Sunday, August 26, 2007

Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

My apologies for being so scarce, recently, but something has come up. There’s light at the end of the academic tunnel, and I have a number of deadlines to meet. For the past few days, I’ve been keeping my nose to the grindstone (with the exception of a brief visit by dear friend), and will be sharpening the proboscis until the end of the week.

So, I’m pretty much in cyber silence until that time. Trust me, I’ll catch up on all of your blogs, and continue the esoterica series. Until then, I wish you well.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Behind the Da Vinci Code: The Great Betrayal

Merovingian kings modelled themselves after Christ. They weren’t so much administrators or legislators as much as they were spiritual leaders (or ‘priest kings’). They made policy according to the allegedly secret spiritual teachings that they inherited from Jesus. They really couldn’t be bothered with everyday affairs of state. They left that gruntwork to the major domos (mayors of the palace--a position somewhat akin to White House Chief of Staff). Because of their laissez-faire attitude towards government, historians refer to the Merovingians as the “enfeebled” or “do-nothing” kings.

The on-again, off-again fracturing of the Frankish empire began to take its toll. The dynasty’s strongholds to power weakened during intrafamily squabbling when, during a period of heightened tension between the Merovingian kingdom of Austrasian and the Merovingian kingdom of Neustria, someone murdered the Austrasian king, Dagobert II, during a hunting trip. Dagobert died, apparently without an heir, most likely in 679 AD.*

After Dagobert’s death, the other Merovingian sovereigns gobbled up part of his kingdom. The remains were ruled not by a king, but by a major domo, Pippin II, who finally united Austrasia under a new Merovingian empire led by Theuderic III in 687.

Of course, as Merovingians, the kings focused more on spiritual matters, instead of running a kingdom. In their words, they preferred to reign instead of rule. During that time, the major domos took on more responsibility, without having any sovereign authority to back up their acts.

To speak the plain truth, the major domos got sick and tired of the arrangement. They figured that if they had to rule, they damn better well reign too.

Rome realized that the spiritual leadership of Merovingian despots challenged papal authority. Since the major domos governed anyway, it seemed like a good idea for Pope Zachary to encourage the major domos to overthrow the Merovingian monarch, Childeric III, in a coup d’etat. Led by Pippin the Short, the major domos successfully booted out the royal family. The revolutionaries then elected Pippin king in 751, and he established a new dynasty: the Carolingians.

Pippin willed his kingdom to his sons Carolman, and Charlemagne. Charlemagne became the sole king in 771 when his brother died, and subsequently expanded Frankish control over Western Europe. Pope Stephen III, perhaps seeing the wisdom of having such a powerful friend, as opposed to having such a powerful enemy, fostered an alliance between the Church and the Carolingians, which resulted in his crowning Charlemagne the first Holy Roman Empire (which glib historians point out was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire).

Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh cited historical accounts claiming that Dagobert II actually had an heir named Sigebert (aka Sigfried). Because of the tension between the kingdoms, Dagobert thought he would keep the existence of this heir a secret. So after his father’s murder, Siegfried’s handlers spirited him away to Rennes le-Château , along with the royal treasure. Some say that a poor local priest named Bérenger Saunière dug up the treasure sometime during the late-nineteenth century.

If Sigfried existed, then he must have found some way of secretly repopulating the family line, which could always lay claim to the Frankish, and later the French, throne. Although the Church did its best to whitewash the Carolingian coup, subsequent generations of Siegfried Merovingians might have subsequently looked upon this chapter in their history as the great betrayal.

*The vast majority of historians affix this as the date, while some think he died in 686. Presumably because it fit better with rest of their story, BLL used the second date.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Behind the Da Vinci Code: The Real Blood

One can interpret the term as Sangreal as san (holy) greal (grail). So what the hell is a grail, holy or otherwise?

Ostensibly, it’s a vessel that held the blood of Christ. Some say that it was the chalice Christ used during the Last Supper. (“Drink, for this is My blood.”), or the chalice Joseph of Arimathea used to collect Christ’s blood on the cross. In both cases, the reference is to some kind of container that holds (or held), the blood of Christ. Yet others insist upon another possible meaning.

The Bible tells us that one day, Jesus turned to a fisherman named Simon and said, “Simon, you’re a real peter [Greek for rock – as in bedrock – as in foundation], and upon this rock, I shall build my church.”

