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The Messianic Legacy (English Edition) eBook: Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh: bestthing.info: site-Shop. The Messianic Legacy eBook: Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh: bestthing.info: site Store. Get this from a library! The messianic legacy. [Michael Baigent; Richard Leigh; Henry Lincoln].
That the Gospels, for example, were written between the years 65 and That means the Church was founded, and was able to carry on, without them. Think of it! In fact the words are from a novel, Jean Barois by Roger Martin du Gard, published in , and in that novel they elicit the response: Before long all theologians of any intellectual standing will have reached these conclusions. In the early sixteenth century, Pope Leo X is on record as declaring: By the mid-nineteenth century, German biblical scholarship had truly come of age, and a dating of the Gospels had been established which — in its approach and in most of its conclusions — is still deemed valid.
Today, no reputable historian or biblical scholar would deny that the earliest of the Gospels was composed at least a generation after the events it describes. The thrust of German research was eventually to culminate in a position summarised by Rudolf Bultmann of the University of Marburg, one of the most important, most famous and most esteemed of twentieth-century biblical commentators: I do indeed think that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary.
He did so by insisting on a crucial distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. As long as this distinction was acknowledged, faith remained tenable.
If the distinction were not acknowledged, faith would inevitably find itself eroded and embarrassed by the ineluctable facts of history.
This was the kind of conclusion to which nineteenth-century German biblical scholarship would eventually lead. At the same time, however, the bastion of traditional scriptural authority was also being challenged from other quarters. The controversial contentions of German research remained confined to a rarefied sphere of specialists: Its impact on the public was enormous; and among the figures it most deeply influenced was Albert Schweitzer.
And the majority of Modernists, it should be noted, were working within the framework of the Church — until, that is, they were officially. By this time, the findings of both German biblical scholarship and of the Roman Catholic Modernists had begun to find their way into the arts.
Moore caused considerable scandal by depicting Jesus as surviving the Crucifixion, and being nursed back to health by Joseph of Arimathea.
In the years since The Brook Kerith was published, there have been numerous other fictionalised accounts of the Gospel story. In , Robert Graves published his ambitious fictional portrait, King Jesus, in which Jesus again survives the Cross. Before he does so, however, he has a vision of what his life should and would have been had he not voluntarily submitted himself to his final sacrifice.
These examples illustrate the extent to which biblical scholarship opened up new territory for the arts. Two hundred years ago, a novel dealing with scriptural material would have been unthinkable. Even poetry would not address such matters except in the more or less orthodox, more or less devotional form of Paradise Lost. Through their work, the fruits of biblical scholarship were disseminated to an ever-widening audience.
Biblical scholarship itself did not stand still. Jesus and the world of the New Testament continued to be addressed by professional historians and researchers who, with increasing rigour and fresh evidence at their disposal, sought to establish the facts surrounding that enigmatic individual of two thousand years ago. Many of these works were intended primarily for other experts in the field and attracted little popular attention. A few, however, were pitched to the general reading public and engendered considerable controversy.
The Passover Plot by Dr Hugh Schonfield argued that Jesus staged his own mock crucifixion and did not die on the. More recently, controversy was provoked by Jesus the Magician, in which Dr Morton Smith depicts his protagonist as a typical wonder-worker of the age, a figure of a kind that thronged the Middle East at the beginning of the Christian era.
The Jesus of Morton Smith is not significantly different from, say, Apollonius of Tyana, or the prototype assuming one existed of the legendary figure of Simon Magus. In addition to material devoted specifically to Jesus, there have been innumerable works on the origins of Christianity, the formation of the early Church and its roots in Old Testament Judaism.
Here, Dr Schonfield has again played a prominent role with a series of works addressed to the background of the New Testament. Biblical scholarship has made enormous advances during the last forty years, aided immensely by the discovery of new primary sources, material unavailable to researchers in the past. The most famous of these sources, of course, are the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in in the ruins of the ascetic Essene community of Qumran. In addition to such major discoveries, many parts of which have not yet been published, other sources have gradually been coming to light or, after long suppression, are being circulated and studied.
As a result, Jesus is no longer a shadowy figure existing in the simplistic, fairy-tale world of the Gospels. Palestine at the advent of the Christian era is no longer a nebulous place belonging more to myth than to history. And although Jesus himself remains to a significant degree elusive, it is as possible to deduce plausible information about him as it is to deduce such information about Arthur, or Robin Hood.
Despite all this, the hopeful prophecy which we quoted at the beginning of this book has not been fulfilled. Theologians of intellectual standing have not — at least, not publicly — come to share those conclusions, nor to be amazed at the credulity of their nineteenth-century predecessors. In certain quarters, dogma is, if anything, more entrenched than ever. Despite the current problem of over-population, the Vatican can still impose its strictures on birth control and abortion — not on social or moral grounds, but on theological.
