XVII. Tighter Security
Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling. And being restrained, it by degrees becomes passive, until it is only the shadow of desire.
“Hey, Bill, it’s Eddie.”
“Could you meet me at the GESW admin building? Quickly”
“I just came from Brendan’s, heard from Alan about the breakin at his office. If whoever this is can figure out who has copies, maybe they can figure the originals might be in the GESW safe.”
“Maybe they can. But why do you care? You’ve got your copies.”
“We need the originals in order to date them and evaluate their authenticity. Without that, these will simply be dismissed as forgeries. I want to check, but I don’t want to go alone.”
“Okay. We did have to pull our surveillance off your building last night. They may know that. I’ll meet you in twenty minutes.”
(I don’t need here to write a script for a TV crime show. When I let Bill and me into the building, we did surprise a safecracker. He took a shot at Bill, then escaped from Bill in the dark.)
Coming back in through the open French doors, Bill turned on the lights, walked to the safe, and gave it a tug. The door swung open. He reached in, pulled out the manuscripts, handed them to me.
“Bill, you could’ve been killed! Aren’t you going to call for backup or something?”
“No, he’d be just a small fry. Even if he could tell us who hired him, that would be another small fry. We need to find out what’s really going on.”
“Bob’s dead, you could have been killed … over heretical gospels? This doesn’t make sense!”
“As I told you, there’s some factor you don’t know about yet. You have your manuscripts. What are you going to do with them?”
I thought for a moment, then exclaimed, “I’ll ask Harry to keep them.”
“Harry Bowman. Retired Professor of Theater and Theology. He was my mentor when I was finishing my doctoral studies, one of the people I admire most in the world. He collects rare books and manuscripts. He’ll have a subtle hiding place for them.”
“Let’s go see him.”
“Should we just leave the safe open? That way Sharon will report that they’ve been stolen.”
“The safecracker and whoever hired him will know better, but the ruse might throw others off the track—if there are others. Leaving it open will also put off my having to explain anything about them,” Bill said.
Fast forward to my knocking on Harry’s back door. After a few minutes, Harry, bright-eyed, jowly, opened the door.
“Eddie, why are you out so late?”
“Ah, the game’s afoot, Watson,” I said. “If you’ll invite us in, Harry, I’ll explain.”
“Of course,” said Harry. “Even at this hour and even at the back door. You always were full of surprises, Eddie, but you never arrived with a police escort before.”
“Harry, this is Officer Bill Kennedy. He’s a friend of Brendan and Megan.”
“Yes, I’ve heard good things of you, officer,” Harry said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Do come in. Would either or both of you care for something warm?”
After a few minutes, with cups of cocoa, we settled down in the armchairs in Harry’s den. I explained the situation with the manuscripts and especially what had just transpired with the safe.
“I would never have believed something like this could happen here,” Harry said. “Why would anyone want these manuscripts enough to commit a crime to try to retrieve them? After all, if the Nag Hammadi documents didn’t derail official Christianity, these are hardly likely to.”
“My hunch,” Bill interjected, “as I’ve already told Eddie, is that there’s more going on than anyone has any inkling of yet.”
“That seems likely. How do I figure in this?” Harry asked.
“I’d like you to keep the manuscripts safe, if you think it’s worth the risk,” I said.
“You might have your house ransacked. We came over in the middle of the night to make that less likely.”
“I think there may be more risk than that,” Harry countered, furrowing his heavy brows in thought. “However, I stood up to the Japanese in the South Pacific. I think I can stand up to these thugs. Let me have the manuscripts.”
I handed Harry the papers.
He walked over to an antique desk and pressed a hidden button under the top. A piece of molding popped out on the side, revealing a drawer just big enough to hold the manuscripts. Harry slipped them inside and slid the secret drawer closed. It became invisible.
“They can ransack all they want,” Harry said, “but they won’t find that.”
We chatted for a while longer, then Bill gave me a ride home.
The Gospel of Mary that I have devised for this novel does not include much that is pure invention. Almost every aspect of it is instead based on data we now have from the Coptic manuscripts or on the results of modern scholarship. In contrast, The Acts of Mary I have created is far more fictitious. It came about because I asked, “What if we had an account of the first decades of the Nazarene movement written by Mary rather than Luke? What could that have been like?”
The premise for The Acts of Mary is the hypothesis—which I obviously think is quite plausible—that Mary, as Jesus’ wife, was just as much his successor in the movement founded in his memory as Peter and James were, and that an account by her would have been far more historically accurate in some ways than Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. Luke was a good historian, at least as good as Thucydides, and his Acts incorporates many apparently reliable bits of information. The major problem with Luke’s Acts is that Luke had a political agenda for writing it.
Luke, being apparently the bishop of a Pauline community in Greek territory, argues that it was Peter who first abrogated the Law in allowing non-Jewish converts to be baptized as Nazarenes without taking on the full responsibilities of the Law, and that Paul and Peter were preaching exactly the same “good news.” It is now quite clear that Paul did invent a version of Christianity radically different from that of the original circle of Jesus’ family, friends, and students. The latter, who called themselves Nazarenes, which meant “commandment keepers,” continued to observe (that is, obey) the laws of kashrut while they remained in Jerusalem, and their spiritual descendents continued to do so for centuries. Their continued observation of the Law is the reason that the other Jews continued to consider them to be good Jews, as Luke does flatly state in Acts. Being observant, that is, essentially, “eating kosher,” was the one common characteristic that united the five or six or seven varieties of Judaism that existed in the first century. That is, the other Jews simply did not care whether or not the Nazarenes believed Jesus to be the Messiah. That was never the issue.
Anyway, Mary’s view of their history, as I have imagined it, provides a very different viewpoint. I have also assumed that there might be some historical fact behind the legend of the Holy Maries of the Sea—but mainly because that provides a plausible linkage to hold the plot together, as, with some persistence, you will see.