A mystery novel tells the story of an early female Christian leader whose history was erased.
Three women across two millennia challenge the official story of the Roman Catholic Church. The first is Julia Lucinia, a first-century Roman noblewoman trapped in a difficult marriage to an ambitious man. She befriends a kind servant, who introduces her to a strange temple-less sect run by a man named Paul: “He talks of one God, like the Jews do, Julia thought. And he speaks that everyone is equal in this one God’s eyes, whether fine man or slave. He honors women as well as men, seats masters and slaves together without respect to their rank.” Meanwhile, in the 21st century, two women are given access to the Vatican Library. Archaeologists Valentina Vella and Erika Simone discover a “strange” letter that appears to have originally been written by a female bishop: Julia Episcopa. The two are experts on Lucinia, whose trove of early Christian documents was preserved in the ruins of Herculaneum. But could this ancient Christian woman have, in fact, been something unknown to history: a female bishop? In both timelines, the truth of early Christianity will prove something the powers that be would rather keep hidden. In their series opener, Rigoli (Julia Episcopa: A Woman’s Struggle in the Church, 2012) and debut author Cummings write sharp prose, keeping the pace quick and the tensions high. The story is full of amusing bits of invented historical facts and encounters with famous names. Here Lucinia describes her first impression of Paul: “He is far from attractive, she thought. Yet there is something about him. Yes, he is appealing in an odd way.” The novel begs comparisons to Dan Brown, but The Da Vinci Code–like twists are actually rare. Rather than building toward the revelation of a mystery, the book is the story of a coverup and its discovery. The authors go right to the heart of one of the great unknowns of Christian history: the role of women in the early church. The journey is ultimately more thoughtful and satisfying than a mere holy grail.
An inventive—and highly believable—biblical revisionist tale.