Sometimes I wonder if Simon thought, “Cool. What do you mean?”

The question is an important one. If Christ had a background in esoterica, stemming from His association with the Nazarenes, He might have wanted to create something that would disseminate His secret knowledge to a wider audience, perhaps something more analogous to a university or club. Simon-Peter’s understanding, however, resulted in the church’s formation into a newfangled synagogue--i.e., a house of worship.

The word Christ actually used, ‘εκκλησία’ (ekklesia), meant a gathering of like kind, or a selection--a word better translated into English as assembly, congress, organization, or convocation. The Greek word ‘karakion,’ from which we get the English word ‘church [a variation of the rather archaic English word, ‘kirk’]’ meant a fellowship of holy worshippers. Between the Second and Fourth Centuries AD, the meaning of these two Greek words began to merge, with ekklesia eventually becoming synonymous with karakion in many Christian circles.

Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh indicate that while mainstream Christianity embraced the worshipful connotation of the word church, another branch of alternative Christians braced the philosophical meaning of ekklesia. These two sides would lock horns in some fashion until the present day, with each laying claim to Christ’s legacy. Over the years, the Church often demonstrated its authority through pompous display. It built beautiful cathedrals and picturesque chapels on hillsides. It asserted the right to sell indulgences and call for Holy War. It had Christ’s handpicked successor as its founder. By the Twentieth Century, it would even have all the televangelists. That would make it seem as though the Church had all the tools necessary to establish itself as Christ’s sole agent on Earth.

What did the other side have? They had the Holy Grail.

As I stated earlier, ‘Holy Grail’ is only one interpretation of the word ‘Sangreal.’ You can also break the word down as ‘sang (blood) real (royal).’ This would imply that the it was the blood of Christ that was important, not the chalice that held it. It would refer to anybody who carried the blood of Christ, who inherited His royal blood from King David. Thus the phrase could apply to His children, or even to His wife, St. Mary Magdalene.

The term represented a play on words worthy of our friend SJ. The alternative Christians knew that the word ‘Sangreal’ had multiple meanings. They could have very possibly had some kind of talisman or relic cup said to have once held the blood of Christ. But even more important to them, according to BLL, were the living human vessels containing Christ’s blood (or as we would refer to it nowadays, DNA).

In medieval legend, knights and kings loyal to Rome searched in earnest for a chalice, for it was said to have been more than a mere talisman, but rather an instrument of divine magic. If the Church could take away the other side’s main weapon, then it could reign supreme on Earth.

Figure 1. An accurate historical recreation of a typical Grail quest (NOT!)

The Church’s problem was that King Merovech, and his descendants, the Merovingians, supposedly had the loving cup, and were loath to give it up.

How did the Merovingians get the chalice? If you ask BLL, the authors will tell you that the Merovingians got it the same way that they got their royal blood. They inherited it. You see, according to BLL, the Merovingians claimed to be the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Behind the Da Vinci Code: Christ the Married Man with Kids

The most contentious part of the Grail legend has to do with Christ’s putative marriage to St. Mary Magdalene. Authors Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh say that references to their relationship were made in the Gospel According to John.

Here’s a trivia question: what was Christ’s first miracle?

The Bible says that His first miracle consisted of changing water into wine at the wedding festival in Cana.

Remember the story?

Jesus is minding His own business, grooving on the wedding when Mary, his mother, gets in His face, complaining that they’ve run out of wine. What was Christ’s reaction? Was He disappointed? Was He angry with the host, which in this tradition would be the groom? Actually He’s mildly annoyed. His response to mom: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.”

BLL wondered, if Christ were a guest at the wedding, why would Mary expect Him to produce wine. After all, according to the Bible, He hasn’t performed any miracles yet. How does she know He can do anything about the situation? And what’s up with Christ’s reply? Could it be that He was expecting her to take care of certain things that were not taken care of?

Seeing that Jesus has gotta find wine somewhere, Mary orders the servants to obey Jesus’ instructions, and they do.

Now I can actually figure out how He changed the water into wine. But BLL couldn’t figure out why the servants obeyed Him unless He, in fact, was their master. If He weren’t, that would be the real miracle here. So, BLL reason that if the servants belonged to Jesus, and He and his mom were responsible for providing the food and the booze, then according to custom, that would imply that they hosted the wedding, and if so, were the groom and his mother.

