Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Opening of the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem

As far as big news goes, this is really Big News. For the first time in centuries, the tomb of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem is being opened.

It goes without saying (but I’ll nevertheless say so) that there is nothing whatsoever inside this time-honored hole in the ground. Besides, I can’t understand why Christians dare to even speak of the alleged “tomb” of their hero. Click here to access a National Geographic website that proposes a short video on the exposure of Christ’s so-called “burial place”. Here again, it’s time for somebody to inform that respected magazine that, in theory, Jesus was never buried anywhere. Everybody agrees that Jesus died on an atrocious wooden torture instrument. (Well, most people agree... except for those who consider that the alleged individual simply never even existed.) But Christians consider that he didn't stay dead for more than a few days, and was certainly never buried. I'll terminate my brief explanations there, because readers are surely familiar with that tale.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jesus update

Throughout my life, attitudes towards the Jesus phenomenon have been evolving constantly.

As a child, I was led to believe that Jesus was an utterly magical guy in the sky who could perform miracles, answer our prayers, and channel us off (later on, after our death) to Heaven or Hell. As a normally-indoctrinated child, I absorbed all that shit and believed it (more or less). You don’t fuck around with such a powerful personage. Today, retrospectively, I would be inclined to say that I probably never really believed an iota of all this nonsense… but I was neither smart nor courageous enough to admit so, at the time. So, like everybody else in town, I carried on playing stupidly and superficially the Jesus game.

My first shock, at the age of 15, was an English translation of a book by the Breton author Ernest Renan [1823-1892], Life of Jesus, first published in French in 1863. Renan dared to consider Jesus as a human male, albeit an extraordinary personage, and his book was immensely popular throughout the western world.

I remember being greatly impressed by the revelations and tone of the Renan book. The English translation of 1897 by William Hutchison can be downloaded freely from the web. I decided to reread it, for the first time in well over half a century, to find out to what extent the document might still interest and impress me today. Alas, as often happens in such situations, the respective ways of Renan and me have parted to such an extent that I found the book boring and irritating, particularly when the author was trying to convince his readers that Christianity was a fresh and pleasant alternative to Judaism, “which first affirmed the theory of absolutism in religion, and laid down the principle that every reformer turning men away from the true faith, even if he bring miracles to support his doctrine, must be stoned without trial”. Not surprisingly, at the other end of the monotheistic spectrum, Renan detested “the evil spirit of Islamism”, and evoked “something sordid and repulsive which Islamism bears everywhere with it”.

                                                                         — cartoon by Leunig

Many pious Christians were shocked by Renan’s cavalier attitude towards the cherished phenomena of supernatural healing operations and miracles of all kinds. I was amused by Renan’s allusion to the pharmaceutical power of a “gentle and beautiful woman”.

Many years ago, I recall vividly that I was cured miraculously of a painful infection of the ear by the unexpected visit of one of my wife’s girlfriends. On the subject of Christian miracles, I like to think that Ernest Renan would have appreciated this sermon by the Reverend Rowan Atkinson.

More seriously, in the late 1990s, my attitude towards the Jesus phenomenon was determined largely by my contacts with Israel, Jewish history and the Hebrew language. My novel All the Earth is Mine remains a personal memento of those brief but fascinating encounters.

More recently, I was intrigued by findings associated with the Talpiot tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and the convictions of the Canadian film-maker Simcha Jacobovici, seen here alongside the tombstone of the Roman soldier Pantera, alleged to be the biological father of Jesus.

Then, in 2012, there was the fascinating affair of a papyrus fragment that seems to refer to the alleged wife of Jesus.

All in all, I had ended up believing that an incredible fellow named Jesus had indeed made a name for himself, even though we know next to nothing about his authentic achievements. He may indeed have been crucified in Jerusalem, and the disappearance of his corpse would have been a major factor in his posthumous rise to religious stardom.

Recently, my attitude towards the Jesus phenomenon has made another giant leap forward. In a nutshell, I’m starting to wonder whether this celebrated personage ever existed at all. In other words, he may well have been a character of fiction, composed over a long period of time by a vast but vague community of tale-tellers, authors and editors. Without going into details, I might say that I’ve been greatly impressed by explanations provided by a young US scholar named Richard Carrier, who is a leading proponent of the Christ myth theory.

When all is said and done, there is no great difference, in fact, between the case of a real historical individual named Jesus about whom we know almost nothing, and an equivalent personage of a totally fictional nature. In both cases, it is quite ridiculous to imagine the individual in question as having supernatural powers enabling him to be thought of as the son of a mysterious god.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Now we know how he did it

I think that one miracle in particular has become more famous than all the others, for the simple reason that almost everybody has tried to perform it, at one time or another... and nobody has ever succeeded unquestionably in repeating the accomplishment of Jesus. I'm referring, of course, to the marvelous story about Jesus walking on the surface of the waters of the Sea of Galilee.

It was now late and the boat was already well out on the water, while he was alone on the land. Somewhere between three and six in the morning, seeing them labouring at the oars against a head wind, he came towards them, walking on the lake. He was going to pass by them; but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But at once he spoke to them: 'Take heart! It is I; do not be afraid.'
— Mark 6:47-50
According to Matthew 14:28, Peter decided spontaneously to have a go at this feat, and it seemed to work for a few seconds. But his faith collapsed almost instantly, and he started to sink into the water.

Recently, a small team of determined athletes, equipped with special water-repellent running shoes (of a brand that I'm not allowed to name here, because of my sporting sponsors), succeeded brilliantly in racing some 20 meters across the surface of a lake.

But these courageous fellows haven't yet deciphered the great Jesus secret that consists of having sufficient pure faith in God to believe totally that He will hold the walker's body above the surface at all times, making it possible to stroll peacefully and fearlessly across the water.

There was a gigantic breakthrough recently when marine archaeologists discovered a massive ancient stone structure under the surface of the Sea of Galilee. Click here to see this fascinating story. A diagram from Shmuel Marco makes it clear at last, after two millennia of mystification, exactly how Jesus was able to carry out his trick.

At that time, the depth of the Sea of Galilee was slightly less than it is today, which meant that the tip of this huge but hidden stone "iceberg" lay just below the surface. So, Jesus—who had no doubt practiced this feat tirelessly, to get it right for the day of his celebrated demonstration—simply paddled around on a small more-or-less flat zone at the tip of the structure, creating the illusion that he was walking on the water.

