Talking about the Week That Changed the World

CRI-Blog-Maier, Paul-Week that Changed the World

Hank Hanegaaff: We have a special broadcast on tap. It has to do with the resource available for those who support the ministry all this month. It is called The Week that Changed the World (DVD) by Dr. Paul Maier. This week, The Week That Changed the World, is a week in which Jesus Christ suffered fatal torment. It is a week in which He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It is a week in which we know that He was going to appear and give many convincing proofs that He had risen from the dead. In fact, it was a week that resulted in an absolutely transformed world. This is not called The Week That Changed the World in the sense of just one epic week but this is called The Week That Changed the World in the sense that this is the quintessential week in all of human history.

To talk about that, Dr. Paul Maier, his is a professor of ancient history. He has written some of the most exquisite books. I love his two novels, particularly Pontius Pilate and The Flames of Rome. He has written many nonfiction works, including Josephus: The Essential Works and Eusebius: The Church History, a book on the first Christian historian. He has also penned a lot of children’s books, and he was the author of The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction? Glad to have you on the broadcast!

Paul Maier: Coauthored with you, I might add. Good to be back, Hank.

Hank: We did that one together, didn’t we?

Paul: We certainly did.

Hank: You know that was a book that had a lot of significance because the subject never went away.

Paul: How true. We documented absolutely all the errors that Dan Brown made. It was an incredible book (The Da Vinci Code), I tell you. I’ve never seen a book where every time where Jesus or Christ or the church is mentioned is a lie either in whole or in part. I’ve never seen a book like that.

Hank: Well, let’s talk about the DVD. I mean, it is absolutely splendid. I’ve watched it a number of times. You know, I mentioned this in the opening of the broadcast, but this is not just a week, this is the week.

Paul: Indeed. It is the most carefully documented week also in the gospels. I’m glad for that because Jesus didn’t make a move, I think, during that week that hasn’t missed countered aside by some critic somewhere. I’m so glad we have such detail, especially in the gospel of John, as you well know.

Hank: Paul, I want you to talk about what leads up to Holy Week because, for many Christians, the thought of Lent raises the question: I’ve heard about that, but I’m not sure exactly what that’s all about and why it might be significant? Why is Holy Week, the forty days, so critical for Christians?

Paul: Well, because it’s one of the earliest church festivals. Easter, of course, was celebrated before Christmas was, and then, of course, what caused Easter and what led up to it, the church had to prepare for it. Indeed, this was one of the earliest festivals of the early church. It is the Paschal Season, they call it. Indeed, we have here the culmination of Jesus’ ministry. What happened from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is very critically important for the Christian faith and everyone else’s eternal fate.

Hank: You have gone through some very, very difficult situations in your life overall, as all of us have, but recently you suffered a stroke. I suppose when you suffer a stroke, you get a true evaluation of things in terms of what really matters not just for time but for eternity. Talk about that.

Paul: How very true that is. You realize you’re mortal after all. Yes, it was on Election Day, November 8; I had a mild stroke. I didn’t think I had a stroke at first. I wasn’t going to call a doctor, and I said, “No.” Then, I heard myself say “No,” and the way I talked with this slight slur that I’m using right now. I’m not fully over it. I hope to God that I could finally say, “Goodbye,” to this strange speaking ability of mine, but this is a problem right now, and I hope you hearers can be very generous and listen anyway, despite my attempts at handling the English language from a complicated vantage point.

Hank: You know, Paul, it’s interesting to me. I remember this with respect to my father as well. He was a speaker, then he got a fibrosis of the lungs, it encroached on his ability to assimilate oxygen, and so the very thing he had done all his life became very, very difficult for him. You’re one of the most eloquent speakers I’ve ever heard, and the proof of that is in The Week That Changed the World. The job you did in that DVD is absolutely unbelievable. It’s superb. It’s spectacular. How difficult is it to lose the very skill that God has given you, that you have used to teach so many students and lecture around the world?

