The Grail Code 

Archive for February, 2007

Still looking for Holy-Grails-of

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

I’ve talked a lot about Holy-Grails-of in this space—you know, the things that are supposed to be ultimately desirable in a particular field, like the Holy Grail of artificial sweeteners or the Holy Grail of septic tanks.

But just how pervasive is this metaphor?

To find out, I went to the most comprehensive source—the Holy Grail, you might say, of American cultural anthropology. I’m referring, of course, to eBay.

The wonderful thing about eBay, aside from the fact that it’s the only place in the world where you can reap the true value of a handkerchief sneezed in by Britney Spears, is—where was I? Oh, yes: The wonderful thing about eBay is that it gives millions of ordinary Americans their first chance at literary composition for public consumption. You can learn more about what Americans really think from eBay than you can from a whole library of sociological studies.

My method in constructing this survey was straightforward enough: I typed “grail” into the eBay search box. Dan Brown and his satellites came up a lot. But aside from them, here are some of the things I found:

A basketball shoe.

A nutritional supplement.

A movie called Little Red Riding Hood vs. the Monsters.

A “Frankie, Dino, and Sammy” LP.

The Chandler Tube Driver, a musical overdrive pedal (I don’t recall that stop on any of the well-appointed church organs in Pittsburgh, but perhaps it’s a modern innovation).

A Santana LP.

The Betfair Ultimate Horse Racing Laying System.

The Alnico II magnets in an EDEN “PAF Pro II” Vintage Zebra Humbucker Pickup Set (you think I’m making that up?).

A training system for chow chow dogs.

A slot machine.

A Jaguar Apprentices Motor Club badge.

The Animal World, a movie with stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen.

A Vintage Bud Vase Pin, Rose, w/Vial.

An e-book called “So You Want to Be a Mortgage Broker.”

The Stanley Cup (on a poster).

A rare Nancy Drew book.

Stila Pivotal Skin Makeup.

Iron Ore and the Chicago & North Western Railway (“a statistical Holy Grail”).

A Rolex watch.

A device for enlarging the male member.

A method for trading stocks.

The Art of Tatting & Netting (“the Holy Grail of tatting books”).

A collection of rare Wedgwood.

Professional ceramic hair straighteners.

The Top 30 Most POWERFUL Guitar Technique Exercises of all Time.

Instructions on “how to pick up women” (“Brace her with one hand behind her shoulders and place the other hand behind her knees, remembering to bend your own knees and not your back…”).

I could go on, but I think you get the point. There are lots of Holy-Grails-of out there. Now ask yourself which one on this list will bring you happiness for the rest of eternity. It’s the Nancy Drew book, isn’t it?

Actual Photo of Holy Grail Revealed!

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

A Exclusive!

Imagine the excitement of finding the Holy Grail—and not in some distant Palestinian cave or European cathedral, but right on your very own desk!

Through the magic of hyperbolic metaphor, that’s what just happened to me.

According to Mr. Richard Milton, “the holy grail of the major typewriter manufacturers and independent inventors alike was the design of a typewriter that was practically silent in use and would rid offices of the interminable clacking of keys.”

And unlike so many Holy-Grails-of, this one was actually achieved. The Noiseless Typewriter, which was perfected by 1917, really did solve the problem.

You have to type on a Noiseless to understand what “noiseless” really means. You can still hear your fingers thumping the keys, but the racket of the type slugs hitting the platen is just gone. Other manufacturers attempted to solve the problem by enclosing their typewriters and adding sound insulation, but the Noiseless attacked the problem at the root. Its unique mechanism stops the typebars just before the types hit the paper. Then a little weight takes over and brings the type the rest of the way—tapping the paper just hard enough to leave an impression, but not hard enough to make any real noise.

The giant Remington conglomerate saw the possibilities in the new technology. Remington bought the Noiseless Typewriter Company in the early 1920s and continued to make Noiseless typewriters right up to 1967.

I have one of these remarkable machines, and I use it frequently.. It really does live up to its name: people in the next room don’t know I’m typing, even if I leave the door open.

Who knew I had a Holy Grail right in my office?

Which brings us to the moral of the story. Here we are ninety years after the Noiseless came on the market—a mere dribble in the bathtub of time—and what’s a Holy Grail of Typewriter Manufacturing worth?

I bought mine at auction for a penny.

This is the common problem with Holy-Grails-of: you think that, if you find one, you’ll be set forever, but you won’t be. Nobody needs a Noiseless, however clever the mechanism is, because nobody (except a few eccentrics like me) needs a typewriter anymore.

I think we—by which I mean I—spend far too much of our lives looking for Holy-Grails-of, and not nearly enough looking for the Holy Grail. A lot of things might be nice to have, but only one thing leads to eternal life.

I don’t mean that I’m sorry I spent a penny on a typewriter, but I do mean that I sometimes place too much faith in things to make me happy and not enough faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ.

