Gospel Thrillers: Conspiracy, Fiction, and the Vulnerable Bible

(2007) Rachael and Richard Heller, The 13th Apostle (Harper)

The 13th Apostle is, so far, the only fiction book written by married clinical researchers Richard and Rachael Heller. (Their personal love story is found on their joint website here.) In the 1970s and 1980s, Richard Heller wrote guides to the AP Bio exam; in 1990, they coauthored an updated guide to the AP Bio exam. In 1991 they published their breakthrough diet book, The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet, which has remained in print for almost three decades. They have, over the years, published various ancillary volumes (cookbooks, lifestyle guides, and so forth) to their diet book. They have also posted several co-authored children's books on their personal website.

How they came to write this Gospel Thriller together is something of a mystery (at least, to me). The bio printed in the paperback version of The 13th Apostle states: "Most recently, this dynamic husband-and-wife team has applied their research and writing skills to the discovery of ancient secret artifacts and the powerful conspiracies that still surround them." Again, according to their website, they are at work on another "fast-paced thriller in the same genre as THE 13TH APOSTLE." So they may return to this genre with a sequel. Another fun note about the Hellers, according to both the author bio in The 13th Apostle and their website: they spend four months out of every year at Disney resorts around the world.

The novel, like others, contains interstitial chapters that convey most of the text of the gospel, here an account by Micah, the "thirteenth apostle" of Jesus. The story is also, like some others, imbued with mystical or paranormal elements. Here, the paranormal backdrop is the Jewish legend of the "thirty-six Tzaddikim" whose righteousness sustains the world, and the "High Tzaddik" who will lead the world to a bright, new future. 

Heroes: Gil Pearson, a widowed, brilliant U.S. cybersleuth (and, at the end of the novel, the next High Tzaddik) and Sabra "Sabbie" Karaim, an Israeli ex-soldier/spy and translator, a hard-nosed rape survivor
Villains: George, Gil's evil (and grossly fat) boss who is also a secret cybercriminal; Nathan McCullum, the violent head of neo-Nazi group WATSC ("White Americans to Save Christianity"), along with his hired goons; and Abul Maluka, an Islamic fundamentalist millionaire and video producer in London
Gospel: An authentic, second Copper Scroll smuggled out of the Dead Sea area with the story of Micah, who is both the Beloved Disciple and the naked youth from Mark 14:51-52; the scroll possesses some unseen magic properties and its unread conclusion will play some role in an apocalyptic future; it reveals Jesus as the High Tzaddik and a Jewish teacher of righteousness

Despite their renown as authors of a well-received series of diet books (complete with appearances on Oprah), the Hellers did not receive much notice for their fiction debut. Publishers Weekly was very positive about the book ("satisfying, well-structured") and one or two book review blogs took notice, as well. Reviewers at Goodreads and Amazon​ have not been as kind; perhaps, by 2007, a bit of Da Vinci Code fatigue started setting in.

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