Archaeologists say that they can't explain who might have built this underwater mound. Nor why and when it was erected. I'm surprised by the archaeologists' lack of imagination. To my mind, it's clear that Jesus himself had collected funds enabling him to employ a team of stonemasons to build this structure, for the sole purpose of performing his spectacular miracle. In nearby Egypt, various pharaohs had found the means of erecting far greater masses of stone, the pyramids, in order to promote their theories of an afterlife. Since miracles play such a fundamental role in Christianity, I find it perfectly plausible, indeed normal, that Jesus might have gone to the trouble of building his own relatively small tumulus. Besides, since it was underwater, it didn't have to be as fancy as the Egyptian models, because the whole idea was that nobody should see it.

The only authentic miracle in this rather shabby tale is the fact that, as far as we know, no fishing boats ever ran aground on this big pile of rocks.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Holy kitsch

When I was looking around for an image of a bottle of so-called "holy water" for my blog post on placebos, I stumbled upon an awesome French-language Christian website, which sparkles non-stop with the light of God, the burning heart of the Savior, the fiery flame of the Holy Ghost, and the gently-exploding snowflakes of the purity of the Virgin Mary. Click here to judge for yourself. Then get down on your knees and praise the Lord for His gift of web designers of this spiritual caliber.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


There may be readers who fail to understand how I can be irritated by the present-day practice of religion (disgusted at times, as in my previous blog post) but simultaneously fascinated by the history of religions. I ask such readers, rhetorically: To be fascinated by the burial rites for pharaohs in Ancient Egypt, is it necessary to believe in reincarnation? Does one have to worship the goddess Athena in order to appreciate Homer's Odyssey and Iliad ? Of course not. Historians remain personally detached, thankfully, from the subjects they examine, just as a brilliant actor can take on the role of a detestable individual with whom he shares nothing. I trust that I don't need to insist any further upon this question. To call a spade a spade: When I evoke Judaism (a fascinating subject), that doesn't mean that I've ever imagined for an instant the crazy idea of getting my penis butchered and embracing personally this archaic religion. Whenever I talk about Jesus, that doesn't mean that I might believe for an instant that this fellow was the son of God, that he performed miracles, and that he survived magically the horrible execution method of crucifixion.

The Gallica website, operated by the BNF library (Bibliothèque nationale de France), offers us this amusing image of the Hebrew monarch David, attired in a basic robe, wearing a crown and gaily strumming his harp.

The image comes from a 9th-century Bible that Count Vivien, abbot of the Basilica of St Martin in Tours, presented to the king Charles the Bald [823-877]... who may have acquired his nickname ironically because of his exceptional hairiness.

I have the impression that David, the killer of Goliath, is prancing along at the head of a regal Gay Pride procession. I notice that the Wikipedia article on David describes him as a "culture hero", which is a way of saying that we don't know if such an individual ever truly existed, let alone being a biological ancestor of Jesus. In Biblical history, David was a charismatic figure: a shepherd armed with a sling, a musician and poet (author of many Psalms), who went on to found the Hebrew kingdom. At the origins of that history, David was such a spectacular and essential personage that, if ever he hadn't existed, we would need to invent him. And that appears to sum up exactly what has happened.

In my article of 23 September 2010 entitled Better than the Bible [display], I drew attention to a fascinating book: David and Solomon by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.

Recently, in my article of 9 September 2012 entitled Jesus [display], I mentioned the fine work of a present-day Biblical archaeologist and author, James Tabor, who has been in the middle of stories concerning a pair of controversial tombs located in Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem.

This North Carolina academic has become a familiar participant in several excellent documentaries (which I've watched on French TV) on the history of monotheism. Like the books of Finkelstein and Silberman, Tabor's The Jesus Dynasty is required reading, to my humble mind, of anyone interested in the historical Jesus.

People tend to forget that many of the initial supporters of Jesus of Nazareth saw him primarily as a pretender to the throne of David. And this claim depends of course, for its validity, upon genealogy. How could Jesus possibly be considered, as the evangelist Matthew put it, a "son of David" ? Now, if there's one thing that most New Testament readers skim through hurriedly and superficially, it's all that boring "begat" stuff about the genealogy of Jesus... and yet it's fundamental, all important, because it indicates the underlying reasons for which the fellow was finally crucified. He wasn't executed because of all his vaguely magical work as a healer, or the splendid moral assertions of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was nailed to a cross and left to die because of his seditious claim to the throne.

Evangelist Matthew (with an angel looking over his shoulder)

Matthew's genealogical approach—which occupies the opening chapter of the New Testament—starts with Abraham and moves down to David. Then the Davidic lineage moves down from Solomon to Joseph, the husband of Mary. Within this would-be paternal lineage, there are four or five cases of female links, which is quite unorthodox in the presentation of an alleged royal descent. Matthew says that Jesus "was fathered" from Mary, which clearly suggests that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. So, all in all, Matthew's genealogy is not a particularly convincing demonstration that Jesus might be the rightful heir to the throne.

Evangelist Luke (with a symbolic bull looking over his shoulder)

The evangelist Luke begins with Jesus, and presents his paternal ascent all the way back to Adam. See Luke [3:23–38]. But he starts in a fuzzy manner by describing Jesus as "the son, as people thought [my italics], of Joseph son of Heli". Apart from the fact that both evangelists consider Joseph as merely the adoptive father of Jesus, there's an obvious problem concerning the identification of the grandfather of Jesus. Matthew said that Joseph's father was named Jacob, whereas Luke now says he was named Heli. Why this discrepancy?

Parenthesis : I'm amused by the portraits that accompany my remarks. Nobody even knows whether individuals such as the New Testament authors Matthew and Luke really existed. Consequently, common sense dictates that these charming portraits are totally fake, indeed absurd. But we've grown accustomed to such monstrous absurdities in the domain of so-called spiritual art. Indeed, centuries of artistic expression have been founded upon factual falsity, but we've all learned to live with such silly stuff. It's highly probable that future creators will put an end to all this crazy religious bullshit, and affirm that art should rhyme necessarily with scientific reality.

Concerning the genealogy of Jesus, James Tabor provides a subtle explanation of what has happened. Insofar as Luke knew perfectly well that Joseph played no role in the biological heritage of Jesus, he decided to deal solely, from the outset, with the lineage through Mary, the mother of Jesus. So, he has performed a subtle substitution operation. Heli was no doubt the father, not of Joseph, but of Mary, and therefore the maternal grandfather of Jesus. Heli was short for Eliakim, and this was a variant of Joachim, which is the traditional name of Mary's father. This lineage of Jesus, through his mother, went back to David, but through David's son Nathan rather than Solomon.

