Somewhere in the hell reserved for cable television executives there must be an entire circle devoted to copycats. How else might we explain the monomaniacal obsession cable TV fringe history shows have with Bible heresy? That said, I must give Inside Secret Societies credit for one thing: They managed to develop a new conspiracy theory I had not heard of, though to do so they essentially made the whole thing up from misrepresentations and lies.
If Inside Secret Societies S01E05 was all about the Holy Bloodline, S01E06 follows a closely related but much older heresy, the claim that Jesus did not die on the cross but faked his own death. This claim dates back to the heretic Basilides (given in Irenaeus’ Refutation of All Heresies 1.24.4) and is also found in the in the Nag Hammadi codices’ Second Treatise of the Great Seth, and even in the Qur’an 4:157-158: “And [they] said, ‘Verily we have slain Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of God; yet they slew him not, neither crucified him, but he was represented by one in his likeness.’ […] They did not really kill him; but God took him up unto himself” (trans. George Sale).
This old idea is presented here as the kind of claim that would level empires and destroy Christianity at its core, but somehow every Muslim in the world knows of it and believes in it, and yet the Church still stands. I doubt fringe historians are even aware that it is a Muslim article of faith. They probably aren’t even aware that in 1887 the French writer Louis Martin, in the atheist tract The Gospels without God, the foundation of the Holy Bloodline theory, offered a euhemerized variation that made the claim that Christ’s tomb was in the south of France: “He’s here in some deep hidden place, protected for eternity from the foolish desecration of men. Thus the most generous of men sleeps his great sleep in the midst of the most chivalrous of people and the best made in the image of his Gospel” (my trans.). For Martin, Christ must be in France because the French were the chosen people of God. (Clarification: My phrase is meant figuratively; the atheist Martin wrote from a nationalist perspective common to his era.)
The frame story for exploring this idea is the secret society they call the Brotherhood of the Blood, which they say is better known by its Spanish or French name Sangre, Sang, or, as they pronounce it sahnj. They are a series of obscure local Catholic groups of penitents who dress up like Klan members and scourge themselves during the Holy Week. More properly, the groups are the descendants of the White, Black, Grey, Blue, Red, Violet, and Green Confraternities of Penitents. (There were hundreds of different orders.) They do not go by the general name “Brotherhood of the Blood,” which wrongly suggests that it refers to the Holy Bloodline. While the different flagellant groups aren’t really related directly to one another, being localized in many towns and villages, the show suggests that these orders are all in league with one another and that they have a “secret insight into what really happened” during the crucifixion, namely the Muslim belief that Christ did not die.
The original flagellants emerged in the 1300s and 1400s and were suppressed by the Inquisition. Modern flagellants descend from reformed groups reconstituted by papal authority in the 1500s and 1600s. They are not directly related to the earlier groups as the show believes.
The show seems to have borrowed its name for these groups from a few Spanish flagellant orders that used the name “Brotherhood of the Blood of Jesus” followed by a local designation such as Ribatejada. Such orders were recorded in Madrid and Barcelona in the 1500s, according to William A. Christian, Jr.’s Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain (1981).
Now here’s the interesting thing: The original, heretical penitents, at the time when Muslim Spain was on the decline and those Muslims who remained in newly reconquered areas of Spain became conversos outwardly adopting Catholicism. The flagellants formed in the area of southern France and eastern Spain where Muslim and Christian cultures had long intertwined. So, even if it is true that the original flagellants of Spain and southern France really did believe that Christ had been substituted for another, this isn’t necessarily an ancient secret but rather is more likely a spillover from the Islamic belief that our fringe historians are completely ignorant of. A similar crossover occurred in the Italian Gospel of Barnabas, from around 1400, which also attempted to harmonize Christian and Islamic accounts of the life of Christ, including an unusual claim that Judas took the place of Jesus, who was raised alive to heaven, as in the Qur’an. Similarly, that text continues to circulate among ignorant fringe historians as the “suppressed” Gospel that the Pope is somehow willing to kill to keep hidden. The Gospel of Barnabas was translated into English and published a century ago. I included part of it in my anthology Foundations of Atlantis.
