This morning I read Esquire’s fascinating piece on Eben Alexander III, the neurosurgeon who claimed to have visited heaven while in what his attending physician described as a medically-induced coma that Alexander would late claimed was caused by the bacterial infection the coma was used to treat. The magazine found a disturbing pattern of Alexander fudging facts and altering details, extending to several malpractice suits, which he settled out of court.
While this does not directly affect the alleged reality of his afterlife vision, what I found interesting was something related directly to his book about heaven: According to emails he exchanged with his physician in preparing the book, he purposely chose to introduce inaccuracies into his description of her in order to create a better story—in a supposedly “scientific” account of the afterlife—even after asking her for the right facts. He wrote to her that the inaccuracies were “artistic license” and that his story was “dramatized, so it may not be exactly how it went, but it’s supposed to be interesting for readers.” These are nearly the words of Erich von Däniken when he told Playboy that he used in “theatrical effects” and had not felt the need to tell “the truth concerning [...] various other little things.”
Alexander, when pressed, told the magazine that his experiences should not be taken as proof of the afterlife and that it is arrogant for anyone to claim such proof. Yet he is also working on a new book in which he plans to publish the first of many revelations he said God gave him in heaven, and he’s helping turn his heavenly visit into a movie. He also has several convenient ways you can pay him for various products and services revolving around mystical revelations.
I guess some people value the narrative above its component parts and can excuse fabrications, lies, or lapses in logic as minor disturbances in a story that is prima facie true for other reasons. Other people value the component parts above the narrative and see the narrative as a conditional interpretation that has value only insofar as the evidence supports it. And the people who promote the narrative view have no trouble faking facts, fudging events, and rewriting inconvenient truths to help support the narrative.
A case in point is the Holy Bloodline Conspiracy, the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children and that these children gave rise to European royalty, who promptly hid all evidence of it to keep the commoners believing in the divinity of Jesus. It’s a narrative, and one supported by almost no actual documentary evidence—just an endless round of mutually-reinforcing speculation derived from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and popularized by The Da Vinci Code. And sometimes what little evidence there is contradicts the narrative, and no one cares.
In developing my book of texts used in fringe theories, I found that the alleged support for the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married seems to take its indirect inspiration from secondhand versions of a medieval account of Cathar beliefs, the same beliefs that are also used to support the idea that there is a secret cult of dualists who worship the sacred feminine. This emerges from Holy Blood, where the authors summarize the following medieval text but don’t appear to have read it. When Scott Wolter and Alan Butler follow Holy Blood and declare the Cathars to be in league with the Templars (contrary to historical records) and the protectors of the Holy Bloodline, they would do well to note the evidence from the thirteenth century, which takes some of the wind from the Holy Bloodline sails.
The following text was written by Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay in his Historia Albigensis sometime between 1212 and 1218, describing the events of the Albigensian Crusade to wipe out the Cathars. Although Peter was an orthodox Catholic and firmly on the side of Roman Catholicism, his account is believed to have preserved more accurate versions of Cathar beliefs than those of other anti-Cathar writers, albeit not without some exaggeration. The passage of Peter’s text below has been translated (so far as I know) in the 1800s (secondhand from a quotation in the works of Raynaldi) and (from the original document) in 1969 and again in 1998, with each translation reprinted in other subsequent texts. Despite this, few fringe historians seem to be aware of its contents. As I mentioned, Holy Blood fails to credit the document, and Laurence Gardner’s Bloodline of the Holy Grail is equally ignorant of it, making claims it contradicts about Cathar beliefs about Jesus and Mary Magdalene while betraying no knowledge of…well, you’ll see.
What follows is my own translation, directly from the Latin (Bible references added by me):
First, it should be known that the heretics [the Cathars] propose the existence of two creators, one of things invisible, whom they call the benign God, and one of things visible, whom they name the evil God. They attribute the New Testament to the benign God and the Old to the malign God, and they repudiate all of the Old Testament except for certain passages included in the New Testament, which they judge to be appropriate because of their respect for the New Testament. They assert that the author of the Old Testament is a liar, for he said to the first created man: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17), yet they did not die after eating of it, as he had said they would—though in reality after eating of the forbidden fruit they became subject to death. They also called him a murderer because he incinerated the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed the world by the waters of the Flood, and overwhelmed Pharaoh and the Egyptians with the sea. They declared that all of the patriarchs of the Old Testament were damned; they asserted that John the Baptist was one of the greatest devils. And they also said in their secret meetings that the Christ who was born in the earthly and visible Bethlehem and crucified in Jerusalem was evil; and that Mary Magdalene was his concubine; and that she was the woman taken in adultery of whom we read in Scripture (John 8:3). Indeed, the good Christ they say neither ate nor drank nor assumed the true flesh, nor was he ever in this world except spiritually in the body of Paul. But for this reason we say “in the earthly and visible Bethlehem”: The heretics believe there to be another earth, new and invisible, and in this second earth some of them believe the good Christ was crucified. Likewise, the heretics say the good God had two wives, Colla and Colliba, and from these he begat sons and daughters. There were other heretics who said that there was one Creator, but that he had as sons both Christ and the Devil. They said that all creatures were once good but that from the vials of which we read in the Apocalypse (Revelation 16:1-21), all were corrupted.
If we are to believe Peter, the Cathars considered Mary Magdalene the concubine of an evil monster! This hardly squares with the image of the Cathars as venerating Mary as a goddess. Worse, since her paramour was evil, her children by him must perforce be evil, too. Why would the Cathars protect and cherish the bloodline of evil?
It’s also interesting to note that Colla and Colliba (also given in other printings as Collant and Colibant because, of course, no one can agree on what the manuscript says), the alleged wives of God, are probably identical with Oolah and Ooliba (Aholah and Aholibah) the sister-whores from Ezekiel 23:4 who symbolize Israel and Judah and are described as brides of God. French scholars suggested that the corruption occurred in trying to transliterate the Hebrew alef which begins each name into French, where a “C” was the closest to the Hebrew guttural sound.
The final line, about the vials, is subject to dispute. The Latin as I have it reads “filias” (daughters) in all the printed texts I’ve found, but it seems probable (as the 1969 and 1998 translators conclude) that this is a mistake for “fialas” (vials, drinking plates), the word used in the Vulgate version of Revelation, where they unleash corruption on the world. If not, then the reference to Revelation is wrong and the daughters would be the human women from Genesis 6:1-4 (as Raynaldi adds in a marginal note), who consorted with the Sons of God. Either version could be supported from Peter’s text, and the translations and discussions I’ve reviewed are about evenly divided between the two readings, with more recent writers tending to favor vials.
I’m actually a bit surprised that there are so many variations in the printed Latin texts of this passage, but they are all clear on one thing: The Cathars held that Jesus was evil and Mary Magdalene was his demonic concubine. Shockingly, those fringe writers whose work I reviewed in conjunction with my translation and who claim to speak for the Cathars seem not to want to deal with this, even if only to dismiss it as papal propaganda.
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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