A Skeleton In God's Closet, written by Paul L. Maier in 1994 and published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, is a fiction novel in which one archaeological find challenges the widely-accepted Christian doctrine and jeopardizes the faith of millions of believers around the globe. Though the story is fictitious, the premise is frightening. The pillar on which the Christian faith stands is Jesus Christ. Christians believe that he was born of a virgin, died, and rose from the dead. Without any one of these elements, his saving grace would be nonexistent, as righteousness would not have been fulfilled, his sacrifice null and void. Without the virgin birth of the Messiah, Jesus would have had, per human nature, "original sin;" Original sin would have rendered Jesus not perfect, not the "blameless Lamb of God". For it is written, "God himself will provide the lamb..." (Genesis 22:8). Without the death and resurrection Jesus would not have 'conquered the grave;" in this way we would have no way to escape eternal death and damnation. It is the latter aspect of Jesus' divinity with Skeleton deals.
Professor Jonathan "Jon" Weber's year-long sabbatical from the Institute of Christian Origins (ICO) is a welcome and long-awaited breath of fresh air. Escaping lectures, books, and grading term papers to an archaeological dig in Rama, Israel, Jon meets many learned and interesting people. His longtime friend, Austin Balfour Jennings, known solely as "Jennings," has invited him to join Jennings' daughter Shannon and his digging crew. The night before Jon departs for The Holy Land he receives a phone call from his friend Ken Sullivan, imploring him to come to Rome, "The Eternal City," while Jon is en route to Israel. The matter at hand is of grave importance, and Jon accepts. When he reaches Rome, he is taken to the Vatican, where a shocking revelation regarding an important religious document is brought to his attention. The Codex Vaticanus has been submitted to ultraviolet ray testing and mysterious words appear under the light, after the conclusion of Mark, Chapter 8 of the Biblical canon, but have been erased, seemingly by magic. "Ho...De...To...Soma...Iesou...Anelaymphthay," in Greek meaning, "But the body of Jesus...was taken," or "taken back, retrieved," (Maier 14).
Leaving a baffled, concerned, and bewildered Sullivan with a suggestion to scan the entire Vaticanus, in addition to the Codex Siniticus in London for further discrepancies, Jon leaves for Rama. When he arrives, Jennings' beautiful daughter Shannon, who is inconveniently betrothed to Gideon Ben-Yaakov smites Jon, throwing a monkey wrench in Jon's attraction. One day when Jon and Shannon are digging together, they come upon a sarcophagus, on which is inscribed the following: "Here...lies...Joseph of Arimathea...son of Asher...Councilor...His memory be blessed...Peace..." Inside rests a corpse. The crew is ecstatic; the finding of this man is the first finding of a Biblical personality, almost proving the Bible's legitimacy. But inside the casket, within a jar, yet more astonishing finds await the archaeologists. The titulus, the paper nailed to the cross with Christ; and a letter are interred with the skeleton. The letter is addressed to Nicodemus, another famous Bible character, but the tidings are horrifying. "Joseph, son of Asher, to Nicodemus, son of Shimeon, peace!...I seek only the peace of God before I stand in His presence. To find that peace, I write you. A painful stone is lodged in the sandal of my soul, and I must remove it. Do you remember the rabbi Yeshua whom we buried in my tomb a score and seven years ago during the governance of Pontius Pilate? I could not sleep after the Passover that night. I feared that the noble rabbi, a man of much suffering, would not have the rest that should come to him after his pain. My servants heard rumors in the city that the priests had a plot regarding his body. I feared that they might harm or mutilate it. Later I learned that they only wished to seal the tomb...Not many hours before cock crow, my servant Eleazar and I went to the sepulcher. We removed the body of Jesus and returned the stone to its place..." (Maier 91-92). The rest of the letter detailed how Joseph had placed Jesus in his own sarcophagus and how after clearing his conscience he could rest in peace in his old age and in death. The latter part of the letter was from Nicodemus, giving the matter over to God. The truth and validity of such a document would prove fatal to the Christian faith. The documents are radiocarbon-dated and appear real. As the novel progresses the fate of Christianity and the professional integrity of all involved are laid on the line. It is not until the near conclusion of the book that the truth is brought to light as a result of persistence and meticulous scrutiny. Is the note the real deal?
After the conclusion of this novel, I felt emotionally drained. It took a lot of questioning on my part as a Christian as to why I so acceptingly follow what I am told when it come to my personal faith. How am I sure that Christianity is not the biggest hoax known to man? And then it hit me, the tweaking in the back of my consciousness the entire time I was reading the book...a Bible verse I've heard since I was a small child, that said, "You have seen and have not believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and believe." This verse sums up my faith: Only Jesus can bring such peace, enveloping happiness, and the joy that comes from that faith.