Grail Lore involves the ability to separate truth from fiction. Part of that means understanding the mindsets of the people who lived in the periods being researched. Another part is paying close attention to what we assert as being fact versus fiction. When an author of a work of fiction contends that certain things are “fact,” as Dan Brown does as an author’s preface, it behooves serious readers to check those facts.
The long history and involvement of famous people in the secret society called "The Priory of Sion" is listed as “Fact” by Dan Brown as a preface to his story. Unfortunately, others have already unraveled the hoax of the Priory of Sion, a literary and research blunder that will be an embarrassment for Dan Brown’s legacy.
» Priory of Sion Debunked
Fair and objective readers, though, assert that even if the Priory of Sion was more fictional than Brown knew, it hardly diminishes the issues raised in the novel. I agree. Numerous historical figures, people of great influence, have belonged to secret societies such as the Knights Templar and the Free Masons, including many founders and early law-makers of the United States.
The issue of history versus hoax is prominent in the documents that Sir Laurence Gardner sets forward as authoritative pieces in the puzzle of Grail Lore (see page 99-100). Of course, there is debate as to the authenticity and dating of these documents. This illustrates the medieval phenomena of the “discovery of documents.”
In the medieval period efforts were made by numerous parties to gain an advantage by claiming authority through ancient tradition or divine intervention. Within the circles of the orthodox Roman Church, a letter was circulated by one supposed “Prester John,” a King of a vast Christian Empire located to the East of the Islamic Caliphates. This letter suggested that by cooperating, these two Christendoms would outflank the Muslim incursions. This letter is said to have improved the morale in many Crusader states in Western Europe.
It was, of course, all a hoax based on whispers of fact. The bar of skepticism was not set high among western Europeans who had no idea of the extent and complexity of their world. Christian communities did exist in India, east of the Muslim Caliphates, and in Ethiopia to the south. Neither of them constituted the glorious kingdom of mythic wonders described in the letter. However, both India and Ethiopia were posed as credible kingdoms for Prester John as late as the Portuguese explorations of the 1500’s. Hoaxes die hard.
This example from within the Church illustrates the culture of the period. Gardner happily points out other medieval hoaxes concocted by the church, including the relics discovered in Glastonbury, and the so-called "Donation of Constantine." Yet, rather than taking the mindset of medieval Europeans into account, Gardner simply assumes the truth of the claims of discovery made by Grail societies during and after the Crusades.
When kings speak of “discoveries” of supposedly authentic documents, one should consider how the claims match up with the agenda of those making the discovery. Consider the difference between these medieval claims, and the texts discovered at Qum’ran by the Dead Sea in the late 1940's. The "Dead Sea Scrolls" were discovered by a shepherd boy throwing stones, and then turned over to international teams of experts for scrutiny. The claims that the Dead Sea Scrolls are authentic have the validity of independent scientific examination. Texts discovered by courtiers of a King and immediately turned over to royal propagandists, or to knights bound to secret oaths, cannot surpass the bar of skepticism.
The discoveries of Grail Lore documents in medieval western Europe, as related by Sir Laurence Gardner, do not meet a high bar for skepticism. For example, on p. 99 he cites a manuscript by an eighth century rabbi using fourth century sources - however, the earliest attestation to this rabbi’s work is in 1190, and a complete manuscript is not “discovered” until the 1400’s.
Sir Laurence Gardner has a website. You can check his information for yourself.
I had taken him up on “contact Laurence Gardner.” I did my best to present myself as a serious student of his theories, which I am, and honestly stated that I find them “appealing.” It is hard for a descendant of Scotsmen not to find his theories appealing!
For a man of Sir Laurence’s formidable intelligence, the tone of my contact was probably too thinly veiled. I was hoping to draw Sir Laurence into conversation, to be sure that I understood his theories and their implications, and their connection to secret Grail societies. I intended to be as charitable to his esoteric foundations as I could be, and that is still my intention. I have yet to receive a reply, which is perhaps just as well.
Professional courtesies aside, it must be pointed out that consistently in Gardner’s sources, the earliest “discoveries” date to the Crusader period or later, after these secret societies have gotten going. These discoveries always presuppose that the documents had originally been written centuries earlier, although no extant forms of such early documents are ever found. Since hoaxes in service of propoganda were characteristic of the medieval period, a high bar of skepticism must be applied. It is a bar that these documents touted by the Grail Societies cannot meet.
» The Quest for the Holy Grail: What the Quest Can Be