A fire, caused by a bolt of lightning at York Minster, can still be regarded as evidence of divine wrath at the appointment of a contentious bishop. And in American communities, major works of literature can be banned from schools and libraries — or even, occasionally, burnt — for challenging traditional scriptural accounts, while a new current of fundamentalism can actually influence American politics through the support of millions eager to be raptured away to a heaven more or less interchangeable with Disneyland.
In , David Rolfe, working for London Weekend Television and Channel 4, began work on a three-part television documentary entitled Jesus: The series took no position of its own, endorsed no particular point of view.
It simply endeavoured to survey the field of New Testament studies and to assess the value of various theories proposed. Yet even before the project got under way, British pressure groups were lobbying to have the enterprise suppressed. When it was finished, in , it had to be screened, in a private showing, to a number of Members of Parliament before it. And although subsequent reviews found it thoroughly sane and quite uncontroversial, clerics of the Church of England publicly announced that they would be on standby alert to deal with any members of their congregation upset by the programmes.
Apart from The Passover Plot, virtually none of this scholarship has found its way into popular consciousness. A few works, such as Jesus the Magician and The Gnostic Gospels, have been widely reviewed, discussed and distributed, but their readership has been largely confined to people with a particular interest in their subject matter.
Most of the work done in recent years has impinged only on specialists. Much of it is also written specifically for specialists, being virtually impenetrable to the uninitiated reader.
The messianic legacy
So far as the general public is concerned, as well as the churches which minister to that public, the works cited above might never have been produced. And yet the same claim, when promulgated by Robert Graves, then by Dr Schonfield in The Passover Plot, attracted as much scandal and incredulity as if it had never been broached before. In the field of New Testament studies, it is as if each new discovery, each new assertion, is swallowed up as quickly as it can be made.
Each must constantly be presented anew, only to disappear again. This is an extraordinary situation, perhaps unique in the entire spectrum of modern historical research. In every other sphere of historical enquiry, new material is acknowledged.
It may be disputed. Attempts may be made to suppress it. Alternatively, it may be digested and assimilated. But at least people know what has already been discovered, what has already been said twenty or fifty or seventy years ago. There is some species of genuine advance, whereby old discoveries and contentions provide a basis for new discoveries and contentions, and a corpus of knowledge comes into being.
Revolutionary theories may be accepted or discarded, but least cognisance is at taken of them and of what preceded them. Cumulative contributions by successive generations of researchers create an increased and increasing understanding. Thus do we acquire our knowledge of history in general, as well as of specific epochs and events.
These images are constantly growing, constantly mutating, constantly being augmented by new material as it becomes available. So far as the general public is concerned, New Testament history offers a striking contrast.
It remains static, unaffected by new developments, new discoveries, new findings. Each controversial assertion is treated as if it were being made for the first time. Each contribution in the field of biblical research is like a footprint in sand. Each is covered almost immediately and, so far as the general public is concerned, left virtually without trace.
Each must constantly be made anew, only to be covered again. Why should this be? Why should biblical scholarship, which is pertinent to so many lives, be thus immune to evolution and development? Why should the great mass of believing Christians in fact know less about the figure they worship than about historical figures of far less relevance? In the past, when such knowledge was inaccessible or dangerous to promulgate, there might have been some justification.
The knowledge today is both accessible and safely promulgated. Yet the practising Christian remains as ignorant as his predecessors of centuries ago; and he subscribes essentially to the same simplistic accounts he heard when he himself was a child. A fundamentalist might well assert that the situation bears witness to the resilience and tenacity of Christian faith.
We do not find such an explanation satisfactory. The Christian faith may indeed be resilient and tenacious. History has proved it to be so. But we are not talking about faith — which must necessarily be an intensely private, intensely subjective affair. We are talking about documented historical facts. A number of distinguished commentators, most of them ecclesiastics, were assembled to evaluate the programmes and their implications.
During the course of this panel discussion, several of the contributors agreed on one telling point. In the last year, the same point has been echoed not only by the Bishop of Durham, but also by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It was also a focus of debate at a subsequent synod of the Church of England. According to several participants, the prevailing ignorance of New Testament scholarship is in large part the fault of the churches themselves and of the ecclesiastical establishment. Anyone in the ministry, anyone training for the ministry, is, as a matter of course, confronted with the latest developments in biblical research.
Any seminarian today will learn at least something of the Dead Sea Scrolls, of the Nag Hammadi Scrolls, of the history and evolution of New Testament studies, of the more controversial statements made by both theologians and historians. Yet this knowledge has not been passed on to the laity. In consequence, a gulf has opened between ecclesiastics and their congregations.
Among themselves, ecclesiastics have become eminently sophisticated and erudite. They may find contentions such as those we have made questionable, but not surprising or scandalous. Yet nothing of this sophistication has been transmitted to their flock. The flock receives virtually no historical background from its shepherd — who is believed to be the definitive authority on such matters. When, in consequence, such background is presented by writers like ourselves, rather than by the official shepherd, it can often produce a reaction amounting to trauma, or a personal crisis of faith.
