Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book Review: The Last Gospel

What if there was a document that could shatter the very foundations of the western world? The blurb on the back of the book asks this question, and the novel shows what the document could be, and the consequences.

I've blogged before about my obsession interest in religiously themed thrillers. From The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons to Sign of the Cross, conspiracy theories abound. Away last year I had spotted this current volume in Stack Bookshop in Dundonald, and picked it up. It has eventually been read, and here are some thoughts.

It turns out that The Last Gospel by David Gibbins is actually the third book in a series centred on Jack Howard. Jack Howard is an diving archeologist and all round action man, an expert in many things with contacts throughout the world (and just in the right places for the story!). His previous exploits were in seeking to discover the lost island of Atlantis, and the lost Jewish Menorah (candlestand) from the Jerusalem Temple. Yet these previous stories keep being dredged up in the current one, perhaps slightly too much - for me, not having read the previous books it was annoying, and I assume so even more if you had read the books as Gibbins would have been telling you obvious stuff you already knew from before.

The Story *possible spoilers*

The story begins with the search for the shipwreck of St Paul, off Sicily and not Malta, as Luke records in Acts. The reason is that 'none of them [i.e. the Gospels (which he annoying uses as shorthand for the New Testament - reflecting an ignorance of the make up of the New Testament)] were written as historical documents as we would understand the term, let alone geographical ones. To those who put the texts together, it was probably a matter of little consequence which island Paul was actually wrecked on.' (p. 31)

This quotation gives us a good sense of Jack Howard / David Gibbins' attitude to the Bible - the work of the church, editors, redactors, people removed from the accounts centuries later, which cannot be trusted. Indeed, the search for the 'Last Gospel' is so important because it will stand in contrast to the way Jesus claimed people would use his word: 'He [Jesus] said that one day his word would come to be seen as a kind of holy utterance. He said that his followers would preach his word like a divine mantra, but that time would distort it and some would seek to use their version of it for their own ends, to further themselves in the world of men.' (p. 67)

The Last Gospel

If you haven't already guessed, the Last Gospel purports to be the written down word of Jesus, straight from the horse's mouth. His own testament, if you will, although coming through the agency of Pliny, Herod Agrippa and the Emperor Claudius. As in most conspiracies, there are baddies - once again the Church, this time in the form of a Concilium, an ultra-secret top council which fights against heretics to preserve the power of the Church.

The action quickly moves from location to location following the ancient clues and cryptic hints until the treasure is found and the baddies are defeated.

The Message

So what is the Last Gospel then? What is the secret message of Jesus the man meant to be? What is it he feared would be distorted? In Jack Howard's words: it's a kingdom of heaven on earth: 'It's the idea that individuals can take charge of their own destiny and seek beauty and joy on earth. That seems to be about as uplifting as you can get.' (p. 35)

This message (which is quite New Age-y and very postmodern) of intimacy as opposed to institution (p. 432) appears to be the result of the idolatry of making God and Jesus in your own image and likeness. The same mindset that sees the heretic Pelagius as a hero against the institutional Augustine of Hippo: 'It seems possible that they [British Celtic Christians] took the concept of heaven on earth at face value, the idea that heaven could be found around them, in their earthly lives. To them, the message of Jesus may have been about finding and extolling beauty in nature, about love and compassion for its own sake... people having control and responsibility for their own actions, their own destiny.' (p. 304-306)


The writer, it seems, has bought into the conspiracies of the church wholesale, while not really understanding what the Bible is, or how it came about. Luke, for example, who wrote both the Gospel that bears his name and also The Acts of the Apostles (and not The Acts of St Paul, as it is called at one point in The Last Gospel; which isn't a Gospel either), compiled the eye witness accounts for the Gospel, and was himself present for many of Paul's journeys and experiences as recorded.

The Church didn't discard the writings that it didn't agree with, as if the Church had authority over the Bible - rather it recognised the writings of the Apostles as having authority, and so submitted to them and regarding them as Scripture. To that end, there is not some lost or hidden or forgotten or distorted message of Jesus - the New Testament is the record of Jesus' life, death, resurrection and teachings, as well as the teaching of his appointed apostles who were authorised to teach others. To find the authentic message of Jesus is to read the Gospels and the Epistles - the message about God's Kingdom, sin, judgement, and salvation through the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Any other gospel is no gospel at all.


The book as a whole seemed to take quite a while to get going - it was about 200 pages in before the challenge, the quest and the conflict really got started - but it was interesting to read yet another 'original' take on a conspiracy theory set into a fictional novel. It does me well to read such accounts and think through how to counter the arguments, and I think that is the book's only value. It's certainly not to be read for its historical value or theological content, but as a story was all right. I'll not be rushing out to buy the first two books anyway, and wouldn't recommend this one either...


  1. Don't bother with the previous two books! Have read them. The Atlantis one was ok as it stood, the menorah one had far far too much narrative 'elucidating' facts to link bits of the mystery together. Far too much attention to describing each scene and not enough substance. The book didn't live up to the hype and never got going I think. MrsMcF

  2. Thanks MrsMcF! It does seem as if I've read them with all the flashbacks in the third one. And I can guess how it all works out: cryptic clues, conspiracies and baddies.

    Any good book recommendations?