The Jesus Papers

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”.

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3 Responses to The Jesus Papers

  1. Eamonn says:

    It’s another example of what I call the ‘Van Daniken syndrome’. If you don’t have an explanation of where the Easter Island statues (or Nasca lines, or crop circles) come from, you invent a simple explanation and surround it with esoteric mystery which only you can decode. It’s a combination of the will to power and the search for certainty, an attempted antidote to our current feeling of helplessness and bewilderment. Unfortunately, too many Christians fall into the trap. Did you know that the Gnostic Gospels were SUPPRESSED BY THE CHURCH!

  2. alisonpeden says:

    Eammonn, I agree about the certainty thing, and there’s a real anger at the Church too. The Church Times this week reviewed a translation of the New Testament with some Gnostic Gospels incorporated – what price canonicity now? The reviewer quotes the bit from the Gospel of Thomas when Peter complains that Mary Magdelene should be evicted from the group because she is a woman, and Jesus promises to make her male. Hmm.

  3. Alistair says:

    I take the view that the whole Holy Blood-Holy Grail/Da Vinci Code publishing phenomenon was less a search for truth than a quest for enormous publishing royalties. People are suckers for sensationally revisionist books that confirm their view of the church as a bunch of manipulative charlatans.

    However, in my more charitable moments, I like to think that these books at least invited a lot more people to confront question of ‘Who was Jesus Christ?’ Maybe some of them even went on to meet him.

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