Going back to the story of Lazarus, both in John’s version and in a redacted one originally in Matthew, by the time Christ arrives at the tomb, Martha’s there to meet Him. Christ utters a kind word, and then calls Mary out from the house. She comes. Problem is, according to BLL, she shouldn’t come unless she is His wife. According to the tradition of that time, a married woman could not leave the house during the period of mourning of an immediate family member, unless her husband instructed her to do so.

One more thing: the author of the Gospel according to John describes himself (?) as “the apostle whom Christ loved.”

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, 'I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.'

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, 'Ask him which one he means.' (John, chapter 13, verses 22-24)
Excuse me, but didn’t He love all of His disciples? Christ loved everyone, so that wouldn’t have been a very distinctive epithet.

Obviously, the author wants us to know that he (?) is somehow closer than the others--literally, since he (?) is reclining next to Jesus. This person couldn’t have been Peter, since Peter’s trying to catch his (?) attention. If this person were in fact John, the brother of fellow disciple James, then we would have to wonder why he never receives any preferential treatment from Christ in the other gospels, since, even in his own, he seems to pale in significance to Peter and Judas.

BLL felt that the author of the Gospel according to John is referring to sexual, or romantic love. Such wouldn’t be that unusual. After all, most people in most societies marry. And St. Mary Magdalene seems like a sensible choice for a bride, given how, as Mayden aptly pointed out in the last post, she seems to be by his side during critical moments. For example, take John’s description of the Crucifixion:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, 'Dear woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (Gospel According to John, Chapter 19, verses 25-27(
In case you missed that, John (?) is telling you who was there with Christ as he hung moribund: three women named Mary, and perhaps St. Elizabeth (assuming Mary’s sister isn’t the wife of Clopas--the King James version strongly implies three women, while other versions don’t clarify whether there are three women or four on Skull Hill with Jesus). Since the author mentions no one else, the description of “the disciple whom he loved” would seem to apply to one of these women. It cannot be His mother Mary, for the disciple has instructions on how to deal with Mom from now on--as his (?) own mother. If the Mary in question were his aunt, then you’d have to wonder why the John would have said something about her before then, or why the other gospels don’t mention her if this is a sister other than Elizabeth. And in all of the searchable database versions of the Bible I can find, this is the only reference to anyone who’s married to Clopas.

That leaves one person. BLL believed that the wording represented an attempt at deception on the part of whoever edited the Gospel According to John . The passage could have originally read, “’Dear woman, here is your daughter,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’” Then again, the passage might have originally read exactly the way it is above, but with the Son referring to Christ Himself. In other words, Christ was telling mom, ”Look what those #@! have done to your son,” before turning to the Magdalene and saying “This is your mother,” or in other words “Take care of your mother [in-law].”

Some non-biblical writings say that, during his childhood and teens, Christ travelled extensively around Europe, ushered by his uncle Joseph of Arimathea. By this time, a number of Jews, mostly from the Benjamin tribe, had left Palestine, and formed settlements on the European continent and the British Isles. Uncle Joe, according to these stories, took the young rabbinical scholar around on a promotional tour, most likely spending considerable breath on the fact that Christ was a direct descendant of King David (hint, hint).

As SJ has shown us in a previous comment, there were some who believed that Christ came to India after the Resurrection. Others rumored that Christ went to what is known today as Southern France after the Crucifixion--specifically, an area known as the Languedoc. He, Lazarus, Martha and St. Mary Magdalene connected with Jewish supporters whom He had met beforehand on his trip with uncle Joe. There they established a new colony and had children, the eldest of which was a daughter named Sarah

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Behind the Da Vinci Code: Christ the Censored

When the Nicene Council convened in 325 AD, the Church and the Empire faced a number of decisions on how to shape early Christianity into a dogma that would serve both Christian and Roman interests, acccording to Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. Two conflicting schools of Christian scholarship, both found in Alexandria, argued pro and con on the subject of Christ’s divinity, and Constantine wanted the questioned settled. To this end, the Council took a vote on whether or not Christ was an immortal. Divinity won by a score of 218 to two. In 331 AD, he commissioned Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, one of the attendees at the Council, to draft an official bible.

