The Gospel truth

22.07.48: AN EXTRAORDINARY discovery in the Masada fortifications in Israel suggests that one of Jesus's early disciples, Joseph of Arimathea, came to England shortly after the death of Christ.

The find lends weight to the idea that England received the teachings of Christ directly, before the Gospels were even written, rather than by slow diffusion via the Roman Empire. It also supports the notion, favoured by poets, romantics and hippies, that the blood and sweat of Christ, lovingly recovered from Christ's body at the Crucifixion and preserved by Joseph, found its way to England to form a crucial part of the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail. Historians have dismissed the idea as fanciful.

The find consists of a series of fragments from the letters of the Apostle St Philip written during his mission to Gaul. The letters mention his companion Joseph of Arimathea and Joseph's planned visit to Britain.

Medieval legend says that Joseph was buried at Glastonbury. Excavations to find and open the tomb will start immediately. Meanwhile, thousands of pilgrims have converged on the site and already miracles are being reported, including the flowering of the Glastonbury thorn, allegedly the wooden staff planted by Joseph.

The idea of an early Christian mission to England has inspired poets and writers from the Middle Ages to William Blake, author of the English national anthem, one of whose lines imagines Christ himself "walking on England's mountains green".

"Historians who have dismissed this as myth may now have to think again," said Alathea Smithson-Wright, Queen's Professor of History at Cambridge. "Maybe King Arthur and the Holy Grail will turn out to be true as well," she said.

Religious and political leaders have welcomed the discovery as justifying the new "England first" policy.

"So God is English after all," chuckled the Very Reverend Trevor Arkwright, leader of the United Churches of England and Wales.

The prime minister said the find showed that "the English got there first in religion as well". He also promised to double state funding for archeology. DRS

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