Jasher was the personal staff-bearer to Moses, and the writings attributed to him are of enormous significance. The accounts relate to the Israelite sojourn in Egypt and tell of their exodus into Canaan. But they differ considerably from the version of the story that we know today. They explain that it was not Moses, but Miriam who was the spiritual leader of the tribes who crossed the Red Sea to Mount Sinai.

Artists Depiction of Mount Sinai

At that time, the Jews had never heard of Jehovah; they worshipped the goddess Asherah and their spiritual leaders were largely female. Indeed, Miriam posed such a problem for Moses in his attempt to create a new environment of male dominance that he imprisoned her, whereupon the Israelites rose up against Moses to secure Miriam's release. This is in the book of Jasher, but it is not in the Bible.

Let us now move to where the Christian story began - to the Gospels themselves. And, in doing this, let us first consider what the Gospels actually tell us, against what we perhaps think they tell us.

We have all learned to go along with what we are taught about the Gospels in schoolrooms and churches. But is the teaching correctly related? Does it always conform with the written scriptures? It is actually quite surprising how much we learn from pulpits or picture-books without checking the biblical text. The Nativity story itself provides a good example.

It is widely accepted (as the Christmas cards keep reminding us) that Jesus was born in a stable - but the Gospels do not say that. In fact, there is no 'stable' mentioned in any authorised Gospel. The Nativity is not mentioned at all in Mark or John, and Matthew makes it quite plain that Jesus was born 'in a house'.

So where did the stable idea come from? It came from a misinterpretation of the Gospel of Luke which relates that Jesus was 'laid in a manger' (not 'born', as often misquoted, but 'laid') and a manger was, and still is, nothing more than an animal feeding-box. In practice, it was perfectly common for mangers to be used as emergency cradles and they were often brought indoors for that very purpose.

So why has it been presumed that this particular manger was in a stable? Because the English translations of Luke tell us that there was 'no room in the inn'. But the old manuscript of Luke did not say that. In fact, there were no inns in the region - travellers lodged in private houses and family hospitality was a normal way of life in those days.

In fact, if we are really going to be precise, there were no stables in the region either. 'Stable' is an English word that specifically defines a place for keeping horses. But few (apart from some Roman officers) ever used horses in 1st-century Judaea - they mainly used mules and oxen which, if kept under cover at all, would have been in some type of outhouse - certainly not a stable.

As for the mythical inn, the original Greek text of Luke does not relate that there was 'no room in the inn'. By the best translation it actually states that there was 'no provision in the room' (i.e. 'no topos in the kataluma'). As previously mentioned, Matthew states that Jesus was born in a house and, when correctly translated, Luke reveals that Jesus was laid in a manger (an animal feeding box) because there was no cradle provided in the room.

While on the subject of Jesus's birth, we ought to look at the chronology here, because the two Gospels which deal with the Nativity actually give different dates for the event. According to Matthew, Jesus was born in the reign of Herod the Great, who debated the event with the Magi and apparently ordered the slaying of the infants. King Herod died in the notional year 4 BC - so we know from Matthew that Jesus was born before that. Indeed, because of this, most standard concordance Bibles give 5 BC as Jesus's date of birth.

In Luke, however, a completely different date is given. This Gospel states that Jesus was born while Cyrenius was Governor of Syria - the same year that Emperor Augustus implemented the national taxing census which caused Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem.

There are two relevant points to mention here, both of which are recorded in the 1st-century Jewish annals (such as The Antiquities of the Jews). Cyrenius was not appointed Governor of Syria until AD 6, and this was the very year that Emperor Augustus implemented the census, which was supervised by Cyrenius himself.

So Jesus appears to have been born on two separate occasions: 'before 4 BC' and again 'in AD 6'. Is there a mistake in one of the Gospels? Not necessarily - at least not in the way things were originally portrayed. We are actually looking at two quite specific births: Jesus's 'physical' birth and his 'community' birth. These were defined as the 'first' and 'second' births - the second being an initiation into society by way of a ritual ceremony of rebirth.

Second births for boys took place at the age of twelve (a ceremony in which they were ritualistically born again from their mother's womb). And so we know from Luke that Jesus was twelve in AD 6. Unfortunately, the latter-day Gospel translators and transcribers completely missed the significance of this, while subsequent Church teachings combined the Matthew and Luke accounts into one, giving rise to the spurious nonsense about a Nativity scene in a stable.

