on April 2, 2006
Lately, I bought two books which came out at about the same time. One was the JESUS PAPERS, by Michael Baigent, the other the MYTHS WE LIVE BY: FROM THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS AND PAUL by a historian who uses the pen name Andrew Delos. Both are going to give the Church and the Evangelicals a heartburn and get from them in return one star ratings and worse.
The Baigent book lives up to the standards established by the author in his other book "Holy Blood, Holy Grail." Full of conspiracies, arcane documents nobody else has seen, and evidence frequently stretched to the limit to fit his theories. By contrast the Delos book is factual, serious, well documented and for this reason more provocative without even trying. Both books are very well written by master story tellers.
Both books cover the crucifixion of Jesus and both claim that Jesus was not dead when taken down from the Cross. Baigent weaves a complex conspiracy, Delos presents compeling evidence from the Gospels he apparently can read in the original Greek. In fact, the Delos evidence is so compelling that one will have to try hard to take it apart. Just as impressive is his evidence that St. Peter never set foot in Rome, that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, or that it was St. Paul who turned Jesus into the "Son of God"
If I were to render an opinion, I would say that each book has its own merits but the Delos book is more solid and more fascinating because it is so well documented. I expect that the Church and the Evangelicals are going to be much more upset by Delos than by Baigent. They will find his facts hard to swallow.
on April 2, 2006
I give the book three stars because it should get people thinking. The problem is the book just covers old theories laid out by Baigent and colleagues from their earlier books: Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the Messianc Legacy. Baigent does streamline and give a more direct approach to laying out the theory that Jesus was something more than a Dog and Pony show for the sake of humanity. Baigent will be hounded by critics for not having solid proof. The fact is Baigent fails to give anything more too the story other than a couple anecdotes, personal stories, and assumptions. I was hoping for more. A title as provocative as Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up. A person would think that this book would have some profound earthshaking information in it. The fact is the Messainc Legacy first chapters covers the life and times of Jesus much better and too greater detail. However,this book does give a more direct path to the theory about Jesus as a literal King of Jerusalem,possiblely married and a rebellious figure head but it does not reveal anything that hasn't been covered before. The book does give tons of valuable information about the Church of Rome's delibrate and successful attempt to change the world's view of JEsus. Chapter thriteen in this book has its most solid and orignal writting on historical JEsus. The chapter does a good job of showing ancient christian script compared too the Romanized New Testiment. Baigent does a good job of covering Eygpt and its influence over JEsus' teachings. The book would be a good read for somebody wanting alternative source of information about Jesus; besides the bible. The book is not a Da Vinci Code book its actual attempt in trying to find a more realistic story of Jesus and the events of his time.
I enjoyed this book. Before I get into the review, I want to make some general comments.
On some of the hoopla surrounding this book
There is an enormous gap between Catholicism and Christianity, if you base Christianity on the Gospels or anything else in the New Testament. That's not "an opinion." Just start reading and comparing. It's also helpful to remember that Martin Luther--a Doctor of Divinity and Biblical scholar--sought to reform the Catholic Church to principles of Christianity back in the 1500s. The two religions are fundamentally and diametrically opposed. Luther exposed the Catholic Church for the fraud it was, over half a millennia ago. And yet it's still going strong today. So, no book is a threat to Catholicism.
This book isn't a threat to Judaism, which is more a hereditary religion than one based on conversion.
Nor is this book a threat to "Literal Bible Christianity." Yes, it sheds credible doubt on many of the key Biblical concepts--such as the resurrection. However, it has long been beyond doubt that the Bible was concocted many decades after the Apostles died--and is thus full of errors (or, as many scholars hold, fraud). So, the "Literal Bible" folks already live with delusions. They aren't going to be swayed by even more evidence piled on what is already before them.
Would this book be a threat to other Christians? Probably not. Most Christian groups have officially come to terms with the errors, inconsistencies, and deficiencies of the Bible. That's why they don't take it literally. They take from the Bible and from tradition the core concepts on which they build their religious system. They have a faith that sustains them and through which they help make the world a better place. They don't pretend that their faith is based on knowledge, they know it's based on faith. So, they aren't threatened by research that provides even more evidence of fraud in the Bible.