So, whichever way you look at it, Jesus did indeed seem to be an heir—to a certain degree—to the kingdom of the Jews. His claims to that title were apparently sufficiently genuine, widely publicized and potentially disturbing to lead to his arrest and execution. It was the death of a royal pretender...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jesus evokes his wife

When I heard that the US novelist Dan Brown had suggested, in The Da Vinci Code, that Jesus had been married to Mary Magdalene, I was totally uninterested. Besides, I struggled through no more than half-a-dozen pages of that atrocious best-seller before I was utterly bored... by the author's crime-novel style and his make-believe content.

That's definitely not my kettle of fish. On the other hand, I studied eagerly a French book by Marie-France Etchegoin and Frédéric Lenoir whose sole purpose consisted of analyzing and demolishing all the nasty mumbo-jumbo served up in Brown's silly novel.

The only reason I started out by mentioning Dan Brown's novel is to point out emphatically that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject of the present blog post.

Today in Rome, the Harvard historian Karen King revealed the existence of a small fragment of papyrus with eight lines of text written in 4th-century Coptic (the language of Egypt).

photo Evan McGlinn for The New York Times              

This papyrus fragment contains words that are linked in a way that has never occurred before in any ancient text concerning Jesus.

The fourth line reads:
Jesus said to them, "My wife..."
Then the fifth line reads:
she will be able to be my disciple
Already, the words on this piece of papyrus are being referred to as The Gospel of Jesus's Wife. As such, they will be associated with the amazing documents known as the Nag Hammadi library, which I mentioned in my blog posts of April 2007 entitled Sharing life together [display] and Gnostic discoveries [display]. These so-called codices (bound books) were discovered in December 1945, protected by a sealed jar and buried in the sand at the foot of the cliffs of Jabal al-Tarif, alongside the Nile in Upper Egypt.

Cliffs of Jabal al-Tarif in Egypt, near Nag Hammadi.

By chance, this afternoon, shortly before stumbling upon this news of the newly-revealed papyrus, I had been thinking about writing a blog post on one of the most extraordinary documents in the Nag Hammadi library: the Gospel of Thomas. I'll do that later on... Meanwhile, I imagine the huge impact of today's news—the possibility of a female disciple of Jesus—upon the established church of Rome, which has never accepted the idea that a woman might become a priest.


Several years ago, in the context of my document on maternal genealogy entitled A Little Bit of Irish [access], I tackled briefly (in the final four pages of chapter 2) the idea that my great-great-grandfather Charles Walker [1807-1860] might have been Scottish rather than Irish. In my analysis of the evidence, I made use of a principle employed in historical research concerning the stories of Jesus. At the time of writing about my Braidwood ancestor, I had forgotten where I had heard of this principle, which I evoked in a rather fuzzy manner. Well today, quite by chance, I discovered both the name of the principle and a good description of its origins and use.

Invented by the prolific American historian Will Durant [1885–1981], the principle has an amusing name: the criterion of embarrassment. Faced with a questionable item of alleged historical data, we should ask the question:
"Can we consider this item of data as somewhat embarrassing for the people who were writing the history in question?"
If so, then the item has a good chance of being valid, because historians wouldn't have retained data that was, not only embarrassing, but false. Put differently: Historians are only tempted to falsify the alleged facts that they are describing when the outcome of this falsification is likely to be positive; and embarrassing facts cannot normally produce a positive outcome.

In the case of my Braidwood ancestor, the idea that he might have been a Protestant Scotsman was indeed embarrassing for Walker descendants, since most of them had become members of Irish Catholic communities in Australia. And the situation was particularly embarrassing when we realize that 32-year-old Charles Walker might have lied blatantly about his background with the sole aim of being authorized to marry a girl who infatuated him: the 17-year-old daughter of an Irish convict. Consequently, the speculation that Charles might have been brought up as a Scottish Protestant was so outlandish that this rumor should normally have been squashed forever as soon as it first appeared.

Eliminating the rumor should have been a simple matter. It would have been sufficient to produce documentary evidence of Charles's birth, supposedly in Cork, along with other basic evidence linking him to Ireland. But no such documents have ever been brought to light. Although Charles Walker was employed on an English vessel, the Caroline (the ship that had taken the Henty brothers and their merino sheep to Western Australia), and in spite of his reputation as a respectable and prosperous citizen and a friend of certain distinguished English landowners in the Braidwood region (such as Captain John Coghill and Dr David Reid), we know less about Charles Walker's background in the Old World than for any other of my many Australian ancestors.

Funnily enough, the rest of the speculation, today, is not at all embarrassing for a descendant such as myself. Back in 1980, I was informed that one of Charles Walker's grandsons used to tell an amazing story about his Braidwood grandfather.

The storyteller, John Albert Walker, claimed that his grandfather Charles who had come out to New South Wales on a ship in 1833 was in fact a young brother of Johnnie Walker [1805-1857] of Kilmarnock, the inventor of whisky.

I've tried to research this speculation, but have been incapable of either confirming or disproving the question.

In recent years, the criterion of embarrassment has been used above all in investigations concerning the so-called historical Jesus: that's to say, the real man behind all the evangelical fantasy upon which the future religion of Christianity would be based. Prominent adepts of the criterion of embarrassment are to be found among the 150 or so scholars who belong to an amazing organization known as the Jesus Seminar, founded in 1985 in Oregon. They operate in a most democratic manner, voting by means of colored beads in order to express a consensus view on whether Jesus might or might not have made such and such a statement. Beads are of 4 colors: red, pink, gray and black.

Click here to examine some of their conclusions, many of which would horrify the pope.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Having just announced the creation of a new religion—in my previous blog post [display]—I'm aware that it's somewhat risky to submit this new blog post about Jesus, who could well upstage me. What I have to say is so important, however, that I don't think I'm behaving foolishly. Indeed, if it were to come to pass that the two great religions of our Third Millennium were Christianity and Awestruckism (as I firmly believe), I'm completely fairplay. I want to give Jesus a chance.

I've just finished reading (rereading in the case of the first title) a pair of extraordinary books:

If ever there were required reading in the Vatican (and elsewhere), this is it! But the arguments of the distinguished authors—James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici—are often so complex (while remaining perfectly lucid) that I'm more and more convinced that Christianity, in spite of all its obvious merits, is likely to be soon engulfed, for the better or for the worse, by the limpidity of my Awestruckism. The change will evoke the way in which the terribly complicated "nested spheres" theories of Ptolemy were surpassed by the splendid simplicity of Kepler. For the moment, it's a little too early to say whether Awestruckism is likely to demolish Christianity (and Judaism and Islam, just to name a few old religions) in the same revolutionary style. But today, if Jesus were a corporation on the Chicago stock exchange, I wouldn't buy shares...

It's a tale of two tombs, which I shall refer to (jumping ahead, for simplicity) as the Jesus Tomb and the Arimathea Tomb. Basically, book #1 talks of the first tomb, whereas the existence of the second tomb, almost alongside the other one, is only revealed in book #2. But the themes of the two books and the two tombs are so intricately interwoven that you need to delve into both.

First, I should make it quite clear that we're not talking about the literary effusions of crackpots. I'll let you look up the credentials of the North Carolina professor James Tabor and the filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici. They're smart guys, not necessarily in the Judeo-Christian religious mainstream, but terribly convincing. Their competence extends from deciphering ancient Biblical texts down to the analysis of DNA. And they write in a beautifully convincing style, which leaves little doubt about the likely truth.

So, the great news is that we now know, most probably, where Jesus, his family and his companions were buried. It is becoming clearer that Jesus was indeed the sexual partner of Mary Magdalene.

Retrospectively, it's amazing that the bones of Jesus were probably accessible (able to be examined genetically) not so long ago, before being whisked away into eternal obscurity by the Ultra-Orthodox morons of the Holy City. The stupidity of the latter guys has given unwittingly an enormous boost to my new religion of Awestruckism...

Monday, August 20, 2012

A little knowledge

The original statement by Alexander Pope [1688-1744] spoke of learning: A little learning is a dangerous thing. Since then, we've usually heard people telling us that it's a little knowledge that can be considered dangerous. This warning is trivially true in cases where you can choose (at least theoretically, if not in practice) between the two extremes: a little knowledge, or a lot of knowledge. A child might have just discovered that striking a match produces a pretty flame. And that knowledge is indeed dangerous as long as the child is unaware that such a flame can give rise to a catastrophe. When humanity first discovered fire (probably after a lightning strike), maybe a doomsayer in the tribe warned: "My brothers and sisters, this discovery is surely a malediction. We must forget about it forever."

The primeval case of "a little knowledge" was, of course, the legend of a tree in Eden—no doubt a fig tree, but presented in translation as an apple tree—whose fruit were forbidden.

It is ridiculous, however, to condemn systematically "a little knowledge" as a dangerous possession. In domains in which we know next to nothing, the concept of "a little knowledge" can often be thought of as speculation, and this is the basis of scientific discovery and research. We content ourselves with speculative theories on reality up until such time as they are shown to be false, when we replace them by alternative theories. That, after all, was the spirit of the quest for the Higgs boson.

Satyendra Nath Bose, after whom the particle was named,
and Peter Higgs, who imagined a very peculiar boson

For decades, physicists had so little knowledge concerning this particle that they weren't even sure it existed!

In my personal family-history research, I've run into a kind of "Higgs boson". I'm referring to the first male in England (presumably a colonist from Normandy) whose descendants would be the future Skeffington family (which would give rise to folk named Skevington, Skivington, Skyvington, etc). My knowledge of this individual is almost non-existent. But he surely existed, at some time and in some place, probably Leicestershire. So, I find myself making speculations about his identity. Inevitably, I run into fellow-researchers who say: "You have no firm proofs for what you're suggesting." That's to say, these rigid observers (accustomed to requesting an individual's birth certificate before accepting his existence) are trying to persuade me that I don't have the right to speculate. Their criticism is not only counterproductive; it's unscientific. So, I ignore it.

Finally, there's a ubiquitous domain in which we have very little knowledge, to say the least. I'm referring to religion, and the belief in God. Here again, I don't consider that there's any "danger" in talking about God, even though we possess so little direct knowledge concerning His alleged existence. But the same rules of the game must be applied in the case of those who say that God does not exist. In that respect, the best example of all concerns the marvelous subject of miracles. In The Magic of Reality, Richard Dawkins devotes his entire final chapter to this question. In particular, in a section entitled A good way to think about miracles, he presents the clever method proposed by the Scottish philosopher David Hume [1711-1776].

Hume said:
No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless that testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.
Consider, for example, the case of 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous who, on 11 February 1858 in Lourdes (south-west France), experienced the first of a series of alleged visions of the Virgin Mary.

Applying Hume's criterion, we reason as follows:

— Clearly, the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes was a miracle.

— We are told by her adulators that it would have been unthinkable for Bernadette Soubirous to have invented a false story about her encounters with a vision of the Virgin Mary. Let us nevertheless imagine, for a moment, the totally shocking hypothesis that the saintly child might have lied.

— Now, which of the two above-mentioned extraordinary happenings would be the more astounding: the Virgin Mary's presence at Lourdes, or Bernadette's hypothetical lies?

— Clearly, there is nothing particularly "miraculous" in the idea that a simple-minded peasant girl might resort to inventing false stories. Consequently, Hume's criterion suggests that we should not accept the miracle of Lourdes.

Notice, in particular, that our use of Hume's criterion to cast doubt upon the veracity of the miracle of Lourdes does not call upon us to actually prove that Bernadette was a liar. It suffices to notice that the hypothesis of Bernadette's lying, no matter how unlikely such an idea might appear to those who knew the girl well, was less extraordinary than the utterly miraculous idea of the Virgin Mary making a personal appearance at Lourdes. So, if an adulator of the Virgin Mary and Bernadette Soubirous were to complain that we've rejected the idea of a miracle without even attempting to prove that the peasant girl had indeed invented her stories, that would simply mean that the detractor has not understood, yet alone accepted, Hume's reasoning. In the context of the life and death of Jesus, too, alleged miracles can be debunked by means of Hume's metaphorical "razor" without the necessity of our having to prove anything whatsoever.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Praise be to multifaceted Jesus

This hilarious song of praise to Jesus by the Australian comedian Tim Minchin was supposed to be included in a show on ITV in the UK this evening, but it was censored at the last minute.

As somebody pointed out astutely, this censorship operation is neither here nor there, because the song and the censorship will be talked about by many observers (exactly as I'm doing now), and hordes of viewers will be drawn to the YouTube presentation. So, we might conclude: Praise be to Magic, Woody Allen, zombie, Superman, Komodo dragon, telepathic, vampire, quantum, Hovercraft, Minchin, censored, YouTube Jesus!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

King-sized Jesus in Oklahoma

I found this funny story in the excellent Pharyngula blog by PZ Myers [access].

