The Order: A book review — When Jew-hatred is a character in a thriller
The origin of Jew-hatred is a main character in Daniel Silva’s novel, The Order. As I read the book, I imagined that most Christians (believers, that is, not those who are just nominally born into Christian families) would hate it. This guess was substantiated by reviews I read before writing this one. They hate it, not because it highlights Christian Jew-hate promoted throughout the centuries by wrongly blaming Jesus’ crucifixion on the Jews, but because the book challenges, in a way, the very origins of Christianity. The reviews criticizing the book were not so blunt.
Silva calls the genre in which he writes “international intrigue,” a term that captures the essence of this novel.
The Order is the 20th novel (of 23 so far) featuring his favourite hero, Gabriel Allon, an Israeli intelligence officer (spy) with access to unlimited financial and technological resources. In this book, Allon, on vacation in Venice with his wife and kids, is suddenly called to Rome by a long-time friend, Luigi Donati, current archbishop and closest aid and confidant to the pope who was just found dead in his bed. Contrary to the official declaration of natural death by heart attack, Donati believes the pope was murdered and asks Allon to help find the murderer.
The novel includes other unfortunate murders as the perpetrators try to protect their secret. It includes a few credibility-challenging scenes, such as one in the depths of the library beneath the Vatican. The characters are believable and well-developed; the dialogue is sharp and witty; the pace evolves gently from a slow walk at the start to a more thrilling hurdles race in the last few chapters, the point at which it becomes hard to put it down.
And it is artfully written.
Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
And, reading The Order now, four months into Israel’s war against Hamas, with the world ganging up on Israel for defending itself “too” determinedly, with Jew-hatred raging against this little Jewish state, I found the attack on antisemitism in this novel a pleasant relief.
Let me quote a conversation on page 260. In Munich for one leg of his mission, Allon is joined by Eli Lavon, his former partner in hunting down perpetrators of the 1972 Munich massacre of eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team. We begin with Lavon:
“…But would it be too much to ask for them to stop hating us? Why is anti-Semitism on the rise again in Europe? Why is it not safe to be a Jew in this country? Why has the shame of the Holocaust worn off? Why won’t it ever end?”
“Nine words,” said Gabriel.
A silence fell between them. It was Lavon who broke it.
“Where do you suppose it is?”
“The Gospel of Pilate?”
“Up a chimney.”
“How appropriate.” Lavon’s tone was uncharacteristically bitter. He started to light a cigarette but stopped himself. “It goes without saying that the Nazis were the ones who annihilated the Jews of Europe. But they could not have carried out the Final Solution unless Christianity had first plowed the soil….”
I need to explain “nine words” and “The Gospel of Pilate.”
The nine words are: “His blood be on us and on our children!” and they are found here:
 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.”  Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!”  And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”  So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”  And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”  Then he released Barabbas to them, then had Jesus flogged and delivered him to be crucified.
It is the Gospel of Pilate, a report he send to Rome detailing the entire proceedings, that would have exonerated the Jews from the crucifixion had it not been kept from the public. Using literary license, Silva invented this Gospel; no such thing ever existed (as far as we know) in reality.
The pope somehow discovered this document, hidden even from pontiffs, in the private library deep under the Vatican, and was about to pass it on to Allon, an old friend who had saved his life before he became the Holy Father. This was the motive behind the murder. Revealed quite early in the novel, I am not giving away a spoiler. Knowing this will not affect your enjoyment of the mystery and the action in The Order.
Some thrillers are bogged down when authors take a break from the action to explain history. However, in this case, it was not jarring and I did not skip over these parts for two reasons. Firstly, they were masterfully written such that the plot development flowed unperturbedly; and secondly, I found these pieces both interesting and essential for understanding motivations behind the characters’ behaviours.
Throughout my reading, I was curious about Silva himself. Writers are always advised to write about what they know. So what did Silva know about Christianity, more specifically Catholicism, and what did he know about Israel? He actually lived both. He grew up a Roman Catholic and married a Jewish woman, converting to Judaism and raising his kids as Jews. This gives his book an authenticity that he could not have achieved without intimate knowledge of both worlds.
Personally, I am left wishing there really was a “Gospel” according to Pilates. Had there been such a thing, had it been well known in the decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, would there have been any other “Gospels?” Would a new religion based on the teachings of a Jewish spiritual leader have arisen essentially cursing the one from which it emerged?
P.S. If I have sparked your curiousity and you would like to buy The Order and you buy it through this Amazon link, I get a commission on the purchase with no added charge to you. In fact, if you buy anything on Amazon after clicking this link, I get a commission on your purchase. Great way to support my writing without it costing you anything. So, thank-you.