Since Jesus was twelve in AD 6 (as given in Luke), then he was actually born in 7 BC, which was indeed during the late reign of Herod the Great as related in Matthew. But we now discover what appears to be another anomaly. The Luke Gospel then says that when Jesus was twelve years old, his parents, Mary and Joseph, took him to Jerusalem for the day - only to walk homewards for a full day's journey with their friends before they realised that Jesus was not in their party. Then they returned to Jerusalem to find him at the temple discussing his father's business with the doctors.

In reality, what sort of parents would wander for a whole day in the desert, without knowing their twelve-year-old son was not with them? The fact is that the whole point of the passage has been lost in the translation, for there was a wealth of difference between a twelve-year-old son and a son in his twelfth year. When a son, on completing his initial twelve years (that is to say, on reaching his thirteenth birthday) was initiated into the community at the ceremony of his Second Birth, he was regarded as commencing his first year. It was the original root of the modern bar mitzvah. His next initiation - the initiation of manhood in the community - took place in his ninth year, when he was twenty-one (the root of the age-twenty-one privilege). Various 'degrees' then followed and the next major test was at the end of his twelfth year: at the age of twenty-four.

It is, therefore, apparent that when Jesus remained at the temple in his twelfth year, he was actually twenty-four years-old - not twelve. As for his discussion with the doctors, this would have related to his next degree - the degree set by his spiritual father, whose business he discussed. At that time, his spiritual father (the overall patriarch) was Simeon the Essene - and we see, in Luke, that it was precisely this man (the 'just and devout Simeon') who had legitimated Jesus under the law.

So, can we trust the Gospels? The answer to this question is 'yes', we can trust them to a point, but we cannot trust the convoluted and distorted versions which are published and presented to us today. Subsequent to the original apostolic writings, the Gospels of the early Church were written in 2nd and 3rd century Greek. Along with the Bible as a whole, they were translated into Church Latin in the 4th century, but it was then to be more than a thousand years before any English translation was made.

The present English-language Gospels date back to the Authorized Bible compiled for King James VI Stuart of Scots (James I of England) in the early 17th century. This was published and set into print no more than 165 years before America's Declaration of Independence - only a few years before the first Pilgrim Fathers set sail from England.

Bible translation was, however, a risky business in those days. For daring to translate the Bible into English, the 14th-century reformer John Wycliffe was denounced as a heretic and his books were burned. In the early 16th century William Tyndale was executed by strangulation in Belgium, and then burned just to ensure his death, for translating the Bible into English. A little later, Miles Coverdale (a Tyndale disciple) made another translation but, at that stage, the Church had split into two main factions. As a result, Coverdale's version was accepted by the Protestant Church, although he remained a heretic in the eyes of Rome.

The problem was that, for as long as the printed text remained in an obscure form of Church Latin which only the bishops could understand or interpret, they could teach whatever they wanted. But if it were translated into popular languages that people could read for themselves, the Church teachings would doubtless be open to question.

It is the Bible translated for King James upon which the majority of subsequent English-language editions have been based. But, in practice, this 17th-century Authorized Version was not a direct translation from anything; it was mostly translated from the Greek, partly from the Latin and, to some extent, from the works of others who had made previous illegitimate translations.

In their rendering of the New Testament, King James's linguists endeavoured to appease both the Protestants and the Catholics. This was the only way to produce a generally acceptable text, but their ambition was not entirely successful. The Catholics thought the translators were siding with the Protestants and tried to blow up King James in the Houses of Parliament (the famous Gunpowder Plot), while the Protestants maintained that the King was in league with the Catholics!

The translators were not only concerned with denominational appeasement; they also tried for something that we would today call 'political correctness'. In one instance the direct translation referred to a group of people called 'heavenly soldiers', but this was crossed out and 'heavenly army' was inserted instead. This, however, was deleted yet again (since the concept of an armed unit was not acceptable) to be replaced with 'heavenly host'. The problem was that no one knew precisely what a 'host' was; the word had been resurrected after centuries of obscurity to enter the dictionaries of the era with the vague description: 'a lot of people'.

