Q: Why didn't Jesus go to college?

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Having seen, with my own two eyes, Indiana Jones receive the Holy Grail from a 1,000-year-old character actor in phony chain mail, I've had a hard time getting worked up about Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Still, I've been impressed by the way the anti-Brown reaction revealed the obscure but common bond among art historians, book critics, and Roman Catholics. Now Salon's Laura Miller tracks a further complicationā€”the fight over ownership of the book's made-up facts:

A cozy situation for Brown, but it became somewhat less so recently when, in the U.K., a lawsuit was filed against him for "breach of copyright of ideas and research." The complainants, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, are the coauthors, with Henry Lincoln, of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," a bestseller from the early 1980s. Virtually all the bogus history in "The Da Vinci Code"—nearly everything, in other words, that today's readers' find so electrifying in Brown's novel—is lifted from "Holy Blood, Holy Grail."

This puts both Brown and the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," in a tricky position. Baigent et al. have always maintained that the "facts" supporting their theories are available to any dedicated scholar and that the theories themselves, while unconventional, have been seriously entertained by other "experts," (including some, they claim, in the "upper echelons" of the Roman Catholic Church).

Since "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" presents itself as nonfiction, it has been in its authors' interest to downplay how much of it is invented. However, if the "research" and ideas in "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" are not the original creations of the book's authors, they become harder to copyright, and the possible infringement suit against Brown might be weakened. No one, after all, has a copyright on the facts surrounding Abraham Lincoln's assassination or the Treaty of Versailles.

Whole article, including voluminous refutations of what sound like paper-thin historical theories, here (reg. req.).

(A: He got hung up on the boards.)

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  1. oh my, tim. methinks you’re minimizing the importance of his run-in with “the big T”… for shame… šŸ™‚

    between that and the HMO joke, it’s a good day!

    cheers,
    drf

  2. Tim, as a semi-devout Catholic, I would like you to know that your insensitive, disrespectful joke made me laugh. Shame on me!

    Article: Interesting situation. Hoist by one’s own petard, karma, “what a dreadful web we weave,” and all that. God works in mysterious ways, and He is an iron.

  3. Q: Why didn’t Jesus go to college?
    A: He did; University of Nazareth, class of 22 (AD).

    Never did well on the swimming team (disqualified for running), but he was very popular with his dormmates, feeding the whole floor from one bag of chips, turning water into beer, and turning sage into …

  4. LOL! You know, having a young Jesus (before He got all grown-up and serious) as a dormmate just might rock!

    “Aw man, I’ve got a hot date tonight and I have this big zit right in the middle of my forehead …”

    “No problemo, dude, just let me touch that …”

  5. i remember trying to push holy blood, holy grail on people for kicks back in college. most of those fucks have already read the davinci code, probably.

    primary sources, people!

  6. The bulk of the “Sacred Bloodline”/Priory Of Zion stuff was largely debunked when the the so-called “documents’ that were “found” in the French National Library were found to be Vichy Regime forgeries designed to lend a “mystical” edge to French fascism (the same way the SS went looking for the Holy Grail, Spear of Longinus, etc.).

    Was Christ married? Assuming he existed at all (Is there any other physical or documentary evidence outside of the New Testement that confirms Jesus’s existance?), you could say that a Rabbi of that time wouldn’t get the time of day from Ancient Hebrews–no matter what sect–unless he took a wife. However, JC was appearently an unorthodox approach to Judaism, so mayhap he didn’t. Who can really say? Somebody show me the marriage certificate!

  7. I never read the Da Vinci Code, though I did read two of his earlier books, Deception Point and Digital Fortress. I can say without a doubt that while both of them attempt to sound realistic both are full of made up facts. Its obvious to anyone with even a small knowledge of biology (in Deception Point) or cryptology (in Digital Fortress) that he didn’t do any research at all and that he has no clue what he is talking about. The only thing about his books that surprises me is that people actually take them seriously.

  8. Akira, the historical Jesus is mentioned in near-contemporary Roman histories, with Josephus being perhaps the earliest source, roughly a century and a half after the crucifixion.

    As for the marriage business, it is entirely possible that Jesus performed the radical act of staying single, but such a departure would have required at least an explanation. Since it isn’t explained why Jesus never took a wife, it seems safe to assume he did.

  9. Perhaps he preferred the company of men šŸ˜®

  10. Never did well on the swimming team (disqualified for running), but he was very popular with his dormmates, feeding the whole floor from one bag of chips, turning water into beer, and turning sage into …

    Sounds like you should pitch this as a movie script.

