The following report comes from one of Tekton's readers, Bjorn Are Davidson, who is a staunch defender of the faith living in Scandanavia. He graciously consented to allow us to print his thoughts on a debate he had there with Michael Baigent, one of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Given the recent attention to a book that uses this work (The Da Vinci Code) we believe this commentary is most timely and relevant.
Here are my notes from March 9th...
It all went rather well, in fact, even if Baigent is a charming and sympatethic fellow in such a setting - and had the language advantage. Not to mention that it all was a publicity "stunt" for HBHG.
Baigent mentioned several times during the discussion that it all is an issue of "a spiritual quest", looking for "knowledge" and not "faith" or a repressive "Vatican"...
Unfortunately the 45 minute discussion did not leave room for me to go much into such things (though I realise that it is this "spiritual issue", more specific the question of womens role and rights in the church, which was most in the mind of the panel discussion leader. She was hence not interested in historical "details" at all. Hence Baigent got very few questions on facts...).
The whole thing started with him presenting the Order de Sion charter of 1152 and the Rennes-le-Chateau church decoration "Station XIV" (showing Jesus being carried in to - "or out of?" - the grave, as Baigent said suggestively, pointing at the full moon being present and that Jews were not allowed to touch dead bodies on the Sabbath).
I used this opportunity to say that such "evidence" proved nothing to a Historian. And I asked the audience to realise how good Baigent is at setting up patterns and pictures to influence interpreations of other "evidence" and suggestions.
Unfortunately, the format of the debate did not allow me to mention things like that there is nothing "unique" about the Stations of the Cross in RLC church. They were (I have this from Paul Smith of course) supplied by Giscard and Co (see attached copy of a page from their catalogue). The church in Couiza has an identical set of Stations of the Cross like in RLC, except they are not coloured but silver. And the exact same ("sinister", according to HBHG)Stations of the Cross exist in the town of Rocamadour in France: http://www.rennes-le-chateau.org/enigmes/stations.htm
I made sure to mention that an official Order with the name of Sion in the 12th century is no proof of any reality behind the forgery of Prieure de Sion in 1956.
Baigent responded (in (I think) a bit less confident voice than for other things this evening) that there is a lot of doubt about that being a forgery... Without giving any specifics.
To which I replied that no Historian who had looked at this was in any doubt.
And his reply was something like "What is History?" And about the need for a different approach than Historians use...
I managed to slip in that Historians use proper tools and methods to avoid being overrun by creative and wild hypothesis like Ralph Ellis and his "Jesus - last of the Pharaos". Baigent admitted that even he found Ellis a "bonker".
One point here was to mention my work with brainstorming workshops and training people in thinking outside the box. I encourage people to do what Baigent has done in HBHG, looking at wild possibilities, not holding anything back. However, I also train people in reality check, evaluating wether "pet ideas" really hold water in view of facts and a serious analysis. And it is here I very much indeed find Baigent at fault.
The rest of the debate was (as planned by the publishing company) on the issue of "The Truth about Jesus Christ".
Baigent kept insisting that the Bible was put together in the fourth and fifth century from among the hundreds of available documents written in the second century. Saying he was supported by Elaine Paigels and Karen King in this (not mentioning that these are not exactly mainstream). Hence one needed to sift through the material carefully and discern fact from fiction and not be manipulated by "church additions" and "rewriting".
I countered this by saying that Historians knew that most of the New Testament was from before AD 100, and Paul's letters from the 50's (I was unfortunately stopped by time restrictions from going into the isse of the gospels being dated to between 70 and 95 (at the latest)).
This made him claim that the Letters of Paul was written in the second century, as they were "not even mentioned by Justin Martyr". I made sure to tell to audience to check the dating of Paul letters for themselves, if they were in any doubt about Baigent's way of telling stories.
I also made sure to mention that this was not a matter of "faith". Atheistic Historians like Robin Lane Fox and Michael Grant is just as dismissive of his "hypothesis" as Christians or Jews.
Then it all turned into the question of whether Jesus was married with MM or not. Baigent refered to the Gospel of Maria Magdalene and the Gospel of Philip, and said that there was a lot of evidence which only made sense if they were married.
I brought up (in 54 seconds) points like the Essenes (which has some similarities with Jesus) not having marriage as an "ideal" for their religious leaders, and why Mary Magdalene was not called "Mary Wife of Jesus" in any source. Before (far too fast) mentioning how come the Gnostics - who did not look at this world as something of value and instead tended to look at it as a prison for their lights/souls, which made it unlikely they would praise someone marrying and imprisoning new souls by kaing children - would spread stories about a Teacher who did this...
Baigent insisted that I did not seem to be much into Gnosticism as they had a wide range of opinons, some groups even being very promiscius. MB then claimed to have participated in archaelogical digs in Essene areas for three years, and that there was a lot of women and children there. He had also especially been invited to a Dead Sea Scroll conference and had presented "an academic paper". His "The Dead Sea Scroll Deception" (written with Eisenmann) had met "a lot of abuse in the beginning", however "was taken more and more seriously now"... (I have afterwards checked this through a top DSS scholar (Torleif Elgvin), and he has never heard about Baigent delivering such a paper, and doubt him being allowed to be part of such excavations. Baigent's book being taken more seriously now is "a direct lie").
The last minutes of the debate was about the antifeminine aspects of Christianity vs. Gnosticism, and "individual belief" vs. "church dictated". Not easy to get something meaningfull across here in one minute, however I managed to communicate that it is important not to make this into one "evil side" against one "good" - as there is a lot of antifeminine aspects of gnosticism and "pro-feminine" in The New Testament.
And I made a main point by saying that much of what Baigent did was typical in a post modern society: following his own religious muse, like the Gnostics, and making up a Jesus in his own image, without looking much backward at the sources.
When we walked out off the stage, I stopped and reminded the audience to check the dating of Paul letters.
OK, if nothing else, an interesting experience;-)