It is actually quite surprising how many ambiguous words were brought back into use to facilitate political correctness for the King James Bible while, at the same time, William Shakespeare was doing likewise in his plays. Indeed, the English-language vocabulary was increased by more than fifty percent as a result of words invented or brought back from the mists of time by the writers of the period.

So, although eminently poetic, the language of the Authorized English Bible is quite unlike that ever spoken by anyone in England or anywhere else but, from this approved canonical interpretation, all other English-language Bibles have emerged in their various forms. However, for all its faults and its beautifully designed verse pattern, it remains the closest of all translations from the original Greek manuscripts. All other Anglicised versions (Standard, New English, Revised, Modern, Good News, etc.) have been significantly corrupted and they are quite unsuitable for serious study because they each have their own specific agenda. An extreme version of how this works in practice is found in a Bible presently issued in Papua, Pacific New Guinea, where there are tribes who experience familiarity on a daily basis with no other animal but the pig. In the current edition of their Bible, every animal mentioned in the text, whether originally an ox, lion, ass, sheep or whatever, is now a pig. Even Jesus, the traditional 'lamb of God', in this Bible is 'the pig of God'!

To facilitate the best possible trust in the Gospels, we must go back to the original Greek manuscripts with their often used Hebrew and Aramaic words and phrases. In this respect, we discover that (just as with the Nativity story) a good deal of relevant content has been misrepresented, misunderstood, mistranslated, or simply just lost in the telling. Sometimes this has happened because original words have no direct counterpart in other languages.

Christians are taught that Jesus's father Joseph was a carpenter, as explained in the English-language Gospels. But it did not say that in the original Gospels. By the best translation, it actually said that Joseph was a Master of the Craft or Master Craftsman. The word 'carpenter' was simply a translator's concept of a craftsman. Anyone associated with modern Freemasonry will recognise the term 'the Craft' and it has nothing whatever to do with woodwork. The text simply denoted that Joseph was a masterly, learned and scholarly man, and the description was especially concerned with matters of scientific metallurgy.

Another example is the concept of the Virgin Birth. English-language Gospels tell us that Jesus's mother Mary was a 'virgin' and, as we understand the word, it denotes a woman with no experience of sexual union. But this was translated not from the Greek initially but from the Latin, which referred to her as being a virgo, meaning nothing more than a 'young woman'. To have meant the same thing as 'virgin' does today, the Latin would have been virgo intacta - that is to say, a 'young woman intact'.

Looking back beyond the Latin text we discover that the word translated to virgo (a young woman) was the old Semitic word almah which meant the very same: a 'young woman', and it had no sexual connotation whatever. Had Mary actually been physically virgo intacta, the Semitic word used would have been bethulah, not almah.

So, have we been completely misguided by the Gospels? No; we have been misguided by the English translations of the Gospels. Also by a Church establishment that has done everything in its power to deny women any normal lifestyle in the Gospel story. Hence, the New Testament's key women are portrayed as virgins, whores and sometimes widows - but never everyday girlfriends, wives or mothers, and certainly never priestesses or holy sisters.

Notwithstanding the Virgin Birth dogma, the Gospels tell us time and time again that Jesus was descended from King David through his father Joseph. Even St Paul explains this in his Epistle to the Hebrews. But Christians are taught that Jesus's father was a lowly carpenter, while his mother was a virgin - neither of which descriptions can be found in any original text. It follows, therefore, that to get the best out of the Gospels we have to read them as they were written, not as they have been interpreted according to Church doctrine and modern language.

Precisely when the four main Gospels were written is uncertain. What we do know is that they were first published at various stages in the second half of the first century. They were unanimous initially in revealing that Jesus was a Nazarene. This is actually upheld in the Roman annals. Additionally, the 1st-century Jewish chronicles, along with the Bible's Acts of the Apostles, confirms that both Jesus's brother James and St Paul were leaders of the sect of the Nazarenes.

This Nazarene definition is very important to the Grail story because it has been so often misrepresented to suggest that Jesus came from the town of Nazareth. For the past 400 years, English-language Gospels have perpetuated the error by wrongly translating 'Jesus the Nazarene' as 'Jesus of Nazareth', albeit there was no historical connection between Nazareth and the Nazarenes. In fact, the settlement at Nazareth was established in the AD 60s, thirty years or so after the Crucifixion. Nobody in Jesus's early life came from Nazareth - it was not there!