Eusebius had already reviewed scores of extant documents on the life of Christ, and had begun to categorize them as accepted, highly likely, and questionable. In The Holy Blood, and the Holy Grail, Richard Leigh, Michael Baigent and Henry Lincoln, noting Eusebius’ bias towards a divine Christ, asserted that his criteria for inclusion would reflect the Council’s finding, called the Nicene Creed.. BLL further speculated that Eusebius dismissed material that conflicted with Christ’s official godly image, and that he looked out for anything that would betray Jesus’ humanity, keeping information concerning Christ’s family relationships to a bare minimum, and dumping any writings alluding to personal shortcomings. Most important, according to the authors, the Council suppressed overt references to Nazarene beliefs.

According to BLL, this led Eusebius and Constantine to edit the Bible in strange and mysterious ways. First off, had the town of Nazareth not existed by the year 325, the Council would have been hard pressed to explain the many references to Christ as a Nazarene.

When we read the New Testament, St. Peter comes across as Christ’s go-to guy, His personal choice to continue His ministry. Yet, Eusebius didn’t see Pete’s Gospel fit for inclusion into the New Testament, but instead claimed that it was ‘apocryphal.’ Same too for the Gospels of St. Thomas and St. Philip, the Gospel of Judas, and the anonymously penned Gospel of the Infant Jesus.

One of the things you might find interesting about Peter and Philip was that they agreed on something that Matthew, Mark and Luke didn’t mention: St. Mary Magdalene wasn’t just a groupie, but rather a peer. In fact, these Gospels out-and-out referred to her as a fellow disciple.

John, like the other three gospel writers, didn’t refer to the Magdalene as a disciple either. But he does give some tantalizing insinuations that she was.

And more.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Behind the Da Vinci Code: Christ the Mystic

Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh argued at great length that Christ didn’t see Himself as most Christians see Him today. This is their point of view.

Nowadays, most Christian orthodoxies translate the ‘ben Genazareth’ part of Jesus’ name as “of Nazareth,” thus making Him Jesus of Nazareth. And they have good reason to do so, for the Bible said that Christ spent his early childhood in Nazareth. Matthew, chapter 2, verses 21-23 states quite clearly:

So he [Joseph] got up, took the child [Jesus] and his mother [Mary] and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’
Sounds plausible. We know that there was indeed a city called Nazareth, and that it still exists today. Problem is, we have no archeological evidence that the town even existed until the Second Century A.D., some one hundred years after the Crucifixion. Noted archeologist, Father Bellarmino Bagatti (Franciscan Friary of Saint Saviour, Jerusalem) found that while the outskirts of town had been used for burial and agriculture during the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age, those settlements disappeared for some centuries before starting anew, sometime after the year 100 AD. Naturally, some religious scholars have attempted to disprove Fr. Bagatti by producing artifacts that were sent to Europe more recently, each bearing a date stamp indicating the item originated in the First Century, as far back as the year 50 AD. But as Bagatti himself explained:

...we are not certain that it [the earliest extant artifact reported to originate from Nazareth which dates to no later than 50AD—still well after the Crucifixion] was found in Nazareth, even though it came from Nazareth to Paris [in 1878]. At Nazareth there lived various vendors of antiquities who got ancient material from several places.
BLL maintain that Jesus never set foot in Nazareth “So why does His name, in the original Hebrew, say he’s from Nazareth?” you ask. They would tell you that it doesn’t. Genazareth means ‘of the Nazarenes,' an offshoot of the Essenes that incorporated gnostic tenets. It’s another title that Christ had picked up somewhere along His life, most likely to indicate that He had mastered certain esoterica, or little-known information/philosophy.

As St. Philip explained in his Gospel (one of the Gnostic Gospels), the term Nazarene comes from the word ‘Nazara’ which means truth.* Likewise, the word ‘Gnostic’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘to know’. Those inducted into this arcana believed that salvation came about through an aggressive search for spiritual knowledge, which until the time of Jesus had only been availible to the elite.

For the sake of mankind, Jesus thus embarked upon a three-year teaching binge that stressed critical thinking and active engagement with subject matter, at the same time mocking traditional values and conventional wisdom while constantly challenging his disciples with odd hypothetical situations. In effect, Jesus attempted to democratize what had previously been off limits to the common person. The very parables we know Him for originated in the esoterica of the Nazarenes. Jesus used these to expand the mind of His followers, asking them to suspend their common sense in order to gain uncommon knowledge.