Paul: Well, certainly it’s tough indeed. By the way, the DVD, however, was filmed before I had the stroke. I talk normally on that one. Again, it’s an odd coincidence it was Election Day, November 8. I think — a little joke here — it may have been my response to the options we had for presidential candidates, but I don’t want to get into politics at this point. Yes, it is very difficult. Again, there’s something satanic about the nature of hitting a person where he’s at his strongest. I think public speaking was my gift, following in many ways the work of my dad, who founded the Lutheran Hour years ago, Dr. Walter A. Maier, and then to find out that I have this slight speech handicap is very unnerving. Fortunately, people have been very generous. They claim they can understand me. I hope that goes for your hearers also.

Hank: I can certainly understand you. One of the first things that I want to drive home is the fatal torment of Jesus Christ. Your comments would be very helpful because there are many people that deny that Jesus Christ suffered fatal torment. For example, the Muslims will say that Jesus was not crucified, God made someone look like Jesus, and the lookalike was crucified in place of Jesus. How can we be certain from a historical and archeological perspective that Jesus did in fact suffer fatal torment?

Paul: When you find dispassionate, non-Christian, secular sources saying the same thing that the New Testament does in terms of Jesus suffering on the cross and dying, then, for goodness’ sake, that pretty well clinches the case for me. Whenever I find people claiming that somebody took his place, I say, “Wait a minute. This sounds like it comes from the Qur’an. This, of course, comes six centuries after the fact.” So, I always ask, “Which is the more reliable source of information: eyewitness testimony or something that happened six-hundred-plus years later?” Of course, the answer is obviously you have derivative material in the case of Islam, and by the way, we can now trace where that material came from. Unfortunately, the prophet Muhammad was in touch only with heretical Christianity in his formative years. It was a Gnostic heresy of Egypt under a Gnostic teacher, Basilidies was his name, who claimed that somebody else took Jesus’ place. This kind of remained with him. If only we would have had Muhammad in touch with normal Christianity, and if only there had been a good Arabic translation of the Old and New Testament available to him, and if only Christian missionaries had dealt more directly or kindly with him during his formative years, I cannot tell you how changed the world would be today. It is such an incredible shame that Muhammad was who he was and was not an Eastern martyr for Christianity or Eastern witness to Christianity. That’s one of the great might-have-beens of history.

Hank: Paul, there is a lot of conjecture on what the cross looked like. I was listening to Bill O’Reilly the night before last. He said of certainty that the cross Jesus was crucified on looked like a capital “T.” Jehovah’s Witnesses say that it was a torture stake. A lot of different forms of the cross. Is there any historical or archeological clue in terms of what the shape of the cross actually was that Jesus was specifically crucified on?

Paul: I don’t know how Bill O’Reilly can say of a certainty. There’s certainly not certainty. But, it is pretty clear that the regular looking cross (†), the so-called crux immissa, which is the typical cross we’re used to is the one because there is a titulus over Jesus’ head, which says, “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” This would be very appropriate in a placard placed over Jesus’ head. I know in the tau cross, the T-shaped cross, they would have had this strung out along the top of the cross beam, that’s very unlikely, and by the way, you find a lot of evidence of mistaken logic in some of Bill O’Reilly’s material there. He claims that he spent all of ten months researching the life of Jesus. Well, you know, others of us spent our whole life times and don’t come up with pat answers. There’s a lot of picking and choosing in terms of cherry-picking the evidence there in that book. No, the regular cross we’re used to best answers all the problems.

Hank: This is one of the things you’ve given your life to. You have given your life to actually doing the first-rate primary research. This is very, very significant when it comes to the life of Jesus Christ, and most particularly when it comes to The Week That Changed the World.

Paul: This is so terribly important. We call it Holy Week of course, but what happened from Palm Sunday to Easter are momentous events in the life of Jesus, the culmination of His ministry, and really the beginning of the Christian faith as we know it. If it had gone any differently, if Jesus had not risen from the dead, we wouldn’t be talking, you wouldn’t have a program today, and nobody would be listening to me, either. It would be a different world. But, instead of that, we have the most successful single phenomenon in the history of humanity, namely the Christian church. There’s never been any other movement on Earth which has the loyalties of over two-and-a-half-billion people or three-billion people in the present generation alone. This could not have developed from a vacuum. This developed from situations that are well known in history and can be verified in the use of secular materials, which is my particular specialty. I love to compare what is explained in the New Testament gospels and epistles, then see what the outside sources for the ancient world say. Do they contradict what we have in the gospels, or do they agree? They agree magnificently again, and again, and again.