    At my wife’s urging I read “Angels and Demons” (by the author of the Da Vinci Code). The writing was pretty bad, but the story was gripping. I know, it sounds weird, but I wanted to know what happens next without actually having to read it. So I skimmed.

    If the rest of his works are written like that, maybe he should quit the novel business and go into movies.

  11. i like this stuff much more when it’s in the hands of someone with a sense of humor, like robert anton wilson.

    new falcon just having reprinted nature’s god, the third in the “historical illuminatus” series. good potboiler type stuff, very funny in parts, especially the second book’s obsessively hilarious footnotes about de selby.

    why is the dan brown stuff so appealing to people who would normally look at the tin hat crowd with disdain? tin bras look better, i guess…

  12. If the authors of HBHG are going to go after people who steal their bullshit history, they’d better go knock on Umberto Eco’s door; Foucault’s Pendulum is chock full of the same kind of fun nonsense as HBHG, and references it several times.

  13. A: He did; University of Nazareth, class of 22 (AD).

    And all this time I assumed he went back to his birthplace to attend Bethlehem College of Carpentry.

  14. Is there any other physical or documentary evidence outside of the New Testement that confirms Jesus’s existance

    Not really. The earliest “historical” account of his life (the Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus) was written a few generations after he supposedly died, and appears to have been based on a different primary source of unknown but probably Christian origin. It is also of questionable validity, since it got substantially embellished by Christian scribes during the 3rd and 4th centuries, leaving historians to guess which parts were original and which parts were added by religious zealots centuries later.

    Basically, there’s no evidence for the existance of Jesus that would be accepted if most of western civilization wasn’t already convinced the guy existed.

  15. revelation (movie, 2001, staring udo kier – no relation šŸ˜‰ also have simialar knights templar stuff in it.

  16. (Is there any other physical or documentary evidence outside of the New Testement that confirms Jesus’s existance?)

    There are no non-Biblical direct records of Jesus’ trial or the charges against him or an official statement of his execution.

    The mention of Jesus in Josephus’ “The Antiquities of the Jews” in about 90 CE is brief and sourceless. His description of Jesus is oddly devotional (as Josephus was a Jew and loyal to Rome all his life) and refers to the resurrection in a casually factual manner. These facts make it difficult to claim Josephus as a reliable source.

    Tacitus, writing around 75 CE only describes the origins of Christianity (and also mentions Pontius Pilate as his executor, despite any official records of it) and how Nero blamed Christians for the fires which destroyed Rome. Suentonius mentions the fighting between Jews and Jewish Christians during the reign of Claudius.

    But that’s it, really. None of which is solid evidence supporting the actual existence of Jesus. Which, of course, doesn’t mean he didn’t exist, only that we don’t have records of him.

  17. Dan, you typing devil! You beat me to it and you were more succinct, too!

  18. “As for the marriage business, it is entirely possible that Jesus performed the radical act of staying single, but such a departure would have required at least an explanation. Since it isn’t explained why Jesus never took a wife, it seems safe to assume he did.”

    I’m not saying that Jesus was married–I’m just saying that I don’t have any evidence either way.

  19. I don’t know that Jesus was gay, but there’s no mention of a wife.

    I’m just saying.

  20. isldur,

    Umberto Eco doesn’t pass his novels off (well, except for general historical background, etc.) as true historical narratives though.

    Les,

    Some people claim that the Shroud of Turin is direct physical evidence; though I think that it is clearly a forgery. As I recall, one South Africa scholar claims that it is not only a forgery, but also an ingenuous early example of photography. Anyway, the amount of effort put into studying the shroud is fairly astounding.

    Interesting shroud sites:

    http://www.shroudstory.com/

    http://www.shroud.com/menu.htm

    I think its also fair to say that the Jesus (if he was a real person) of the NT isn’t anything like he is normally pictured in our culture; for example, he likely wasn’t an ordinary or simply peasant (given that Nazareth was very close to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Judea at the time – Sepphoris).

  21. I wonder how many Jews executed for treason in early 1st century Judea have evidence of their existence surviving today.

    Though, if the only direct evidence for Jesus’ existence is the NT, that means that all the depictions of the “historical Jesus” which have him married, gay, a member of the revolt, etc, cannot possibly have as much evidence for them as the standard Christian depiction of him.

    In short, if you believe the NT is true, Jesus is the man it depicts; if you don’t believe it’s true, you have no reason to believe he existed at all. So leave him alone.

  22. “In short, if you believe the NT is true, Jesus is the man it depicts; if you don’t believe it’s true, you have no reason to believe he existed at all.”

    Even if there isn’t any physical evidence of Christ’s existence, there are valid reasons to believe that he lived. Some of the evidence–much like the evidence for Confucius having existed–should be perfectly acceptable to atheists.

