position, for to him is entrusted the most sacred of tasks.

 

PROLOGUE:

London, Six Months Ago

Professor Arnold Ludlow opened the ancient diary. The musty smell filled him with excitement. This was the manuscript that had alluded him for four decades, its existence supported by a few obscure references and unsubstantiated rumor. Still, he had not lost faith. Now he held it in his hands and translated, from the Latin, the words of one long dead.

The Courtyard of Weymouth Monastery,
The First day of May 1097

There was no stake onto which the monks might secure the prisoner, so Father Abbot John gave orders that the heretic be tied to the great Elm. The tree was half-dead, having been struck by lightening last Spring. One half of the trunk had turned to dry, brittle wood, and would provide a quick hot flame at the start. The other half had exploded with new green growth and would now ensure a constant renewal of the flames of salvation. With the application of enough oil to the dry wood, the fire would burn steadily enough to allow the prisoner to renounce his heresies and so, at the last moment, snatch his soul from the waiting hand of the devil.

With the conclusion of evening vespers, novice-master and three novitiates fetched the prisoner from his cell. The heretic walked among them, head held high, eyes forward.   He did not protest as others had; neither did he beg for mercy.

Under the watchful eye of their instructor and the monastery's full register of monks - more than a score in all - the three novitiates bound the heretic to the tree, hand and foot. Each took a turn, loosening the coarse jute, then pulling it taut. With every tightening, small pieces of flesh were torn from the prisoner's wrists and ankles, leaving small rivulets of red in their wake.

The other monks drew closer and watched in silence. From time to time, each nodded his approval and in solemn tones, expressed his hope for the heretic's repentance. Yet, even, as they watched the novices secure ropes around the prisoner's neck, waist, then across his groin, their breathing quickened. Although weighted down by heavy robes, Brother Jeremiah, the youngest of the monks, appeared to be greatly aroused.

At novice-master's nod, each of the monks in turn, made his way to the shed and returned with a large bundle of faggots so that each, by his contribution, might share in the glory of the redemption.

  The parcels of sticks were placed carefully around the feet of the heretic, then piled high to his waist. The packing of the wood was critical. If faggots were too lightly mixed with straw, the fire might go out, requiring a second or third attempt; wood too densely packed would produce a fire so hot that it might bring too rapid a surcease of pain. Much practice and skill was required in order to produce the perfect flame with which to burn a man alive.

And still the prisoner stood motionless.

In silence, the monks prayed for the heretic's soul. Only one among them did not.

I, alone, prayed for a miracle; some divine intervention that might spare the man whose soul needed no redemption; this brave knight who had fought so valiantly in the Holy Land and who now offered up his life, yet again, in service to God and his fellow man.

Head still bowed, I ventured one quick glance. Tears flowed from the prisoner's eyes, yet he offered no protest. Though I stood well within his gaze, he did not look in my direction.

Guided by novice-master's hand, the oldest of the novitiates ladled oil about the great pile of faggots, careful to spoon the greatest portion over the bottom-most sticks, diminishing the application as he approached the top of the pile. The oil had been freshly rendered only that morning from the fat of the foulest of slaughtered livestock, a peasant's old pig, diseased and pocked, that had gone to its death squealing in pain and terror, in full earshot of the prisoner's cell.

Two rags soaked up the remainder of the oil. These, novice-master used to anoint the heretic. As he smeared the foul-smelling viscous fluid over the prisoner's bare shoulders and shaven head, he continued his instructions to his charges. The oil must be smeared evenly over the exposed flesh so as to encourage the start of a flame, then soaked into the jute to sustain the burning.

Amidst the instruction, the heretic continued in silence.

Novice-master signaled the novitiates to retreat, then stepped back to join the monks' circle.

All waited, eyes cast toward the sky. In accordance with the Inquisitor's Dictates for Redemption, the fire would be started at the moment when the light of the first star pierced the night. I beseeched God that, although the skies would grow dark, no star would appear. And, for a time none did.

In the fading light, three birds flew across the horizon and disappeared into the heavens; one leading the two. They called loudly into the approaching night, one to the other, staying in perfect formation, flying as one. I knew this to be a sign that One far greater than we mortals waited to guide the prisoner into heaven.

A single star blinked and was gone. This was the signal for which all had been waiting. Father Abbot emerged from the shadows and approached the circle, an oil-soaked torch in one hand, a candle in the other, his eyes fixed upon me.

With sudden terror, it came to me that the Abbot John might command me to light the fire. Could even he require me to enact such a deed in order to prove my fidelity? If so, I could not comply. Though my sacred vows to the Church would be broken, though the repercussions of my rebellion might echo through eternity, this, Dear God, I could not do.  

But Father Abbot John had other intentions. He lit the torch with the candle then passed it to one of the other monks, motioning me to remain by his side. It seemed to me that a smile crossed the Abbot's lips but nothing more was said. Then, in the light of that sputtering candle, he turned so that his prisoner could not fail to witness the only act that might yet bring a cry of repentance. From beneath his robes, the Abbot withdrew the moldering wooden box still wrapped in tattered cloth.

The heretic's gaze fixed on the bundle and then found me. Only then did I see fear spring to his eyes; fear not for himself but for something far greater; that which lay within the crumbling wooden box. As we had in our youth, I shared with the man they now called heretic, a single terror, like none other before. Might the Abbot yet commit an atrocity far greater than the taking of a single innocent life? Might he yet commit a sacrilege against man and against God too terrible to imagine?

 

Professor Ludlow frowned. Hints, suggestions, intimations. Nothing more. His eyes fell on a small piece of parchment that had been wedged into the hand sewn binding. It had been hastily written, it seemed, but the ink remained dark and clear.

With care, the Professor inched the hidden message from the binding. He read the words, smiled, sighed deeply, and closed the diary for which he would soon forfeit his life.

 

 

 

 





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