Our fringe talking heads, however, are ignorant of all of this and instead lustily describe the gory aspects of self-flagellation and suggest that no one would engage in such rites unless they were hiding the real truth about Jesus.
The narrator repeats a rumor—one that no evidence supports—that the Brotherhood has the mummified body of Jesus in southern France. The show adopts the so-called “swoon theory,” that Jesus was removed from the cross while only appearing to be dead, thus explaining his resurrection. This claim was made by the French neo-Gnostic Louis-Sophrone Fugairon, a psychical researcher, in 1897, and he based the claim on information he read in—where else—Louis Martin’s Gospels without God, which had in turn attempted to remove God from the New Testament and show Jesus to be a married French atheist with a kid. For your delight, I have translated his article.
Andre Douzet, a French eccentric, alleges that he has visited the tomb of Jesus somewhere near Narbonne because he believes that a seemingly old plaster model of the countryside that named various features for their parallels in Jerusalem is actually pointing the way to the real tomb of Jesus, helpfully labeled on the model as “Tombeau du Christ.” (This is akin to the argument that the Egyptian names given to features of the Grand Canyon in the 1920s proves ancient Egyptian colonization.) He suggests that the Brotherhood has threatened his life if he reveals where the body is hidden, even though he takes a drone to show us the site for this program. How would anyone prove that a shriveled corpse belonged to Jesus? It’s not like you can test his DNA, presuming that the body is that of a human. Andrew Gough says that this cave “blows the whole Church dogma out of the water about resurrection and crucifixion.” Gough repeats again that the Catholic Church would be destroyed should any of this information come out, so they have empowered the Brotherhood to keep the tomb secret.
Heather Osborn, a fringe radio host, manages to be the unintentional voice of reason by noting that the tomb is merely a crack in a rock and that the model has no provenance. Douzet counters that he won’t provide any proof until the “time is upon us” to “upset the consciousness” of the religious. He then adds that he ran out of money for the revelation, with the clear implication that he wants to keep on milking the cash cow for a few more years. That might be the only true thing he said: that money is behind it all.
Gough tells us that the Inquisition persecuted the Brotherhood due to their belief that Jesus did not die on the cross, which I remind you again is a standard Islamic belief shared by more than one billion people. Rather than exploring why people in close contact with Muslim Spain, if they really did believe this, had adopted Islamic beliefs, the show revels in the gory torture of the Inquisition, which they describe at length. This whole argument falls to pieces before facts: The description of the Inquisition’s extermination of the Brotherhood is taken word-for-word from a description of the burning of some Jews who refused to remain Catholic. Yes, they openly lied about the text they used. The Inquisition did punish flagellants like the so-called Brotherhood from the mid-1300s through the end of the Middle Ages, though not because of heretical claims about Jesus but because they had become militant, opposed papal authority, and disrupted public order. Officially, when the Church burned 140 flagellants in 1414 the Church noted fifty “errors” of these flagellants. None of them was a denial of the Crucifixion; they were, instead, much less interesting: that St. Peter invented their sect, that baptism should occur with blood rather than water, and that transubstantiation is a lie.
The Inquisition crushed the heretical flagellants and reinstituted them as the local orders under the patronage of the Pope and the Jesuits, the groups this show alleges is the “cult” of the Brotherhood of the Blood.
In another segment the show wonders whether a medieval relic in Bruges claiming to be the blood of Christ really is. It isn’t. The show then repeats its question about whether the Brotherhood has the “embalmed body of Jesus Christ” and the talking heads allege that the Brotherhood got rid of the rotten old thing because it was too burdensome to hold on to something like that! The narrator says that they must be hiding something because they wear hoods, are secretive, and—nonsensically—the public is interested in the “real” history of Jesus. No, the last point doesn’t follow, but the writing is sloppy enough that I’m convinced the writer thinks it does.
So, to recap: The show falsely alleged that a large number of unrelated penitent confraternities are really a secret society devoted to Jesus’ physical body and blood, that these unrelated groups operate under the unattested general name of the Brotherhood of the Blood, that they believe Jesus did not die on the cross, and that they stopped hiding Jesus’ corpse because it had become too much trouble but act like they still have it anyway just to stir up said trouble!
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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