I know, almost exactly, when I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail; early 1988. The reason for such a precise recollection is that I met my wife on a plane ride from Anaheim to Chicago in May of that year, and the book was one of the things we'd discussed during that first conversation. I'd read it, she hadn't, but it didn't take long for her to get a copy from the library, or for us to plan a trip (yet to be taken, after all these years) to Rennes-le-Chateau.
It is easy, after such a span of time, to point out the book's shortcomings; wildly speculative mental leaps, huge gaps in research, and a naive desire to trust others that at least one of the book's authors, Henry Lincoln, appears to have somewhat charmingly maintained to this day. My intent is not to criticize Holy Blood, Holy Grail, but to praise it. There were areas where the work failed, certainly; there were also areas where it incredibly succeeded.
It's necessary to stop here and point out that I know that much of the material in the book (and others that followed, based on it) has been debunked; I've watched all the BBC documentaries, read all the for-and-against works of note. The opening mystery of the story, concerning Father Berenger Sauniere, has turned out to be a red herring, since his great sin was to sell the saying of masses (through magazine advertisements) so successfully that he was never able to say enough of them; a forerunner, one cannot help noting, of modern televangelists.
Naughty priests aside, what Holy Blood, Holy Grail accomplished was the immense task of bringing its readers to the inevitable conclusion that the type of Christianity we'd all been raised on was not a true reflection of historical fact. To take one example: Jesus certainly did have siblings, including a brother, James, who himself achieved some prominence.
More importantly, the book shed light on the fact that the early Christian church in Jerusalem - a church that would have been founded by those closest to Jesus, including, perhaps, family members - was ultimately forced out of existence by the early Christian church in Rome. This fact has huge implications for anyone with an interest in Christianity.
Much of this information was known to religious scholars. Holy Blood, Holy Grail made it known to a much wider audience, and did so in a compelling and interesting fashion. Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard Leigh produced a book that has given me (and others like me) food for thought for over several years now; one can hardly ask more of writers.
Finally, Holy Blood, Holy Grail has served as an impetus to other writers to investigate the subjects raised in its chapters. Some of these books, admittedly, have been sorry affairs, but others are truly worthwhile. I would include Mark Amaru Pinkham's Guardians of the Holy Grail in the latter category; if, like me, you're still captivated by this story, be sure to get yourself a copy of the book.
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