The whole world knows – or should know – about Dan Brown’s 2003 mega-bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code but in case any of you reading this were either too young to remember it or have been living under a rock, the novel is a potboiler thriller which explores the alleged relationship between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene and the child they were supposed to have had together. The theory goes that Magdalene bore Jesus’s daughter, who was named Sarah, and after the crucifixion, Mary escaped to what is now southern France, where Sarah grew up, eventually marrying into a long line of French kings, the implication being, that there are, somewhere on earth, living descendants of Jesus alive and well to this very day. So controversial the theory – which isn’t new, only adopted for the purposes of this novel - that for years following its release, the Catholic Church bent over backwards, inside and out in order to declare its illegitimacy.
Considerable controversy and debate followed, as well as a myriad of study in order to prove or disprove the theory, which of course can’t be proved or disproved one way or the other. True or not, there would be no way to know for certain since there isn’t any DNA from Jesus around to compare to anyone alive today. What you have here, essentially, is just another alternative history and it’s up to the individual as to whether or not one wants to believe it. If it is to be believed, it must be taken on faith, much like the stories in the Bible. Since the release of this book a decade ago, there have been many scholarly books and articles, theological tracts, and television programs to try to debunk the theory thereby feeding into the “conspiracy theory” that the Church is merely trying to cover up the truth. This old theory made Dan Brown a very rich man but all Dan Brown was essentially doing was creating a twenty-first century version of the medieval “Grail Romance”, a very old tradition in English literature.
But there is another, much older story out there, one that has been around since the first century C.E. and this story would make Dan Brown’s contention absolutely quaint in comparison. This much older story was the subject of much rumor and gossip at the time and there were even accounts written down in non-Christian sources over the centuries which claim to tell another “truth” about the life of Jesus. This particular story never really caught on in contemporary society because its premise is so controversial that either many dismiss it out of hand or no one wants to touch it due to the ramifications it would have. That story is that Jesus was not the product of a virgin birth but a product of a rape.
The story goes that Mary (called Miriam) was raped by a Roman soldier named Tiberius Julius Adbes Pantera (22 B.C.E – 40 C.E.) during a Jewish uprising in Galilee. Mary (or Miriam) became pregnant as a result. According to the account, Mary (or Miriam) was shunned by the community and forced out because of this “shame”. Another account says a man named Joseph decided to become her husband in order to cover up this “shame”. That child was born Yeshu, or Yeshua, or better known to the modern world as Jesus. One account had Mary (or Miriam) leaving her community and going to Egypt, raising her son there before coming back to Judea. The other account has Joseph raising the child as his own, “stepping up” in a way, in order to dispel any rumor that his son was a product of an “immoral union”.
Throughout the first century C.E., this story was the source of whisper and gossip among many people in Judea and even continued during the reign of Claudius (37-41 C.E.). Many non-Christian accounts at the time also refer to this rumor. One in particular was written by a man named Celsus. The authenticity of this document can never be proven since, conveniently, an original document does not exist but is had been written down by others. In it, it states: “Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Pantera]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on the account of his poverty, was hired to go about Egypt. While there, he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.”
This account was also recalled in what is known as the Babylonian Talmud which was compiled from earlier Jewish traditions around 200 – 500 C.E. In it, Jesus is referred to as “Yeshu ben Pantera” (or Jesus son of Pantera). There are also other references to this story in Christian sources, most of which are now considered apocryphal. In one source, the Gospel of Nicodermus, a crowd is heard to say to Jesus while he was preaching to them, “We are not born of immorality”, implying that even during Jesus’s time, this rumor was the subject of gossip. Another non-proven source was a document known as The Acts of Pilate which claims to be the account of Jesus’s trial by Pontius Pilate himself. In it, the crowd before him also make the claim that Jesus was a product of an “immoral union”.
Sometime in the early 2000s, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven wrote a book, Jesus of Nazareth, which puts forth this theory. It never made any headway in the United States but the book had been debated by scholars and theologians throughout Europe. It was mainly dismissed by most since many of these stories had been around for centuries and none of it could ever be proven. But it is a theory and some are giving it serious study. The detractors dismiss these stories as a product of the rift between Judaism and Christianity at the end of the first century C.E as a way to discredit this offshoot of their “true” religion.
Personally, I don’t believe a word of it but it is an intriguing theory nonetheless. If true, it would make Dan Brown’s book look positively benign. If Dan Brown’s novel caused so much controversy, imagine the storm that would erupt around this idea if it ever reached a mass audience as much as The Da Vinci Code had. Maybe it’s only a matter of time before it finally does. With the growing interest in Alternative History it may not be long before someone writes a book or a novel based on these centuries old ideas, one that will reach the general reader and not just biblical scholars and theologians. There have been many Alternative Histories written about the life of Jesus, everything from the Gnostic accounts to differing perspectives found in the Quran to the contention that during Jesus’s “lost years” he had traveled to India and learned from the Brahmin. All of this just shows one thing: that one peasant from a small part of the world had made such an impact on mankind that over two thousand years later we are still talking about him and discussing his life. What one man had this much of an effect on the whole of mankind?
About the Author: Julian Gallo
Born and raised in New York City. I am a musician/writer/painter who has poems and short stories published in about 40 magazines and journals throughout the United States, Canada and Europe and also has 12 books under his belt:
"Standing On Lorimer Street Awaiting Crucifixion" (Alpha Beat Press, 1996), "The Terror of Your Cunt is The Beauty of Your Face" (Black Spring Press, 1999), "Street Gospel Mystical Intellectual Survival Codes" (Budget Press, 2000), "Scrape That Violin More Darkly Then Hover Like Smoke In The Air" (Black Spring Press, 2001), "Existential Labyrinths" (Black Spring Press, 2003), "Window Shopping For A New Crown of Thorns" (Lulu Press, 2007), "November Rust" (Lulu Press, 2007), "My Arrival Is Marked By Illuminating Stains" (Lulu Press 2007), "A Symphony of Olives" (Propaganda Press, 2009) and "Divertimiento" (Propaganda Press, 2009). His second novel "Naderia" was released in January 2011 and his third, "Be Still and Know That I Am" (Beat Corrida) was released in September 2011. br> He is also currently playing guitar and bass for NYC singer/songwriter Linda La Porte. br> View My Profile