I’ve been thinking a lot about simplicity during the first week in Lent. Jesus taught his disciples to take nothing with them when they went out into the world—not even a Remington Noiseless Model Seven with handy carrying case. Did he do that because he wasted to deprive them of the things that made them happy? I don’t think so. I think he wanted to deprive them of the things that would make them unhappy—things that would lead them off the straight and narrow path to eternal happiness.

Tomb of Jesus found! Or not.

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

By now you’ve surely heard the wonderful news. But I’ll tell you anyway: the tomb of Jesus and his wife Mary Magdalene has been found—and found, just coincidentally, by a famous director with a movie to peddle.

Mr. James Cameron is no fool. He knows a pot of gold when he sees one, and that’s exactly what he has on his hands here. Alternative-Jesus theories are big money these days. Just ask Mr. Dan Billion-Dollar-Industry Brown.

If you take all this for the hokum it is, it’s really very entertaining. But apparently some people are taking this tomb-of-Jesus story perfectly seriously, and that’s where I really have to draw the line.

I’m not an archaeologist, so I can’t evaluate the supposed find the way an archaeologist would. I probably wouldn’t be allowed to examine it even if I were a reputable archaeologist—or perhaps especially if I were a reputable archaeologist. But I do know a little about history, and about the history of archaeology in general. My little knowledge doesn’t give me much confidence in this supposed discovery.

First of all, it’s very odd that the tomb of Jesus and Mary Magdalene should go undiscovered until exactly the moment in history when a lot of people are prepared to believe that there was a tomb of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Considering the number of hoaxes that blacken the history of Palestinian archaeology, I’m inclined to doubt the authenticity of this find altogether.

But let’s say that the discovery is authentic: that there really is a group of ossuaries marked Mary, Mary, Jesus son of Joseph, Matthew, and Judah son of Jesus, plus four irrelevant unknowns.

Now, Mr. Cameron says that statistics and DNA analysis prove his claim that this is the tomb of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Let’s dismiss the sillier claim first. DNA can’t prove anything of the sort. The only thing DNA analysis could possibly prove in this case is that some of the people were related in certain ways to some of the other people. DNA doesn’t include a coded curriculum vitae. So it might (I don’t know enough about DNA analysis to say it would) be possible to prove that one of the Marys was the mother of Jesus son of Joseph, and that Judah son of Jesus was the son of the other Mary and Jesus son of Joseph.

Now let’s talk statistics. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Judah were some of the most common names in first-century Palestine. Jesus had at least two disciples named Judas (the Greek form of Judah): Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him, and Judas “not Iscariot,” who didn’t. (He’s more commonly known as St. Jude.) Almost universal ancient tradition says that the given name of Thomas was also Judas, which would bring the total to three.

As for Mary, think how much trouble average readers have sorting out Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the wife (or mother) of Clopas, Mary the sister of Martha, and Mary Magdalene. Even scholars still debate how many of those were the same person. It’s quite clear that the ground was littered with Marys in first-century Palestine.

Suppose I found a tomb dated roughly the time of George Washington—between 1700 and 1900, let’s say. Suppose it contained the remains of one George whose wife was Martha and whose mother was Mary. Would that prove conclusively that I had found George Washington? No, because those are very common names. Yet I don’t think they’re anywhere near as common as Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and Judah were in first-century Palestine.

Now, let’s look at the assumptions we’re making. Mr. Cameron says that finding the tomb of Mary Magdalene was what convinced him that this must be the real tomb of Jesus. I quote from the BBC article:

Another grave said by producers to be of Mary Magdalene convinced researchers of the truth of their find, Mr Cameron said at a New York news conference.

Unveiling his documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, Mr Cameron said the chances of finding that combination of names together was like finding a grave marked Ringo next to others marked John, Paul and George.

“Mariamene is Mary Magdalene - that’s the Ringo, that’s what sets this whole film in motion,” he said.

In other words, what proves that this Jesus is in fact Jesus Christ is the fact that he was buried with his wife Mary, presumed to be Mary Magdalene, with whom he had a son. Without that fact, the find wasn’t convincing even to Mr. Cameron.

Now, let’s step away from the early 21st century for a moment and remember that, in almost all the rest of history, that fact would have proved conclusively that this was not the tomb of Jesus. Relying only on the known histories of Jesus’ life, every historian—Christian, agnostic, atheist, Satanist, or whatever—would have concluded that he died without marrying.

Now a number of popular books have, without a scrap of real historical evidence, convinced the illiterati that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. Because of that unhistorical popular delusion, Mr. Cameron is convinced that he’s found the tomb of Jesus.

In other words, the premise is pure fantasy, which is why I can’t really accept the conclusion.

We’re all family

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

We’re all family here, aren’t we? Our esteemed publisher, Loyola Books, has a special offer for our friends and family. Right now, if you order The Grail Code or any other book (except textbooks) from the Loyola site, you can get a 30% discount. You can only By special permission, we’re extending this discount to our whole family of Web readers.

Here’s how it works:

Order what you want from the Loyola site.

Enter this special discount code: 2261

This code is valid only for online orders. You can only use this offer once, but remember that you can order anything you like (except textbooks), if by some bizarre chance you want to read something other than The Grail Code.


(C) 2006 Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey