Monday, September 24, 2018

I want the mask of John the Baptist

Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince are two alt-history authors whose books could perhaps be dubbed “anti-conspiracy conspiracy”. They are often sharply critical of both official history and conspiracy-mongering alternative history. Small wonder, since the conspiracy theorists frequently turn out to be part of pretty weird cultic networks…or work for the Deep State! So who is the conspirator *exactly*? This is the third Picknett-Prince work I've read.

“The Masks of Christ” contains Picknett's and Prince's fairly eclectic view of Jesus. They are drawing on the canonical Gospels, the Gnostic apocrypha, the controversial Secret Gospel of Mark and some lesser known texts to weave an entirely new and unexpected portrait of the Christian redeemer (if that is what he was). What I found refreshing is that the authors aren't bound to any particular school of thought, but use a rather free-wheeling approach. Since most skeptical approaches to the Search for the Historical Jesus has failed, why not eclecticism? Sometimes, the authors reach conclusions which are surprisingly “traditional”, such as postulating a connection between the synoptics and John, or claiming that the Gospels contain reliable eye-witness testimony. Of course, they spin this their own way. Some of their takes are intriguing. Thus, Picknett and Prince believe that Josephus originally *did* write a lot about Jesus, but that the Church censored most of it, since it was too revealing! They also claim that a certain scholar has located the original Hebrew version of Matthew. Yuge if true. I also note that while the authors accept the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were spouses or lovers, they reject the Da Vinci Code-type conspiracy theories about “sacred bloodlines”, Merovingians or the Priory of Sion.

So who was Jesus, according to our authors? In their opinion, Jesus was the second in command of John the Baptist's movement. Indeed, Jesus regarded John as the Christ! Originally, Jesus was a Galilean wonder-worker and magician, who probably incorporated some pagan magical practices in his work. After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus changed focus and took over John's movement, in effect becoming the new Christ. This led to a split, since some of John's followers refused to accept him, creating their own movement. (The small Mandean religion in southern Iraq is the last remnant of the John Movement sans Jesus.) Jesus was executed due to his cleansing of the Temple, an act which probably was intended to trigger revolutionary action in Jerusalem against the Romans. The resurrection never happened, the tomb being empty since Jesus' inner circle had removed the body unbeknownst to the disciples, who then proceeded getting ecstatic visions of their dead leader.

In this scenario, both the John Movement and the Jesus Movement mixed Jewish and pagan elements. John represented a heterodox, perhaps Samaritan, current within Judaism. However, since the pagan elements are older than “orthodox” Second Temple Judaism, John's message could be seen as the original faith of Israel. John carried out initiatory rituals in the so-called Cave of John the Baptist at Suba in Palestine. Likewise, Jesus carried out initiations. The “rising” of Lazarus is really a garbled description of such a ritual, not an actual miracle. This is further proven by the Secret Gospel of Mark. Communion is also a mystery ritual which long predates the Last Supper. John and Jesus belonged to the same ideological matrix as the Therapeutae, the Jewish Temple in the Egyptian town of Leontopolis, the Essenes, the Zadokites and Simon Magus in Samaria. Indeed, Simon's peculiar message was almost identical to the original creeds of John and Jesus. Or so the authors believe.

The pagan-Egyptian and Samaritan-Gnostic elements didn't stop John and Jesus from actively resisting Rome and its Herodian stooges. This explains why both men believed in the Jewish concept of the Messiah as a military conqueror and political ruler, not some mystical redeemer or Gnostic proclaimer. But even here, there were some crucial differences with most other Jewish sects. Thus, Jesus and John were more “inclusive”, wanting to include at least the Samaritans (identified with the old tribe of Ephraim) in the Jewish national liberation struggle. This also explains why both men spend time in Perea, on the eastern bank of the Jordan, associated with Manasseh. Note that both Ephraim and Manasseh were half-Egyptian in origin! As a heterodox Jew, Jesus didn't accept the legitimacy of the Second Temple, which explains why he “cleansed” it and constantly threatened to destroy it. Another difference with the Jewish mainstream was that Jesus-John wanted women to play central roles as leaders and teachers. After the death of Jesus (which wasn't planned in any way), his followers split into two groups. One emphasized the Jewish aspects of the message, while the other went off in a more “pagan” or Gentile direction. Both were wrong! The John Movement also continued in the form of Simon Magus and the Dositheans. This group was closest to the original message.

There are *some* similarities between this perspective and that of Margaret Barker, who argues in her books that Jesus and the early Christians restored an older (pre-Josiah/pre-Ezra) form of Judaism, which included lesser deities, the sacred feminine and a priest-king being transformed into a Son of God through mystical initiation, but in her scenario, the Temple is central. Apparently, there are also some Freemasons who believe Christianity is “Egyptian” or connected to John the Baptist rather than Jesus. By contrast, Picknett and Prince draw skeptical conclusions from the material they analyzed. To them, Jesus was simply one of many self-proclaimed saviors, perhaps even a cult leader of some sort. This, and the fact that “Christianity” has been a split movement virtually from the start, indeed, even *before* it properly started, means that he didn't play any special role as Son of God or Christ. Neither, apparently, did John the Baptist, although the authors are somewhat more positive towards him.

If the anti-conspiracy conspiracy has managed to tear off the mask of Christ is, perhaps, still an open question, but since the book is immensely interesting (and somewhat contentious!), I will give it five stars.

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