21 December 2007

These authors need a crash course in discerning speculation from fact

The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ
Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince
Touchstone, 1998

Claiming on the front cover to be an expose about the "true identity of Christ," the book comes to this conclusion on page 352-3: "Jesus was not the Son of God, and neither was he of the Jewish religion--although he may have been ethnically a Jew...John did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. He may well have baptized him, because Jesus was one of *his* disciples, perhaps even rising through the ranks to become his second-in-command. Something went wrong, however: John changed his mind and nominated Simon Magus as his successor. Shortly afterwards John was killed. Mary Magdalene was a priestess who was Jesus' partner in a sacred marriage..."

After reaching this point in the book, I put it down in disgust, something I am not wont to do (particularly after I've spent hour after hour plowing through a text), and decided to write this review.

This book is offensive, not necessarily because of its radical and unsubstantiated claims about Jesus, but because it, like so many others of its ilk, confuses a constellation of conjecture, speculation, supposition, and allegation with EVIDENCE as it seeks to support a very unconventional hypothesis.

From its first chapter, in which authors Picknett and Prince discuss the secret symbolism of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings (symbolism that most professional art historians consider spurious, by the way), the following pattern is established:

  • Explain away the fact that reputable and knowledgeable parties don't agree with your observations by linking these parties with the "conspiracy" you're attempting to expose.
  • Ask a question like, "what other possible explanation could there be?" and then refuse to seek explanations different from your own pet theory.
  • Use qualifiers like "perhaps," "could," "suppose," or "might" when establishing a speculative data point, and then forget about that qualifier when you bring up that same data point, as an established fact, in the next chapter to bolster the next data point.
  • Connect all your dots and claim that the picture you've just drawn is the REAL DEAL, all the while ignoring the fact that the dots you connected were all of your own design.

I can't honestly say that the book was worthless; it was occasionally a fun read and the authors' ruminations contain lots of interesting, if unsupported, speculations about varied topics. The first half of the book does a fair job of showing possible connections between various esoteric and occult groups in Western history, such as the Knights Templar, the Hermeticists, and the Freemasons. As well, the second half of the book, which focuses on the "true identity of Christ," is also interesting, if only because it offers a challenge to those whose knowledge of Christian origins and history is sorely wanting. (Didn't know that the New Testament was put together by a committee of bishops and their representatives? Well now you do.) And the chapter on the Mandaeans of Iraq was also very interesting and made me want to read more about this vanishing remnant of Gnostic religion. Having said that, the authors' tendency to conflate speculation with fact and their lack of hesitancy in passing the former off as the latter ruined this book for me as anything other than a work of fiction.

Read it if you must, enjoy it if you can, but please remember that speculation and fact are two different animals. Just because Picknett and Prince have written it, doesn't make it so.

(This review was originally written on November 20, 2007.)

1 comment:

massimo said...


Here's an article you might enjoy on these same topics. It gets right to the point and offers an alternative and coherent set of explanations. It's called A Different da Vinci Code:


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