BLL repeatedly point out tacit references to Christ’s Nazarene influence in the Bible. When Christ received word from a messenger that his friend Lazarus had fallen gravely ill, for example, He nonchalantly mentions that He’ll go back to visit buddy boy when He gets a chance.

When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.’ Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John, chapter 11, verses 4-6)
St. Thomas gets a little indignant about all this. One might even get the impression that the doubting one is more than a tad bit jealous, asking Christ why the Magnificent Twelve can’t go back with Him so “that we may die with him” (John, chapter 11, verse 16).

Huh? Are we to understand that Thomas is advocating a mass suicide?

Hardly, according to BLL. Tom knew that Lazarus’ sickness and death were ritualistically symbolic, and wanted Jesus to bless him and the others in the same way. This ritual, the transformation from death to life, signifies the end of one understanding of the world, and the rebirth of a new, enlightened perspective. We see Jesus referring to this again when He advises Nicodemus that he too must be born again.

*It's clear that there are numerous other etymologies for this term

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Behind the Da Vinci Code: Christ the King

Authors Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh spent a copious amount of ink in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail discussing the role of Christ in the Sauniere mystery. At best what they had to say constituted heresy. At worst, some have interpreted their findings as downright blasphemous.

Obviously, billions of people don’t believe that Christ is the savior to all mankind. Most Jews don’t; neither do Moslems, Buddhists, Taoists, Wiccans or others of ethical faiths. Atheists wouldn’t give it a first thought, let alone a second. Yet it’s hard to imagine that ‘Christians’ might disbelieve this basic tenet of faith. Why call yourself a Christian then?

Like everything else, it all comes down to a matter of interpretation. How does one define ‘Christian’? Someone who believes in the divinity of Christ? Someone who believes that Christ was the savior, whether or not He was divine? Somebody who feels that Christ was neither divine, nor the savior, but follows His teachings anyway? Could we call a new-ager a ‘Christian if he or she believes Jesus to be a genetically developed human-alien hybrid named ‘Sanandron,’ who at this very moment is hanging out with Elvis Presley on a flying saucer somewhere?

Christ bore two markings of royalty at the time of his death: a crown of thorns, and a sign on His cross reading “INRI,” which stood for “Ieshua Ben Ia’acob (Jesus, son of Joseph) Nazarethi (of the Nazarene) Rex (King) Iudi/Iudeae (of the Jews/Judea).”* Virtually all churches explain that the sign and the crown of thorns were an attempt by the Roman government to humiliate Christ. But according to BLL, some alternative Christians say that the thorns and the sign were put there by His followers.

The Romans would very likely have executed Jesus if He represented a political threat. Christ descended from King David, according to Matthew and Luke. Did the Romans therefore think of His ministry as an attempt to restore Himself to the throne of Judea, a region that they themselves occupied at the time?

Baigent, Lincoln and Lee maintained that the Romans would not allow Him to death with any possible claim of royalty, unless as a cruel joke. It would not, therefore, be outside the realm of possibility that a contingent of His followers, like the Romans, interpreted His Kingdom of Heaven to mean a Kingdom on Earth. If so, His groupies might have used any means at their disposal to establish and maintain Christ’s legal right to rule, especially if they knew He would come back.

In order to explain the Romans’ opinion of Christ, BLL traced the derivation of the name Jesus Christ of Nazareth from the name Ieshua ben Ia’acob ben Genazareth. Well, ‘Jesus’ is a Latinized form of ‘Ieshua,’ a rather common convention of dominant culture.** The word ‘Christ’ is not a name, but rather a title, a Greek word, ‘Χριστός’ (Christós) which when translated into English means “the anointed one.” In Hebrew, the word translates as ‘Messiah.' So, the phrase means Ieshua/Jesus the Anointed, or Chosen One.

In one traditional sense of the word, anointing symbolized the rightful ruler of Israel. Kings David and Solomon were Messiahs. So if people actually started calling Jesus ‘Christ,’ then the Romans might have made Him public enemy number one. After all, the Romans knew their Greek, and might readily believe that this Christ was attempting to reclaim Palestine as a Jewish state, with Himself the Pretender to the throne.

*The Gospel According to John says that the sign also included Aramaic and Greek translations.

