The 2006 book The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent included the provocative subtitle: Exposing the World's Greatest Cover Up and argued hidden documents revealed the family of Jesus and an alternative view of His death. It was released on the same day as the publication of Dan Brown's highly successful novel The Da Vinci Code.
The scandal alleged in the book is that Jesus and Pilate made a secret deal that Jesus would not die on the cross. It would only be made to appear He had died on the cross. Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus down from the cross when He was still alive. At night, Joseph, helped Jesus and his wife Mary Magdalene to escape into hiding. By 38, the couple moved to Southern France and raised a family. There is absolutely no biblical or historical support for any of these claims.
The author's supposed source of information for this view are two Aramaic papers he claimed to have seen in Jerusalem in the 1960s that proved Jesus was still alive in AD 45. A supposed conspiracy involving the pope and Israel has since allegedly caused these documents to disappear.
Critics have been quick to point out facts such as Baigent's lack of Aramaic training, lack of documents, and lack of eyewitnesses (both archaeologists cited are no longer living). Certainly, controversy also existed in the connection with Dan Brown's novel, including a lawsuit that remained a news item during the advertising of The Da Vinci Code film release.
A look at the actual evidence is telling. Pilate would have nothing to gain from helping Jesus escape death, and the Jewish leaders certainly wanted Him dead. The Roman guards and the Jews never denied that Jesus had died or that the tomb was empty; the chief priests instead paid the guards to propagate an argument that His body was stolen (Matthew 28:11-15). 50 days later the apostles preached in the same city where Jesus was crucified and thousands believed that He was indeed the resurrected Messiah. The disciples had seen Jesus alive, as had more than 500 eyewitnesses at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). If Jesus had merely escaped death and not been resurrected, His body would have been severely marred. His disciples would have known it was a ruse. Yet all but one of the apostles died for belief in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Messiah. Wouldn't one of these men confess a conspiracy at the point of death?
In addition, the rapid growth of the early Christian church despite times of intense persecution reveals that something special had taken place. Though completely voluntary, Christianity flourished across the known world within a short period of time. The evidence much more favors the traditional biblical account than the sensational, unsupported conspiracy theory of an author 2,000 years removed from the events.
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