Either we become regarded as gratuitously destructive iconoclasts, or the shepherd himself becomes suspect for having withheld information. The overall effect is precisely the same as if there were an organised conspiracy of silence among churchmen.
This, then, is the situation at present. On the one hand, there is the ecclesiastical hierarchy, steeped in what has been written in the past, versed in all the latest aspects of biblical scholarship. On the other hand, there is the lay congregation, to whom biblical scholarship is totally unknown territory.
The modern, more or less well-read cleric is acutely aware, for example, of the distinction between what is in the New Testament itself and what is an.
He is aware of precisely how much — or, to be more accurate, how little — the scriptures actually say. He is aware of how much latitude, indeed, of how much necessity, there is for interpretation.
For such a cleric, the contradictions between fact and faith, between history and theology, were personally confronted and resolved long ago. Such a cleric has long recognised that his personal belief is not the same thing as historical evidence, and he has effected some kind of personal reconciliation between the two — a reconciliation which, to a greater or lesser degree, manages to accommodate both.
He is unlikely to be startled by the kind of evidence or hypothesis presented by us and by other writers. It will already have been familiar to him, and he will have formed his own conclusions long ago. In contrast to the learned shepherd, the flock has not had occasion either to familiarise itself with the evidence in question or to confront the inconsistencies between scriptural accounts and the actual historical backdrop.
For the devout Christian, there has been no need to reconcile fact and faith, history and theology, simply because he has never had any reason to believe that a distinction between them might exist.
On the contrary, the story in the Gospels is often utterly divorced from all historical context — a narrative of stark, timeless, mythic simplicity enacted in a sort of limbo, a never-never-land of long ago and far away. Jesus, for example, appears now in Galilee, now in Judaea; now in Jerusalem, or on the banks of Jordan. For the modern Christian, however, there is often no awareness of the geographical and political relation between these places, how far they might be from each other, how long a journey from one to the other might take.
The titles of various official functionaries are often meaningless. Romans and Jews mill confusingly in the background, like extras on a film set, and if one has any concrete image of them at all, it generally derives from one or another Hollywood spectacular — Pilate complete with Brooklynese accent.
For the lay congregation, scriptural accounts are regarded as literal history, a self-contained story no less true for being divorced from an historical context. Never having been taught otherwise by. When these problems are suddenly posed by a book such as ours, they will quite understandably assume the form of revelation, or of sacrilege. Needless to say, we harbour no such intention.
We are not engaged in any sort of crusade. We had a story to tell, and the story seemed eminently worth the telling. We had been involved in an historical adventure as gripping as any detective tale or spy thriller. It is a truism that a good story requires telling; it seems to have a life and momentum of its own, which demand expression.
Our conclusions about Jesus were an integral part of our adventure. Indeed, the adventure itself led us to them. We simply invited our readers to witness the process whereby it had done so. We are not trying to foist them upon you. If they make sense to you, well and good.
If not, feel free to discard them and draw your own. In the meantime, we hope you found your sojourn with us interesting, entertaining and informative. Today, of course, it is understandable how such a misconception can have occured.
Even to a Western European at the time, it would have been comprehensible. And yet it is equally clear that in the minds of those who believed in his divinity, he was indeed a god. It might seem to us somewhat peculiar, but we could not presume to challenge his belief — especially if his background, his education, his upbringing, his culture had all conduced to foster it. How could we possibly challenge such assertions?
What a man experiences in the privacy of his psyche must of necessity remain inviolate and inviolable. We know quite a bit about the historical context, the world in which both figures existed. This knowledge is not a matter of personal belief, but of a simple historical fact.
And if a man permits his personal belief to distort, alter or transform historical fact, he cannot expect others, whether or not they share his belief, to condone the process.
The same principle obtains if a man permits his personal belief to derange dramatically the laws of probability and what we know of human nature. We could, however, challenge a man who asserted that, as a matter of.
But such things fly so flagrantly in the face of known history, so flagrantly in the face of human experience, so flagrantly in the face of simple probability, that they impose an inordinate strain upon credulity. As personal belief, they may be unimpugnable. But presented as historical fact, they rest on too improbable and too tenuous a basis.
Jesus poses a problem essentially analogous.
We are not dealing with the Christ or Christos of theology, the figure who enjoys a very real and very puissant existence in the psyches and consciences of the faithful. We are dealing, in short, with the Jesus of history — and history, however vague and uncertain it may sometimes be, will still often brazenly defy our wishes, our myths, our mental images, our preconceptions.
In order to do justice to the Jesus of history, one must effectively divest oneself of preconceptions — and especially of the preconceptions fostered by subsequent tradition. And one must refrain from a priori acts of belief. Indeed, it can be argued that the wisdom of believing or dis- believing is itself questionable. People are prepared to kill all too readily in the name of belief. At the same time, to disbelieve is as much an act of faith, as much an unsubstantiated assumption, as belief.
Disbelief — as. To say that one does not believe in telepathy, or in ghosts, or in God is as much an act of faith as believing in them.