**English speakers, for example, often refer to friends named Pedro or Pierre as Pete.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

God in Drag

More fireworks. Edited for clarity.

The enigmatic, ancient empire of Sumeria served as the home to many of the mystic traditions and technological innovations. Sumerians leaned towards a balance of male and female gods such as Ishtar, Asherah and the warrior goddess Anat.

Some believe that Anat was Yahweh’s original consort. But like a lot of spouses, they bickered occasionally, each locked into a conflict of will, until Yahweh finally terminated the relationship. The timing of this coincides with a trek undertaken by a young couple named Abram and Sarai from the city of Ur in Akkad, a Semitic region within the Sumerian empire, to Palestine. As Jay Williams explained in Theology Today:

The advent of Yahweh in Palestine, then, involves at the outset a divorce of the masculine and the feminine. Asherah and Anat he repudiates, condemns, and drives out. They are the enemy; any alliance with them brings judgment and disaster. In their place, Yahweh marries Israel herself! Thus, the feminine counterpart of Yahweh is preserved but only in a very a-symmetrical way.
Indeed, some ancients, like those found in the Egyptian town of Elephantine, worshiped a combined deity, Anat-Yahweh, as late as 410 B.C.

Meanwhile, there are a number of theories concerning the belief that an ancient shift of power occurred between the genders, and that this shift stemmed from the technology of writing. Desmond Norris and other anthropologists aver that once men and women were of equal size, and equal social status. After our hunter-gatherer period, however, a clear division of labor began to develop in which the women held domain over the domestic sphere, and the men ruled the world outside. It took millennia for society to adjust culturally to that change.

Perhaps it was at this time in our collective psyche when we made the cultural distinctions between masculine and feminine. Left-brain activity supposedly stresses cognition and rationality. Our right brains allegedly concentrate on emotion and creativity. These concepts are often applied to the stereotype of masculine and feminine. One theory goes that literacy glorified male traits because it developed a reverence for left-brain activity.

Whatever the reason, we know that earlier generations often saw the Earth as feminine, a goddess demanding worship and appeasement. We also know that male entitlement to power coincided with the advent of literacy, often at the expense of the validity of the icon.

Maybe that’s why you don’t see people making ‘Venus’ figures these days. After all, the Israelites who made the golden calf wound up drinking it when Moses caught them. Then too, when he brought forth the Ten Commandments, he brought it in the form of the written word. And as we later learn in the Gospel According to John, “In the beginning, was the word.”

One thing for sure: Yahweh is considerably more left-brained than Anat. Those Earth goddesses! You sacrifice your crops and livestock to curry their favor, and you might have a bountiful harvest. If the crop is meagre, then the goddess must be upset. Why? Who the hell knows? Didn’t she receive the sacrifice? Is it “that time” of the century?

Well, that's the stereotype of femininity.

On the other hand, if you want to get into Yahweh’s good graces, all you have to do is follow His commandments (and numerous ordinances). If His devotees fail to prosper then it’s because of one of three things: either (a) they aren’t following the commandments correctly (i.e., they’re sinning); (b) it’s for a larger purpose (e.g., God testing Job); or (c) shit happens.

Since Abram was Sumerian, he probably would have known the legends of Ishtar and Anat. He might have also possessed a background in mysticism/technology. One thing that the Old Testament implies is that Yahweh has given either Abraham or his progeny a secret knowledge. The Akkad native and his descendants would take this knowledge, or Kabala (Hebrew for “tradition received”) quite seriously.

In those first few generations of Judaism, those who held the Kabala didn’t have that many initiates to choose from, so they tended to impart it to their elder sons. That didn’t always happen, though. Esau, as Isaac’s oldest, had the birthright, which would have included the tradition. But Esau was kind of a coarse, oafish man who never really understood the value of what his father offered. His kid brother, Jacob, knew the value of the secret knowledge, and ultimately tricked his elder sib into selling his right to it for a pot of soup.

Some speculate that Abram had some sort of secret knowledge, which was then passed on generation after generation. By the time Christ appeared, this knowledge would have been developed, expanded and influenced by others. And all of this would have remained in the family.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

The Pax Romana

Before returning to Saunière and his treasure, let’s give a little peak into this story’s background.