This blog adapted from the March 24, 2017, Bible Answer Man broadcast. Listen to the full interview here.


Michael Baigent and the Gnostic Tactic: Fantasy Posing as Fact

JAJ033-Michael Baigent and the Gnostic Tactic

Summary Critique: JAJ033 | by Paul Maier

Michael Baigent, The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover‐Up in History (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006). This review first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 1 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org

A cavalcade of books on Jesus have appeared over the past fifty years that claim to give a new and more accurate portrait of Christ, but deliver a crude caricature instead. Jesus shows up as a Passover Plotter (H. Schonfield), a Radical Revolutionary (S. G. F. Brandon), a Mushroom Cultist (J. Allegro), Master Magician (M. Smith), Senescent Savior (D. Joyce), Happy Husband (Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh), Divine Divorcee (B. Thiering), Subversive Sage (J. D. Crossan), and Misrepresented Mortal (D. Brown). After coauthoring Holy Blood, Holy Grail—the principal source for Dan Brown’s notions about Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene—in 1982, and losing his lawsuit against Dan Brown in 2006, Michael Baigent is back. His book The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover‐up in History unveils what might be called “the Surviving Savior.”

Why the Baigent book was published under the category of nonfiction rather than fiction is a mystery to me. Perhaps his publisher, HarperSanFrancisco, anticipated that reviewers would share this concern, since they refused to send out advance review galleys of the book, as is customary.

Sensationalism in these pages is rife from the start. The book jacket blares:

“What if everything we have been told about the origins of Christianity is a lie?”

“What if a small group had always known the truth and had kept it hidden…until now?” “What if there is incontrovertible proof that Jesus survived the crucifixion?”

Except for the last line, these what‐ifs seem so directly lifted out of another book of falsehoods, The Da Vinci Code, that Dan Brown might well consider a reverse lawsuit against Baigent! But he would also lose, since this has been the standard formula for pulp fiction about Jesus ever since the Gnostics invented the genre in the second century A.D. In fact, all of the books with caricatures of Christ that are spawned today on a conspiracy‐happy public merely demonstrate that Gnosticism, the earliest Christian heresy, is alive and well in the twenty‐first century.

Author of the Arcane. Born in New Zealand in 1948, Michael Baigent emigrated to England in 1976, where he received an M.A. in mysticism and religious experience from the University of Kent. In the years since his 1982 best‐seller, Baigent has traveled throughout the Mediterranean world, hobnobbed with antiquities dealers and private collectors, searched excavations and tunnels for lost documents and hidden archives, and zealously pursued his attempts to rewrite the history of Jesus. Even the flap copy of his latest book deems him “a leading expert in the field of arcane knowledge,” which serves as a forewarning of the repackaged Gnosticism that lies at the heart of the book’s thesis.

However preposterous many of his claims, Baigent does hold the reader’s attention as he snakes his way through hidden tunnels and ancient passageways. His descriptions of the historical and cultural settings in the ancient world are largely on‐target. He offers colorful anecdotal material about his research, and no less than fifty‐five color photographs illuminate these pages, although most of them have absolutely nothing to do with the book’s basic theses.

Despite his literary flair, Baigent fails the test of serious scholarship. The book is filled with hypotheses that turn into “facts,” conjectures that reflect creative imagination rather than hard evidence, hearsay in place of primary sources, and sensationalism in place of sense. At times he is honest enough to frame his theories in the form of a question, for example, “Could Jesus have?” or “Might Jesus have?” In the case of one impossible scenario on what Jesus was doing in Egypt, Baigent admits he is “indulging in pure speculation” (p. 265). This should have been the subtitle of the book itself!