If Jesus had survived the crucifixion, rather than having died and being resurrected, would these people live any differently? My guess is most Christians are far more inspired by the central message Jesus gave rather than the messages imputed to him long after his ministry concluded.
Conclusion: This book will not change the face of religions that claim to be Christian in nature.
On the Dan Brown controversy
Brown lied to the readers. That's what a novelist does. Brown's book, while entertaining and a source of millions of dollars of income for the author, isn't history. It's fiction. The fact that Brown pretended to present fact does rankle many people, and it certainly rankled Baigent and other scholarly types.
The dispute between Brown and Baigent has nothing to do with this book. That dispute has to do with an earlier Baigent work. And the decision in that dispute basically says Brown is a novelist (fiction, by definition) and Baigent is a researcher (fact, by definition). Plagiarism is not an issue because the works are inherently so different. Where Baigent and others are correct is in their claims that Brown made incorrect claims in his book. But Brown can legitimately do that because he wrote a work of fiction. If Brown had written a research piece, then we could all get upset and make him play by the rules of published research. If you simply remember that Brown is telling a story and not teaching a class, the controversy (as stated) is moot.
I like Baigent's approach. He gives extensive background information, so the reader gets a feel for how he arrived at his thesis that Jesus survived the crucifixion. He also provides us with insight as to why the crucifixion story, if false, would have come to be in the first place. That insight fits well into the current literature from others in this field of historical religious studies.
Some readers may have expected a one-sided approach that clearly sets forth the thesis as fact. Such an approach is what we find when people want to convince those who already agree with them. This is not what Baigent did; he took a much more fair approach. Context is a huge factor when trying to understand Christian texts and beliefs from any given era. This is why Baigent took the time to present the context. He didn't meander, as some impatient readers claimed in other reviews, he provided the necessary context.
This book is not a novel. There isn't a plot, and there are no cliffhangers at the ends of the chapters. It's a non-fiction work produced by a researcher for the layman. Baigent could have hidden behind jargon and unexplained concepts, but he didn't. I found myself intrigued after reading the first few pages. I think Baigent did a good job of making his case. But he was also careful to present his conclusion as an alternative to consider. He did not present it as the only logical conclusion. In no way does he imply the reader has to be an idiot to disagree with him.
Baigent does not claim that the resurrection absolutely never took place. He shows the weaknesses in the claims that it did, and explains those weaknesses in historical context. He then explains what most probably did take place, and why that's probable--again, in the historical context. I found his scholarly approach appealing.
Something else I found appealing in this book was the inclusion of a large number of informative photographs. Even if you (mis)read the text by coming at it with preconceived notions, this book is worth more than its price for these photos alone. They even have good captions to go with them.
When reading this book, you have to remember that it's an examination and presentation of the research, not an opinion piece developed to defend or attack a particular dogma or belief set. Baigent does challenge the reader to examine traditional beliefs, and by necessity some particular dogmas and belief sets aren't treated kindly. That doesn't, however, diminish the value of the book. Imagine a book on plate tectonics accommodating a belief that the earth is flat--it just doesn't work. Similarly, this book can't accommodate certain ideas. It does present ideas that make sense, especially when you understand the historical context in which those ideas are presented.
If understanding is something you desire, then you will like this book. If your self worth is wrapped up in holding to a particular belief set, then you probably won't like this book.
on March 17, 2007
This is a very well written easy to read fascinating history of Jesus life. Based on Baigent's research, Jesus was not a blond Northern European, but instead a dark skinned Palestinian. He was married to Mary Magdalene who was not a woman of the street but instead a wealthy, well respected woman called Mary of Bethany. The latter is the woman who anoints him. He was not a god, and was not divine. He admitted so in letters he wrote being held today by a private collector. He had no intent of starting a religion as he was an active Jewish messiah among many others. However, Judaism was highly factionalized. Jesus belonged to the Egyptian Therapeutae Jews who had different beliefs than the Zealot Jews of Judea. When he recommend that the Zealots accept Roman taxation, the Zealots turn on him and ask Pilate for his crucifixion. The Jewish Sadducee priesthood also asks for Jesus death, as his charismatic leadership threatened their authority. The author provides several independent sources suggesting he survived crucifixion. It is mentioned in the Gospel of Mark in original Greek. It is also mentioned in the Koran. And, it is vividly described by a couple of Renaissance paintings.
