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orion Pfann's Article
I am not sure if it is proper to do so- but following is the Times story
about Pfann's study.
I would point out that even the respected Times calls the authors of the
Scrolls Essenes. (How sad).
Bible scholar has more humble
vision of the Holy Grail
BY CHRISTOPHER WALKER
AN AMERICAN Bible scholar yesterday concluded that
the Holy Grail was probably a simple clay cup rather than
the much more elaborate traditional creations of artistic
The findings of Stephen Pfann, head of the respected
Centre for the Study of Early Christianity, about the
wine cup that Christians believe was used by Jesus at the
Last Supper and invested with miraculous powers, echo a
scene in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The hero stands before rows of goblets and, in a
life-or-death moment, has to decide which one is the Holy
Grail. Ignoring richly adorned chalices, he lifts a plain
vessel and says: "That is the cup of a carpenter."
Mr Pfann's theory about the nature of the vessel arises
from his study of the pottery of the Essenes, a Jewish
sect who lived in isolation in cliffs above the Dead Sea.
Mr Pfann said he had found similarities between the
Essenes' ritual meals and the Last Supper, and concluded
that the common wine cup used by the Essenes was
probably similar to the sacred vessel of Jesus.
The Essenes' communal cup, made of wafer-thin clay and
just a little taller than an ordinary coffee cup, is "the
only parallel we have for a communal cup contemporary
with the time of the Last Supper", he said.
His theory has drawn mixed responses from rival experts
in the Holy Land. Joe Zias, a former curator of the
Israel Antiquities Authority, argued that the Last Supper
was a Jewish Passover seder at which the finest
tableware would have been used. "A clay cup is such a
pedestrian piece of pottery that you definitely would not
use it for any type of ceremonial function," he said.
However, support for the theory came from Jerome
Murphy-O'Connor of Jerusalem's Ecole Biblique, the
archaeological institute that excavated Qumran, where
the Dead Sea Scrolls - written by the Essenes - were
found by a Bedu shepherd boy. While wealthy Jews might
have used more ornate tableware, perhaps made of glass
or metal, Father Murphy-O'Connor said Jesus and His
followers were poor, and in nine out of ten cases, pottery
would have been used by the poor.
The Holy Grail has always fascinated Christians.
According to legend, it was taken to England by Joseph
of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus, in AD63. In stories
about King Arthur and his knights, the search for the lost
grail became a haunting central theme. The crusaders
were among many Christians down the ages who dreamed
of finding the real Holy Grail. Despite the wealth of
stories, little was said about what the Holy Grail looked
While working on an English translation and
classification of the Qumran pottery, Mr Pfann studied
the excavation notes of Roland de Vaux, the French
archaeologist, and concluded that each sect member had
a bowl, while three or four shared a plate and nine or ten
shared a wine cup. Mr Pfann claimed that wine cups were
easily distinguishable because of their thin rims. His
interpretation matches accounts by Josephus, the Jewish
historian, indicating that the Essenes' meals were the
focus of their sacred rituals.
In the musty pottery room of the Ecole Biblique in east
Jerusalem, two reddish-brown clay cups stand on a shelf
in a corner. "If we were to search for an image of the
Holy Grail, this simple cup is probably as close as we will
get," Mr Pfann said.
Jim West, ThD
Quartz Hill School of Theology