Monday, February 2, 2009

Mandrake



mandrake [MAN-drāk]
n. a plant with a forked root, resembling a man, thought to have magic powers; a narcotic prepared from its root.

[Derives from man + dragon]

Before I came across one of the strangest conspiracy theories, which claims that Jesus did not die when he was crucified, but instead was high on an anaesthetic herb called mandrake that makes a person who takes it appear to be dead, the only connection I had to the word mandrake was from one of those "who reads this stuff?" comic strips which is never, ever funny, called Mandrake the Magician. It's a very old strip, going back 75 years. Its hero -- to be played in an upcoming movie by the extraordinarily creepy illusionist Chris Angel of cable TV fame -- is a magician who hypnotizes people who then have hallucinations. (I'm not kidding.) I guess the inspiration for the strip came from its creator ingesting mandrake and then hallucinating.

So speaking of the Creator... Last night, after getting home from a Super Bowl party, I was flipping the dial and came across a Discovery Channel program called, "Jesus: The Complete Story," which apparently first ran in 2001. I'd never seen it before. The 15-minute segment I watched dealt with the mystery of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection. As opposed to what the Christian Bible proclaims -- that Jesus died on the cross, was buried and then rose from the dead as the resurrected Christ -- some people apparently believe that his death on the cross was all a hoax, pulled off with an elaborate trick using this herb/drug mandrake, which was historically administered with a vinegar potion.

Before I explain the theory, take a look what is written in Matthew 28 about the resurrection, where Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, discover that the body of Jesus is not in his tomb:

"Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you."

The Discovery program didn't, in the part I watched, get into details about the conspiracy. However, a website called The Mandrake Connection (which may have been the source for the TV producers) lays it out. It says that Jesus was upset that he had very few followers and therefore very few people were hearing his message "that the peoples of the earth should treat rich and poor alike with the love and respect." However, if, before he was inevitably executed, he could pull off an elaborate illusion, in which he was thought to have died on the cross and then magically reappear, everyone would believe he was the anointed one and would thus accept his teachings.

The Mandrake Connection hypothesizes that Jesus was conspiring with his friend Lazarus and a handful of others to pull off this hoax. It first reworks the story of Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead in John 11 -- "Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. ... And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go." -- claiming that Lazarus was never dead, but he had been experimenting with mandrake and only appeared to be dead. The reason Lazarus was experimenting was because he and Jesus wanted to figure out the exact right amount of potion Jesus should drink in order to not feel any pain from the crucifixion, but not overdose and kill himself. Everyone, including Martha and Mary, thought Lazarus had really died. Only Jesus knew that his friend was in a drug-induced coma.

So once Jesus, using Judas as his foil, convinces his enemies to execute him at the appropriate time, he is nailed to the cross, presumably with a modest dose of mandrake in his system. Mark 15 explains: "Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, 'Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.' And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last." The Mandrake Connection argues that it was one of Jesus's conspirators who fed him a mandrake potion in that vinegar, making it soon appear that he was dead.

The theory goes on to say that the tomb where Jesus's body (still alive) was taken was guarded by others involved in the conspiracy. So when his tomb was found to be empty, his guards knew he had awakened from his mandrake high and run off.

Of course, this Mandrake Connection theory is insane, but to most non-believers perhaps no more insane than the Easter story. What struck me (as a non-believer) in reading it was that the author takes very seriously the words of the Christian Bible, as if they really tell the story of an historical event. He simply thinks the historians (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) fell for an elaborate hoax and therefore their conclusions are off, but in the main the Mandrake theorist accepts the words in the Bible as having actually been spoken.

That is the first place I part company from this conspiracy. The Bible is not history. It doesn't retell actual historical events the way history books as we now know them do. The Bible is a book of mythology, designed to impress a theological point of view on its readers. What Christians call the Old Testament was an oft-revised Jewish mythology that evolved constantly over hundreds of years. Their new testament was first written long after Jesus, if he ever existed, is said to have died on the cross. Its stories and words and quotes were massaged for hundreds of years until they served the needs of the Church which had a point of view it wanted expressed in the pages of its Scripture. When earlier versions of the Christian Bible did not meet the needs of the Church, the Bible was changed to serve the Church's purposes. If Jesus had been born in Nazareth, but in order to make the story work that he was in the line of David and had to be born in Bethlehem, the story was changed. If the early Church wanted to make clear to their Roman overlords that Christianity was no threat to Roman rule, they inserted the words, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" into the mouth of Jesus.

The second respect in which I part company with the Mandrake Connection -- and all wacky conspiracy theories -- is with regard to its complexity. Never mind that this theory is concocted out of thin air with no substantiating evidence. Just consider that, if the resurrection of Jesus did not happen as the Bible stories claim it did, there are far more obvious and simple solutions to proffer. For example, maybe Jesus never lived at all. Or maybe he was killed on the cross and the story of his tomb being found empty was a myth added by the Church. Or maybe there was confusion as to where his body was taken, and thus it was not surprising that the wrong tomb was found to be empty. Or maybe he died just as the Gospels say and he was taken to the correct tomb. But then a rumor was floated years later by those who had heard his story and they conjectured that he had been resurrected in the manner told in the Gospels. It could be any of those possibilities or something else quite simple. It need not involve a cockamamie conspiracy using a magic potion which, if used in the right manner, makes someone appear dead when he is only in a coma.

Despite my skepticism, I should note that mandrake was a plant known in Biblical times. It is mentioned in Genesis 30: "Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes. And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son's mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son's mandrakes. And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes. And he lay with her that night." And then again in Song of Solomon 7:13: "The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved."

2 comments:

James-Stewart Campbell said...

Please note that The Mandrake Connection was updated in 2011. (www.mandrakeconnection.com ) This second edition has a link to a fully-referenced version in PDF format for download and review.
James Stewart Campbell, MD
11/11/2013

James-Stewart Campbell said...

Please note that The Mandrake Connection was updated in 2011. (www.mandrakeconnection.com ) This second edition has a link to a fully-referenced version in PDF format for download and review.
James Stewart Campbell, MD
11/11/2013