The idea that the tablets handed down to Moses and other holy artifacts mentioned in the Torah could actually still exist in the real world always fascinated me, even if they didn’t necessarily harbor the power melt off Nazis’ faces.
Such missing links between religious doctrine and biblical archaeology is what drew me in hard about Marcia Fine’s latest novel, Paris Lamb.
The book opens with the mysterious death of a prominent archaeologist about to present information about a group of relics known as “God’s Gold”—a candelabrum, two silver trumpets and a sacrificial table taken from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans. They’re later discovered in the Vatican, and now the Vatican wants to liquefy the value of the objects to pay for the mounting legal fees from lawsuits against pedophilic priests, but the gold items have to be verified before they can be sold at a high-profile New Yorkauction attended by the biggest power players in the world.
With the number one authority gone, it’s up to biblical archaeologist Michael Saunders to deliver the academic goods. But are the temple artifacts authentic after all? Fine weaves a brilliant mystery involving more competitive archaeologists, snobby bluebloods and greedy Chinese nationals.
Buoying the action is Michael’s inner story: First, his romance with a gorgeous Parisian shop woman and her native City of Lights brings brings luscious texture. Also, the secret his mother revealed before her death gives context to his interest in God’s Gold itself, deepening his connection.
It’s a meticulously researched and glorious read that takes us all over the world, from the arrondissements of Paris to the Old City of Jerusalem to the bustle of Manhattan, each city shining with Fine’s rich descriptions.
Like Spielberg’s ark, the artifacts Fine presents in fiction are based in history, by the way: The Arch of Titus shows the Romans carrying them away from Jerusalem, and there are many accounts of witnessing the presence of Jewish ritual objects and manuscripts in the Vatican, though no Pope has copped to it yet. Perhaps the friendly Pope Francis will be amenable to negotiations if any of it’s true?
In the meantime, Paris Lamb gives us a chance to wonder what might happen if such legendary objects found their way to the modern world, though—spoiler!—no one’s face melts off.
(Of course, most of y’all know that Marcia Fine is not only an accomplished speaker and writer, she’s also my mom. But what’s a little kvelling between friends?)