The most interesting aspect of the book is the author's study of Jesus' mysticism. Instead of starting Christianity, Jesus taught mysticism he learned from the Egyptian Therapeutae Jews. The latter studied Egyptian mysticism including "The Book of the Dead" and the "Far World." For the Egyptian, the dead represent a world that is just as alive but in a more etheral form not subject to linear time. One can travel to the World of the Dead and come back after training in mysticism. This includes the technique of incubation, meditating in silence in the dark in special designated chambers underground within pyramid or elsewhere. The meditation leads to mystical experiences uncovering the Far World. The Therapeutae adopted Egyptian mysticism and renamed the Far World the "Kingdom of Heaven." Jesus wanted to teach all others on how to reach this Kingdom that is within us. The Therapeutae believed in a simple life with no artifacts, temples, and religious hierarchies. They also believed that men and women were equal in their potential for reaching mystical experiences. Jesus could have also learned this mysticism from other sources. One of them is the Books of Hermes written by Egyptian priests in Greek who wanted to transfer their knowledge beyond Egypt. Another source includes the presocratic Greek philosophers (Parmenides) who had also imported similar beliefs from Egypt regarding the dead. Even Homer in The Odyssey mentions Odysseus traveling to the world of the dead when he sails to the "city of perpetual mist."
Unbeknown to Jesus, Christianity will take a different path from his mystical teachings. This religion will become obsessed with male chastity, female virginity, the immaculate conception of Virgin Mary and ultimately with misogyny as women are treated as inferior beings that are not allowed to become priests, bishops, or popes. During the Middle Age, women were persecuted and killed by the Christian religious orders who started the inquisition (The Dominicans). Between A.D. 1230 and 1480 30,000 were killed under the guise of witchcraft. This Christianity so estranged from Jesus mysticism was established through selected Gospels written hundreds of years after his death. Those were later screened, censored, modified, and selected to construct the New Testament. Within it, Jesus mysticism is entirely eradicated. These scriptures also assign a divine status to Jesus that historical facts do not support. It also assigns him supernatural capabilities including miracles (walking on water, resurrection, multiplication of breads and fishes, and ultimately creation of our entire universe in a mere week in the Genesis).
The author indicates that Christianity's interpretation of Jesus life is increasingly disconnected from any historical facts. New findings include the Dead Sea Scrolls and the related Gnostic Gospels and Gospels of Mark further question the historical veracity of Christian's interpretation of Jesus life. None of those scriptures made it in the New Testament.
Using the author's own plausibility framework contrasting what we have been told about Jesus (creation of Christianity, born of immaculate conception, chaste, resurrection, walking on water) vs what Michael Baigent reveals (Jewish messiah, surviving the crucifixion, married to Magdalene) one can state that Baigent's version does not breach the laws of physics and mammal biology. That's a basic step to have history on his side.
I strongly recommend this book. This is the first book I read on this very specific subject. I suspect that many other books covering the Gnostic Gospels, the Gospels of Mary Magdalene, and the Dead Sea Scrolls provide further opportunities for studying this fascinating subject.
This book is the follow-up to the highly successful and compelling Holy Grail book published some 20 years ago. It comes out at a time when the plagurism case by Baigant and his co-authors against Dan Brown and the DaVinci Code was just announced (in Brown's favor).
