Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On Baigent's The Jesus Papers

(GLI) -- MANJACK, March 28, 2006a -- Michael Baigent, co-author with Richard Leigh of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the 1982 precursor to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code [which has just come out in a 5 million copy paperback print run in the US], has now released his own new book, The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History. The central claim made by the book -- which of course, all too tellingly, is being issued during Lent -- is that:

Jesus wasn't thought to be divine until long after his era and the New Testament story is pretty much one big fraud . . . . Jesus married Mary Magdalene and sired a child . . . . Jewish Zealots who resisted Roman occupation [sought] Jesus' execution as a traitor to their movement while Pontius Pilate "took steps to ensure that Jesus would survive." After recuperating, Jesus and wife supposedly traveled to upper Egypt and taught mystical lore that inspired ancient Gnostic wisdom. Maybe they made it to France . . .

Those who have read the DVC book will instantly recognise the pattern of ill-founded claims. This is no surprise, as the DVC is so derivative of Baigent & Leigh's 1982 work that it is the subject of a lawsuit. Indeed, the historian in the DVC, Leigh Teabing, is a composite based on a rearrangement of letters in "Baigent." However, we must not confuse such cynical speculations with history. For, let us observe that Baigent relies on "reports about a text saying Jesus was alive in A.D. 45, which Anglican Canon Alfred Lilley of Hereford, who died in 1948, told the Rev. Douglas Bartlett he'd seen."

On the strength of these second-hand, undocumented reports, the promotion for the new book pointedly asks: "What if everything we have been told about the origins of Christianity is a lie?"

Ostling, author of today's AP report, notes of such antics: "If Baigent's earlier writings are a guide, "Jesus Papers" will find a ready audience among religious skeptics, conspiracy theorists and Vatican -haters but seems likely to be rejected by major historians who specialize in Christianity's early centuries." That is, the book fits all too well into the pattern of events in which National Geographic will shortly publish the Gnostic pseudo-Gospel, Gospel of Judas, and in which the DVC movie is slated for release on May 19.

Caribbean Christians would therefore do well to be prepared for the onslaught of the underlying agenda, which is first to reduce the general perceived credibility of the C1 NT to the level of C2 Gnostic frauds This is in turn part of the now long-standing effort to undermine the credibility of Evangelical Christian faith [which is viewed by many in the relevant circles as a right-wing extremist, neo-Nazi/ Christo-fascist -- i.e. deliberately echoing "Islamofascist" -- agenda].

The effect of this agenda, if successful, would be to create a popular perception that the gospel as reported in say the AD 55 1 Cor 15:1 - 11 or the wider NT (and as commonly preached across the Caribbean), is inaccurate to what was "really" believed by many early Christians. The injection of Mary Magdalene into this volatile mix, is intended to stir the ideas of feminist spirituality and echoes Marija Gimbutas' long-since seriously challenged and even "debunked" archaeological theory that is now often projected in some feminist- and neopagan- influenced circles in the terms that, male sky warrior gods supplanted peaceful earth mother goddesses and initiared the oppression of women by the patriarchy. As Wayne Brown in Jamaica exemplified in a series of columns a few years ago in the Observer, this concept is then used to assert that this "supplanting" led to the rise of war as a means to subjugate other classes and peoples. Thence of course, a link to current events and polarisations.

Similarly, Islamists will be quick to pounce on the claims to put forth their own argument that the NT documents and doctrine [especially on the Trinity] as we have received them were corrupted from the original teachings of Jesus [viewed by them as a prophet of Allah with teachings similar to Mohammed], especially through the Apostle Paul. But in fact, given that from 95 - 10 AD on, the NT documents in instantly recognisable form are cited, alluded to and available in manuscripts in an unbroken chain, the real authenticity challenge here is actually is to the text of the Quran. For, after Mohammed's death, several collections were made, leading to strife. Uthman then "standardised" by copying a copy belonging to one of Mohammed's widows, Hafsah, then trying to destroy all other copies; somewhat unsuccessfully. Then, the Hafsah source was in turn destroyed on her death.. (Cf also here.) So, plainly, Evangelical Christians in the Caribbean now face significant and rapidly mounting up apologetics challenges from the North and from the Middle East, that we must be equipped to answer [1 Peter 3:15].

Oddly, in all of this, the telling, cynical confession is Baigent's remark: "Unfortunately, in this case, there are no facts."

But, Mr Baigent, if you have no facts, why then are you alleging fraud -- even in your book's title, and that in the face of massive facts to the contrary? So, let us call attention to the Morison Challenge:

[N]ow the peculiar thing . . . is that not only did [belief in Jesus' resurrection as in part testified to by the empty tomb] spread to every member of the Party of Jesus of whom we have any trace, but they brought it to Jerusalem and carried it with inconceivable audacity into the most keenly intellectual centre of Judaea . . . and in the face of every impediment which a brilliant and highly organised camarilla could devise. And they won. Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish Church and impressed itself upon every town on the Eastern littoral of the Mediterranean from Caesarea to Troas. In less than fifty years it had began to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire . . . . Why did it win? . . . . We have to account not only for the enthusiasm of its friends, but for the paralysis of its enemies and for the ever growing stream of new converts . . . When we remember what certain highly placed personages would almost certainly have given to have strangled this movement at its birth but could not - how one desperate expedient after another was adopted to silence the apostles, until that veritable bow of Ulysses, the Great Persecution, was tried and broke in pieces in their hands [the chief persecutor became the leading C1 Missionary/Apostle!] - we begin to realise that behind all these subterfuges and makeshifts there must have been a silent, unanswerable fact. [Who Moved the Stone, (Faber, 1971; nb. orig. pub. 1930), pp. 114 - 115.]

UPDATE, 29th: You may be interested in further remarks by Claudia Parsons of Reuters on the broader wave of books published in the context of the impending DVC movie, here. Perhaps the most telling single point is the observation that "Ehud Sperling, publisher of Inner Traditions, already owes a lot to Brown, who credited several of the publisher's books as sources, fueling a jump in sales for unlikely titles. "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene," one of the so-called Gnostic Gospels . . . has sold more than 100,000 copies. "That's amazing for a translation from the Coptic," said Sperling, who has several new releases." GEM