Most scholars try to curb their natural biases as much as possible in the interest of conveying the truth. Not so Michael Baigent. Early on, he refers to “the myth about Jesus Christ” (14). He later mentions “the Vatican and its relentless need to protect its fraudulent picture of Christ and Christianity” (88). He states, “Our New Testament gives us a sanitized, censored, and often inverted view of the times” (63), and again, “Certainly the New Testament is bad history. This is impossible to deny. The texts are inconsistent, incomplete, garbled, and biased” (123). Baigent’s formula is obvious: in order to clear the way for his weird (at places grotesque) theories—all of which are opposed by the New Testament’s sober record—he must first blast away the biblical bases. This is the common strategy of all radical revisionists, biblical or secular: attack the opponent’s sources.

“Amazing” Allegations. The basic scenario proposed in The Jesus Papers runs as follows. Jesus spent much of His youth in Egypt (rather than Galilee), where He learned religious mysticism and incorporated it into His teachings. Later, when He changed water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana, the event itself was to celebrate His own marriage to Mary Magdalene, whose subsequent leadership in the church is cited in the Gnostic gospel bearing her name. On Good Friday, Jesus survived His own crucifixion, assisted by close friends and in collusion with Pontius Pilate. He was taken down from the cross, still alive, and placed in an empty tomb. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus came by night with medicines, revived Him, and removed Him from the tomb.

Baigent is not dogmatic about what happened next, but speculates that Jesus and His wife went to Egypt, where they settled in or around the Temple of Onias, some twenty miles from today’s Cairo. Troubles that arose there around A.D. 38 caused Jesus and Mary to go perhaps to Narbonne in southern France, where some other Jewish families claimed Davidic descent.

These wild claims have not a spark of supporting evidence. Let us dismantle them one by one. For years, imaginative authors have had young Jesus saddled with a case of wanderlust and traveling everywhere from Egypt to India, without a shred of evidence, when in fact, He grew up in Galilee. Later, at Cana, Jesus and His disciples were specifically invited to the wedding feast (John 2:2), a verb hardly used for one’s own wedding! There is not a scintilla of evidence in any ancient (even Gnostic!) source that Jesus married anyone, let alone Mary Magdalene. Jesus would have been a perfect example for St. Paul to include in 1 Corinthians 9:5, where he lists Peter and others who are in the marital category, but Jesus clearly is not listed. Furthermore, on Good Friday, how could Jesus provide for His mother Mary, but fail to do so for his wife, if that’s what Mary Magdalene was, when she too was standing at the foot of the cross? Mary Magdalene obviously was no “Mrs. Jesus.”

Pontius Pilate never could have been involved in any plot to save Jesus after publicly condemning Him to the cross. Such a scheme would have been far too dangerous politically for any Roman governor, especially one who already had a record of turbulence with his Jewish subjects, as did Pilate; moreover, he had no motive for doing this, despite Baigent’s unconvincing efforts to find one.

Finally, that Jesus truly died is beyond debate. The Romans were deadly efficient at crucifixions, and victims did not escape by feigning death or indulging in charade. The pike piercing Jesus’ heart area was the executioners’ final gesture to make doubly sure of His death.

One wonders if Baigent is not using the fanciful events and locations he conjures up for Jesus as an excuse to take the reader on long deviations from any serious presentation on his alternate Jesus. Endless pages are devoted to a travelogue of the author’s explorations in Africa, Israel, and Italy, meeting mysterious people, climbing mountains, or spelunking through caverns and tunnels without Jesus once being mentioned. The truest statement in the entire book comes after a long section that has nothing to do with Jesus: “These matters may seem far too arcane to have any relevance whatsoever to our story, which, after all, concerns Jesus and the source of his teaching” (208).

A Catalogue of Errors. The listing that follows should not be regarded as nitpicking on the part of a jaundiced reviewer, but rather as a sad commentary on Baigent’s sloppy scholarship and his publisher’s editorial failures. Baigent claims that the following italicized statements are true:

The first‐century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus “defected to the Roman side” during the Great Jewish War with Rome, committing “treachery against his own people” (34). In reality, however, Josephus was a commander of Jewish forces in Galilee and fought against the Romans until captured by them; he did not defect, and was not a traitor.

In A.D. 68, “Nero was murdered. After him, two emperors came and went in quick succession” (49). In fact, however, Nero committed suicide, with the assistance of a faithful servant, and it was not two but three emperors who quickly succeeded Nero: Galba, Otho, and Vitellius.

“So far as can be ascertained, the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias took place in A.D. 35. Hence John the Baptist was executed in A.D. 35. So Jesus must still have been alive at this date” (52). He certainly was, as the resurrected Lord, but the rest of this chronology is as much as six years in error, and is shared by no knowledgeable scholar on earth.

Constantine, the first Christian emperor “was only converted to Christianity himself on his deathbed” (88). This is totally false! Constantine was a proven (though controversial) Christian for more than 25 years before his death. He was baptized on his deathbed, but only because people in those days had the strange idea that, since baptism wiped people’s slates clean of sin, people should do all of their sinning ahead of time, and only then receive baptism so that they could go to heaven with a clean passport!

“We can be certain of only one thing: wherever it was that Jesus lived [during His ‘silent years’ as a youth], it could not have been in Israel” (133). All evidence supports the fact that young Jesus grew up in Galilee (Israel), and nowhere else.

“Unfortunately, there is no evidence whatsoever that Nazareth even existed in Jesus’s day” (134). Aside from the obvious references to Nazareth in the Gospels, archaeologists at Caesarea recently discovered a list of first‐century synagogues, including one in Nazareth.

“…the death of the famous Cleopatra in 60 B.C.” (141). Cleopatra instead died in 30 B.C.

The “Gospel of Mary of Magdala…like the Gospel of Thomas…has as much claim to validity as the Gospels in the New Testament” (241). This statement is an outrage. All apocryphal, Gnostic writings such as these were authored later than were the New Testament Gospels, are derivative of the true Gospels, are not eyewitness documents, have false authorship attached to them, and contain grotesque addenda that are incompatible with Christianity. The Gospel of Thomas, for example, claims that women will not inherit the Kingdom of God!

The Dead Sea Scrolls are virtually “early Christian documents” (262). In actuality, no relationship to Christianity is contained in them.

“The Dead Sea Scroll materials…reveal a long hidden reality, embarrassing to both Judaism and Christianity, a reality that had long been manipulated by a small group of scholars” (247). Now that all Scroll texts have been made available to the worldwide scholarly community, this tired old calumny can be put to the rest it so richly deserves.

Such disregard for factual truth on the part of both author and publisher is more than evident in this abbreviated listing. This is not to say that all of Baigent’s stinging criticisms of Christianity are unwarranted. For parts of church history, particularly the medieval period, they are justified indeed, as church historians long have admitted.

The “Jesus Papers”? But whence the title of this book? The author reserves that surprise for a concluding chapter. Baigent claims to have learned from an unnamed Israeli friend, during one of Baigent’s many trips to Israel, about two papyrus documents in Aramaic that the friend said he had discovered in the early 1960s while excavating the cellar of a house he had bought in the Old City of Jerusalem. The house was in the area where the temple was situated in early Christian times.

The documents were two letters to the Jewish Sanhedrin written by someone who called himself bani meshiha – “the Messiah of the Children [of Israel?]” (a designation that does not appear in the New Testament Gospels). The writer seemed to be defending himself against a charge that he had claimed to be “son of God.” In the first letter, the writer said that he did not mean to suggest he was “God,” but that the “Spirit of God” was upon him, and that he was an adopted “son of God” in a spiritual sense. Baigent does not tell us what the second letter purportedly contained.

As Baigent proceeds with his story, it becomes even more sensational: when archaeologists Yigael Yadin and Nahman Avigad supposedly confirmed the authenticity of these documents, Pope John XXIII allegedly asked that they be destroyed. Baigent’s friend refused to do this, but promised not to release them for 25 years. After that quarter‐century had long expired, the friend told Baigent that releasing the documents would only create problems between the Vatican and Israel, and inflame anti‐Semitism. He did, however, purportedly show Baigent the two documents, both about 9 x 18 inches large and framed under glass.

I do not intend to impugn Baigent’s basic honesty; however, this seems to be part of the same song sung throughout the book. Every time some apparently important documents that could help prove Baigent’s theses appear, they are never either quoted for the reader or supplied to the scholarly world so that it could gauge their possible authenticity. The personalities involved are unnamed or they disappear into the thin air of the past, as do the documents themselves, leaving only the author’s hopes that they might be revealed in the future.

However “sensational,” then, I am totally unimpressed by these “Jesus papers.” The one message cited doesn’t at all sound like Jesus—He was never deferent to the Sanhedrin in this manner. The language instead sounds exactly like a liberal New Testament critic explaining “the son of God” designation today. In a city such as Jerusalem that seems to mushroom with forgeries, this appears to be more of the same, if the alleged documents even exist.

Baigent suitably summarizes the religious mysticism that he imposes on Jesus throughout (which Jesus supposedly learned in Egypt) in his explanation of Jesus’ statement, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). Baigent comments, “And how does one travel within? This much we know: by entering the silence. Jesus has returned us to the concept of incubation and the still, dark, silent underground crypts and caves where a seeker can be initiated into the world where the dead live—the Far‐World“ (228).

This, of course, is Michael Baigent at his purely autobiographical best. It is not Jesus of Nazareth.

Christianity rests on fact, not on fantasy, but Gnostic writers, now just as then, remain eager to superimpose their own image and fantasies onto the facts of history. The Jesus Papers is a prime example.

Paul L. Maier is the Seibert professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University and a best-selling author of books that correlate sacred and secular sources on Christianity. He also wrote, with Hank Hanegraaff, The DaVinci Code—Fact or Fiction? (Tyndale House).

Journal Topics, Reviews

The Story Behind Paul Maier’s Novel The Constantine Codex

I wrote The Constantine Codex using the same formula I did for the first two novels in this series: A Skeleton in God’s Closet, and More Than a Skeleton. While the main characters are the same and the novels do build on one another, the plots are so different that each can be read independently of the other two. In all three, I also aim to educate while entertaining. In the first, the reader learns a good deal about archaeology, and in the second, how to avoid extremes in current Christianity, Codex explores how biblical manuscripts led to our preset Bible as well as the world of Islam.
While using fiction for my principal characters, I always try to paint a background of solid fact in sowing how to respond to the greatest dangers that could ever face the faith. In the first book, I deal with a plot that could have doomed Christianity, and in the second, a fraud that would have done the same thing. But in The Constantine Codex, I also take on what is clearly the greatest challenge ever to face the church—Islam—and present readers with a model of how Christian-Muslim dialogue could take place at the highest levels when Jonathan Weber, my protagonist, debates the world leader of Sunni Islam at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Christians don’t know enough about the Muslim challenge, or how easy it is to defend our faith.

Still, the most significant plotline in Codex deals with a little-known historical episode in the life of Constantine the Great, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. He instructed his biographer, Eusebius of Caesarea (“the father of church history”) to have fifty elegantly-written copies of the Bible prepared for use in the early church, with its pages bound together into a codex, the world’s first book form. Not one of these has ever been discovered—until now (moving, of course, from fact to fiction) But this codex—the earliest Bible in book form—contains 67 books rather than the usual 66. Is it genuine? Does the extra book really complete the story of St. Paul’s martyrdom at Rome? Should it be included in the canon? How Christianity reacts to this discovery becomes the centerpiece of the novel.

Advance readers are generous in their comments regarding The Constantine Codex, I’m delighted to say. Hank Hanegraaff, the host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast, writes: “Just a few pages into it and I was hooked. Maier is that rare combination of masterful storyteller and historian. A brilliant use of the power of story to excite and educate. Bravo!”

— Paul Maier

The Constantine Codex (B1041) is available for purchase through the Christian Research Institute bookstore. Also available from Paul Maier are his novels A Skeleton In God’s Closet (B960), More Than a Skeleton (B920), and Pontius Pilate (B687). To understand more about the historical background to the New Testament, we recommend Paul Maier’s books In The Fullness of Time (SB916) and Josephus, The Essential Works (B558).

Dr. Paul L. Maier is the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University and a much-published author of both scholarly and popular works.