I read this sometime in 2003 or 2004. It was a modern novel, certainly younger than 20 years old at the time.
One of the main characters is a paralyzed scientist (palsy, I think) who invents "meat trees" or anencephalic cows that have no brainstem. These are quickly banned because of how philosophically/politically unsettling they are. But it establishes him as some sort of biology/genetics/etc genius.
There is another scientist (also a main character) who finds a Neanderthal corpse well preserved in the Himalayas (he's probably the protagonist).
This gets weirder. Early in the story some billionaire collector buys a Christian relic (a finger bone of a saint, maybe?) stored in a bejeweled container. The container is designed to destroy the relic if it is opened incorrectly (some sort of puzzle box). He strives to open it, and a plague is released. This plague causes (other than death) a victim's skin to become translucent to the point that you can see their internal organs in the final stage.
The disease quickly spreads, no vaccine is ever developed, though tests are finally developed such that the United States is able to (initially) keep it out of our mainland (haha, that is perhaps the most absurd part of this absurdly bad novel).
The first scientist I mentioned eventually discovers some rapid cloning process. Not only can you clone nearly anything, but:
- The clones can be matured to adult bodies rather quickly (weeks, months maybe, not years).
- The clones have some sort of memory of their former life. This is hinted to be genetic, but no proper explanation is ever given.
- The neanderthal is cloned at some point, but it's mostly a throwaway plot point.
The other scientist discovers (before the plague makes it impossible to continue) some tomb in Israel or perhaps Palestine with hundreds of distinct human remains.
These too are cloned.
One of them is believed to be Jesus Christ. Though, when asked if he is the Messiah, he enigmatically says something to the effect of "there were many messiahs back then", neither confirming nor denying.
The country falls apart, with only a few research sites still uninfected. A nuclear weapon is detonated to kill some of the infected who have camped out near the research site. Military commanders move everyone to some salt mine prepared for human habitation, intending to seal it up from the inside for a few decades to wait it out. The people transferred have their belongings confiscated, incinerated, and live without personal possessions (but not for long). The paralyzed scientist has cloned himself, the clone isn't paralyzed, but is even more psychotic than the original. He has made an incision in his leg, put a glass vial sample of the plague into it, and sutured it up.
When he's sent to the underground facility, he carefully removes the sample, and infects everyone.
Meanwhile, the other scientist, his love interest, and maybe-Jesus (plus a few dozen others) who escaped the roundup and forced relocation are wandering around, hoping to develop a vaccine from the clones who may have been exposed to an ancient strain of the disease which was less lethal (why would the clones still be immune, shouldn't only the originals long dead have the immunity??!?!).
I do not remember a title, author, and Google isn't helping despite the fact that I have quite a few search strings that should zero in on this instantly.
I do not recommend this book. In retrospect it's not science fiction at all, but thinly veiled Christian apocalyptic fantasy.