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Ancient Quest of the Holy Grail
The Mystery of the Grail: Whom has it Served?
The greatest of all mysteries, some have called it. The origin, nature, and history of the Cup Of Destiny. Is it a Cup at all? It represents the blood of Jesus, and may have held it. Could it be the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, as many claim? [For more on this theory, click here.] Perhaps, but suppose, for a moment, that the Grail truly is a Cup... A SACRED CUP. A HOLY CUP. MOST PRECIOUS OF ARTIFACTS...
Could Jesus have simply grabbed any old cup that might have been handy to use at the Last Supper? Would this long- foreseen and most holy ritual have been enshrined in a cup of trivial origin?
Or might this particular Cup have had a long, cherished heritage prior to its coming to rest on the table of Jesus?
The Origin of a Relic
Cups are not born "sacred" or "holy" in themselves. They become sacred because of their special history. That means they become sacred when used by a unique or holy person or because a unique event occurs in contact with them.
The Holy Grail would seem to qualify on all counts: It is drunk from by Jesus and the Apostles. It is the ritual Cup of the First Eucharistic Blood. It may even have caught a measure of the Holy Blood as Christ was pierced...
But again, why did Jesus choose THIS Cup? Did it have a prior history that compelled that it be used? What sort of history could cause this Cup to be so appropriate for Jesus to use that it might even be unthinkable for Him to have chosen any other?
There were already mentions of a sacred Cup or cups in the long history of God's people:
Melchizadek had offered wine to Abraham, as "Priest of the Most High God" in some sort of special Cup.
When the Tabernacle was set up in the Wilderness, near or even at Petra ("Selah"), there was no Cup made to hold the frankincense. Apparently, the Israelites already had some sort of special Cup.
When the Magi bring frankincense to Jesus, they bring it in some sort of special Cup...
Could it be that all these ancient cups are one sacred Cup that had been handed down for generations?
If this Cup had been used on the Incense Altar in the Holy Place of the Temple, it would have most likely been required to have been made of hand-beaten gold, for that was the way the Holy Place was decorated. It could have had a wooden core, but it most likely was gold outside.
It is even possible that a gold-plated wooden Cup may have provided the "model" for the Holy Place, for all the furnishings were of beaten gold or of wood covered with beaten gold. If the Cup already existed before the Holy Place was conceived, then it appears possible its design may have had something to do with the design of the Holy Place which came after it.
If the Cup had belonged to Israel in Egypt, then this relic was already centuries old before Moses led Israel out into the desert and set up the Tabernacle.
It is unlikely a common Egyptian cup was adopted by the Israelites during their captivity and somehow came to be regarded as sacred. The Cup must have been sacred to Israel before coming into Egypt. It would already have been sacred in the days of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob.
And indeed, as we have noted, Melchizadek had offered wine to Abraham in what must have been a sacred Cup, for it says of him that Melchizadek was "Priest of the Most High God." He blessed Abraham. Did he give him the Cup?
The name "Melchizadek" means "King of Righteousness," we are told. But it could also mean "Genuine or Rightful King" as opposed to some Pretender who might have claimed to be the king. There had just been a war in which five armies had contended for dominion, but Abraham had gone out and defeated them all. Abraham comes to Melchizadek, the Rightful King, and pays him homage. One cannot avoid the implication that some sort of Royal Contest has been completed in which Abraham has emerged miraculously as the victor. Abraham then goes to the True King and gets his reward, which includes a Cup of wine.
There is an old tradition of toasting with wine at the accession of a new king: "The (old) king is dead; long live the (new) king!" The new king is blessed, having been already chosen as heir by the preceding king. The royal line continues unbroken.
We are told that the royal line goes through Abraham to Isaac, to Jacob, to Judah, and eventually to David and Jesus. But if Melchizadek had been the True King, as his name signifies, then the royal line must have been passed from Melchizadek to Abraham. The formal kingly blessing of Abraham by Melchizadek appears to be the moment when the old king Melchizadek officially designated Abraham's line as the rightful one to inherit not only his throne, but his priestly functions as well, for we see a priestly line also descending through Abraham to Jacob to Levi.
It is unthinkable that the sacred Cup of Melchizadek would be buried with him, for it is this very Cup that is cited by the book of Hebrews as the original ritual type of the Eucharist offered at the Last Supper. We are told to view the Cup of Melchizadek as the original Eucharist Cup, that is, as the model, if not the very Cup itself, that would become known as the Holy Grail.
Yet why is Melchizadek's Cup sacred to him? From what ancient source could his Cup have come? And just who is Melchizadek, this man first called Priest and King?
The World that Perished
As we read Genesis, there is a curious chronological problem presented. At the time Melchizadek is called the True King, and Abraham is blessed by him, the text leads us to believe that man who holds dominion over this land is Noah's heir, Shem. He is still living, and presumably still ruling.
Could Shem be Melchizadek? It is obvious Melchizadek is a title, not a name. We are not told his real name. But we do know who is the real king at this time, and it should be Shem. In fact, a great many Bible scholars who have studied this question have concluded that the author of Genesis intended us to understand Shem is Melchizadek. The question remains open, of course, but if Shem is the one who gives the Cup to Abraham, from where might Shem himself have received it?
We are told that Noah had gotten drunk and Ham's son saw him naked in his tent. Noah then blessed Shem for covering him up. No doubt Noah's Cup was involved, not only in his drinking wine, but perhaps in his blessing of Shem. This may even have been the origin of a ritual in which a Cup of wine or toast is offered the new king.