It is preferable to think in terms of knowledge. Ultimately, the issue is quite simple.
Either one knows something, immediately, directly and at first hand, or one does not. A man who touches a hot stove does not need to believe in pain. He knows pain; he experiences pain; pain is a reality that cannot be doubted. A man who receives an electric shock does not ask himself whether he believes in the form of energy known as electricity.
He experiences something whose reality cannot be denied, whatever the term one attaches to it. But if one is dealing with anything other than empirical knowledge of this kind — if, in short, one does not personally know in the sense just explained — the only honest thing one can say is that one does not know. So far as the theological attributes accorded Jesus by Christian tradition are concerned, we simply do not know.
If one is honest, one can only acknowledge this situation — that all things are possible, but that some are more possible than others. It amounts to a simple balance of probabilities and plausibilities. What is more or less likely to have happened? In the absence of truly definitive knowledge about Jesus, it seems to us more likely, more probable, more in accord with our experience of humanity, that a man should have been married and tried to regain his rightful throne than that he should have been born of a virgin, walked on water and risen from his grave.
And yet this conclusion, too, must, of necessity, remain tentative. It is a conclusion acknowledged as a more likely possibility, not embraced as a creed. But as far as Jesus himself, and the events surrounding his life, are concerned, there is an absence of definitive knowledge.
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The Gospels, indeed the whole of the Bible, are sketchy documents, which no responsible scholar would for a moment consider absolutely reliable as historical testimony. Given this situation, one must perforce hypothesise, if one is not to remain mute. Within this framework, however, it is perfectly valid, and indeed necessary, to speculate — to interpret the meagre, opaque and often contradictory evidence that does exist.
Most biblical scholarship involves some degree of speculation. So, for that matter, do theology and the teachings of the churches. But while historical research speculates on the basis of historical fact, theology and clerical teachings speculate almost entirely on the scriptures themselves — often without any relation to historical fact.
Secret Brotherhoods. The Explosive Alternate History of Christ
People have argued and slaughtered each other, have waged wars throughout the course of the last two thousand years over the way in which particular passages should be understood.
In the coalescence of Christian tradition, this is one principle that has remained constant. In the past, when Church Fathers or other individuals were confronted with one of the various biblical ambiguities and contradictions, they speculated about its meaning.
They attempted to interpret it. Once accepted, the conclusion of their speculation — that is, their interpretation — would become enshrined as dogma. Over the centuries, it then came to be regarded as established fact. Such conclusions are not fact at all. On the contrary, they are speculation and interpretation congealed into a tradition, and it is this tradition which is constantly mistaken for fact.
A single example should serve to illustrate the process. Apart from this, the Gospels tell us virtually nothing. In John 6: We are given no real indication of whether the title was warranted or not, official or not, recognised or not. Nor are we given any indication of how, precisely, Pilate intended the appellation to be understood. What was his motivation?
What was his action intended to achieve? At some point in the past, it was assumed, on the basis of speculative interpretation, that Pilate must have intended the title mockingly. To have assumed otherwise would have been to raise a number of awkward questions.
Today, most Christians blindly accept, as if it were a matter of established fact, that Pilate used the title in derision. But this is not established fact at all. It is only tradition that has persuaded people otherwise. To suggest that Jesus may actually have been King of the Jews, is not, therefore, to stand at variance with the evidence. If anything stands at variance with the evidence, it is this system of beliefs.
Did they, too, intend it as derisive? Surely not. Yet if they were referring to a legitimate title, why should not Pilate have been doing so as well? The Gospels are documents of a stark, mythic simplicity.
They depict a world stripped to certain bare essentials, a world of a timeless, archetypal, almost fairy-tale character. But Palestine, at the advent of the Christian era, was not a fairy-tale kingdom. On the contrary, it was an eminently real place, peopled by real individuals, such as one might find anywhere else in the world at any other time in history. Herod was not a king of obscure legend. He was a very real potentate, whose reign 37 to 4 B.
As we have said, Palestine in the first century, like any. Numerous factions squabbled with each other and among themselves. Cabals manipulated and machinated behind the scenes. Various parties pursued conflicting objectives, often making tenuous alliances with each other for the sole purpose of expediency. Deals were clandestinely arranged. Vested interests jockeyed for power. The populace at large, like the populace elsewhere and at other times, veered between apathetic torpor and hysterical fanaticism, between abject fear and fervent conviction.
Little, if any, of this is conveyed by the Gospels — only a residue of confusion. And yet these currents, these forces, are essential for any understanding of the historical Jesus — the Jesus who actually walked the soil of Palestine two thousand years ago — rather than the Christ of faith.
It was this Jesus that we endeavoured to discern and comprehend more clearly. To make such an endeavour is not to declare oneself anti-Christian. We ourselves, it must be repeated, had no desire to assume the role of iconoclasts; we were simply caught in the conflict between fact and faith.
Nor, for that matter, did we regard the suggestions we made about Jesus as in any way shocking or outrageous. As the reader will have noted, virtually all the suggestions had been made before, most of them quite recently and in a well publicised way.
