Patrick Tilley
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MISSION - REVIEWS : The Sunday Express

The night a corpse returned to life

How would you feel if you answered the doorbell and found yourself face to face with Jesus Christ?

After all, H promised to return one day to earth, and for nearly 2,000 years the churches have preached of the Second Coming.

So why not today, and why not at your front door?

But what would you do? Ask Him in for a cup of tea? Ring the newspapers? Fall at His feet, trembling?

Such questions are posed by one of the most extraordinary, original, mind-blowing thrillers I have ever read, MISSION by Patrick Tilley (Joseph, ?.95 hardback or ?.95 paperback).


It is a stunningly weird and imaginative parable that breaks all the rules and is almost impossible to classify: a slick, outrageous science-fiction chiller, I suppose, yet much more than that, written as it is with immensely wide-ranging learning and deeply researched knowledge of the Bible, theology, metaphysics, ancient myths and legends, mysticism, prophecy, the occult, numerology, politics and science.

Its English author's brave ambition is breathtaking. For his book is no less than an attempt to update the New Testament, explain Jesus in modern scientific terms, define the soul and investigate the age-long battle between good and evil, the meaning of life, and man's relationship to the rest of the universe.

Yet for all that it is astonishingly readable and gripping, even amusing. It has its faults (sometimes too verbose and repetitive, occasionally trite) but also all the makings of a huge success that could well become a word-of-mouth cult book.

To describe it briefly is impossible and makes it sound ludicrous, no more than a sort of Chariots of the Gods or Star Wars, but it begins thus.

On the night of East Saturday 1981 a naked corpse is brought in to the mortuary of a New York hospital.

The dead man, apparently the victim of a brutal East Side alleyway murder, is horribly bruised and mutilated.

In his early 30s, lean, swarthy, bearded, with shoulder-length hair, he has a stab wound just under his left rib cage, dreadful lacerations on his back, wounds on his wrists and feet, and a battered head.

Was he a dope-pusher, perhaps, or the victim of a particularly vicious Mafia gangland killing?

Perhaps. But then his teeth have to fillings, his feet have never worn shoes, and stuck in his scalp are three dark spikes that look like inch-long nails but that turn out to be thorns - thorns identified by a botanist as having been cut from a Middle Eastern, prickly shrub within the previous two weeks.

Examining the body in the hospital mortuary, the Jewish lady doctor and her wealthy 35-year-old Jewish lawyer love, Leo Resnick, are baffled when the corpse, undoubtedly dead, begins to show signs of life and then suddenly disappears while their backs are briefly turned.

Neither of them is a practising Jew and certainly has no belief in the Christian Son of God. But the lawyer, trained in logic and reason, finds himself apprehensively but inescapably returning to the absurd, incredible, yet only possible judgement of the evidence:

'Somehow, at the instant of the purported Resurrection, the body of the man known as Jesus had been transported forward through time and had materialised for at least 75 minutes in Manhattan on Easter Saturday of the 81st year of the 20th century.'

Why on the night of East Saturday when the Resurrection is said to have happened on Easter Sunday? Because Jerusalem is seven hours ahead of New York: in Israel it is already Sunday morning.


Resnick the lawyer's doubts are finally removed when The Man, as he thinks of him, reappears miraculously healed a week later, talks to him genially like any other slangy modern American, drinks glass after glass of wine from a bottle that never empties, and hints that there is something he wants Resnick to do for him.

"But why me?" writes Resnick the narrator. "Even now, it's a question I still ask myself. Why pick on me? But on the other hand, when you think about it, why not? After all, the first time around The Man just hauled a bunch of fishermen off the end of the pier at Capernaum. I'm anybody - just like the next man. And, as I said, we're all in this together, whether we like it or not."

Resnick becomes a modern disciple and is just as baffled and afraid as the original fishermen of Galilee.

What Resnick's mission is becomes plain only at the brilliant, jolting climax of the story, but the build-up is compulsive as well as immensely clever and thought-provoking as The Man casts his spell, works the odd miracle, and appears and disappears as He apparently commutes back and forth through time between 1st century Jerusalem and 20th century New York.

Some readers may find such a story distasteful, even blasphemous, and there are certainly some startling, shocking, even flippant aspects to The Man and Hi revelations of what Jesus's life was really like. But the book's own mission is, I believe, a genuinely moral and spiritual one, to chip away the shibboleths and distortions that man and the churches have allowed to encrust the original message of Jesus, and to make us think afresh about God.

The science-fiction aspects of the story (and some of them are exhilaratingly complex and mind-boggling) are merely a modern means of attempting to explain almost scientifically to a generation of unbelievers the magic and mystery of Christ and His message.

Like most of us, should we come face to face with Jesus, Resnick the lawyer is at first thrown into a turmoil. For who in these cynical times, even among your nearest and dearest, would believer you? As he writes: -

"Anything to do with this guy could only lead to trouble. In our circle of friends and business associates there were two sure-fire ways of committing social suicide. Going broke and getting religion. And the last was the worst."

The achievement of this amazingly fertile, stimulating, powerful book is that it may make us think again whether "getting religion" (though not necessarily organised religion) is not perhaps just when we need today. I urge you to read it.

Graham Lord
The Sunday Express
November 1st, 1981

Copyright 2002 Patrick Tilley. All rights reserved.