The history of Catholicism is filled with magic happenings. In the case of St Francis of Assisi (the fellow who preached to birds), we encounter the phenomenon of a talking cross, shown here:

In the church of San Damiano, the image of Jesus on the cross said to Francis: "Repair my church. As you see, it is falling into a state of total ruin." Francis immediately set about repairing the actual building, but he soon realized that the words of the cross of San Damiano were to be interpreted as a metaphorical order, meaning that it was rather the ecclesiastical institution and its members that were in need of repair. So Francis finally started work on that much bigger task.

Over the centuries, the San Damiano Cross has inspired countless reproductions. The latest copy, some three meters in height, has been hung above the altar of a church in Oklahoma. And the least that can be said is that it's well hung.

This copy was executed by a local artist named Janet Jaime. She has highlighted the abdominal muscles of Jesus to such an extent that a naive observer might imagine that the King of Glory is exhibiting a king-sized erection. Needless to say, this copy has given rise to controversy among Catholic parishioners in the Oklahoma town of Warr Acres, where the church is located. The artist, though, gives the impression that she doesn't understand what the fuss is all about.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the illicit sexual behavior of certain Catholic prelates and priests. The last thing the Church needed was yet another much-publicized sex-oriented incident, particularly when it takes the form of a giant phallus emerging from the crucified body of the Lord. One can't help wondering whether this Oklahoma painting is in fact yet another element of an international conspiracy, orchestrated by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, aimed at screwing Joseph Ratzinger. And, talking about screwing, that awesome Oklahoma apparatus elicits an exclamation of admiration. In a word, as Mary Magdalene might have gasped: Jesus!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Place of the skull

All four evangelists agree on the name of the place where Jesus was crucified. It was called Golgotha, which is a Hebrew term meaning the place of a skull. Note that the word "skull" is singular. There's no suggestion whatsoever that Jesus might have been crucified in a place strewn with skulls, in the plural. Golgotha may have got its name because it was a small hill that looked like a skull. In other words, a skull-shaped mound. Look at the following photo:

Does that image correspond to your vision of the place where Jesus and the two thieves were nailed to crosses? Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you prefer), that curious mound does not lie in the Holy City. In fact, it's a limestone outcrop located in a corner of the cemetery of Saint-Romans, a village about twenty minutes away from where I live, on the road between Pont-en-Royans and Saint-Marcellin.

Many Christian pilgrims who visit Jerusalem are frankly disappointed by the place that is alleged to be the real Golgotha. It simply does not correspond to what most people imagine as the place of the Crucifixion. Visitors are astonished to discover that, to reach Golgotha, they have to enter a dull-looking church and then walk up a tiny narrow staircase. It's as if a tourist in New York were to be told that the Statue of Liberty is in fact hidden away in a basement zone of Rockefeller Plaza.

In the Greek gaudiness of the official Golgotha, there's nothing in particular that might remind us of a skull. It's no more nor less than a kitsch bazaar. If ever you approached the site with surging thoughts of the terrifying tales of the final hours of Jesus as related in the Gospels, these mental images are soon chased away by the omnipresent garishness, and the bustle of excited Orthodox pilgrims who must find the atmosphere just right. It's a question of culture and sensitivity. Nobody brought up, like me, in the subdued harmonious ambiance of Anglican traditions could feel at home in the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. On the other hand, I have no trouble envisaging their Golgotha as a great place for a good Christian fight.

In another corner of the Holy City, there's a place known as the Garden Tomb which corresponds more closely to the legendary image of Calvary on the top of a small hill. With a little imagination, the rocks at this place might be seen as skull-shaped... except that they're half-hidden behind an Israeli bus depot.

That faded photo, attached to a pole, is intended to show Protestant pilgrims what this particular "place of the skull" once looked like, at an unspecified date in the recent past, when the surroundings of the Garden Tomb might indeed have reminded passersby of a skull.

Frankly, between the Scylla of having a brass lamp thrown at me by an Orthodox monk, and the Charybdis of having a bus back over me while meditating religiously in the vicinity of a Byzantine rock tomb, I would find it far more fulfilling to embark upon a research project aimed at revealing that the real Jesus was whisked away at the last moment by CIA operatives and brought in chains and an orange jumpsuit to the village of Saint-Romans, where he died in mysterious circumstances.

When you think about, that name is surely a code that starts to explains various loose ends: Saint, because Jesus was saintly, and Romans because Pontius Pilate and his Roman employers were behind this whole execution affair. Admittedly, there are quite a few details that have to be filled in before we can expect hordes of pilgrims to start thronging to the cemetery of Saint-Romans. But I'm sure the local tourist authorities will help me to assemble the missing facts. Maybe a local stone mason and sculptor might be employed in remodeling a little that limestone façade, to make it look even more like a human skull. Here's a view of this fabulous site as it would be seen by approaching pilgrims, gazing with fervor across fields that have been plowed by humble pious peasants ever since Biblical times (which could be transformed at little cost into a vast parking zone):

The convenient thing about religious beliefs and traditions is that nobody ever expects you to be overly concerned about reality, or even plausibility. On the contrary, the taller the tale, the better it generally goes over.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Simcha's silence

My subject line might be misleading. I'm incapable of saying whether Simcha Jacobovici, revealer of the Talpiot tomb, is deliberately silent, or whether the evolution of events obliges him to keep a low profile. In any case, I still don't have an answer to the question posed in my article of 10 June entitled Delay in obtaining the Talpiot book [display]. But I'm starting to have a few ideas on the subject, and to make a few guesses.

— My major guess is that experts quoted by Jacobovici and/or Pellegrino in their book have complained that they were misquoted, and that they're effectively blocking the marketing of the book.

— Another guess is that the beliefs of Jacobovici and/or Pellegrino have evolved over the last few months, since the book was published, and that they themselves are deliberately blocking further marketing of the existing book, while preparing a new edition.

— Yet another guess is that there is some kind of a legal problem concerning an affair that is being handled by Israeli justice: namely, the possibility that the so-called James ossuary—associated, according to Jacobovici and Pellegrino, with the Talpiot tomb—might be a forgery.

For the moment, while awaiting further enlightenment, let me say a few words concerning the latter guess. To start the ball rolling, here's the cover of BAR [Biblical Archæology Review] dated November/December 2002, which broke to the world the amazing news of the existence of a bone box inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus".

The ossuary, displayed in Canada, was hailed by many as the first material object ever unearthed that evoked explicitly the historical Jesus.