Gaius Julius Caesar (left)could be your best friend or your worst nightmare. His legions didn’t conquer Gaul by force alone, and not because they were shy about fighting. After all, they had superior weapons, military strategy and discipline, and the Germans who resisted them always came out the loser. Those who surrendered peacefully received gifts of food and land, and other nice things that only an advanced society could offer. But Heaven help the tribe who buzzed too loudly in Caesar’s ear. The Romans would ensure against future insurrections by cutting off the sword hand of all enemy males. And there was no shortage of left-handed Gauls walking around northern Europe.

With the German tribes under the thumb of Caesar and succeeding emperors, a cold war, known as the Pax Romana (Roman Peace), followed, lasting until the Fifth Century AD. Despite its name, the Pax Romana pretty much meant peace for Romans. For Gauls it meant living under the fasces, an axe bundled in wood symbolizing the power of Rome. It is from the word ‘fasces’ that we get the English word ‘fascism.’

During the early decades of the Fourth Century, sun-worshipping emperor Constantine threw Jupiter, Juno and the rest of the Pantheon (with the exception of his beloved Apollo) out on their Olympic asses and converted Rome into a Christian-friendly empire.* Only two hundred years before, Governor Pliny the Younger believed Christians to be nothing more than cannibalistic cultists who deserved execution because of their stubbornness. But as the empire grew increasingly complex, it required more and more administrators to govern their territories. Since the early Church believed in universal education, and the Romans did not, Christians became one of Rome’s most valuable commodities, quickly filling the void of the bureaucratic vacuum. In earlier times, Roman officials left them alone, unless they made a big deal out of being Christian. So, they practiced much of the faith in secret. Over the course of time, however, this made less and less sense. Realizing the impact on the state if Christians were rooted out and slaughtered, Constantine took the only rational action he could: the out-and-out legalization of Christianity, thus sending it well on its way to becoming the state religion.

Around 430 A.D., one group of Gauls elected as king, Merovech (left--also known as Merovée or Merowig), who was succeeded by his son, Childeric I, and his grandson Clovis, eventually establishing what is known as the Merovingian dynasty.

Germanic traditions often called for a new king to be elected upon the death of the old one. The Merovingians, on the other hand, treated the monarchy as if it were a personal family possession. Merovingian kings willed equal shares of their domains to surviving sons. So if the king had four sons, then upon his death there would be three new kingdoms. Needless to say, this left a rather fractured political landscape within a few generations, with a good deal of intra-family squabbling to boot. Sometimes brothers willed their kingdoms to their siblings, thus unifying the land a little bit. It seems that it might have dawned on somebody that a few large kingdoms might have been far more secure than a lot of little ones. That’s the reason most Germans elected a new king.

Why were the Merovinigians different? According to some, it’s because they weren’t interested in following German tradition. They were trying to maintain a Hebrew one instead.

*Constantine actually viewed Christ as an avatar of Apollo, and thus worshipped Him as the sun god.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Behind the DaVinci Code: Money, Honey

In order to decipher the code, and understand what it meant after doing so, Fr. Beranger Sauniere would have needed a lot of help. For the sake of Gerard de Sede’s tale, he must have gotten it. Just as soon as he returned from Paris, Sauniere and his maid, Marie Denarnaud, took daily trips into the woods on the outskirts of town and come back with loads of rocks. When anybody asked them what they were doing, they told them that they were building a patio.

Maybe that was a cover story.

Maybe the above message, combined with Poussin’s painting gave them all the help they needed to discover a hidden treasure that made them rich. This, however, isn’t likely. They paid for their good life in cold hard cash, not bullion or precious stones or anything else likely to be buried in a treasure.

What treasure could they have found there? Well, the first coded message indicated that it belonged to Dagobert II, the last known Merovingian king. Okay, so Dagobert left an unaccounted for treasure. But Siegfried, subsequent dynasties, the Church or all three had 1,200 years to siphon it off. Maybe they found a secret, and were blackmailing someone. This would make a little more sense due to the fact that Sauniere was sent his own private banker from Paris, and this banker deposited checks written by very wealthy patrons into his account (in Denarnaud’s name). It would also explain his and Denarnaud’s trips into the woods. If they knew a gravy train were coming, instead of letting people correctly speculate on how they got rich, they would throw them a red herring – they were digging rocks for a patio when they found a buried treasure.