Moreover, we are not alone. On the contrary, virtually all our suggestions were very much in the mainstream of contemporary biblical scholarship, and it was from precisely this scholarship that much of our research derived. We consulted the acknowledged experts in the field, many of whom were not known to the general public; and for the most part we did little more than synthesise their conclusions in a readily digestible fashion. These conclusions were already familiar enough to the ecclesiastical.
What they had failed to do was pass them on to the laity. In private discussions, we met churchmen of many denominations. Few expressed any hostility to the conclusions in our book. Certain of them took issue with us on one or another specific point, but most found our general thesis plausible, even in some cases probable, and in no way diminishing the stature of Jesus or the Christian faith.
Among lay Christians, however, the same conclusions seemed to entail blasphemy, heresy, sacrilege and almost every other religious sin on the register. It was this discrepancy of reaction that we found particularly striking and instructive. Churchmen, whom one would expect to be most militant about the matter, responded with anything from sceptical but unsurprised indifference to outright endorsement.
Their flock responded with anything from horrified disillusion to vociferous outrage. Nothing could have made so apparent the failure of the churches to keep their congregations abreast of developments in the field of biblical scholarship.
All the same, there are signs that the situation is slowly beginning to change. In that respect, the contagion of American fundamentalism certainly augurs ill.
Nevertheless, there are distinct signs of improvement in the air, so numerous as to amount, in their modest way, to a form of Zeitgeist — a spirit, or current, or movement, abroad in the world. During the years of our research, numerous other publications were already in circulation, helping to create a favourable climate. Another popular novel called the Gospels into question by suggesting the existence of a new corpus of first-hand scriptural accounts — and this book was made into a television mini-series.
In his monumental opus Terra Nostra — certainly one of the dozen or so most important novels to be published in any language since the Second World War — the respected Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes depicted Jesus as surviving the Cross by means of fraudulent crucifixion involving a substitute. And Liz Greene, drawing on some of our own. Morton Smith had disclosed his findings about the early church in The Secret Gospel, following it with his controversial portrait in Jesus the Magician.
And it is also worth noting a curious, unsubstantiated but fascinating book, The Jesus Scroll, by an Australian writer, Donovan Joyce. By , then, when The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail appeared in print, the waters had already been disturbed by a fresh wave of material pertaining to the historical Jesus.
True, many people still did not know the extent to which, for example, the Gospels contradict each other. Or that there are Gospels other than those in the New Testament, which were more or less arbitrarily excluded from the canon by councils composed of eminently mortal, eminently fallible men.
The Messianic Legacy - Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh & Henry Lincoln
True, too, fundamentalism is still rabid in America. And it became apparent that the general reading public was not only prepared, but positively eager, to listen. Neither television nor the publishing establishment were blind to the possibilities. Since , a number of new books have appeared.
In , Anthony Burgess, perhaps even more controversially, explored much the same territory in The Kingdom of the Wicked. Or perhaps established literary figures enjoy a certain immunity from such cranky zeal. It might reasonably be argued that the single most inflammatory portrayal of Jesus anywhere is in D. The works of Morton Smith and Elaine Pagels have all been released in quality paperback editions.
In television and cinema, there have been dramatisations albeit glossy and uncontroversial of the Siege of Masada and the dispute between Peter and Paul. More significantly, Karen Armstrong, a former nun, challenged established Christian tradition in an intelligent, well researched and lucidly presented series on. As we have already noted, David Rolfe did likewise in his widely publicised series Jesus: We would not presume to claim that The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail in itself necessarily influenced any of these works.
Indeed, some of the individuals cited above would unquestionably find themselves at odds with certain of our conclusions. But we would like to think that the success of our book rendered both publishers and television producers more aware of the audience for material pertaining to the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity — an audience whose appetite makes such books and films viable. The emergence of this audience constitutes an extremely significant new development.
It also places a new and salutary responsibility on the churches, rendering increasingly untenable the kind of patronising censorship hitherto practised by churchmen with their congregations. If, as in the past, shepherds withhold information from their flock, the flock will no longer acquiesce in the process. It will turn instead to books and television. If we are correct in this assumption, we do have a basis for feeling gratified. Not, it must be repeated, because we are on a crusade.
Not because we have a vested interest, personal or impersonal, in challenging, compromising or embarrassing the ecclesiastical establishment. But because we, too, live in the modern world. We are aware of, and affected by, the pressures of that world.
We are vulnerable, like everyone else, to prejudice, and are conscious of how much havoc bigotry, the excesses of blind faith, and the tyranny which often accompanies it, can inflict on the world.
Words are imbued with a meaning which can often be affected by context, culture and history, all of which are subject to change. Some words and their meanings may achieve impressive longevity. Though even so simple a word will conjure a variety of different images, depending upon the canine preferences of the reader. We must, necessarily, interpret language. We think we know what certain words mean, but the assumption can be dangerous.
