Scott Wolter has been on quite a media tour for someone who doesn’t have anything new to promote between seasons of his H2 program, America Unearthed. He’s taking the opportunity, though, to push his more extreme speculation about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and secret Holy Bloodline and Knights Templar conspiracies in advance of the show’s third season, which he had previously announced would return to Templar Bloodline conspiracies, specifically in France.
What I find most interesting is Wolter’s assertion that his speculation is somehow changing the historical record and rewriting the past. Wolter told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he views each America Unearthed investigation as an “opportunity to get the history of the country corrected … that doesn’t come along very often.”
The Star Tribune article, by freelance writer Anna Pratt, includes no quotations or interviews with mainstream scholars who oppose Wolter’s views. Instead, it uses only generalizations of mainstream views provided, apparently, by Wolter and his friends. The profile is overwhelmingly positive, occasionally factually inaccurate (wrongly giving the air date for Holy Grail in America as 2013, confusing it for the America Unearthed episode “Hunt for the Holy Grail), and uninterested in factual foundations for Wolter’s claims.
Wolter told the Star Tribune that he feels better qualified than historians and archaeologists to determine the truth about America’s past because he uses “hard” science to examine rocks rather than the “soft” sciences that involved texts. His producer, Maria Awes, told the Star Tribune that while Wolter’s ideas may seem extreme ““when you really dive into it and the legends, a lot seems plausible.” This, of course, reveals the flaw in Wolter’s method: Far from sticking to the “hard” facts, Wolter constructs castles on foundations of sand specifically because he places far too much weight on myths and legends whose origins he neither knows nor understands.
This is more than evident in another recent article, from the Bangor Daily News, which details Wolter’s efforts to inject himself into the alleged controversy over the Spirit Pond rune stones, which experts have dismissed as “clumsy fakes” for decades. Wolter needs these stones to be authentic in order to support his claims to a Templar conspiracy because the Spirit Pond stones’ inscriptions were modeled on those of the Kensington Rune Stone and therefore include another instance of the otherwise non-standard variant-A rune, which Scott Wolter has trademarked under the name the “Hooked X®.”
“It’s the greatest story that’s never been told,” Wolter told the Daily News. “What you guys have in Maine are some of the most important historical relics in the history of the country. … Those stones that you have up there are priceless. They make Plymouth Rock look like a pebble on the beach. […] These archaeologists have all been programmed [to believe the stones are fakes] and they can’t think outside the box.” He believes that the runes were carved by the Knights Templar while securing the Holy Bloodline of Jesus following the suppression of the Templar order. In a bit of news, Wolter told the paper he believes that Jesus’ child was a daughter.
In contrast to Pratt, Daily News writer Seth Koenig provides a balanced article that includes expert viewpoints from mainstream scholars along with an evaluation of the evidence Wolter provides. He also gets right the air date for Holy Grail in America.
It’s important to note that neither the Kensington Rune Stone nor the Spirit Pond stones say anything about the Knights Templar, Mary Magdalene, or a secret bloodline of Jesus. If we “let the rocks speak,” then even accepting the Kensington Rune Stone at face value, we have the following story:
8 Götalanders and 22 Northmen on an exploring (or acquisition) expedition from Vinland west. We camped by 2 skerries one day’s journey north from this stone. We were a-fishing one day; after we came home we found 10 men red with blood and dead. A.V.M. (= Ave Maria) Save from evil.
Wolter sees a secret code in the runes, one tied to his belief about the Holy Bloodline of Jesus and the Templar voyages to America. But these two beliefs come from texts Wolter has never read and does not consider in his thinking about the Templars.
The only evidence of a Templar voyage across the ocean is the June 1308 interrogation under torture of Templar brother Jean de Châlons, who told Vatican inquisitors a series of provable lies, which culminated in the following discussion of what transpired during the 1307 raid on the Templars, which I translate directly from the Latin:
Then he [Jean] said that, learning beforehand about this trouble, the leaders of the Order have fled, and he himself met Brother Gerard de Villiers leading fifty horses, and he heard it said that he had set out to sea with eighteen galleys, and Brother Hugues de Châlons fled with the whole treasury of Brother Hugues de Pairaud. When asked how he was able to keep this fact secret for so long, he responded that no one would have dared reveal it for anything, unless the Pope and the King had opened the way, for if it were known in the Order that anyone had spoken, he would at once be killed.
Jean, as we can see, was repeating a secondhand story—but one that said nothing whatsoever about Templars crossing the ocean or taking a Holy Bloodline with them. It’s also important to note that in 1308 the medieval Latin word used for the ships--galea (ablative plural: galeis), from the Byzantine Greek usage—meant a small oared vessel propelled by rowing, not an oceangoing sailing ship. The idea of them as large sailing ships derives from usage after 1700, when they word became applied to some types of large warships used by the European powers. The Latin text does not immediately support the idea of a trip across the ocean.
And lest you think I made this text up, you can find it yourself in Heinrich Finke (ed.), Papsttum und Untergang des Templerordens, Vol. 2: Band: Quellen (Vorreformationsgeschichtlighe Forschungen, no. 5) (Münster: Aschendorff, 1907), p. 339, citing the Vatican Archives’ Registra Avenionensia 48, Benedicti XII, Book 1, folios 448-451.
This is the entirety of the textual case for a Templar trip to America, and so far as I can tell Scott Wolter knows nothing of this text and never addresses it in his written work on the Templars.
The Holy Bloodline of Jesus conspiracy is even more poorly documented since there is not a scrap of medieval material making any mention of a child of Jesus, much less a daughter specifically. You have a possible Gnostic reference to Jesus kissing Mary Magdalene on the mouth (Gospel of Philip 59), but the papyrus has a hole where the word “mouth” may or may not have been, and at any rate it wasn’t really sexual in context. You have a Cathar reference to an evil earthly Jesus, of whom “Mary Magdalene was his concubine” (Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay, Historia Albigensis 2 [old system] or 10 [new system]). And you have a French legend that Mary Magdalene lived in France for a spell, a legend created in the High Middle Ages to justify claims of various churches to hold her relics, as the oldest such reference attests:
A persecution having arisen after the stoning of Stephen proto-martyr, Maximinus, one of the seventy disciples of Christ, crossing to Gaul, took Mary Magdalene with him. Furthermore, he buried her body in the city of Aix, over which he presided. 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 last line refers to the older story, given by Modestus in Photius, Biblioteca 275 and Gregory of Tours in his In gloria martyrum 1.30, that the Magdalene lived and died in Ephesus, from which the Orthodox claim her relics were later removed to Constantinople.
None of this says anything about kids, and that is an invention from the Holy Bloodline school of fringe history inaugurated by the poorly-sourced and largely fictional Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Wolter’s ultimate source, and its imitators.
So why do we trust high medieval legends over late antique and early medieval texts? Scott Wolter doesn’t tell us and in fact doesn’t cite any of the primary sources about the Magdalene legends but rather fringe history books that in turn have only a passing acquaintance (or less) with the medieval and antique texts that fail to support their claims. If you’re going to demand that history be “corrected,” you had better be conversant in the history you claim to want changed.
His claim to letting the “rocks” speak for themselves isn’t even true if we take his claims at their word, for the rocks say nothing about Templar voyages or Holy Bloodline conspiracies. That’s the “soft” interpretation he’s imposing on incomplete and inaccurate data points.
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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