Sadly, the events that followed this Canadian excursion read at times like a cheap crime novel. To cut a long story short, the owner of the ossuary, a Tel Aviv antiquities dealer named Oded Golan, was accused of forgery. More precisely, it is claimed that he acquired an authentic bone box inscribed "James, son of Joseph" and that he added the final phrase: "brother of Jesus". Israeli police who raided Golan's apartment in Tel Aviv took this surrealist photo of the alleged James ossuary posed upon a grotty WC:

Now, there was no reason whatsoever, a priori, why this murky affair concerning Oded Golan and his bone box should be linked in any way to the Talpiot question. But, in saying that, we're underestimating the enthusiasm and detective-like intuition of Simcha Jacobovici. Everybody knows that, back in 1980, ten ossuaries were found in the Talpiot tomb. But one of them disappeared overnight. Well, again, to cut a long story short, Jacobovici and Pellegrino suggest forcibly that Golan's object is in fact this missing bone box. In other words, they are opposed to the claim that Golan was a forger.

In their book, Jacobovici and Pellegrino seem to suggest that the analysis of various patinas [the surface appearance of objects due to aging] proves that the James ossuary did in fact repose for a long time in the same environment as the nine remaining bone boxes of Talpiot. In other words, they are affirming that the James ossuary was indeed the missing tenth bone box of Talpiot. But many specialists disagree with this conclusion.

Finally, a few days ago, the eminent BAR editor Hershel Shanks—who remains a great friend of Simcha—published an editorial that reveals his basic incredulity concerning Jacobovici's theses. However Shanks remains elusive, and he admits that he is neither a statistician nor a DNA expert [which you need to be, to appreciate Simcha's claims]. On the other hand, he has interesting suggestions concerning the reasons why the Talpiot affair has created a storm throughout the world: "One reason for this flurry of attention is that if the Talpiot ossuary once contained the bones of Jesus, this would disturb the religious faith of millions of Christians who believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected and ascended into heaven (to say nothing of his mother Mary, who was also bodily assumed into heaven)." Shanks considers, however, that the whole affair will blow over rapidly, and soon be forgotten. I am not so sure.

Personally, for the moment, I remain open, intuitively and objectively, to the possibility that Simcha might be on the right tracks. In other words, I have not yet encountered any serious arguments that would appear to prove that Jacobovici is trying to lead us all on a wild goose chase. For example, Shanks explains: "If Jesus already had a family tomb in Talpiot, there would be no need to bury him in a temporary tomb, despite the onset of the Sabbath. It’s little more than a half-hour’s walk from Golgotha to Talpiot." To my mind, these words are stupid. I find it hard to imagine, on that fateful Friday afternoon, a group of friends of the executed disturber carrying his body all the way to Talpiot... and I challenge Hershel to perform this trek while carrying, say, a bag of cement.

But I believe, too, that we might never know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth concerning the Talpiot tomb. A times, we might feel that this affair, as presented by Simcha, is handled in a high-tech style. In fact, the Talpiot affair remains entrenched, to a large extent, in the boggy swamps of religion and legends, and we would be naive to expect total enlightenment. Besides, everybody has already made up their minds, long ago, on the issues at stake.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Delay in obtaining the Talpiot book

On 3 March 2007, I wrote my article entitled Thomas time concerning the affair of the tomb in Talpiot. [Click here to display this article.] On the same day, I ordered from Amazon the book by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino entitled The Jesus Family Tomb. Today, over three months later, I still haven't received this book, and Amazon has just informed me that they won't be able to deliver it for another two months. So, what's happening? I have no idea. I've never heard of having to wait five months for a new book from Amazon.

Happily, I've been able to read the excellent French translation of this book. So, I haven't lost any time in becoming familiar with all the fascinating details of the Talpiot affair. But I'm most curious to know why there's such a long delay in acquiring the original English edition. It's surely not a simple matter of running out of stock, for the publishing house would have had ample time to reprint it. So, I imagine that there must be more serious reasons for the delay. If anybody could supply me with information on this question, I would greatly appreciate it.

Monday, June 4, 2007


In genealogy, there's a relatively unusual approach that consists of only taking into account your female ancestors. So, you disregard your father entirely and look only at your mother. Likewise, you disregard your maternal grandfather, and look only at your mother's mother. And so on. The set of ancestors that you obtain in this way describes your so-called uterine ancestry. In many ways, it's a sound approach to genealogy. In concerning yourself constantly and exclusively with the unique womb in which each female ancestor developed, you remain on relatively firm ground. After all, an error at a maternal level is less likely, for obvious reasons, than ambiguities or downright lies concerning the identity of somebody's father. Besides, the concept of matrilineality (as it is called in genealogical terminology) corresponds to our intuitive impression of having once emerged from the body of our mother. To put it in silly terms, most humans surely feel more like a well-hatched egg than a grown-up sperm, even though we've learned that we're a little bit of both.

The only problem about family-history research of a strictly uterine orientation is that, in societies where a married woman takes the surname of her husband, the researcher is likely to run out of data rather rapidly, at least much earlier than in investigations in which both male and female ancestors are being researched. In the case of my personal research, the disparity between a purely patrilineal and a purely matrilineal approach is flagrant. Concerning possible ancestors called Skyvington—or a variant of this patronymic such as Skivington, Skevington, Skiffington, Skeffington, etc—I've already filled a small book with research results. [Click here to visit this website.] But, when I concentrate solely on my uterine line, I find my maternal grandmother Mary Jane Kennedy [1888-1966], my Irish-born maternal great-grandmother Mary Eliza Cranston [1858-1926], my maternal great-great-grandmother Eliza Dancey [1821-1904], and then I run into an ancestor named Mary Adams about whom I know nothing whatsoever. And there's little chance of my ever learning the name of this Mary's mother. So, I've run up against a genealogical brick wall after four or five matrilineal generations.

Now, the uterine approach to genealogy has some strange but positive consequences when we look at things from a genetic viewpoint... which is, after all, a perfectly normal way in which to deal with family history. Every human baby inherits from its mother a stock of weird stuff, stored in every one of our cells, called mitochondria (in fact, a form of DNA), which can be thought of as tiny energy suppliers. Were it not for our mother's gift of mitochondria, our cells would be like factories without fuel, or cities without electricity. We would instantly collapse and die. Human males, like females, need mitochondria to survive. But a father, unlike a mother, does not transmit any of his stuff to his children. And, because mitochondrial DNA is only transmitted down uterine lines, this means that it can be used as a "marker" (that's not quite the right term) in the genealogical domain. By analyzing the mitochondria of two individuals, it's possible to ascertain whether they have a common uterine ancestor.

In the context of the famous tomb at Talpiot, this was the kind of analysis that enabled geneticists to declare that the individuals designated as Jesus and Mariamne (allegedly Mary of Magdala) were not related in a matrilineal sense. And this conclusion made it feasible to imagine this couple as man and wife.