The book is well written and has lots of information about lots of topics, all of which revolve around Jesus in some way or another. Unfortunately, it's hard to know what the point is, since Baigent tends to skip around a lot. First he's in London taking pictures of something he knows not what, then we're in 1st Century Israel, then the Cathars, then... This style worked well in the Holy Grail book when there was a thread that held everything together. In this book, though, I can't find the thread. Sometimes it appears to be an opportunity for Baigent to use the photos and stories he didn't use the first time.
Then there's the errors. Lots of errors. Baigant focuses on a picture in a church in France that shows Jesus being taken into the cave after he is crucified. Baigant claims that "the full moon has risen" (p. 18) but in fact the picture shows that the moon is rising, not risen, and could be much earlier than Baigant proposed. He claims "no Jew would have handled a dead body after the beginning of Passover" (p. 18), but no claims are being made that the people handling Jesus are Jews. He claims that the body "is being carried out" (p. 18), but anyone can see from the physics that the body is being carried in.
Here's some more choice errors...
"According to the gospel accounts, everyone except Jesus' disciples seemed to want him dead." (p. 21). Completely false. The high priests even admit their fear that any reprisals against Jesus could lead to trouble since he is so popular.
"44 AD. Execution of James, the brother of Jesus." (p. 22) Nonsense. Almost every scholar places James' death in the early 60s.
"The Jewish execution for this particular transgression [political crime] was death by stoning." (p. 24). Nonsense. Death by stoning was allowed for blasphemy, not political crimes. Only the Romans could punish for political crimes.
"he was commonly called Jesus of Galilee." (p. 32) By whom? That name was never mentioned. He was called Joshua the Nazarene.
"AD 30. Crucifixiion of Jesus...c AD 35...John the Baptist is executed." (p. 44) So now John dies 5 years after Jesus???
"We get no information about Jesus from Paul..." (p. 72). Not true. Paul talks about the crucifixion (1 Cor 1:17), the last supper (1 Cor 11:20), Jesus' brother James (Gal, 1:19), his descent from David (Romans 1:3), etc. It's true, Paul doesn't tell us much. But Baigant's claim that Paul tells us nothing is not true.
He does get some things right: Jesus was surrounded by Zealots (but then Baigant neglects to mention "the brothers of thunder" which surely is another name for zealots), Sicarri is another name for dagger-men and the probably reference to Judas, Josephus had been with the Zealots (although I suspect he had been with the Essenes prior to becoming a Zealot)
It's too bad this book is spoiled by such poor scholarship. Had he done a better job, the breadth and scope combined with his very interesting writing style would make this a real find. In it's current shape it is a mere curiosity.
on February 3, 2007
Historical Jesus or mythological Jesus, Michael Baigent does an excellent job at differentiating between the two with facts and intelligent speculative conclusions. As more and more "newly" discovered ancient manuscripts are revealed, the religious leaders are horrifed that their deceit is being slowly exposed for what it is. Baigent contributes to the ever growing evidence that if Jesus did exist, he was a man, nothing more, nothing less. The divinity of Jesus that was invented by the early church is a myth as much as the divinities of Zeus, Apollo, Mithra, or Chrisna. Jesus will certainly join these late great gods one day in the future. It is only a matter of time and thanks to Baigent and people like him, we can enjoy our wonderful life on earth instead of believing in fairy tales and waiting to die to experience happiness. "The only gratification that science denies is deception" - Carl Sagen.
on March 29, 2006
Baigent did an MA degree in mysticism; that squishilly soft field tells us something about his relative loyalty to hard facts and sensible thinking. This reshuffled book displays a few excellent chronology charts, and lays out some basics of the old Jesus-survived-the-crucifixion hypothesis, along with quite a few interesting color photos. It's a fairly respectable introduction to the subject it treats.
Ch. 1: A novelistically presented intro to some claims about hidden and/or "vanished" documents. This is his "trust me" chapter.
Ch. 2: Claims that the last of the 14 Stations of the Cross at Rennes le Chateau indicates that Jesus survived the crucifixion. (How the Roman soldiers, etc., didn't notice this isn't explained.)
Ch. 3: Attempts to demonstrate that Jesus's parents were descendents of King David (with scant real evidence).
