“What if everything you think you know about Jesus is wrong?”. This was the headline from last Sunday’s Dateline report.
He lost. But his book is back on best seller lists and just in time too. His new book: “The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History” is stirring a new controversy that is beyond the fiction of The Da Vinci Code.
While his 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail suggested Christ married Mary Magdalene and sired a secret royal bloodline (Baigent and co-author Richard Leigh unsuccessfully argued that Brown stole ideas from the book), his latest work puts forth the theory that Christ didn’t actually die on the cross…
The Jesus Papers suggests that either an impostor took Christ’s place on the cross or that his followers removed him from the crucifixion site while he was still alive.
One of the more tantalizing theories the book puts forth says that when Jesus asked for a drink of water, the sponge offered to him on a pole contained not vinegar, but a mixture of opium, hashish and belladonna. These would have put him into a sufficiently drugged state that he could be taken down while still alive but appearing dead.
A doped-up Jesus?
“Let’s say anesthetized,” Baigent adds with a smile.
Baigent welcomes all of this revisionism as a refreshing alternative to centuries during which the Christian church tightly controlled information to its followers so that the religious Jesus was advanced and the historical Jesus submerged. [source]
The jist of his “arguement” is that there is no documentation to verify that what happened to Jesus actually did. That all these documents around today are from the 2nd century. Something along the lines of Bart Ehrman latest book “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why”, where he claims that many things were ‘lost in translation’ since the Bible was collected years after Jesus died. This claim has good timing considering the emergance of the Judas gospels which made news the last week. Baigent claims there are documents, written on papyrus and in arimaic and hebrew which he has held in his hand although their owner will never release them. Note that Baigent doesn’t read either language but he claims these documents should be released for scholars to examine.
So what really happened to Jesus if he didn’t die on the cross? Baigent explains in the Dateline interview:
With the Bible as his source, Baigent reconstructed the story of the crucifixion and arrived at an entirely new version of events.
A secret deal with Pontius Pilate He says Pontius Pilate, who ordered Jesusâ??s death, actually made a secret deal to save his life.
Baigent: It was rigged. It was a fraud. I think the crucifixion was set up precisely to remove a particular political problem which both Pilate and Jesus found themselves within.
Pilate, Baigent argues, he needed to appease the crowd which was calling for Jesusâ??s death. But because Jesus had urged his followers to pay their taxes to Rome, Baigent argues Pilate also had an incentive to let Jesus live.
Baigent: Itâ??s my hypothesis that he rigged the crucifixion such that Jesus would survive but very quickly removed Jesus from the scene.
According to Baigent, Jesus and his supporters were also in on this plot. Baigent acknowledges there no proof of his theory, but it was possible to survive crucifixion. There is at least one example in early historical records. The Jewish historian, Josephus, writes about finding three of his friends nailed to the cross.
Baigent: He pleaded with Roman authorities and got them brought down. Two of them died. One survived. If the crucifixion was arranged to allow a survival, it could be done.
Itâ??s a theory that was first raised in a book called â??The Passover Plotâ? 40 years ago, which was dismissed by scholars. But Baigent believes the theory deserves a second look. The plot would have gone like this: Jesus would have been sedated so that he looked dead and then later revived after being taken down from the cross.
Baigent: The way to survive it would be to reduce the trauma. It would be to get the person off the cross quickly. And it would be to minister to that person as soon as possible afterwards. And all three of these factors we can find in the New Testament.
The vinegar-soaked sponge
He says where the Gospels relate how a thirsty Jesus called out for something to drink. A sponge soaked in vinegar was placed on a reed and lifted to Jesusâ?? mouth. But rather than reviving him, Jesus died shortly after drinking the liquid. Baigent says that detail suggests how the
plot might have been carried out.
Baigent: I think itâ??s more likely that they raised the sponge with some kind of anesthetic, which knocked Jesus out, which would reduce the trauma and make it easier for him to survive.
James: What do you think those drugs might have been?
Baigent: Well, they used hashish, opium, belladonna. There was a mixture of drugs.
Baigent says his account would explain why Jesus apparently died so quickly. While normally a person lingered on the cross for three days, according to the gospels, Jesus died within hours. Of course, there is another widely accepted explanation for Jesusâ??s quick death: He had been beaten, stabbed, in addition to being crucified.