  23. For me it’s a matter of trying to find out the “historical” Jesus. Some point out that JC was a fictional character that drawn from the various Mystery Cults of the time time (Cult Mithras, Cult of Hourus, Apolloinus, etc.), or that “Jesus” was one or more of the radical preachers who prowled the holy land at that time. One thing is certain to me: That I just don’t think that the NT is a true historical document anymore than the rest of the Bible.

    Tell me who the real man was, then we’ll talk abou the myth.

  24. Ken,

    There are valid reasons for suspecting that some actual human being was the basis for the Jesus myth. There are no valid reasons for believing that the character depicted in the New Testament bears any significant resemblance to any actual human being.

    The “real Jesus” was probably a leader of one of the frequent insurrections against Rome who was, predictably, executed for rebellion. The New Testament actually contains a few hints of such origins:
    – Jesus’ followers are armed (which is a bit odd given his supposed “turn the other cheek” philosophy)
    – one of his last requests to his followers is that they gather weapons.
    – He allowed himself to be annointed with oil (how kings were “crowned” in that time and place)
    – He entered Jerusalem as a king
    – Rome did not execute people for claiming religious authority, but it did execute them for claiming political authority.
    – He is imprisoned with *another* guy named “Jesus” (specifically “Jesus Son of Man”) who had led an insurrection.

    That last point is the most interesting, I think. It pretty much screams “this story used to be different”, don’t you think?

    The most rational explanation for the Jesus myth, in my opinion, is that Christianity started as an cult surrounding an martyred rebel leader and, over the years, incorporated other popular philosophical and religious ideas (the virgin birth, the Golden Rule, the heavenly reward for earthly suffering, the death and resurrection) and ascribed ever-greater powers and achievemnts to its “founder”. Rapidly-shifting philosophies and beliefs, and veneration of founders, are hallmarks of cults; there are countless modern-day examples of that sort of thing.

  25. Re: Tim’s joke:

    I’d always heard that as “He got nailed on the boards.” 6 of 1, I guess.

    Other favorite Jesus punchlines:

    “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself!”

    “Peter, Peter….I can see our house from here.”

    Kevin

  26. Don’t forget the “virgin birth” part. I see that as basically a holy explanation for why he was essentially born a bastard (conceived out of wedlock, a big no-no to 1st century Jews). That would play into claiming God was his father, and also that the Law needed to be abrogated and reduced to its core of Love. Who else but a legal bastard could rail against the religious establishment that refused him entry to the synagogues? And to make his point, he hung out with the dreck of society: whores, pimps, beggars, tax collectors (who in the ancient world were no different than the guys the bookie sends to collect–thugs).

    The guy fits the profile of a real person enough for me.

  27. Kevin,
    I only got the first one.

  28. The Koran also talks about Jesus. I think that is about 900 years after Jesus, and it is not really a historical document either.

    And it might be addressing the myth of Jesus more than anything. But it talks about Jesus as a real person.

  29. Josephus, Antiquities, 18.3.3 (63-63) reads:

    Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man (sofos anHr), if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works (paradoxon ergon poiHtHs), a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ (ho xristos houtos Hn). And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

    — translation from the Perseus website

    This is the received text. Scholars believe that some, if not all, of the passage is a Christian interpolation. Certainly some lines can be eliminated at a cursory glance: “if it be lawful to call him a man” does not seem like the type of thing a Jew would have reason to write; similarly , we can eliminate the line “He was the Christ” (although, the omission of the article “ho” in Greek would transform the meaning of the passage from “He was the Christ” to “He was annointed”, the word xristos in Greek meaning annointed), since it seems unlikely that a Jew would refer to Jesus as the messiah; and finally the business about the prophecy can be eliminated because a JEw would not believe that the prophecy to which the writer refers had been fulfilled in the form of Jesus (but then again, maybe not, see below).

    But there is also a copy of this text in an Arabic manuscript of the tenth-century Melkite Agapius. It reads:

    At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifiction and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah about whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

    — translation from Cornfeld, The Historical Jesus (New York, 1982), 189.

    No mention of Jesus “the Christ”, no mention of Jewish involvement in the execution of Jesus, and no definitive statement of Jesus’ resurrection. The question is which text preserves a more faithful rendition of the original?

    But there is also another mention of Jesus in Josephus. At 20.9.1 (200), he writes:

    Ananus… called together the Sanhedrin, and brought before him the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ (tou legomenou xristou), James by name, together with some others and accused them of violating the law, and condemned them to be stoned.