Ch. 4: Discusses how the New Testament switches the intended audience of readers from the Jews to the Pagans.
Ch. 5: Titled, "Creating the Jesus of Faith," this chapter explains that "Jesus" may be merely a title rather than a name, in that the word from which it derives meant "deliverer" or "savior." Baigent explains that the Apostle Paul, in his writings, provided no Jesus stories, indicating that Paul wasn't interested in any real man or biography. Baigent also makes the valid point that the emperor Constantine's main concern was political stability, not theology or doctrine, and that the final concept of "Christ" that was arrived at out of Constantine's convened conflab was a political consensus rather than an actual person with actual doctrines. Baigent states that "by the fifth century, the victory of the Jesus of faith over the Jesus of history was complete."
Ch. 6: Here the author states that Rome's greatest fear was that the secret that Jesus had survived the crucifixion and was married would get out.
Ch. 7: Here Baigent claims that Jesus obtained his ideas in Egypt. Any evidence for this is essentially conjectural.
Ch. 8: Claims that there was a functioning Jewish temple in Egypt, and that Jesus would have learned there.
Chs. 9-11: "The Mysteries of Egypt," "Initiation, and "Experiencing the Sense." These three chapters present some of what Baigent thinks Jesus must have learned in Egypt.
Ch. 12: "The Kingdom of Heaven." Here Baigent departs from his role as historian and enters into the role of religious believer, describing when "the soul leaves the body," and claiming, "Mary understood better than anyone the secrets of the kingdom of heaven." In making these statements, of course, Baigent slings himself tangentially off the credible course and sails off into factually baseless personal conviction, assuming the reality of "soul" at the very time (now) when neurologists and other credible scientists regard it to be a mythological concept. Baigent's stating what "Mary understood better than anyone" is obviously a childish thing to write in a book purporting to be scholarly, in that there is no credible way to know what Mary may or may not have understood about anything at all.
Ch. 13: Titled "The Jesus Papers," this chapter honestly states that "The Messiah explicitly states that he is not divine," mentioning how Rome could not afford to let this kind of teaching get out.
Ch. 14: "Trading Cultures." This concluding chapter categorizes some of the main doctrinal claims of Christianity as being "assertions about Jesus that came much later," and that there was nothing "to suggest that Jesus intended to be worshiped as a god . . . or ever planned to start a religion."
Other reviewers here have stated that Baigent, in writing this book, appears to have been motivated by the success of Dan Brown's bestselling novel, The daVinci Code. Baigent in effect acknowledges this, discussing it in the Preface.
This book uses information from many documented sources from the ancient world to give the reader an understanding of the political, philosophical, sociological and demographic forces present in the Roman world not only at the time of Jesus, but for several centuries afterwards. The author's thesis is that the confluence of these varios forces, events, and peoples, metamorphosized Christianity into what it is today, making it radically different from what even Jesus would have imagined.
The controversies over the divinity of Jesus, his virgin birth, and whether he experienced bodily resurection have been around for millenia. But more recent controversies include whether he survived the crucifixion, whether Jesus received some training in Egypt and India, and whether he was married and produced offspring. These are tentalizing questions, and the author presents intriguing possibilities to attempt to answer at least some of these questions.
The value of the book is that makes the reader entertain posssibilities, perhaps never explored and gives a firm historical foundation.
on September 17, 2006
The first chapter piqued my interest by describing an encounter of the author's with some Middle Eastern businessmen peddling old documents. However, after finishing the book, I am still wondering what this had to do with his story.
And I am also still wondering if he considered these the "Jesus Papers" of his title, or whether he meant the Dead Sea Scrolls or other old documents.
His premise, which takes over half the book to get to, is that Jesus studied in Egypt, was initiated into a mystery religion, and then went back to Judea to spread the word. This is not really based on research, just his opinion, and some oblique references in Roman histories and the Bible.
The first half of the book was a rehashing of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," but with some distinct omissions from the original (which of course support his latest theory, and he never explains).
