The Jesus Papers

by Michael Baigent

San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, 516 pp.
$25.15 (soft cover)

Reviewed by Hershel Shanks

Finally, after 2,000 years, we have Jesus’ own admission that he is not the physical son of God. He actually recognizes that fact in writing. The revelation comes in a new book by dragon-slayer Michael Baigent, who in 1982 co-authored the best-selling Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which explained how Jesus survived the crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene and ultimately moved to France, where they had a family.

Baigent says he actually saw the papyrus letters in which Jesus admits that he is not the physical son of God: “These were the Jesus papers,” he tells us in his new book, The Jesus Papers, “the letters from Jesus to the Sanhedrin. They existed. I had them in my hands.” Wow!

Baigent refers to the man who owns the letters and allowed him to see them as “my friend,” but he does not tell us his name. Baigent came to him through his “contacts in the [antiquities] trade.”

Baigent does tell us, however, where he saw the letters—in a large walk-in safe that was temperature- and humidity-controlled.

The owner of the papyrus letters, a wealthy Israeli, had dug them up in the basement of his house in the Old City of Jerusalem, Baigent says. That is really quite remarkable because not the smallest bit of papyrus has ever been found, in more than 150 years of excavation in Jerusalem. The wet climate would cause papyrus quickly to disintegrate into nothingness. (Likewise ancient textiles, which have never been recovered in Jerusalem.) Yet these papyrus letters—9 by 18 inches!—apparently survived in excellent condition. Because they were so important, they were no doubt preserved in ancient Saran Wrap.

Another piece of good fortune: The letters can be dated to “about A.D. 34.” Archaeological finds cannot usually be dated so precisely.

The language of the letters is Aramaic. Baigent admits that he himself cannot read Aramaic. He does not tell us whether the owner of the letters can read Aramaic. But the owner did show the letters, which he found in 1961, to two famous Israeli archaeologists, Yigael Yadin and Nahman Avigad, both now conveniently dead. According to Baigent, Yadin and Avigad told the owner that the documents are “important.” Whether Yadin or Avigad (both of whom were expert epigraphists) translated the letters or any part of them for the owner, Baigent does not say. All we know is that they were judged “important.”

The owner knew what the letters said, however, and he told Baigent:

[The] two Aramaic letters [were] written to the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin … This figure, the Messiah of the Children of Israel, was defending himself against a charge made by the Sanhedrin—he had obviously been accused of calling himself “son of God” and had been challenged to defend himself against this charge. In the first letter, the messiah explained that what he meant was not that he was “God” but that the “Spirit of God” was in him—not that he was physically the son of God, but rather that he was spiritually an adopted son of God. And he added that everyone who felt similarly filled with the “spirit” was also a “son of God.”

These, then, are “The Jesus Papers,” exposing what the jacket refers to as “the greatest cover-up in history.” These are the letters that Baigent characterizes as “the smoking gun.” The jig is up: Christianity has been exposed!

I fear that my review of the startling contents of this book will only help rocket The Jesus Papers to the best-seller list—even though what I have done is expose not only the foolishness of its central thesis, but the obvious lack of any conceivably reliable evidence regarding the papyrus letters. Michael Baigent, perhaps more than anyone, however, understands that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The London judge who dismissed his copyright suit (based on an alleged copyright violation of Holy Blood, Holy Grail) against Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, and his publisher Random House, excoriated Baigent for bringing the suit and socked him with an order to pay approximately $1 million of the defendants’ legal fees. Never mind. That’s just peanuts in the world of bestsellers. Was it just coincidence that at the height of the trial publicity Baigent came out with his new book, The Jesus Papers, or was it smart marketing? USA Today wanted to know. “I don’t think there’s any such thing as a coincidence in publishing anymore,” replied the paperback publisher of The Da Vinci Code. His judgment is backed up by the fact that the original printing of The Jesus Papers was a whopping 150,000. And to top it off, Holy Blood, Holy Grail is back on the bestseller list. Baigent told the newspaper, however, that it was just a coincidence. “I’m not a publicity person,” he added.

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  • Justin says

    The cases that people who seem to credit the Jesus papers present actually makes me cringe inwardly, as any educated scholar would do. The Jesus papers are merely a conspiracy theory attempting to ride the waves of publicity into fame and value. When examined, this thesis that he puts forward unravels instantly under evaluation. He claims that in 1961, one of his contacts discovered two documents written in Aramaic, which he consequently allowed two famous archaeologists to examine it. After examining it so, they dated it to roughly the time of Jesus’ death. The writer identifies himself as the “Messiah of the children of Israel”, and he writes to inform the Sanhedrin that he was not trying to say he was the Son of God, yet just an embodiment of his spirit. Baigent depicts that he walked into an antiques shop and personally examined them under glass, under the fact that he could not take pictures and that he could not read Aramaic, but two Israeli archaoelogists, Yigael Yadin and Nahman Avigad, affirmed it. Hold on just a minute; what the heck? Yadin and Avigad are DEAD!

    So we have an text that Baigent cannot reproduce, nor do we have the translation for, an anon antiques dealer who cannot be found, and two dead guys. Also, did I mention that no papyri could survive 2000 years in Jerusalem? The moist climate would have already obliterated the entire document, much less allowing it to be readable and in “excellent condition”. In Egypt, perhaps. In Jerusalem? No way.

    So yes, this basically is just another publication trying to gain profits out of naked hype and conspiracy. This claim literally self destructs when examined in scrutiny. Need I say more?

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