    It may be significant that he calls him only the “so-called” Christ (“the one called Christ” is probably a better translation). It would be a very sophisticated Christian interpolater who would fashion a passage that cast doubt on the annointedness of Jesus. It seems more likely that a Christian interpolater would have used the particple ontos (being=is) instead of legomenou (called=is called). You might as well go for broke, no? Anyway, since James and Jesus were fairly common names in 1st century CE Palestine, Josephus needed a way to identify which James he was talking about; how better to make sure the right James is understood than by saying he was the brother of that certain Jesus, the so-called Christ.

    Josephus was born around 37 CE and the Antiquities were published in Greek around 93 CE. Neither he nor his writings were contemporaneous with Jesus. But he was a local yokel, and he must have been familiar with local legends and oral traditions, so the fact that he postdates the life of Jesus may not necessarily be problematic. Some of the Testimonium is definitely later interpolation, but I don’t think we can assume that the whole thing is.

    Origen (lived 184/5-254/5 CE) in his Contra Celsum (1.47) writes that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ). Can we infer from this that Josephus did mention Jesus? Maybe. At any rate, by the time Eusebius (lived c. 260-340 CE) quotes the Testimonium it appears as it does in the received text. The interpolations, then, must have occurred sometime after Origen but before Eusebius. But there must have been some mention of Jesus that compelled Origen to make his comment.

    As for the pagan Roman evidence, Pliny, Suetonius, Tacitus, et al., it seems more suitable as a source for the existence of a Christian sect than the existence of a historical Jesus.

    But why take my anonymous word on the internet? Go to the library and look this stuff up yourselves.

  30. I think that the Umberto Eco comparison is an interesting one. The focus of that book is not on presenting the theories surrounding the grail/templar/etc as the truth… but by showing how a patently made-up theory can be so compelling that people believe it and act on it as if it was true.

    I thought Foucault’s Pendulum was brilliant; if complex and challenging. Da’Vinci code: easy reading, but the characters unplausible (did anything that any of them do make a bit of sense?), and the plot infinitely more shallow.

    I finished Eco’s book after a month and went ‘wow’. I finished Brown’s book in 4 hours and wondered if my time would have been better spent reading through the airline brochure on gifts I could buy duty-free.

  31. Akira & cdunlea,

    The problem is, if the only evidence you have is not reliable, there’s no basis on which to figure out who the real man is. All your attempts to ferret out the “real” historical figure will reveal is your own prejudices — for they, more than anything else, will determine which bits and pieces of the evidence you choose to consider.

    I might as well say that Hercules was really a guy born out of wedlock, and the whole Zeus thing was just made up to shield him from shame. Never mind there’s zero evidence for that — it would be useful for pissing off those who did believe. Which, I assume, is why you posted that, cdunlea…

  32. Don’t forget the “virgin birth” part. I see that as basically a holy explanation for why he was essentially born a bastard (conceived out of wedlock, a big no-no to 1st century Jews).

    Highly unlikely — you don’t cover up an embarassing fact by openly committing a capital crime. Blasphemy was punishable by death. Besides, it wasn’t that shocking for a woman who was engaged to be married to get pregnant.

    There were already a number of cults surrounding mystical figures born to virgins by the time Christianity sprung up. The most likely explanation is that Christianity adopted the idea from one or more of them.

    I might as well say that Hercules was really a guy born out of wedlock, and the whole Zeus thing was just made up to shield him from shame. Never mind there’s zero evidence for that — it would be useful for pissing off those who did believe.

    Um, there have been exactly zero verified cases of women getting knocked up by gods. Compare that to the couple of hundred million or so cases of women getting knocked up by extramarital sex. Yeah, we lack information. But you don’t need information to conclude that a scenario that happens every day is automatically a more reasonable explanation than a scenario that, to the best of our knowledge, had never happened anywhere outside of a storybook.

    For example, we lack solid information about how Mozart died. But the idea that he died of syphillis is still a lot more likely to be true than the idea that his brain was eaten by zombies, don’t you think?

  33. According to my mother, an ER nurse who’s worked everywhere from the inner city of a big urban area to a small rural town, virgin births are reported every day.

    In fact, while the typical pregnancy lasts 9 months and produces noticeable symptoms prior to birth, pregnant virgins report no symptoms until the first labor contractions. Experts aren’t sure whether these pregnancies are simply much shorter than those in non-virgins, or if instead the duration is normal but no symptoms appear.

  34. To those who were interested in the Jesus-as-a-kid-in-college idea, check out Christopher Moore’s Lamb: the Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. Starts when Jesus is six, narrated by his best friend Biff, who is very, very sinful and runs around having sex with anything that moves. Takes them through Afghanistan, India, and China, then through Christ’s death…one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

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