What ever happened to the treasures of Herod's Temple? Their fate is shrouded in mystery.... Former art historian Michael Grammaticus, Jr. has inherited an ancient and dangerous secret-and it seems he is the last to know! When his parents are killed under suspicious circumstances, he travels to Rome to investigate, and the clues lead him to a fascinating world of ancient art, medieval manuscripts, and a dangerous mix of religion and international politics. Descended from an endless line of Greek scholars, he can't resist being drawn into their cryptic world, and soon the same relentless forces that destroyed his father begin to hound Michael as well. He discovers not only that his father had been an outspoken advocate for Palestinian Christians, but also that one of his ancestors was the bearer of a secret that continues to haunt his family-- a riddle regarding the whereabouts of the coveted treasure of Herod's temple. This journey of discovery also becomes one of faith, as the cynical and disillusioned Michael undergoes a harrowing tribulation that leads him not only to the reasons for his father's death, but also to something far greater than the temple treasure itself. A delightful romp for lovers of fiction, art and ancient history-- and for anyone who ever wondered what really happened to that treasure!
Steve gives an overview of the book:
The great Jewish uprising of AD 66 gave Jewish extremists control over virtually all of Judea and the city of Jerusalem. Sensing that the extremists could become enemies of the empire, Rome, in its customary response to threats, laid siege to Jerusalem, looting and destroying the ancient city in AD 70. This is where S. J. Munson's fascinating novel The Treasure of Israel begins. From there, it leaps over centuries to give us the book's flashforward/ flashback format. It also gives us the principal character, a retired art historian named Michael Grammaticus, descended himself from a line of academics.
Grammaticus' parents have died in an automobile accident. As the days pass, the possibility arises that the accident victims may have been murdered. This possibility takes Grammaticus into Europe in his search for the truth and into the parallel universe of the church. Like Eric Ambler's innocent Englishmen, Grammaticus enters an atmosphere in Europe that seems as sinister as the actual events. The choked, ancient cities that lie between the Vatican and Istanbul's Sophia are places created centuries ago in the grim collision of empires. Their moral wreckage so shapes the conniving, intriguing, cynical humans who now inhabit them, that Grammaticus finds it nearly impossible to get helpful answers in his search. He also becomes entangled in his family's association down through the centuries with the biggest heist of all: the looting of Herod's treasure from the Temple before the building was destroyed in AD 70.
Not since the early works of Morris West has a novel more accurately described the interplay and the tensions of the religious world and Western society. And Munson does this with a deft hand, a masterly understanding of his subjects and a sly humor that keeps the book entertaining from beginning to end. What would seem, at a glance, to be a first-time novelist dealing with a complicated subject turns out to be a writer certain of his grasp on the subject and able to tell it with a narrative power equal to the subject. Munson didn't stumble out of the beginners' stall wondering what to do next. He bounded from the stall like Native Dancer on a good day, maintained his pace and gave us, in the running, a memorable, immensely readable novel that will do for us in sunshine or in rain. What the avid reader of historical novels always needs is a well-researched, well-written novel that gives us a sense of having walked with the author into an enchanted land of his making. This, happily, is what S. J. Munson's novel does. It is not an ordinary historical novel, but one of depth and learning and style. Reading it was a pleasure. I gladly give it a 5 rating.
--Ralph Stewart Smith
S.J. Munson has been a pastor, author and Bible teacher for the past two decades. He received a B.A. in English from Princeton, along with a prize for fiction. His call to fulltime ministry came while he was working as a screenwriter in Hollywood. He went on to receive...