The Historical Assault on Jesus

There’s big money to be made in undermining traditional Christianity. We saw it first in the phenomenal success of The Da Vinci Code, the film version of which will be in theaters later this month.

You’re already no doubt familiar with the book’s unrelenting attack on the Church. And the movie looks to be no different—the co-producer has already described the film as “conservatively anti-Catholic.” No surprise there. When you’re making a movie out of a blockbuster best-seller, you’ll want to dance with the one who brought you.

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Predictably, the sales numbers of The Da Vinci Code have inspired a storm of imitators. Perhaps the most amusing is Michael Baigent’s new book (appropriately released on April 1), The Jesus Papers: Exposing The Greatest Cover-Up In History (HarperSanFrancisco). Not content with merely suing Dan Brown for stealing from his earlier book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Baigent wants to see him one better. Like Brown, the author argues the tired position that Jesus never actually died on the cross. Oh, but how Baigent does it!

His book isn’t so much based on a dubious stringing together of unconnected events—though there’s plenty of that, to be sure. Rather, Baigent has hard evidence that Jesus survived the crucifixion. In fact, he personally inspected two letters written by Jesus that were intended for the Sanhedrin. Apparently, the Nazarene wanted to clear up any nonsense about claiming to be God. He was simply saying that He was filled with the spirit of God, not that He was God Himself. Or at least that’s what Baigent says.

A pretty tall claim. But at least Baigent can produce those letters, right? Well, no. Nor does he know who has them or where they might be. Furthermore, he wasn’t able to photograph or copy them. Oh, and unfortunately, there were no other witnesses with him when he handled the documents.

To cap it all off, he’s pretty sure the incriminating evidence will never be found, because the Vatican has either hidden or destroyed it. So we’ll just have to trust him. At least that’s what he told an unimpressed Sara James on NBC’s Dateline.

If Baigent’s flight to Fantasy Island isn’t as academically rigorous as you’d like, there’s always the Gospel of Judas. Rediscovered after 1,700 years by an Egyptian farmer, it at least has the advantage of existing. But that’s about as far as it goes.

The Gospel of Judas is one of the Gnostic gospels, written at least a century after the events described. And contrary to the media hype surrounding its release, it has nothing valuable to tell us about the historical crucifixion. Gnosticism, after all, had a habit of rewriting the scriptures of other faiths. It was a parasitic theology, latching itself onto whatever religion was available and twisting its host’s doctrines to fit its own. Christianity was not its only ancient victim—there was also a Gnostic form of Judaism and paganism as well.

Of course, utterly ignorant of early Church history, much of the media has announced (in grave tones, as always) the end of orthodox Christianity. If, as the Gospel of Judas says, the great betrayer was actually Jesus’ closest confidant, and the one entrusted with the mission of helping the Messiah free Himself from His earthly husk… well, Christians are going to need to rethink things.

Of course, that’s ridiculous. Depending on the Gnostic gospels for authentic historical information about Jesus is like learning aerodynamics by watching Snoopy fly his doghouse. But the facts won’t dissuade those eager to drain Christianity of its moral authority. For them, the Gospel of Judas, The Da Vinci Code, and The Jesus Papers are just the latest clubs to use against their oldest and most obstinate enemy.

  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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