Knights of the Black and White
by Jack Whyte
Published by the Penguin Group
Printed in this edition 2007
Copyright © Jack Whyte 2006.
At this point in Jack Whyte’s work of historical fiction, in the year 1093, Hugh de Paynes, founder of the Knights Templar, is a young knight newly inducted into a secret order, as are two of this closest childhood friends. His friends, confused by the enormous contradictions between the teachings of their Order and those of the all-powerful Christian Church, turn to Hugh to make some sense of it all, as they have not studied the secret lore of the Order to the extent that Hugh has. This secret Order practices an initiation rite, a “Raising Ceremony,” that involves a kind of rebirth – a death and resurrection from the grave. Hence, in his book Jack Whyte calls the Order, “The Order of Rebirth in Sion.” (That name, reminds one of the secret order called The Priory of Sion, which is a focus in Dan Brown’s famous book, The Davinci Code.)
“It has served us well, this myth of Christ.” – Pope Leo X (1475-1521)
What follows is from that book:
He turned away from the water then, and looked at each of his friends in turn. “So,” he continued, “I am going to tell you what I believe. But I absolutely do not want either of you to think, under any circumstances, that I’m convinced that what I tell you is the truth. Do you understand that? I am not telling you the truth, because as God is my witness, I do not know what the truth is, or even where it resides.”
He waited until each of his friends had nodded in agreement, and then he walked away from them without looking back, allowing his next words to trail back over his shoulder.
“I believe in Jesus,” he began. “I believe he lived and was crucified. But I do not believe he was the physical son of God, not now. I believe he was crucified for his political activities against the Romans and their allies – Herod and his clan. He was a fighter in the cause of a free and unified Jewish nation, free of foreign occupation, and free to worship their own God in their own way. I also believe, because our Order has convinced me by showing me evidence – and not simply telling me about it and ordering me to believe – that Jesus was a member of a priestly sect known as the Essenes, whom some called Nazoreans, and that they formed a community that they called the Jerusalem Community, a brotherhood of what we would call monks today – a community of dedicated souls living in isolation and in voluntary poverty, practicing chastity and self-denial and striving to make themselves worthy in the eyes of their God, who was a stern and vengeful God with whom they held a covenant, an understanding that they would live their lives in strict commitment to His expectations… Do you want to ask me any questions about any of that?
He walked on in silence, waiting, and when nothing came from behind him, he began again. “I believe that Jesus was crucified and died. And after his death, his brother James, whom men called James the Just, continued to head their commune until his death. James was murdered on the steps of the Temple, and his death – far more so than the death of his brother Jesus – caused insurrection and rebellion, leading directly to the last Jewish war against Rome, when Titus destroyed the Jewish nation and those few who survived the destruction were scattered to the ends of the earth.”
He stopped suddenly and turned on his heel to look back at them. “That is what I believe, and no one of it should surprise you, for you have heard it all before, from your sponsors within our Order, for all of it, but it might not all be true. Or it might be totally false, its interpretation lost over the centuries since our families first came here, after their flight from Jerusalem. In my own heart and mind, however, I believe it. But now comes the hard part. And it’s the part, I know, that causes all the grief you feel over this.”
He started walking again, more slowly this time, and his companions walked on either side of him, their heads bent.
“All our families, all of them who do not belong to the Brotherhood of the Order, are Christians, and that is what makes this all so difficult, because I also believe that the Christian Church, as it exists today, is built upon a myth created by the man called Paul. Paul was a gentile, we all know that, but nobody really knows today what a gentile was. Do you know, Goff?” Godfrey wrinkled his nose and shook his head, and Hugh smiled. “Well, a gentile was anyone who was not a Jew, and to the Jews, that was all that mattered. I believe that Paul was a friend of Rome, which is a spy, in the pay of the Empire, and I believe that he was an opportunist of the first magnitude. He never knew Jesus – although he knew the brother, James, and James knew Paul, and disliked and distrusted him.
“I believe, absolutely, that Paul somehow heard mention of the Raising ceremony practiced by the Essenes of the Community. He could never have witnessed it, for the Essenes’ rites were practiced in secret and Paul was twice an outsider – a gentile and uninitiated – but I believe most certainly he heard of it, and he misunderstood everything he heard, except the most important part – the outline of the premise involved. He took the idea of resurrection that had been practiced in secret for centuries by learned men, and from it, and around his gross misunderstanding of it, he built an edifice that now rules the world in which we all live. He even invented a name for it after a time. He called it Christianity, based upon the Greek name he eventually dreamed up for the man Jesus – the Christus.
