Graham Phillips. The Virgin Mary Conspiracy: The True Father of Christ and the Tomb of the Virgin. Rochester, Vt.: Bear & Co., 2005. Paperback, viii + 280 pages.
The New Testament is full of curious puzzles. Apart from the many egregious contradictions between the various Gospels, we also encounter unresolved issues such as: How come Jesus’ mother came to be celebrated as the divine Virgin Mary when Jesus is portrayed as having had several siblings; were they all born the same miraculous way? If so, why were they not also divinized? Whatever happened to Mary after Jesus’ crucifixion? Why did the high priests of the Temple in Jerusalem fail to condemn Jesus for blasphemy after interrogating him? Why did Pontius Pilate not find him guilty of sedition either?
The British writer Graham Phillips, who also authored The Templars and the Ark of the Covenant and The Chalice of Magdalene, has tackled the difficult challenge of Mary’s true identity with aplomb. Taking his cue from a fourth-century manuscript that speaks of Mary’s flight from Palestine to an island off the shores of Britain, Phillips proposes a highly controversial but plausible alternative explanation to the Vatican dogma of Mary’s ascension to heaven. His riveting story of exploration into the history of Jesus’ mother and family reads like a detective novel. Written for the layperson, his book reveals all kinds of facts that the Vatican deliberately ignores and that the ordinary reader of the New Testament fails to notice.
The Vatican’s silence about Mary’s history is not surprising, given that Catholicism has turned her into an untouchable divine figure that, at various times in the history of Christianity, has held greater importance than Jesus the Christ himself. The teaching of Mary’s supposed virginity made its way into the Christian community about the early second century A.D., apparently because of an error in translation. While Mary’s ascension to heaven—called the “Assumption”—is a teaching going back to the fourth or fifth century A.D., it became official Church dogma only in 1950 thanks to Pope Pius XII. Thus the glorification of Mary completely obscured her historical reality.
The old tradition of Mary having been entombed near Jerusalem has been rejected by the Vatican as inauthentic. However, Giovanni Benedetti, an archaeologist attached to the Vatican Museum, found evidence for a different grave site for Mary but was promptly instructed to desist from exploring this further and was also forbidden to publicize his findings at the pain of excommunication.
Phillips, free from any Church constraints, was able to pursue his research wherever it would lead him, even when this took him into irreverent byways. In the process, he not only discovered many hitherto unknown or downplayed facts about Mary but also a breathtaking alternative explanation of Jesus’ genealogy. In a nutshell, he very compellingly argues that before marrying the elderly Joseph, Mary was married to Herod’s oldest son Antipater. After Herod had murdered Antipater and was seeking to likewise eliminate Mary’s unborn child, she fled to Egypt with Joseph’s help and subsequently married him. But, so Phillips argues, she was already pregnant with Jesus when she, the daughter of the High Priest Matthias, took refuge with Joseph. Thus, as a legitimate son of the deceased Antipater, the future messiah was indeed also “King of the Jews.”
After the Temple priests had succeeded in turning the mob against Jesus and twisting the Roman governor Pontius Pilate’s arm to condemn Jesus to death, Mary again had to flee from Judea. This time, Phillips is convinced, she traveled far afield to the island of Anglesey, which lay outside the borders of the vast Roman empire. Jesus’ oldest surviving brother, Joseph (whom Phillips identifies as Joseph of Arimathea), traveled with her. The fourth-century Evangelium Nicodemiand the contemporaneous Vindicta Salvatorisboth chronicle that Joseph went far north to settle outside the Roman empire. There are several ancient documents that confirm the connection of Britain with the early Christian Church, and Mary’s possible presence there is borne out, among other things, by St. Augustine’s reference to a church in the British isles dedicated to her.
The medieval Romantic literature sees in Joseph of Arimathea the guardian of the “grail,” and Phillips very ingeniously identifies the grail with Mary, mother of the messiah. In the sixth century, during the Norman invasion, Mary’s remains seem to have been transferred from Anglesey to the church of Llanbabo where, amazingly enough, Phillips ends up finding an old grave stone marked with the medieval symbol for the Virgin Mary—the astrological glyph of Virgo.
Considering Phillips’s far-reaching conclusions, clearly one would want to see a great deal more historical and archaeological research done. But his reconstruction of events is certainly thought provoking, and it provides preliminary plausible answers to the kind of questions that any careful reader of the New Testament is bound to have.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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