The first inscription said that the ‘treasure’ also belonged to Zion. In 1969, nobody could understand the connection between a Catholic king and Judaism, and this, more then anything else fascinated BBC producer Henry Lincoln. What was Zion other than the obvious: a hill in Jerusalem, a synecdoche for Jerusalem or Israel itself, or a movement (Zionism) aiming to reclaim Palestine as a Jewish homeland? What secrets might Sauniere and Denarnaud have discovered? Just how many lost treasures were there buried in Europe in the latter part of the 19th Century?

Keep asking. The questions only get weirder from here.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Behind the DaVinci Code: Noon Blue Apples

As it turned out, the unusual capitalization wouldn’t be the only irregularity Bérenger Saunière found in the New Testament parchments. The text itself seemed to be a code for something else. When BBC producer Henry Lincoln noticed this some seven decades later, the newsman thought that he would never decipher the message. But M. de Sède immediately came to the rescue, giving the newsman a translation, which he claimed came from a computer. Lincoln checked with cryptographers in British Intelligence, who told him that no computer could break this code, for it was an old system of encryption called the ‘Vignere process’.

To decode using the Vignere process, you first have to write out the alphabet twenty-six times – the first time starting with ‘A’, the next time with ‘B’, etc. – in a square. Over each letter of the text, you then place the letters of a keyword, then look up all the letters in the encoded text, match them with the letters in the alphabet grid, then translate them using a Vignere table. Then you transpose each of the letters down one (so that ‘J’ would be an ‘I’, for example). With another keyword, you would then have to do the same process backwards, with the exception of transposing each letter two down (so now the ‘J’ would be an ‘H’). You next have to place two groups of letters (one from forward decoding, one from backward) onto two separate 8x8 grids. Then you take a chess knight, and move around the boards to find the appropriate letters, which would then yield an anagram of the real message.

A computer would be a godsend for deciphering this type of code if it weren’t for two things. First of all, you really can’t buy Vignere tables from, or any other commercial bookseller. Secondly, none of those letters will have any meaning until you find the two keywords. The keywords could be anything. They could even be right in front of your face, and you’d still miss them, and that’s assuming you knew where to look for them. Even if you used a computer to try the trillions of word/phrase combinations in your home language, it would still have to come up with two keys. It’s also quite possible that the keywords are in a language you don’t know.

So how did de Sède translate this text? Probably the same way that Saunière did. He consulted somebody who knew the keywords, or where to find them. According to Gérard de Sède, Saunière studied then destroyed the tombstone of one Marie de Blanchefort, unaware that an earlier priest had copied down the inscription someplace else. Lincoln saw the copy, and easily decoded two phrases: “Et in Arcadia Ego [And I in Arcadia--a phrase that brings to mind Poussin’s The Shepherds of Arcadia],” and “Mort Epee (death epee).”

The first phrase may have simply served as a point of identification. The Poussin painting depicts an actual tomb that still lies outside of town, and might have once borne this inscription (it’s kinda weather-beaten, so all engravings have long since washed away). The second phrase turned out to be the first keyword. The phrase ‘prae cum (before with)’, also found on de Blanchfort’s headstone, served as the second keyword.

When applied to the New Testament text and subject to the Vignere process, the following message appears:


Such a cryptic message naturally invites speculation. The words ‘Shepherd(ess)’ and ‘Poussin’ seem to go together given Saunière’s interest in Les Bergers d’Arcadie. This might refer to a place, more precisely, to the tomb depicted. Then again, I can’t figure out what David Teniers’ connection would be in specifying place. 681 AD was the year of Dagobert II’s assassination, so this might refer to the subject matter. “With this cross and this horse of God” I would guess indicates authorization. Note that whoever decoded the message would have needed help from somebody allowed to go there.

And the Daemon Guardian? His name is Asmodeus. He is simply a devilish, Satanic figure. Saunière erected a statue honoring him in the church entrance. The caption under it reads “Terribilis Est Locus Iste [This place is terrible--hardly something that you would expect to find at your local church].” This phrase, along with the next seem to indicate a specific time. In other words, a prophesized meeting between two parties, one representing the goodness of God, the other representing the evil devil figure. “Blue apples” might appear utterly nonsensical to an outsider until he or she realizes that it’s simply the local slang for ‘grapes’, which at noon, or in certain times of the year might make the rest of the secret visible.

To read earlier posts in this series, click here.

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