“Then, once he perceived the success of his message and could see where he might go with it, he stripped it, his fundamental idea, of everything Jewish that might be offensive to the Romans, and he constructed his new religion with great skill to appeal to Roman tastes, traditions, and superstitions, incorporating most of the favorite myths of Rome, and of Greece, and of Egypt, and all their gods.
“He took the story of the virgin rebirth, for one thing, from several sources. Mithras, the Roman soldier’s god, for example was born in a stable, delivered of a virgin. And Horus, the god-son of Isis and Osiris, was born of a virgin, too, and destined to die to expiate the sins of mankind. Paul named Jesus the Son of God in that tradition, and cited his resurrection as a sign of his divinity. Paul the saint made Jesus the Christ an immortal. But the most blatantly untrue thing he did was to deny James’s existence as Jesus’ brother by denying his existence and transferring the power of the founding bishop to Peter the Rock.”
“Tell us about this Mithras,” Godfrey said. “I’ve never heard of him.”
Hugh smiled. “Not surprising. He was a very powerful god in his day, the Lord of Light, worshipped by most of the soldiery of the Empire as the Soldier’s God, but he was soon absorbed completely into Christianity and disappeared. Even the Cross that Christians revere today was his – the white, four-armed cross of Mithras, and it was an ancient symbol even before Mithras. It certainly was not the Cross that Jesus died on.”
“What are you saying?” Payn sounded scandalized. “Are you telling us you don’t believe Jesus was crucified?”
“No, Crusty, I am not. Jesus was crucified. There is no doubt in my mind of that. But he was crucified on the only kind of cross the Romans used, which was a simple T shape, with no upright above the crossbar.”
Once again he looked from Godfrey’s face to Payn’s. “Now that – all of that I’ve said about Mithras – is true. That evidence exists, and although it has been hidden from casual sight by the Church, they cannot destroy it, much as they might like to. It is historical fact backed by incontrovertible and indestructible evidence.”
He looked squarely at each of his friends in turn, then twisted his lips into a grimace before continuing, his tone and demeanor more serious than at any time since this had begun.
“But that’s all ancient history and Mithras does not concern us here, so to answer your questions as fully as I may, I will way this: I have become convinced, simply from reading what exists in our Order’s Lore, that there is not one of the godly or miraculous events attributed to Jesus that was not in existence, and being marveled at, centuries before he was born, from the curing of lepers to raising the dead.
“The Jesus who lived in Galilee and died on the Hill of Skulls was a man – a patriot and a rebel. But he was not Jesus the Christ, because as I said, the ‘Christ’ part of that name – the Greek Christos, or Savior – did not exist until Paul invented the name long after the man Jesus was dead… That, too, I believe.
“Most of all, however – and I think this is what you were asking me – I believe that the world has been led astray by men – ordinary, venal, and self-centered men – claiming to represent God and growing rich in wealth and worldly power in doing so. The evidence of that is everywhere, and a man does not have to be a saint to see it. The Church that Paul founded contains nothing today – a millennium later – that has not been created and propounded and promulgated by men, all of them claiming to have access to the ear of God, and most of them having no slightest resemblance to anything that might in any way be thought of as godly, pious, or holy, let alone Christian. They preach and pray about godly and Christian virtues, but few bishops or priests today even bother to conceal their venal worldliness. I believe – and I know, as do you two – that most people are aware of that, even although they dare not – dare not – speak of it to anyone. Despair walks the world today, my friends, and it wears clerical robes. But I believe, too – and more than anything else I believe this – that our ancient Order, the Order of Rebirth in Sion, contains the seeds of salvation that will one day cleanse the world and bring God back truly into the lives of men.”
He saw the doubt and bafflement in his listeners’ eyes, and he smiled. “Well, lads, you asked me, and I have told you, and now I can see you are obviously more confused than you were before, wondering about what you have learned that contains the seeds of salvation. Well, believe me when I tell you that you have learned it. You simply have not yet recognized what you have learned. But listen to me now, both of you, and I’ll take you as far towards the light as I can go, because I myself can see it only hazily.
“Think of this. The Church tells us Jesus spoke of himself as being ‘the Way,’ and that he told others ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.’ He asked them to follow him and that he would show them the Way, and he believed that, utterly and without doubt. But we in our Order believe he did not say it as the Son of God. He said it as an Essene, because it was part of his daily life, and other Essenes of his community spoke the same way, because they believed that man carries God within himself, and that the Way to find God is to search within yourself.
“Now, if you think long and hard upon what that means, you might realize it means you can talk to God in your own mind, and in your own prayers. And if you can do that, what need have you of priests? Think about that for a moment, and about what it means to our churchly fathers. If a man can talk to God in his own mind, and pray in the security of his own bosom, what need has he of priests, or of a Church – any church?”