James: Indeed, somebody could die after a matter of hours instead of several days?
Baigent: They could. But I think by giving someone a drug to render them unconscious would reduce this trauma and I think this is a significant factor in the Gospel account.
The Greek text
Next, he suggests, a lifeless-looking, unconscious Jesus was removed from the cross. The gospels say that Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for Jesusâ??s body. Buried in the text of the original Greek Bible, Baigent says is a crucial clue:
Baigent: When Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate and asks for Jesusâ?? body to take down from the cross, he asks for the â??somaâ? of Jesusâ??Which means the living body. Pilate allows Joseph to take the body. But he uses the word â??ptomaâ? which means the corpse, the dead body.
So even in the New Testament, thereâ??s a distinction made between a living Jesus and a dead Jesus.
Religion scholar Elaine Pagels of Princeton University says Baigent is drawing the wrong conclusion.
Pagels: If youâ??re talking about the removal of a body of a friend of yours, you would ordinarily not talk about â??a corpse.â? You would not say, â??my fatherâ??s dead corpse.â? You would talk about â??my fatherâ??s body.â? Itâ??s just a bit more respectful and intimate on the whole.
‘Immediate medical attention’
Once Joseph of Arimathea collected the body, Michael Baigent says there was one last, urgent step to complete the plot: immediate medical attention.
Baigent: They bring him down from the cross, they get him as quickly as possible into the tomb where under the cover of darkness, they return with drugs to treat any bleeding which may have occurred and to try to revive him.
And once again, Baigent contends the Gospels offer clues. When Joseph and Nicodemusâ??supporters of Jesusâ??visited his tomb during the night, they brought with them herbs and spices such as aloe and myrrh…
Now Baigent also believes that the Vatican has documents which prove Jesus was alive in 45 AD; a decade after his death, but says he has no proof.
But just what are the Jesus Papers according to Baigent?
…he describes the â??Jesus Papersâ? as two letters written to the Jewish Court, the Sanhedrin, by a writer who called himself the Messiah of the Children of Israelâ?? Jesus himself.
Baigent: They were answers to a charge made by the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had been accusing someone of claiming that he was god. This someone wrote back in his defense. And this Messiah was writing back to the Sanhedrin saying in effect, â??No no no, Iâ??m not saying that Iâ??m god. Iâ??m saying that Iâ??m filled with the spirit of god.â?
If these letters are real, Baigent contends it would mean Jesus was saying he was an ordinary man and not divine. But Baigent admits he canâ??t back up his claim.
So Baigentâ??s story hangs on a guy weâ??ve never met on papers weâ??ve never seen, and on claims that are impossible to verify. But Baigent has an explanation for that too. He says that the reason we canâ??t see the Jesus Papers is because that Israeli businessman made a secret deal with the Vatican.
Baigent: The Vatican asked him to destroy them. But he refused. But he did promise that he would keep them under wraps for 25 years. Now when I met with him, he had long passed the 25 year mark.
Is it possible the Vatican made a deal to suppress those so-called Jesus Papers? Or to hide those other alleged documents claiming Jesus was alive in 45 AD? Has the church tried to keep secrets about Jesus? Is there any evidence of Baigentâ??s allegation of a cover up? [source]
I think come what may, this will spark a new debate that is rocking the boat. Especially lately. Many people are buying this book now in the western world. From a Muslim’s perspective there are many things which I find absurd and quite offensive about these claims; on the other hand most Christians find what I believe as a Muslim quite absurd and offensive. That’s the irony I suppose.
But approaching this from a historical perspective instead perhaps there are documents out there; they may prove or disprove these theories. I personally believe this to be true, from a purely historical perspective. This is based on the fact that every few years new documents are discovered and with the information age that we live in it’s become harder to hide them and easier to expose them. My belief is that these documents merit a study; the conclusion is not what is entirely important here. What is important is that such documents (if they exist) do need to be studied and explained and understood. And it doesn’t matter what the religion is; such documents are an important account of Human history and people have a right to know and understand their past in order to make sense of what they believe in the present.
All I’m saying is that I think this is especially important in a time when we live in a world that is knowledge hungry and that information can often be misunderstood. This is a world where many think The Da Vinci Code is based on a true story and I hope The Jesus Papers doesn’t share a similar fate.