In fact, the existence of mitochondria makes it possible to hypothesize the existence of common female ancestors—vastly more ancient than Biblical women—for all human beings living today. Genetic genealogists use a rather unromantic name to refer to the most recent female in this role: Mitochondrial Eve. She wasn't exactly a plump white-skinned European beauty. Mitochondrial Eve lived in Africa some 150 thousand years ago. Whatever she looked like, she's the lady to whom we can say thanks for passing on to us the primordial cell energy enabling humans to crawl out of their beds every morning, to make hay while the sun shines... before getting back into their beds of an evening, maybe to make more mitochondria.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Memorable façade

I return to the fascinating subject of the work of Simcha Jacobovici concerning a tomb at Talpiot, to the south of Jerusalem, that contained a bone box labeled "Jesus son of Joseph". [Click here to visit the official website of this affair.] Uncovered accidentally by an earth-moving machine on Friday, 28 March 1980, the tomb and its ossuaries did not attract much attention during the brief period of time that the façade remained visible. But photos were taken, and a detailed diagram of the tomb was drawn by a young archaeologist named Shimon Gibson, who was intrigued by the carvings on the façade.

The bulky stone chevron (inverted V), whose triangular form resembles the gable of a roof, houses—as it were—an embossed stone circle. An observer is tempted to ask whether these forms might be symbols enabling us to determine the likelihood that this was indeed the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. In fact, this approach is not particularly rewarding, for several reasons. First, for all we know, the chevron and the circle could be purely decorative. Maybe the carving work was interrupted before its completion. Besides, we cannot know whether these forms were created prior to the burial of the individuals associated with the ossuaries, or after their inhumation. (Only in the latter case might the forms help us in identifying the deceased.) Even if we were convinced that these forms play a symbolic role of some kind, this would not enable us to prove or disprove possible links between the Talpiot tomb and Jesus of Nazareth. For example, somebody recently affirmed that "the pointed gable over the rosette is a pre-Christian Jewish symbol that referred to the Temple", and that this pattern can even be found on Hasmonean coins. Well, that doesn't affect the issue of whether or not this particular tomb did in fact house the remains of Jesus and his family.

There is, however, a subtle way in which the forms on the façade of the Talpiot tomb might have a bearing on the question of the identity of the incumbents. Imagine, for the sake of the explanations that are to follow, that the Talpiot tomb was indeed the place where the body of Jesus of Nazareth was laid to rest. In that case, we can assume that a certain number of early Christians were aware of this site, and had visited it. For such people, it seems reasonable to assume that the façade was memorable, because of its chevron and circle... regardless of whether or not these forms actually meant much to those who saw them. We might imagine that the façade served as a visual indicator for pilgrims, who probably spread the information, by word of mouth, that Jesus was buried in tomb to the south of Jerusalem adorned with a sculptured triangular form above a circle. In this way, the forms on the façade of the Talpiot tomb would have been transformed into a symbol of the tomb of Jesus, even if this had never been their initial raison d'être. Now, if this kind of reasoning is valid, there should be cases of the presence of this symbol, later on, in Christian contexts. Here is the most explicit case of such a symbol:

This celebrated Supper at Emmaus (depicting the resurrected Jesus) was painted in 1525 by Jacopo Carruci, known as Pontormo, whose work was greatly influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. Above the head of Jesus, a curious visual image is composed of an eye at the center of a triangle. Is it thinkable that this round object on a triangular background might be intended to evoke the façade of the tomb at Talpiot? If so, this would mean that the 16th-century Florentine painter was aware—in ways that are hard to fathom, but plausible—that Jesus had been buried in a tomb that bore an image of this kind.

More recently, this image of an "all-seeing eye" (as it is often termed) has been adopted as a masonic symbol, and it is construed today as a coded sign that might have come from Ancient Egypt. As I said earlier on, this discussion about possible signs and symbols cannot be used to prove anything, but it provides us with interesting guidelines.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Required reading

Many people like to believe antiquated nonsense such as the notion that the crucified Jesus once ascended bodily into the sky. In a different domain, other misinformed folk persist in believing today that donkeys are stupid beasts. Once upon a time, in French schools, teachers punished the dunce of the class by forcing him/her to wear a so-called bonnet d'âne [donkey bonnet] adorned with a pair of big cloth ears.

The French term ânerie [donkey stuff] is still used as a synonym for ignorance and stupidity, as in the English metaphor that consists of designating a silly fellow as an ass. Well, in a recent issue of a serious French TV weekly, two otherwise respectable French intellectuals dared to apply this derogatory term to the famous film by Simcha Jacobovici about a tomb to the south of Jerusalem that contained several ossuaries [human bone boxes], one of which was marked "Jesus son of Joseph". [Click here to see my earlier article, entitled Thomas time, on this fascinating subject.] These Parisian intellectuals, who should know better, referred rudely to Jacobovici's work as an ânerie mercantile [roughly, commercial donkey shit]. I would like to offer a symbolic donkey hat to each of these gentlemen, while hoping—as we say in English—that they'll end up being obliged to eat it.

Simcha Jacobovici's film was finally aired on French TV late last Wednesday evening, and it was followed by a well-mannered debate in French between Simcha himself and 65-year-old Monsignor Jean-Michel di Falco, bishop of Gap, who has long been looked upon as an elegant and well-informed spokesman of the hierarchy of the Catholic church in France.

I hardly need to say that Jacobovici's astounding film is clear and convincing. Quite the opposite of commercial donkey shit. On the other hand, di Falco's observations were neither pertinent nor particularly relevant, and certainly not persuasive. He even wasted everybody's time by evoking two extraneous subjects: Dan Brown's popular novel [The Da Vinci Code] and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Curiously, Monsignor di Falco did not utter a single word concerning the relatively recent discovery (1945) of the most fabulous Christian documents since the Bible: the Nag Hammadi library. [I've already written two articles on this theme. Click here to see the first post, entitled Sharing life together. Click here to see the second post, entitled Gnostic discoveries.]

This juxtaposition shows the covers of two books. The current situation can be summarized simply. If you're concerned by Christianity today, either as an interested observer (like me) or as a believer (like Monsignor di Falco), you need both these books. The one on the left provides a complex but partial introduction to the subject. The one on the right [hot off the press] offers an even more complex but necessary and complementary view of Christian things. Henceforth, for aficionados of Jesus, both books are required reading. The second book reveals all that was stupidly banned, in year 367, in the days of Athanasius. Today, we're adult enough to read such stuff. In any case, to my mind, Simcha Jacobovici's research and film go hand in hand with the Nag Hammadi scriptures. And together, they'll end up turning Christianity upside-down...