It is especially so when we try to impose our twentieth-century interpretation upon a word which once conveyed a subtly, or dramatically, different meaning in the past. Even more dangerous is it when we insist that a man of two thousand years ago meant what we mean in so contentiously abstract a sphere as religious faith. Many of our contemporary attitudes to our beliefs about Jesus stem from interpretation — or misinterpretation — of biblical material.
And biblical material is composed of words themselves translations of other words which attempt to convey ideas. Perhaps one of the most important of these ideas is that of Jesus as Messiah. And these appellations are all to be inferred when the Christian speaks of Jesus as Messiah. For most, indeed, the title, applying uniquely as it now does to Jesus, also.
We discussed evidence for Jesus as king in our previous book, but additional material must be presented and emphasised here. It represented an extreme example of a theocracy — of a body politic organised essentially around religious principles. Not only were religion and the state virtually synonymous, as they might be today, for example, in Iran. The state itself was a manifestation of religion. Every other aspect of the culture was similarly absorbed within a religious framework.
The very landscape was regarded as uniquely and especially favoured by God. Caves, valleys, mountains, rivers — all were invested with a profound reverential significance. Taxes levied by Rome or by local secular authorities mught be grudged, but those claimed by the Temple were paid willingly, even eagerly. He was ultimately as much an oracle, a high priest, a pope, a spiritual leader, as he was a king.
In other words, it denoted the duly consecrated and divinely endorsed king. Every king of Israel was regarded as a Messiah. He was recognised as such not only by his immediate followers, but also by a portion of the populace at large. His son, in A. Indeed, to assert that any man was God, or even the son of God, in a literal sense would have been, for Jesus and his contemporaries, blasphemous in the extreme.
For Jesus and his contemporaries, the idea of a divine Messiah would have been utterly unthinkable. The nation was believed to have fallen into a phase of cataclysmic evil. The last dynasty of legitimate Judaic monarchs had been all but extinguished.
Since 63 b. And the throne of the country was occupied by a puppet-king regarded as an iniquitous usurper. Herod, who reigned over Palestine at the time, could not even claim to be a Jew by birth. He was a native of Idumaea, the largely desert, and non-Judaic, region to the south.
At the beginning of his reign, Herod undertook to establish currency and legitimacy for himself. He repudiated his first wife and married a recognised Judaic princess, thereby seeking at least a form of legal sanction. In order to ingratiate himself with the populace, he rebuilt the Temple of Jerusalem on a hitherto unprecedented scale. He proclaimed himself a devout servant of the. Such gestures failed dismally to ratify his authority. He remained reviled and hated by the people he ruled.
Even his most generous acts were received with hostility and scorn, and this encouraged a natural predisposition towards tyranny and excess. Whatever social and political abuses Herod might perpetrate, these were seen merely as symptoms of a much more profound dilemma — the dilemma of a people who had been abandoned by their God. As king, he would rescue his people. The character of the Messiah is summed up by one historian of the period as: It contests only what Messiahship entailed, simply because this, for centuries, was not made sufficiently clear.
Biblical scholarship during the last two centuries, however, has rendered such an interpretation increasingly untenable. Judaism at the time acknowledged no distinction between religion and politics. To the extent that the rightful king was mandated and sanctioned. To the extent that his religious function included freeing his people from bondage, his spiritual role was also political. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke state explicitly that Jesus was of royal blood — a genuine and legitimate king, the lineal descendant of Solomon and David.
If this is true, it would have conferred upon him at least one important qualification for being the Messiah, or for being presented as such.
He would have enjoyed a technically legal claim to the throne of his regal forebears — and perhaps, as had been suggested, the technically legal claim. It is evident that certain people, from radically diverse backgrounds and with radically diverse interests, are quite prepared to acknowledge the validity of this claim.
In Luke In Matthew There can be little question that, in this episode, Jesus is being hailed as king. Indeed, the Gospels of both Luke and John are explicit on the matter. In both of them, Jesus is hailed quite unequivocally as king.
And in John 1: Yet even as an act of derision, it makes no sense whatever unless Jesus really was King of the Jews. Though highly questionable as the record of an actual historical. When Herod heard this he was perturbed.
He called together all the chief priests and scribes. Certainly, he cannot possibly have felt seriously menaced by rumours of a mystical or spiritual figure — a prophet or a teacher of the kind in which the Holy Land at the time abounded. If Herod felt threatened by a recently born child, it can only have been because of what the child intrinsically was — a rightful king, for example, with a claim to the throne which even Rome, in the interests of peace and stability, might recognise.
It is not the son of a poor carpenter whom the usurper fears, but the Messiah, the rightful anointed king — a figure who, by virtue of some inherent genealogical qualification, might rally popular support and, if not depose him, at least compromise him on specifically political grounds. For the present, however, it is sufficient simply to note two points.
