March 22, 2006


If rejecting the doctrines of Christianity is termed heresy, then the premise behind two controversial books -- the novel "The DaVinci Code" (soon to open as a movie) and nonfictional "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" -- would rise to the level of mega-heresey.

Random House, the publisher of "The DaVinci Code," written by Dan Brown, is being sued for copyright infringement by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," which was published in 1982. They claim that Brown plagiarized the seminal idea of their work -- that Jesus was mortal, not divine.

The writers' premise is that the historical Jesus is not the biblical Jesus. They contend that the historical Jesus was a political agitator against Roman occupation, that he was not the Son of God, that he did not die as a result of his crucifixion, that he was not resurrected, that he was married to Mary Magdalene, that he sired a family, that his bloodline can be traced to France and the Merovingian dynasty, and that the biblical Gospels are hearsay and mythology, written long after Jesus' death to further the goals of the Roman Catholic Church.

Quite bluntly, the "Holy Blood" book claims that Christianity in general, and the Bible in particular, are a lie, a fraud and a myth. But the book bases its research on nebulous documents allegedly obtained from the Priory of Sion, a society organized to protect the bloodline of Jesus from extermination, which was a descendant of the Knights Templar, which allegedly excavated Solomon's Temple and found not the Holy Grail, but rather proof of Jesus' mortality and family. Wow. For a nonfiction book, that's a truckload of speculation, hearsay and mythology.

Interestingly, "Holy Blood's" so-called "Priory documents" concerning Jesus' bloodline originated in 1188, more than a thousand years after Jesus' presumed death in 33 A.D. The Jesus-is-mortal contingent disparages the New Testament, which was adopted at the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. The New Testament contains the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), a recitation of the life of Jesus, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and the Revelation of Saint John. The revisionists claim that the New Testament is based on word of mouth dating back 400 years. But their version, dating back 1,000 years, is suspect.

Brown's book is certainly riveting, based on the premise that proof of Jesus' bloodline exists and that the Catholic Church, operating through Opus Dei, is trying to suppress that information. Brown published his novel in 2003, 21 years after "Holy Blood." He claims he read the book after he submitted his manuscript to Random House in 2001. That's absurd. The theory of "The DaVinci Code" is identical to the theory of "Holy Blood," namely, Jesus' mortality.

In fact, "Holy Blood" raises some thought-provoking arguments:

First, there is no question that Jesus was a "political agitator." During his time, the Holy Land (Palestine) was split into three Roman-controlled provinces: Galilee in the north, including Nazareth and Magdala, Samaria in the center and Judaea in the south, including Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Romans had conquered the region around 50 B.C., and the Jewish society was divided into various sects, including the pro-Roman Sadducees and the anti-Roman Pharisees, Essenes, Nazorites and Zealots. Jesus was among those agitating against the Romans. "That is correct," said Father Dan McCarthy of Saint Tarcissus Church. Jesus was not a harmless visionary wandering the hills preaching love and charity.

In Jesus' lifetime, the Jews were looking for a messiah who would deliver them from oppressive Roman rule. The Greek word for messiah, or anointed one, is christos. Hence the name: Jesus Christ.

Second, "Holy Blood" raises issues regarding Jesus' crucifixion. Under Roman law at the time, those who committed property or political crimes against the empire could be crucified on a cross. Those who violated Jewish law, as promulgated by the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish elders, could be stoned to death. Jesus was condemned to death on Passover, yet the Sanhedrin allegedly did not meet at night or on Passover. Therefore, Jesus' death is a political sentence imposed by the Romans.

Yet, according to "Holy Blood," it typically took at least two days to die on the cross. And, after death, the body remained on the cross and was not buried. According to the Bible, in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus was crucified at Golgotha, died within a few hours, and was removed and buried -- and then he arose from the dead, and his adherents found his tomb empty the next morning. The authors of "Holy Blood" think that this was all a charade.

Third, according to the book, the Gospels are contradictory regarding Jesus' life: Matthew claims that at birth Jesus was visited by Kings in Bethlehem; Luke claims that he was visited by shepherds in Nazareth. Matthew claims that Jesus was a powerful and majestic sovereign; Luke claims that he was a meek, lamblike savior. Matthew claims that Jesus was an aristocrat descended from King David; Luke claims that he was a poor carpenter. "There are over 72 books in the Bible spanning almost 1,500 years," McCarthy said. "There is more than adequate evidence of the veracity of the Bible."

Those contradictions are utilized to buttress "Holy Blood's" premise that Jesus was the son of a man, not of God, which argues that when Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria compiled his list of the books of the New Testament in 367 A.D., he had to choose among hundreds of accounts of Jesus' life, all of which were written decades, if not centuries, after his death and which were based on verbal recollections of prior verbal recollections -- or word of mouth over generations. In 393 A.D. the New Testament was approved with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all of whom wrote their accounts hundreds of years after Jesus' death. The Gospels were written for a Greco-Roman audience. According to "Holy Blood," that makes them propaganda based on hearsay.

According to "Holy Blood," the evolution of a monotheist Christianity moved toward a single -- or Catholic -- orthodoxy. The Greek word for universal is katholikos. And that orthodoxy meant that the Christian message deified Jesus, appealed to a Roman audience, and cast the Jews as scapegoats. Hence, the crucifixion was depicted as the sin of the Jews, not of the Romans.

Any religion needs a sense of majesty, miracles and a messiah. The miracle of Christianity is the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God and the resurrection. According to the Bible, Jesus died in 33 A.D. The Jewish revolt of 66 to 74 A.D. was crushed by the Romans. In the Holy Land, the message and memory of Jesus was effectively extinguished.

But, according to "Holy Blood," as the doctrine of Christianity began to spread into Europe among Greeks and Romans, a serious dichotomy arose: Were Christians the adherents of the message of Jesus Christ, who was of virgin birth, risen from the dead and the Son of God? Or were they followers of the royal adherents of Jesus' bloodline and family, a martyred philosopher-king and a mere mortal?

The theology of Christianity and Catholicism embraced the former. In Rome, Christ was proclaimed the celibate minister, not the political agitator. "There is adequate evidence in the gospels" as to the accuracy of the New Testament, Father McCarthy said. "The tradition is valid."

Fourth, the "Holy Blood" book details various forms of Christianity throughout the first millennium, through 1,000 A.D. Arianism, which denied Jesus' divinity but accepted him as a historical figure, was popular. A key event was in 496 A.D., when Clovis I, King of the Franks, a Germanic tribe in what is today France, converted to Christianity.

During the 5th through the 7th centuries, the Merovingian dynasty ruled parts of France and Germany. "Holy Blood's" assertion is that the Merovingians were Jesus' bloodline, and that he had emigrated from the Holy Land to France, where his biological heirs reside. In fact, the book specifically names Jesus' blood heirs as residents of Rennes-le-Chateau, from the Castle of Gisors, and identifies them as the family of Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair.

And fifth, there's the issue of the Holy Grail -- the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper to drink the wine and caught Jesus' blood from the cross. "Holy Blood" speculates that the Grail is really some evidence of Jesus' bloodline. The Holy Grail has never been found.

Theology is not the forte of this column, which addresses political issues. Likewise, conclusions as to the Body of Christ are best left to Sunday morning sermons. But, as asserted by "Holy Blood," there is a definite disparity between the historical Jesus and the biblical Jesus. For true believers, however, the biblical is the truth, forever.