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Benedict XVI on the historicity of Easter events

We know with relative certainty the day of the week on which Jesus was brought before Caiaphas, then Pilate, and fixed to the cross. It was the day before the Jewish sabbath: that is, a Friday. This information is provided by two of the four evangelists:

— Mark 15, 42
By this time evening had come; and as it was the day of preparation (that is, the day before the sabbath), [...]

— John 19, 31
Because it was the eve of the sabbath, the Jews were anxious that the bodies should not remain on the crosses [...]

We also know with relative certainty the day of the month (but not the year) on which Jesus was crucified. It was the day of preparation for the Pesach (Passover) festival: that is, the Hebrew date of 14 Nisan. This information is provided twice by one of the four evangelists:

John 18, 28
From Caiaphas Jesus was led into the governor’s headquarters. It was now early morning, and the Jews themselves stayed outside the headquarters to avoid defilement, so that they could eat the Passover meal.

John 19, 14
It was the day of preparation for the Passover, about noon. Pilate said to the Jews, ‘Here is your king.’

It is also provided by a purely Jewish document:

Babylonian Talmud, Nezikin ("Damages") order,
Sanhedrin tractate, V, 2, 43a

The day before Pesach, they executed Jesus of Nazareth [...]

Using the fact that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, 14 Nisan, historians have been able to conclude that this event probably took place on Friday, 7 April 30, when Jesus was about 36 years old.

At some time prior to this fateful Friday on the eve of Passover, Jesus had a final meal with his apostles.

Concerning this celebrated Last Supper, which inspired the Christian ceremony of the Eucharist, there is a dating problem that has not yet been solved in a way that satisfies everybody. Most people consider that it took place on the evening of Thursday, 6 April 30, but this convenient date raises problems, for reasons that I shall now summarize.

There has always been a ceremonial Jewish dinner on the eve or the first evening of Pesach that is known as the Passover Seder, or simply Seder. Christians often refer to this Jewish ritual as the paschal supper. Clearly, since Jesus was tried and executed on the eve of Pesach, then the Last Supper could not have possibly been an ordinary Jewish Seder. Besides, at the start of Jesus's final meal, John describes a curious event that is not part of a traditional Seder: Jesus washed the feet of his companions. Furthermore, as described by the evangelists, essential ingredients of the Seder appear to have been absent in the Last Supper. The gospels make no mention of the presence on the table of lamb, matzot (unleavened bread) and various symbolic foodstuffs.

In spite of these negative factors, the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) persist in speaking of the Last Supper as if it took place at the start of Pesach and constituted a traditional Seder. For example:

Mark 14, 12-16
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered, his disciples said to him, ‘Where would you like us to go and prepare the Passover for you?’ So he sent off two of his disciples with these instructions: ‘Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a jar of water. Follow him, and when he enters a house, give this message to the householder: “The Teacher says, ‘Where is the room in which I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?’” He will show you a large upstairs room, set out in readiness. Make the preparations for us there.’ Then the disciples went off, and when they came into the city they found everything just as he had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

The Catholic Church has always recognized, of course, that there are contradictions in the Gospels concerning this central theme of the Last Supper. Last Thursday, in his homily during the Holy Thursday mass in the basilica of Saint John Lateran, Benedict XVI made an allusion to these contradictions. Then he went on to make an astonishing reference to Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Here are the words of the pope:

In the narrations of the Evangelists, there is an apparent contradiction between the Gospel of John, on one hand, and what, on the other hand, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us. According to John, Jesus died on the cross precisely at the moment in which, in the temple, the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. His death and the sacrifice of the lambs coincided.

This means that he died on the eve of Passover, and that, therefore, he could not have personally celebrated the paschal supper; at least this is what it would seem.

On the contrary, according to the three Synoptic Evangelists, the last supper of Jesus was a paschal supper, in its traditional form. He introduced the innovation of the gift of his body and blood. This contradiction, until a few years ago, seemed impossible to resolve.

The majority of the exegetes thought that John did not want to communicate to us the true historical date of the death of Jesus, but had opted for a symbolic date to make the deeper truth more evident: Jesus is the new and true lamb that spilled his blood for us all.

The discovery of the manuscripts of Qumran has led us to a convincing possible solution that, while not accepted by all, is highly probable. We can now say that what John referred to is historically correct. Jesus truly spilled his blood on the eve of Passover at the hour of the sacrifice of the lambs.

However, he celebrated Passover with his disciples probably according to the calendar of Qumran, that is to say, at least one day earlier -- he celebrated without a lamb, like the Qumran community who did not recognize the Temple of Herod and was waiting for a new temple.

Now, the explanations of Benedict XVI are really weird, for two reasons that I shall outline briefly before concluding this lengthy article:

— In suggesting that Jesus was an Essene, the pope has decided, as it were, to rewrite New Testament history on the basis of archaeological findings at Qumran made in the middle of the 20th century.

— Among the great Qumran scholars, nobody has ever imagined for an instant that the historical Jesus might have been an Essene.

My own explanation of the contradictions (for what it's worth) has the merit of being simpler and more orthodox than the pope's. I would imagine that the instructions about going into the city and meeting up with a man carrying a jar of water were in fact given by Jesus on the morning of Thursday, 6 April 30. After all, since the troublemaker from Nazareth and his followers were being spied upon by the authorities, it is feasible that Jesus thought it wise that his followers should be assembled in the "large upstairs room" well in advance of the eve of Passover. One can imagine that this room might have assumed the role, in the mind of Jesus, of a temporary shelter from his pursuers. But, by the end of Thursday afternoon, when everybody was present in the upper room, Jesus foresaw already that he would never live to see the eve of Pesach, twenty-four hours later. So, he transformed Thursday's assembly into an advanced and abridged ceremony: a sort of symbolic Seder. Since it was too early to envisage their evening get-together as a real Seder, there would be no lamb or special Jewish foodstuffs on the table, and the bread would be ordinary, not unleavened. But Jesus, knowing now that his time on Earth was about to end and that he would never be able to participate in a real Seder with his companions, improvised a virtual Passover supper... whose powerful spontaneous symbols (Jesus was equated to a sacrificed lamb, with Thursday's ordinary bread and wine of the upper room symbolizing his flesh and blood) gave rise to the Christian ritual of the Eucharist as we have known it ever since. To my mind, there is no need whatsoever to drag the Essenes into the picture.

In any case, the words of Benedict XVI, the day before yesterday, were astonishing and his reasoning is hard to fathom.