Before we begin today, Harry Hubbard of Alexander Helios contacted me to dispute reports that he used to be an ancient astronaut theorist. Hubbard says that such reports, published by Richard D. Flavin, are incorrect and that Flavin is attempting to libel him. Hubbard said worse, but I have removed references to UFOs from my discussion of him in my review of America Unearthed S02E05 in keeping with his assertion that this material is wrong. Here is the non-libelous portion of Hubbard’s message that I am able to print:
I admit, the episode was less than cheesy, but you have to know, Scott nor myself had anything to do with the final edit. This often pisses Scott off as they frequently stage finds, false truths and such. However, let me be clear to you and anyone who bothers to read your blog... For the past 20 years, we have maintained that Burrows Cave is indeed the lost Ptolemaic Dynasty including Alexander the Great and Cleopatra....and so many idiots wonder what the connection is there, but they are history buffs. During this time, no one, the world over has proven us wrong! You and others can say what you wish, print what you desire, but you can't prove us wrong. Bummer ain't it?
What kind of contract does Committee Films have Scott Wolter locked into? Also “prove us wrong” isn’t really an argument. I have said in jest “unicorns are real.” Prove me wrong.
That said, Hubbard has offered to answer questions about the show and his cave, so if you have questions you would like to see him answer, let me know in the comments below.
Now on to today’s news.
Many of you have probably seen the “new” information about the location of the Ark of the Covenant making the media rounds today. The information comes from a Hebrew text called the Massekhet Kelim that articles have been a bit cagey about revealing is a medieval text, not a genuinely ancient record from the time of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. The text describes the concealing of the Temple treasures as Nebuchadnezzar conquers the city, and as such is not entirely dissimilar to other accounts, like the apocryphal stories of Jeremiah concealing the Ark on Mt. Nebo (2 Maccabees 2:4–7).
The Massekhet Kelim states that the Ark is the possession of angels and the other treasures in a tower in Baghdad, which really ought to have shown up on Ancient Aliens. We all “know” that angels are aliens and that the Ark is an alien communication device. But ancient astronaut theorists aren’t too keen on primary sources.
Contrary to media reports, the text is not “new” in any sense other than the publication of a complete English translation. The Hebrew text has been in print since 1648, and a French translation has been available for the last half century or so. The book’s contents have been discussed continuously since 1648, and its most interesting feature is the fact that it claims that the Temple vessels were listed on a copper (or bronze) tablet, which echoes the famous Copper Scroll found at Qumran, which also listed the Temple vessels on a metal sheet. Most scholars believe that the Massekhet Kelim author independently struck upon the idea of recording important information on metal.
No one translated the text into English before now because, apparently, scholars didn’t see much value in a medieval legend. A similar fate befell the late Antique Orphic Argonautica, which also lacked an English translation until the twenty-first century because nineteenth and twentieth century scholars didn’t see any value in it. In fact, Arthur Platt called “dreary” and others said much worse—“worthless” was a common-enough Victorian descriptor. A Greek gentlemen produced an eccentric and somewhat uneven translation in 2005 to support a fringe theory that the Argonauts sailed to America; my own translation is much closer to the source text.
It actually surprised me how many texts have never been translated for whatever reason. I thought you might be interested in seeing another of these untranslated gems. Today’s translation again covers some of the Holy Bloodline conspiracy material and is the oldest text to suggest that Mary Magdalene lived in France after the Crucifixion. A partial translation of one sentence from the passage below was published in the 1950s, but so far as I know the entire paragraph has not been fully translated.
The text comes from Sigebert of Gembloux in the Chronicon sive Chronographia, a year-by-year chronology written around 1111 or 1112. This is a section of the entry for the year 745:
A persecution having arisen after the stoning of Stephen protomartyr, Maximinus, one of the seventy disciples of Christ, crossing to Gaul, took Mary Magdalene with him. And he came to the city of Aix, over which he presided, and where he died and was buried. Verily, the city of Aix was despoiled by the Saracens, so the body of Mary herself was transferred by Gerard, count of Burgundy, to the monastery of Vézelay, which had been constructed by him. And yet some people write that this woman rests in Ephesus, having no covering over her.
The final line refers to Gregory of Tours in his In gloria martyrum 1.30, where he writes an unexplained line that “In this city [Ephesus] Mary Magdalene rests, having no covering over her” (my trans.). You’ll notice that Sigebert favored conservation of text, closely paraphrasing Gregory at the end and possibly at the beginning also Cosmas, describing the flight of Matthew after the stoning of Stephen. Both were sixth-century authors.
A few decades later, Modestus of Constantinople explained in the early 600s that Mary Magdalene had moved in with St. John in Ephesus and died there a martyr (Photius, Biblioteca 275). In case anyone would like to follow the evidence to its logical conclusion, Modestus also wrote that Mary Magdalene died a virgin. Sorry, Holy Bloodline believers: You’ll have to explain why the “ancient texts” tell a different story.
Byzantine writers maintained that the body of Mary Magdalene had been buried in Ephesus. In 886, her alleged bones were transferred by Emperor Leo VI to Constantinople and venerated there. This remains the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which of course fringe writers dismiss because it is weird and eastern.
Western Christians began to identify Mary Magdalene with southern France in the High Middle Ages. We know it cannot have been earlier since Gregory, who otherwise is credulous of saintly myths and the glories of Gaul, agrees with the Byzantines on Mary’s location, something that he could not have done had there been a royally-approved, popular tradition of Mary Magdalene in southern France.
As the tale grew, at first the story was only that the body of Mary Magdalene had been transferred to Aix, just as the Byzantines claimed to have moved the body to Constantinople. This was entirely in keeping with the cult of the saints and the competition among medieval cities to host spectacular relics for the veneration (and cash contribution) of pilgrims. Three different centers all claimed relics of Mary, and as they competed to attract pilgrims (and money!) they told increasingly elaborate stories about Mary. Now she was alive when she came to France, doing penance in the wilderness around Aix. When Sigebert wrote, he was essentially adjudicating between the competing claims of Aix and Vézelay by explaining how the older tale about Mary at Aix could be true while still promoting Vézelay’s claim on pilgrims’ time and money. To do so, he also needed to impugn the famous work of Gregory of Tours.
This new version, after a bit more growth and change, became the received Roman Catholic tradition, enshrined in the famous Golden Legend on the lives of the saints.
In short, there is no evidence of Mary Magdalene in France before the High Middle Ages, and there is an even older tradition of her in Ephesus that directly contradicts the Holy Bloodline Conspiracy claims.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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