The Nazarenes were a liberal Jewish sect opposed to the strict Hebrew regime of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Nazarene culture and language were heavily influenced by the philosophers of ancient Greece and their community supported the concept of equal opportunity for men and women. Documents of the time referred not to Nazareth but to the Nazarene community, wherein priestesses coexisted in equal status with priests. It has to be remembered, therefore, that Jesus was not a Christian: he was a Nazarene - a radical, westernised Jew. The Christian movement was founded by others in the wake of his own mission, with the word 'Christian' first recorded in AD 44 in Antioch, Syria.

In the Arab world, the word used to describe Jesus and his followers is nazara. This is confirmed in the Islamic Koran and the word means 'keepers' or 'guardians'. The full definition is Nazara ha-Brit: 'Keepers of the Covenant'.

In the time of Jesus, the Nazarenes lived in Galilee and in that mystical realm which the Bible calls the 'wilderness', which was actually a very defined place. It was essentially the land around the main settlement at Qumr‚n which spread out to Mird and other places near the Dead Sea. It was, of course, at Qumr‚n that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1948.

Map of Galilee

Some time after the Crucifixion, Peter and his friend Paul went to Antioch, then on to Rome, beginning the movement that became Christianity. But Jesus, along with his brother James and the majority of apostles, continued the Nazarene teachings, progressing them into Europe, where they were associated with the Celtic Church. This Church had been formally implemented as the church of Jesus in AD 37, while the Roman Church was itself formed 300 years later.

Through many centuries the Celtic Church, with its Nazarene culture, was directly opposed to the Church of Rome - the main difference being that the Celtic faith was based upon the teachings, codes and practices of Jesus himself. Roman Christianity, on the other hand, turned Jesus into the object of its religious veneration, forsaking his teachings to create an Imperial 'hybrid' faith for the benefit of the emperors and popes. It exists, in fact, not as Christianity, but as 'churchianity'.

Apart from straightforward misunderstandings, misinterpretations and mistranslations, the canonical Gospels suffer from numerous purposeful amendments. Some original entries have been changed or deleted, while other entries have been added to suit the Church's vested interest. The majority of these edits and amendments were made in the 4th century, when the texts were translated into Latin from their original Greek and Semitic tongues.

Even earlier, in about AD 195, Bishop Clement of Alexandria made the first known amendment to the Gospel texts. He deleted a substantial section from the Gospel of Mark (written more than a hundred years before that time) and justified his action in a letter, stating: 'For even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not, even so, agree with them - for not all true things are to be said to all men'. What he meant was that, even at that very early stage, there was already a discrepancy between what the Gospel writers had written and what the bishops wanted to teach.

Today, this section deleted by St Clement is still missing from the Gospel of Mark. But when Mark is compared with the Gospel that we know today, we find that today's Gospel is a good deal longer than the original, having had spurious additions made. One of these additional sections comprises the whole of the Resurrection sequence - amounting to twelve full verses at the end of Mark, chapter 16. It is now known that everything told here about the events after the Crucifixion was added by Church scribes sometime in the late 4th century.

But what exactly was in this section of Mark that Clement saw fit to remove? It was the item which dealt with the raising of Lazarus. In the context of the original Mark text, however, Lazarus was portrayed in a state of excommunication: spiritual death by decree, not in a state of physical death. The account even had Lazarus and Jesus calling to each other before the tomb was opened. This, of course, defeated the bishops' desire to portray the raising of Lazarus as a spiritual 'miracle', not as a straightforward release from excommunication. More importantly, it set the scene for the story of the Crucifixion of Jesus himself, whose own subsequent raising from spiritual death was determined by the same three-day rule that applied to Lazarus.

Jesus was raised (released or resurrected) from death by decree on the statutory third day but, in the case of Lazarus, Jesus flouted the rules by raising his friend after the three-day period of symbolic sickness. At that point, civil death would have become absolute in the eyes of the legal elders of the Sanhedrin Council, whereupon Lazarus would have been wrapped in sacking and buried alive. His crime was that he had led a violent people's revolt to safeguard the public water supply which had been diverted through a new Roman aqueduct in Jerusalem. What made the Lazarus raising special was that Jesus performed the release while not holding any priestly entitlement to do so - subsequent to which Herod-Antipas of Galilee compelled the High Priest of Jerusalem to acknowledge the unprecedented event.