A friend lent me a Michael Baigent – him of ‘Holy Blood and Holy Grail’ fame. ‘The Jesus Papers’ purports to show that hitherto undiscovered documents reveal Jesus to have been a Jewish mystic, not the Son of God. He survived the crucifixion and went to Egypt and then the South of France (Cathar country) with his wife, Mary Magdalene.
Nothing much new in the Da Vinci Code-style myth making here, but it set me pondering again the age-old quest for esoteric knowledge, hidden meanings, ways to outwit death.
There is an odd tug between the motives for Baigent’s kind of enquiry. He says he wants to reveal to the world the kind of secrets that the Church authorities (especially the Vatican) wants to suppress and hide from ordinary folk. And yet he clearly revels in the secrecy, and places high, mystic value on mysterious initiation rites and powerful experiences that are normally only available to the elite.
All this partly about fear of death, I think. If only you have the right knowledge, the right rituals, you – or rather your spirit – can survive. It somehow seems unthinkable to him that Jesus, a ‘master of the Kingdom’ (i.e. an adept in exploring the realms of the ‘Far-World’) should die ignominiously at the hands of Roman executioners. To me, it seems much more shabby to fade away in exiled homeliness.
But Baigent does long to make Jesus more real – in a way, more accessible. He longs for a ‘Jesus of History’ that is not overlaid with the glittering vestments of a ‘Christ of faith’. You can get a bit of the way towards that by studying the Gospels, but not in the cavalier way that Baigent uses them.
In the end, it’s his method which puts me off, because in spite of his display of knowledge, he proceeds by assertion rather than demonstration. You could devote a whole book to his declaration “Truth is something to be experienced directly rather than sought intellectually”.