Monday, June 12, 2006

Monty Python, King Arthur, Indiana Jones, and the Da Vinci Code

What is the common element?

An obsession with the Holy Grail. Honestly I never would have made that connection or realized how ingrained the whole concept of the grail is in our culture if I wasn't reading Grail Code.

The subject seems daunting. Who really wants to read an entire book about the Holy Grail? Not me. How about a book looking for King Arthur? Hmmm, that's a bit more interesting but still no sale. At least, that is, until I was shown that we really are not merely talking about the grail or King Arthur but a much bigger story, something divine really.
If there was a real Holy Grail -- a cup venerated by the early Christians as the cup used at the Last Supper -- then it would eventually have become so encrusted with jewels and precious metals from the far corners of the earth that the original object would be hard to recognize. The cup would have been unchanged in essence but surrounded by a superstructure of ornamentation designed to draw attention to the beauty of its holiness.

All this is simply speculation. In spite of the strong claims about some relics in various parts of Europe, we really have no idea what became of the cup that Jesus used. Whether or not the object still exists, the veneration and ornamentation that might have happened to the Holy Grail is exactly what did happen to the story of the Holy Grail. One generation after another added jewels from all kinds of unlikely sources until the thing seemed to have a completely different shape. But the essence -- the original meaning of the Eucharist -- was unchanged. The added layers of ornament only expressed centuries of veneration for the truth of the Eucharist...
Interesting concept isn't it? Certainly it is one that never occurred to me but is fascinating in the implications. Just to make sure I don't lose the trail, the authors then go onto King Arthur and work the same magic ... making connections I didn't know existed.
It's a lot of fun to chase bits of historical evidence hither and yon, and to pounce on them when they seem to support our favorite theory. But to us, the historical truth about King Arthur is almost irrelevant. What's much more important is what people have believed about King Arthur for most of the last millennium and a half.

The story of King Arthur is the story of the creation of a terrestrial paradise -- a paradise that was destroyed by sin. It is also a story of longed-for redemption, the hope that some miracle could restore the perfect world that sin destroyed.
Wow! I'm just at the beginning of this book but can assure you that it is neither boring nor difficult to read. I'm sure more excerpts will follow as I follow the interesting historical trail the authors have laid out for us in this book.

For a sample of the authors' writing, check out their blogs.

Mike Aquilina shows how the Church fathers mean something to us today at Way of the Fathers as he writes about archaeological findings, how the Church fathers dealt with teenagers, whether Church fathers used Mac or PC (duh, gotta be Mac, right?), and more.

Christopher Bailey writes at Grail Code about the search for King Arthur, Merlin, and (most interestingly to me and to anyone who has had to argue against the "facts" in Da Vinci Code), shows exactly how easy it is to create verifiable but false "historical facts".

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