Book Review of Transgression: A Time-Travel Suspense Novel (City of God, Book One)

city of godTransgression: A Time-Travel Suspense Novel is probably something I’d never have heard of if I hadn’t been researching how to design my first novel. However, Randy Ingermanson used his one-sentence summary of “Transgression” to illustrate the first of his ten steps in “snowflaking” a novel.

“A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.”

Of all the ideas for a time travel story, I’d never heard of this one before. Fascinated, I downloaded it to my Kindle Fire.

Theologically, a thousand things could go wrong from here, but I’m going to set that aside for the moment.

According to his own bio. Ingermanson is a theoretical physicist, so he should be able to create realistic fake physics enough to convince us creating a “time machine” is plausible. That part works pretty well, at least enough to get the story rolling.

The tale takes place both in modern and ancient Jerusalem. Israeli theoretical physicist Ari Kazan, along with his American colleague Damien West create, at least in possibly, a method of generating a wormhole in their lab that, over a weekend, could create a stable point-to-point link between the present and the past.

In the meantime, Ari’s cousin Dov has introduced him to a young Jewish-American archeological student named Rivka Meyers as a blind date. The two don’t have much in common at first, but as they get to know each other, their religious differences nearly destroy their nascent relationship.

This is the first time I’ve seen Messianic Judaism, both modern and ancient, depicted in a realistic and theologically consistent manner in fiction. In fact, with very small differences, Rivka’s conceptualization of the Messiah, Hashem, and the Bible and mine are really the same. I find that refreshing.

Ari is an atheist but, as with most Jews, has a very strong bias against Christianity, and particularly the Apostle Paul who is often viewed as a traitor to the Torah, the Temple, and the Jewish people.

The wildcard in the deck is Dr. West, who has a powerful if unusual motivation for traveling back in time and murdering the Apostle Paul. West chooses a number of points where it would be possible for him to shoot and kill the Apostle as recorded in Acts 21, 22, and 23. To test the safety of traveling through the wormhole, West tricks Rivka into walking through, beginning her adventures into a world she has only experienced through ancient artifacts.

West goes through hours later and, when Ari finally arrives at the lab and realizes what must have happened, follows Rivka and West into ancient Jerusalem to find them and return them to the present before the wormhole collapses. Once it does, according to Ari’s theory, it can never be re-created.

The adventure aspects are first-rate starting with the very beginning of the book. Things tend to drag a bit during some of the character development portions, as well as when Ingermanson has to explain the theology of his world. This is probably a necessary “evil,” since the theology being presented isn’t what most Christians (or religious Jews) would expect.

I don’t know what Ingermanson’s religious orientation is, but he admitted that the “Sunday-school” approach to mid-First Century CE Jerusalem wasn’t the way to go. He obviously did his research and presented ancient Jewish followers of “Rabban Yeshua” (Jesus Christ) who were totally devoted to the Torah and the Temple as well as to their Rav, which is in complete contradiction with popular Christian doctrine, but (in my opinion) completely consistent with the actual Biblical narrative.

Rivka, as a modern American Messianic Jew, is also depicted as a Jewish devotee to Yeshua, not a “Christian in Jewish clothing” so to speak. These portions are absolutely critical to the credibility of the book. If modern evangelical Christian viewpoints had defined both Rivka’s faith and the praxis of first century Messianists such as “Brother Baruch,” then the novel would have become a farce.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, but there were problems. Chief among them was West’s motivation for killing the Apostle Paul. The most obvious person in this group to want to kill Paul was Ari, who blamed the Apostle for the horrible persecution of the Jewish people under the heel of the Church for the last almost two-thousand years. I won’t say why West wanted to kill Paul or what he hoped to accomplish, but it seemed to me he could have chosen a better way to get what he wanted. Thinking he could manipulate the course of twenty centuries of human history by killing one man was a long shot at best.

A lot of the book was designed to convince Ari that Rivka’s belief about Yeshua was indeed correct, and fortunately, she didn’t succeed. Had she, then the novel would have become cheap window dressing for evangelizing Jews. That said, Ari’s companion in ancient Jerusalem, Brother Baruch, should have presented him with the most convincing evidence possible: a Jew who lived like a Jew and yet who was totally devoted to “that man,” not as the Christian/Greek “man-god,” but as the wholly Jewish Messiah.

Ingermanson couldn’t totally work around the Trinity, which is one of the biggest arguments Judaism has against Christian theology including Messianic Jewish thought. What he probably couldn’t imagine is that, like the vast majority of “creeds” and other anti-Jewish doctrine manufactured by the Gentile Church fathers over the first several centuries after the Gentile/Jewish schism within “the Way,” the Trinity was probably not on Jewish radar, so to speak.

After all, would Paul have known that Jesus was supposed to be the second person in the Trinity?

Kudos to Ingermanson for showing the subtle interplay between different factions within ancient Messianic Judaism, particularly those who objected to Gentile participation in the Way without ritual circumcision and conversion. Also kudos for showing how West could make two attempts on Paul’s life and yet not actually interfere with Biblical history.

That fell apart, however, in West’s third and last attempt, which was modeled on the events we see depicted in Acts 23:23-31. There’s no way that the murder of multiple Roman soldiers by handgun fire could have remained absent from Luke’s description, nor would the soldiers have failed to hold Ari, Rivka, as well as Paul, for a full investigation of the extraordinary event (and unlike Paul, Ari and Rivka were not Roman citizens, so Roman torture was not off the table).

The interaction between Rivka and Paul was touching, but given the circumstances, it’s unlikely the Romans would have allowed it, and Paul would have had to wonder what a young Jewish woman was doing outside the gates of Jerusalem and at a scene of violence at such an hour.

The end of the novel (the first in a series of three) I won’t reveal, except to say that I find it rather incredible a first or second century mosaic would yield such detail as to show faces recognizable as citizens of the early 21st century, especially after being buried for so long.

The premise is novel and the writing is compelling enough for me to recommend this one, not just as “Christian science fiction,” but as a bold story of two men and a woman attempting to either change history forever, or ensure that it never does.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review of Transgression: A Time-Travel Suspense Novel (City of God, Book One)

  1. Well, that’s intriguing. I wonder what the author used for his research in order to create such characters and such an uncommon view of Messianic Jews past or present.

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  2. BTW, I agree that the extremely-limited resolution of a mosaic-tile-pixel depiction of faces, produced 20 centuries ago, would not enable discernment of any distinction between faces of the period and 21rst-century faces, even if we were to grant that any such distinction might exist (which I doubt). I’m not sure one could even be able to recognize the faces of these individual time-travelers if the mosaic were to be compared with a modern photograph of them. Now, if they were wearing 21rst-century clothing, not having taken on period costume after stepping through the wormhole portal, that *might* be discernible if the artist were sufficiently motivated to attempt a realistic depiction rather than a more culturally-familiar symbolic one characteristic of the artwork of his era. But what would have induced such time-travelers to pose for such anachronistic artwork? Even if an artist of the period could have surreptitiously sketched them in charcoal on vellum to catch them unaware and produce a “natural” scene, what then would have been his motivation to incorporate this particular scene into a mosaic? Given the amount of time required to produce art in that medium, the scene would have to have been rather important to the patron who paid the artist to render it.

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    • The characters did ditch their 21st century clothing for more appropriate wear, particularly the woman, since she’d been wearing a pair of rather immodest shorts at the moment she traveled back in time.

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