Saturday, November 17, 2007

The religious impulse.

I have finished reading The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail written by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. The edition I read was the 2005 illustrated hardback which is more involved than the 1982 first edition. An introduction and postscript were written in 1996 and the body of this 2005 edition runs to 429 pages.

The book is written in 3 parts. Part one concerns the mystery of Berenger Sauniere who in 1891 removed an altar-stone in the village church of Rennes-le-Chateau and found four parchments preserved in sealed wooden tubes. Two of these parchments are said to have comprised genealogies, one dating from 1244, the other from 1644. The two remaining documents had apparently been composed in the 1780's by one of Sauniere's predecessors as cure of Rennes-le-Chateau, the Abbe Antoine Bigou. Part two concerns the many secret societies that have operated through the centuries.

Part three concerns the bloodline of Jesus and is where this book really hots up. Modern scholars are unanimous in concurring that the Gospels do not date from Jesus's lifetime. For the most part they date from the period between the two major revolts in Judea - 66 to 74 and 132 to 135 - although they are almost certainly based on earlier accounts. The earliest of the Gospels is generally considered to be Mark's, composed sometime during the revolt of 66 - 74 or shortly thereafter - except for it's treatment of the Resurrection, which is a later and spurious addition. If Mark wished his Gospel to survive and impress itself on a Roman audience, he could not possibly present Jesus as anti-Roman. The Gospel of Luke is dated by scholars at around A.D. 80. The Gospel of Matthew was composed around A.D. 85. The fourth Gospel was composed around A.D. 100 and displays a number of quite distinctive features. There is no nativity scene, for example, no description whatever of Jesus's birth, and the opening is almost Gnostic in character.

The book explores how the New Testament was written, edited and changed to meet vested interests. The book then develops a hypothesis of what really happened and why history does not reflect accurately what happened on the ground. The main hypothesis is that Jesus was a mortal rabbi and a royal Jewish descendant, he was in conflict with Rome and went to live in exile in Kashmir. His wife and children emigrated to live in France and Jesus's bloodline continued there through royal inter-marriage.

I am an Atheist and a Republican but I found this book interesting in the way it explains the workings of the Christian church. The book shows how much power can be got from the adoption of religion and how by altering the message you can achieve your political goals. It shows the Christian church to be a calculating business organisation which is deeply involved with politics and has many under-the-table deals. It also shows how people can be swept along by religious crusades and how ideas can become established by the simple passage of time. The book sums up this whole Jesus, bible, bloodline and identity thing in it's conclusion on pages 456 and 457. This explanation of "the religious impulse" is so good that I will copy/paste the text below...

A few years ago it would have seemed inconceivable that a religious zealot - without an army of his own, without a political party behind him, without anything at his disposal save charisma and the religious hunger of a people - could single-handedly topple the modern and superbly equiped edifice of the Shah's regime in Iran. And yet that is precisely what the Ayatollah Khomeini managed to do.

We are not, of course, sounding a warning. We are not, implicitly or explicitly, comparing the Prieure de Sion to the Ayatollah. We have no reason to think Sion sinister - as one might the demagogue of Iran. But the demagogue of Iran bears eloquent witness to the deep-rooted character, the energy, the potential power of a man's religious impulse - and the ways in which that impulse can be channelled to political ends. Such ends need not entail an abuse of authority. They may be as laudable as those of Churchill or de Gaulle were during the Second World War. The religious impulse can be channelled in any of innumerable directions. It is a source of immense potential power. And it is all too often ignored or overlooked by modern governments founded on, and often fettered to, reason alone. The religious impulse reflects a profound psychological and emotional need. And psychological and emotional needs are every bit as real as the need for bread, for shelter, for material security.
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