(After waiting more than a month, my library has finally provided me with a copy of Michael Baigent's The Jesus Papers. This is part one of some posts that I intend to write reviewing parts of the book as the mood strikes me.)
Michael Baigent's The Jesus Papers seeks to pick up where the book he co-authored Holy Blood, Holy Grail left off in 1982. The introduction reads, in pertinent part:
Since the publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, I have had twenty-two more years to reflect on these very questions, to do more research and to reassess the history and implications of those events. In other words, two decades of research over and above what is explored in The Da Vinci Code.
In other words, Mr. Baigent realizes that The Da Vinci Code made a lot of money capitalizing on his leaps from speculations to conclusions that he "researched" 22 years prior (can anyone say "Priory of Sion"?) and he wants to be able to throw out more logical leaps to capitalize on the popularity of Dan Brown's book. As an unintended consequence, Mr. Baigent's book doesn't disappoint -- it appears to be equally as flawed as both his prior book and The Da Vinci Code.
The first chapter of his book has a story about a meeting between himself and some other unidentified people in an unidentified bank where he is shown, for no discernable reason, a chest full of documents from ancient times that he is asked to photograph so that some secret potential buyers can review the photos before purchasing the contents of the chest. Of course, in a typical conspiracy-theory scene, the bank officials have to make it a point that as far as they are concerned the contents of the chest don't exist. What is the secret of these documents? Baigent doesn't know because he cannot read the ancient languages. But he is called on to take photos, and he does so. When he tries to sneak one of the rolls of film into his pocket so that he can prove that these documents exist, the agent of the owner of these documents who is in the room at the time catches Baigent by noting that Baigent is one film short. Baigent reluctantly turns over the roll he had slipped into his pocket with a sort-of 'whatdoyouknow, here it is -- I wonder how it ended up in my pocket?' type of attitude.
Now, one would think that if the people who had called him in to photograph these super-secret texts caught him trying to slip a roll of film that he had taken into his pocket, they might not trust Baigent. In fact, it seems to me that these people could even kill him to assure his silence. What happens, is -- to put it mildly -- incredible. Baigent records that his friend who invited him to this super-secret meeting to photograph these super-secret documents, recognizing that Baigent was trying pilfer a roll of film which records what these super-secret documents said, decides to help him. He asks the owner's agent to tell him where he planned to get the film developed. "At a photographic shop," the agent responded. At a photographic shop!?! We have documents hidden in bank vault where their very existence is not even acknowledged by the bank, where the agent is so careful he counts the number of rolls of film snapped by Baigent to make certain that they are all accounted for, and the agent responsible for the safekeeping of this secret plans to drop the photos off for processing at the local 24-hour photo shop?
Now it goes from incredible to even more incredible: Baigent's friend convinces the agent that such a photographic shop is not secure, and further convinces him to have Baigent develop the rolls of film! Yes, the agent somehow decides to trust Baigent to develop this film of these super-secret ancient documents even though he had caught Baigent just a few moments earlier trying to secretly take one roll for his own purposes. Maybe I'm alone, but I cannot imagine that any competent agent who is concerned with the secrecy of the existence and contents of some documents would be so incredibly stupid.
But wait -- it gets even better. Baigent goes home and develops the film, developing a second set for himself. Of course, this means that we are going to have photographic evidence of these documents and what they say, right? Well . . . .
From here, Baigent takes the photographs to the Western Asiatic Department of the British Museum to speak to an expert he had interviewed for a prior book in order to have him give him his opinion of the writings and content of the documents. The expert he wanted to meet was not there, but he met with a new expert he had never met before to whom he turned over the photographs. (Baigent is an incredibly trusting guy, right?) Now, get this -- Baigent turned over the only other set of prints he had made. That's right -- when he has possession of the negatives, he only prints up one extra set and that is the set he turns over to a man he has never before met at the British Museum. Now, I begin to wonder whether Baigent is any more intelligent than the agent for the owner.
So, what happens next? As any conspiracy theory reader knows, the plot must thicken. After several weeks, Baigent goes back to the museum and -- surprise, surprise -- not only does no one know anything about the photographs, but the guy to whom he gave the photographs had also disappeared to somewhere ("I think to Paris"). So, Baigent is left without the photos and with no clue as to where the expert to whom he had given them had disappeared.
But all is not lost -- he had a couple of "reject prints" still at the house that he was able to pass along to another expert who said that they were records of commercial transactions. Interestingly, while the book has three seperate sets of pages set aside for photographs, he does not include any of these "reject prints" to verify anything of what he says.
What's the point? Did these documents have anything to do with Jesus? Not that we can tell. In fact, assuming the meeting and subsequent events really took place as Baigent describes, as far as we can know the box had nothing but commercial records. In fairness, Baigent doesn't claim that the box had anything more in it, and concludes the chapter by saying that the account of the document-filled chest at the bank is included to demonstrate that the world of ancient times is a world where "potentially crucial keys to the mysteries of our past are simultaneously available and elusive." So, he is not saying that there was necessarily anything important in the chest.
However, in typical Baigent fashion, he does allude that there was more:
"I was horrified to note, there were hundreds of pieces of papyrus text roughly fixed to the cardboard by small strips of clear adhesive tape. The texts were written in Aramaic or Hebrew. Accompanying them were Egyptian mummy wrappings inscribed in demotic -- the written form of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
I knew that it was common for such wrappings to bear sacred texts, and so the owners of this hoard must have unwrapped at least a mummy or two. The Aramaic or Hebrew texts looked, at first sight, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, which I had seen before, although they were mostly written on parchment.
I have not finished the book, but I have already seen several places where Baigent draws conclusions of fact from suggestions. But then, isn't that what most conspiracy theories do?
Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi