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Book News

Book makes 'X-Files' look like 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'

'The Templar Revelation'
by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince

Simon and Schuster, $15

Review by L.D. Meagher

Web posted on: Friday, February 19, 1999 12:07:57 PM

(CNN) -- Everything you know about Christianity is wrong. The Nativity is a myth, the ministry of Jesus has been misrepresented and the Crucifixion may have been a publicity stunt that went awry. The truth has been purposely suppressed for two millennia by men who were bent on promoting their own agenda, beginning with early church leaders including the Apostles Peter and Paul. Who says so? The same people who claim the Shroud of Turin is a photograph of Leonardo da Vinci.

In "The Templar Revelation," authors Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince lay out the clues that lead them to make those bold assertions. They are as diverse as the decorations on Gothic cathedrals, the Gnostic texts discovered in Egypt half a century ago, and works of art from the Renaissance.

It was Leonardo, in fact, who prompted Picknett and Prince to investigate these matters. Their earlier book "Turin Shroud: In Whose Image?" concludes that not only is the Shroud a fake, it was manufactured by da Vinci. They claim he used his secret knowledge of alchemy to concoct a primitive form of photography and create the enigmatic image on the Shroud. Moreover, they claim the face of the "Shroudman" is that of da Vinci himself.

Their research into the Shroud convinced them that Leonardo was a leading member of a mysterious society called The Priory of Sion. They believe the Priory arose in the Middle Ages alongside another secret order, The Knights Templar. Unlike the Templars, however, Picknett and Prince claim the Priory of Sion is alive and well and carefully manipulating events today.

The authors admit their knowledge of the Priory is limited. Public information about it is apparently limited to seven documents on deposit in a French library. They were placed there in the mid-1960's, and appear to be an unimpressive jumble of genealogies which purport to document the bloodline of a royal French family that lost the throne nearly a thousand years ago. Not only do the papers seem inconsequential, Picknett and Price readily admit some of them are forgeries. They seize on that fact to support their theory that the documents are significant.

"An enormous amount of time, effort and perhaps personal danger must have been involved in setting up such an elaborate ploy. But at the same time, in the final analysis, it appears to be completely and utterly pointless. In that respect, however, the whole business is merely following the old tradition of intelligence agencies, in which few things are as they appear to be and the most seemingly straightforward matters may well be exercises in disinformation."

Therein lies the logic of "The Templar Revelation." That which seems to have neither merit nor meaning must be both true and vitally important. Armed with this upside-down viewpoint, Picknett and Price plunge into an investigation of the shadow world of heresy and occultism.

Their search apparently required them to spend quite a lot of time in the south of France. Whatever other attractions it might provide, the region is steeped in religious veneration for two New Testament figures, John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene. The same area was the home turf of the Knights Templar. Their researches led Picknett and Prince to conclude that the Templars knew something about John and Mary that the rest of the world didn't. It was this secret that the authors were determined to ferret out.

Ultimately, they created a sort of "family tree" of European secret societies that includes both the Templars and the Priory of Sion, as well as the Rosicrucians, the hermetic movement and the various permutations of Freemasonry. (If you don't recognize some of those organizations, this book is not for you. The authors offer little information on their purposes, beliefs or history.) An obscure reference to the Templars coming in contact with a "Johannite" sect during the Crusades convinced them that the medieval warrior-monks had pierced the heart of a great mystery, and they protected that knowledge as if it were the Holy Grail. Which, Picknett and Prince assert, it literally is. Forget all those stories about the chalice from the Last Supper and a secret "bloodline of Christ" (the premise of one of their source books, "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail"). The authors believe the Grail is actually the knowledge of the true identity of Jesus.

Here's where things get more than a bit thorny. In trying to sort out what this great secret might have been, the authors rely heavily on non-canonical sources. They cite an alternative version of the "Gospel According to John," known as the Levitikon, and what are called the "Gnostic Gospels" which were unearthed in Egypt during the 1940s. While New Testament scholars consider these fourth-century documents to be an intriguing glimpse of the early Egyptian Coptic church, Picknett and Prince seize on them as more accurate accounts of the life of Jesus than those included in the Christian Bible.

From the "Gnostic Gospels," the authors conclude that Jesus was probably raised -- if not born -- in Egypt, and was an initiate of the cult of Isis and Osiris. They note the Talmud refers to him as an Egyptian magician -- proof enough for Picknett and Prince. They claim Jesus moved to Israel and attached himself to the cult growing up around John the Baptist. Needless to say, they consider John to be another adept of the Egyptian mystery schools. At some point, Jesus decides to strike out on his own. He takes Mary Magdalene as his "sacred wife" to play the ritual role of the goddess Isis to his incarnation of Osiris, an Egyptian diety who died and was resurrected every year. The New Testament, they claim, is based on the accounts of disciples who were on the outer fringes of the real "Jesus movement" and totally ignorant of the true nature of his ministry. The authors even suggest that Jesus may have had a hand in the death of the Baptist. They believe Jesus played on the messianic fervor then permeating Judea to attract converts, not to a new form of Judaism, but to an old form of it.

"The idea that Jesus was trying to reintroduce goddess worship to the people of Israel fits the case remarkably well. It is also precisely the idea ascribed to Jesus in the Levitikon, that key text of the Johannite movement. In it Jesus is an Osirian initiate who realizes that the original religion of Moses and the Tribes of Israel was that of Egypt and that the Jews had forgotten that there was also a goddess. Of course none of this adds up to definite proof..."

No kidding. Nothing in "The Templar Revelation" rises to anything like the level of "definite proof". Instead, its conclusions are based on the flimsiest of premises which are supported by the slimmest of indirect and circumstantial evidence or, just as often, by the assertion that the lack of evidence justifies their conclusions.

In the end, Picknett and Prince propose that a murky conspiracy has been at work for nearly 2,000 years. Two conspiracies in fact: one, involving all denominations of the Christian faith and spearheaded by the Vatican, suppresses the truth while the other, stage-managed by the Priory of Sion, hides it. Their theory makes the "X-Files" look like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". The publicity for "The Templar Revelation" claims the book "could shatter the foundation of the Christian Church." It's been more than a year since it was first published in Great Britain and there's no indication religious institutions are beginning to crumble. Then again, these authors may see that as proof they were right.

L.D. Meagher is a senior writer at CNN Headline News. He has worked in broadcasting for 30 years.

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