It would thus have been as applicable to a teacher, for example, as to a practitioner of any manual skill. An overwhelming body of evidence indicates that Nazareth did not exist in biblical times. The town is unlikely to have appeared before the third century. This does not denote any locality. But what there is clearly indicates that his family was well-to-do, and that his upbringing was of a kind available only to those with status and financial resources.
All accounts, for example, depict him as a learned man — which was, one must remember, unusual in those largely illiterate times, when education was essentially an adjunct of class.
Jesus is obviously literate and well educated. In the Gospels, he disputes knowledgeably with his elders about the Law, which presupposes some considerable degree of formal training. From his own statements, it is clear that he is word-perfect in his familiarity with the prophetic books of the Old Testament, can quote them at will, can move among them with the facility and expertise of a professional scholar.
Perhaps more significant than evidence of this kind is the simple fact that Jesus, on a number of crucial occasions in the Gospels, acts like a king, and does so quite deliberately. One of the most telling examples is his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on an ass. It was intended, quite flamboyantly, to fulfil Old Testament prophecy. Indeed, in Matthew Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem!
See now, your king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey,. What is more, Jesus had indeed been anointed. The account appears in garbled form in the New Testament.
Thus, both Matthew and Mark state unequivocally that a royal anointing occurred. John states that the ritual was performed by Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus. It appears to have been roughly analogous to, say, the investiture of the Prince of Wales. Prior to this ritual, he seems to have been incognito.
Certainly there is no record of any public activity on his part, any behaviour that might attract attention. After his baptism, however, he moves suddenly towards the centre of the stage, not shrinking from the limelight, not shrinking from addressing large crowds, not shrinking from becoming the focus of public interest. What is more, his attitude seems to have been affected by his meeting with John at the Jordan. In short, he begins to display precisely the comportment his contemporaries would have expected of their rightful king.
Having been recognised and ratified as the Messiah, he now begins to act as a Messiah should. In addressing ourselves to this process, we are not speculating. On the contrary, we are drawing upon the consensus of unbiased contemporary New Testament scholarship.
The Messianic Legacy
And we are also drawing upon elementary common sense. Why, for example, should the same people who throng to welcome Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem clamour only days later for his death?
Why should the same multitude who invoked blessings on the son of David rejoice in seeing him mortified and humiliated by the hated Roman oppressors? Why — assuming there to be any accuracy at all in the biblical account — should the very populace which revered Jesus suddenly do a complete turnabout and demand, at the cost of his life, that a figure such as Barabbas whoever Barabbas was should be spared? Such questions cannot be ignored. But neither the Gospels nor later Christian tradition attempt to answer them.
As we explained in our previous book, and as virtually all serious biblical scholars concur, the Gospels, in treating such issues as these, were either drastically rewritten or, more likely, distorted the events they describe — which would have taken place at least thirty years before they were composed. The Gospels date from the period. The revolt of A. Previous events were transformed in the light of it, often by means of the wisdom of hindsight.
For the modern historian, the revolt warps all perspective: But when Palestine erupted in A. On the contrary, the country had been smouldering for some time. Since the beginning of the century, militant factions had become increasingly active, conducting a prolonged guerilla war, raiding Roman supply caravans, attacking isolated contingents of Roman troops, harassing Roman garrisons, wreaking as much havoc as possible.
It is there, and it will not go away, however hard the authors of the Gospels have tried to disguise it — and however embarrassing it may be for later Christian tradition. But it would be a mistake, we think, to divorce such evidence from its context, as certain recent scholars have sought to do. It would be a mistake to regard Jesus simply as a freedom- fighter, an agitator, a revolutionary in the modern sense. An ordinary freedom-fighter or revolutionary — and there were a great many of them operating in the Holy Land at the time — might well have won popular support for his actions, but could not have been acclaimed as the Messiah.
And there are enough fragments in the Gospels — the baptism in the Jordan, for instance, and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem — to indicate that Jesus did indeed enjoy that title, at least during the years of his ministry. If he was thus eligible for that title, there must have been something which qualified him — something which distinguished him from the numerous other leaders, both military and political, who at the time were themselves becoming thorns in the Roman side.
In order to be accorded the title of Messiah, and acclaimed as such by the populace, Jesus would have had to possess some legitimate claim. And if he involved himself in military activity, he would simply have been discharging the martial duty expected of him as royal liberator. Armed resistance to Rome was implicit in the title and the status he had assumed.
He was the specifically Judaic equivalent of the sacred priest-king. The principle underlying this figure obtained throughout the ancient world — not only in the classical cultures of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but among the Celtic and Teutonic tribes of Europe and farther afield as well.
Among other things, kingship functioned as a kind of conduit through which man was linked to his gods. And the social hierarchy culminating in the king was intended to mirror, on the terrestrial plane, the immutable order, coherence and stability to which the heavens seemed to bear witness.
Not infrequently, the priest-king was invested with a divine status of his own, becoming a god in his own right. In a somewhat similar fashion, Roman emperors promoted themselves to godhood, claiming lineal descent not only from demigods such as Hercules, but from none other than Jupiter himself.