This is a book for which I would read a synopsis - it will have in it everything that was worth reading. The book itself is not worth your time.
on September 15, 2006
"It must now be self-evident that there is a vast gulf between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith." This is Baigent's theme in "The Jesus Papers." But does he succeed? Does he provide evidence to prove his assertion, or even lead a careful reader to consider his claim probable? No. Not even close.
Mr. Baigent's method is flawed. For example, he frequently calls into question the reliability of early historical documents, while relying heavily on anecdotal material, which is often relatively late from a historical perspective. At times this "evidence" exists simply as the word of one person living in the 20th century.
Another problem is that Baigent is guilty of special pleading. He discredits the New Testament Gospel accounts which are contrary to his beliefs as unreliable, but then quotes from the gospels when they help establish his point. Often it is apparent that Mr. Baigent has left behind the realm of historical facts and entered the realm of speculation because he pauses in his narrative to ask questions such as "Could it be...?", "Is it perhaps possible that...?", etc. But, once he has asked the questions, his answers to his own speculations are considered proven true, and he addresses them accordingly through the rest of the book.
Unfortunately, I don't have the space here to document his countless speculations, errors, and distortions. Here are just a few.
Perhaps the single most outrageous claim in the book is the assertion that Jesus survived the crucifixion. However, Jesus' death by crucifixion is so widely accepted that virtually no skeptic continues to entertain this possibility. The event of his death is affirmed by Christian and non-Christian sources, as well as by the general expertise the Romans possessed in this manner of execution. Baigent comments that Jesus, if he died on the cross, would have died more quickly than expected. He neglects, however, to mention that Jesus first endured being severely beaten with a three-lash whip with pieces of bone or metal on the ends. This whip tore the flesh of the skeletal muscles and set the stage for circulatory shock. Following the scourging that Jesus received, he was probably in serious to critical condition prior to his crucifixion. During the crucifixion, he sustained five additional serious wounds, including the wounds caused by the nails and the spear in His side, which almost certainly pierced one lung and the heart. According to a 1986 article entitled "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ" which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "Clearly, the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between His right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge."
In addition to the medical evidence, the death (and resurrection) of Jesus is evidenced by the behavior and experiences of the disciples. It is nearly unanimously accepted among historical scholars (including such skeptics as "Jesus Seminar" members Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan) that Jesus' disciples, following his crucifixion, were initially discouraged and despondent but shortly afterward had multiple experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus. Additionally, due to these experiences, the disciples' lives were completely transformed, to the extent that they were willing to die for their belief that they had seen the resurrected Jesus. It is utterly nonsensical to suggest that this level of belief and commitment could have been inspired by their experience of a badly wounded, bloodied, extremely sick Jesus barely clinging to life. This scenario could explain their belief that they had seen him alive, but not their claim to have seen him resurrected.
Rather than relying on early historical documents to support his claim, Mr. Baigent's assertion that Jesus survived the crucifixion is based largely on the suggestion of one 20th century man, who claimed to have learned it directly from another man, who is supposed to have seen an elusive document making this claim. This story will only convince the gullible. By comparison, a surprising number of ancient historical texts (which are not elusive) record the death of Jesus, including a number of highly respected, primitive creeds that predate the New Testament, the Gospel narratives themselves, at least ten non-Christian texts, and several noncanonical early Christian sources. In contrast to the evidence presented by Baigent, these sources provide multiple early evidences for the event of the death of Jesus by crucifixion.
Similar arguments can be made to refute other assertions made by Mr. Baigent, including Jesus' denial that he was the son of God, the relative reliability of the Gnostic Gospels, the supposedly lost years of Jesus in Egypt, the claim that Christianity was essentially the creation of Paul, and many others.
In chapter 13, Mr. Baigent laments what he refers to as the lack of "pure historians" in the field of biblical scholarship. It seems we are justified in assuming that he would categorize himself in this manner, yet his haphazard acceptance and rejection of various data disqualifies him as a scholar. Hardly objective, his sole test for evidence is whether it supports to his own view.