Book Review: Forbidden Chronicles of a Roman Centurion

A bit like a mystery, a bit like a thriller, a bit like the notes from a theological conclave: John Chaplick’s Forbidden Chronicles of a Roman Centurion offers all kinds of readers an interesting trip into the search for the various forms of truth religious texts offer us….

Forbidden Chronicles of a Roman Centurion by John Chaplick (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

A Roman centurion who knew the Apostle Paul sends his son an original version of the New Testament. Twenty centuries or so later, the letter he sent along with the manuscript is discovered by an archaeologist and brought to the attention of a museum curator, a couple of theologians, a history professor, and a graduate student writing on material related to the discovery. These five enlist the archaeologist, they split into two groups of three, and each group goes in search of that important – and likely controversial – document.

That, in a nutshell is the plot of Forbidden Chronicles of a Roman Centurion, a book that explores some profound ideas even as it veers between being a mystery, a thriller, and a theological symposium. What Chaplick seeks to do is almost as elusive and difficult as what his characters attempt to do in his novel: explore a profound religious question while at the same time keep readers entertained.

He comes close to pulling off this near impossible feat.

What will make Forbidden Chronicles a challenge to the reader attracted to its Da Vinci Code like narrative is that author Chaplick peppers the novel with at times almost dauntingly philosophical and theological discussions among his main characters. These are smart, highly educated guys, after all, and they think and talk like the kinds of guys they are. Some readers may find this slows the novel’s pace, but Chaplick usually limits these discourses to a couple of pages at a time, and he couches these discussions in human terms that any reader can relate to: the history professor, an avowed atheist, has lost his beloved wife and his theologian friends help him understand and deal with his grief better than perhaps he can easily admit. One of the theologians, a man in search of a better understanding of himself finds the peace he seeks when he falls in love. The grad student, seeking to come to terms with the legacy of a father illustrious in his field, finds that application of his own talents will bring him a satisfaction that trying to live up to his late father’s reputation never could have.

The novel has one group dash across England (where the centurion’s son served with one of the Roman legions in ancient Britain) while the other crisscrosses Asia Minor (where the Apostle Paul traveled from church to church trying to help the new religion of Christianity take root and grow). In each case both groups pursue the same goal – discovery of an original version of the New Testament, likely in Paul’s own hand. The thriller element of the novel comes from opposing groups, one anti-Christian, one hard core zealots of the faith who attempt to intervene in the quest these six adventurers have given themselves, to. There’s action, danger, mystery, and even a little romance as the questing scholars work to achieve their goals.

What those goals turn out to be must remain part of the novel’s mystery, at least for this review (I’m no fan of spoilers). Suffice to say, Forbidden Chronicles of a Roman Centurion comes to a satisfying end. The reader will find him/herself both entertained and enlightened by John Chaplick’s novel. One can ask for no more.