In Judaism, of course, the prevailing monotheism of the first century A. Nevertheless, he was more than just royal. He was also sacred. He constituted the all- important connection between terrestrial and celestial order.
The principle of sacred kingship continues well into later Western history. It also lies behind such developments as the medieval conviction that a monarch could heal by the laying on of hands. Not surprisingly, this latter aptitude, which so closely echoes that attributed to Jesus himself, was ascribed with particular emphasis to the Merovingians.
Although this mandate was frequently enough abused, it nevertheless rested on an ultimately selfless foundation — on something originally intended to foster the common good, rather than to foster autocracy. Strictly speaking, the king was nothing more than a servant, a vessel, a vehicle, through which the divine will manifested itself.
And to that extent, the king himself was deemed expendable. In many ancient cultures, indeed, the king was ritually sacrificed after a stipulated period of time. The ritualised killing of the king is one of the most archaic and widespread rites of early civilised man. Albeit with certain symbolic variations, Jesus himself conforms to this pattern.
And not only that. His flesh was eaten and his blood was drunk. A residue of this tradition is obvious enough in the Christian Communion service. From the eighth century onwards, the Church arrogated to itself the power to create kings. In accordance with Old Testament practice, it did so by anointing with oil.
And yet that, precisely, is what the early Church did with the Emperor Constantine. In fact, it did more. Not only did it concur with. In other words, the Church recognised Constantine as successfully achieving what Jesus had signally failed to do.
Constantine, who presided unchallenged over the Roman Empire from A. But the position from which he is today assessed rests on precarious, even quaint, over-simplifications.
Immediately before this crucial engagement, Constantine is said to have had a vision — later reinforced by a prophetic dream — of a luminous cross suspended in the sky. A sentence was allegedly inscribed across it: But tradition does not stop there.
It also presents Constantine as a devout convert to Christianity. It was on the basis of this document that the Roman Church asserted its prerogative to create kings, as well as to establish itself as a temporal authority. We have already examined some of the traditions popularly associated with Constantine, and have endeavoured to disentangle the historical facts from a miasma of half-truths and legends.
Since then, however, new material on Constantine has been forthcoming and this adds significant new dimensions to the picture.
In consequence, it is necessary to look at that picture again. It is true, certainly, that Constantine was tolerant towards Christianity. By the Edict of Milan, promulgated in , he forbade persecution of all forms of monotheism in the Empire. To the extent that this included Christianity, Constantine became in effect a saviour, redeeming the Christian congregations from centuries of imperial harassment.
It is also true that he accorded certain privileges to the Roman Church, as well as to other religious institutions. He donated the Lateran Palace to the Bishop of Rome, and Rome was able to use it as a means of establishing supremacy over rival centres of Christian authority in Alexandria and Antioch.
Finally, he presided over the Council of Nicaea in A. At this council, the various divergent forms of Christianity were compelled to confront each other and, to whatever extent possible, reconcile their differences.
As a result of Nicea, Rome became the official centre of Christian orthodoxy, and any deviation from that orthodoxy became a heresy, rather than merely a difference of opinion or interpretation.
Indeed, most of the popular traditions associated with Constantine can now be proved erroneous. Even the Church will today readily admit this, while remaining loath to relinquish many of the benefits obtained by the deception.
He appears to have had some sort of vision or dream, or perhaps both, in the precincts of a pagan temple to the Gallic Apollo, either in the Vosges region or near Autun.
There may also have been a second such experience immediately prior to the Battle of Milvian Bridge, at which Constantine defeated his rival for the imperial throne. Just before his vision or visions, Constantine had been newly initiated into a Sol Invictus cult, which makes his experience perfectly plausible.
But the Deity in question was not Jesus. It was Sol Invictus, the pagan sun god. The state religion of Rome under Constantine was, in fact, pagan sun worship, and Constantine, all his life, functioned as its chief priest. The image of Constantine as a fervent convert to Christianity is patently wrong. He was not even baptised until he lay on his deathbed. Nor can he be credited with the cho rho monogram. An inscription bearing this monogram was found in a tomb at Pompeii, dating from two and a half centuries before.
It had been introduced to Rome a century before Constantine. Although it contained elements of Baal and Astarte worship, it was essentially monotheistic. In effect, it posited the sun god as the sum of all attributes of all other gods, and thus peacefully subsumed its potential rivals with no need to eradicate them. They could, in short, be accommodated, without any undue friction. His primary, indeed obsessive, objective was unity — unity in politics, in religion and in territory.
A state religion that included all others obviously conduced to this objective. And it was under the aegis, so to speak, of the Sol Invictus cult that Christianity proceeded to prosper. Religion Category: Paperback 2 —.
download the Mass Market Paperback: Add to Cart Add to Cart. About Richard Leigh Richard Leigh is a novelist and short-story writer with postgraduate degrees in comparative literature and a thorough knowledge of history,… More about Richard Leigh. About Henry Lincoln Henry Lincoln is an author and filmmaker and has written for television. Product Details.
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