Now we ask where Noah got his Cup: Was it a sacred Cup from before the Deluge? What Cup had Noah used when he decided to celebrate his new vineyard? Would he not have chosen a special Cup? One that was old and honored? One he had taken on board the Ark? A Cup from the world that had perished? Was it a Cup from Adam's world?
We are told that Adam had been placed in a Garden of fruit trees with a spring of water at its summit. What Adam might have done to make fruit juice first required he make a Cup to hold it. He had wood, of course, but the book of Genesis goes out of its way to tell us that there was gold in Eden also. Why does it mention gold as having been there unless Adam and Eve had carried out of the Garden a memory of having seen gold there?
Gold is easily pounded and formed to make a waterproof and fruit-juice acid-proof container, or at least a good coating for a wooden Cup. Perhaps a crack in the Cup had caused Adam to look for something waterproof to patch it. The result could have been a gold-covered wooden Cup.
But all this is speculation, of course. That is, it would be speculation except for the indisputable fact of there being no instructions in the Torah to make a Cup to hold the frankincense on the Incense Altar, that wooden stand covered with hand-beaten gold in the Tabernacle.
The Israelites already had a Cup--very likely a wooden Cup covered with hand-beaten gold--which had been sacred from the time of Abraham, if not earlier. And Hebrews directly connects the Cup of Abraham and Melchizadek with the Cup of Christ, that is, the Holy Grail. To get a Cup from Melchizadek to Christ, we must fill it in between with frankincense and place it on the Incense Altar until the time of Jeremiah, who is instructed by God to take it and pass it around for everyone to drink from, ultimatley coming to the King of Babylon.
No sooner does he drink from it than an invisible hand begins to write on the wall and Daniel is summoned. When Daniel comes, the kingdom is handed over to the Persians, who put Babylon in Daniel's care. Daniel now has control over all the Temple artifacts that had been looted by the Babylonians. They are seemingly all returned, but there is clearly something missing: The anointing Box.
This Box was the companion piece with the Cup upon the Incense Altar. It was even more sacred. Yet there is no question in Jewish tradition that no one was ever again anointed by it after Jeremiah's day. Not a king or high priest from that day forward was ever anointed by the Box that Babylonians had taken from the Temple. Daniel had it, but he did not send it back to Jerusalem. Why not?
The Angel Gabriel, we are told, arrived at this very moment, just as Daniel gained control over the Temple's sacred artifacts. Gabriel tells Daniel that "Seventy weeks of years" (as it is usually interpreted) had next to pass before "the anointing of the Most Holy." Daniel had to delay the return of the Box of myrrh to Jerusalem for 490 years. And the ritual Cup of frankincense that accompanied it was now defiled by gentiles. It was not clean. Of course, seven days could cleanse a man in the Torah; so seven times seventy years could also cleanse a ritual Cup.
There was yet one more ritual item Daniel may have had in his possession: The Rod of Aaron from the Ark of the Covenant. Jeremiah had disposed of the Ark, but in Ezekiel, God speaks about replanting the most precious twig of the Temple--and Aaron's Rod certainly qualified. The place is not named, but it is on the highest summit, and in Jerusalem, that was the top of Mount Olivet, the very site we have identified as the place where Jesus was crucified and where the Tree of Knowledge grew.
So Daniel could have had not one, but three ritual objects to safeguard for 490 years until the coming of the Messiah: The Cup of frankincense, the Box of myrrh and other anointing oils, and the Rod of Aaron, which was also known as "The GOLDEN Bough": Hence, the Gold, the Frankincense and the Myrrh.
Daniel was in charge of the Magi when the Persians placed him over Babylon. And these very same Magi, or their descendants, owed their lives to Daniel, we are told. Clearly, it was not too much for Daniel to ask them to protect the three relics for 490 years, until Messiah should come.
So we can connect the Cup of Melchizadek's priestly ritual with the Cup upon the Incense Altar and finally with Jesus Himself.
It is therefore not surprising at all that the Jews and early Christians wrote up legends about Adam and Eve that had them offering up frankincense and myrrh on an altar at the east gate of the Garden of Eden on the day they left. Granules of frankincense would be held and burned in a metal Cup of some sort, such a legend implied, and the myrrh would have caked up if it had not been kept sealed in a Box. The image they had was of Adam and Eve carrying a Cup of frankincense and an alabaster (soft white stone) Box of myrrh out of the Garden of Eden.
Later, the Tabernacle would symbolically contain a model of this scene: The Holy of Holies would be the Garden of Eden. At the east side would be the curtain and just outside that "gate" the Incense Altar, on top of which were the Golden Cup of frankincense and the alabaster Box of myrrh and other anointing oils (which Box is missing from the detailed list of items needed to be made in the wilderness for the Tabernacle, for it too already existed and had been sacred for ages).
The design of the Temple itself, then, is evidence that this "legend" about Adam and Eve's last act upon leaving the Garden was at least as ancient as Moses' time, if not that of Abraham and Melchizadek.
Indeed, as late as 540 AD, Christians still held a firm belief in the legend that traced the Holy Grail from the time of Adam down to the Last Supper. This belief even identified who then possessed the Grail and to whom it was being formally transferred.
We can locate the Grail from Abraham's time down to the Crusades, where its tale becomes entangled in the history of the Shroud of Turin...
But all that is another story and remains for one of the upcoming volumes in our book series.
For further discussion of the Grail Hallows, see our page on The Spear of Destiny.