The Sacred Vine by Mrs Merriel Shepo (pub. Advent Press, 1957) is a work of extraordinary ethnographic and theological research purporting to show that all stories, whether from myth, religion, the histories of the famous or even the lives of fictional characters, ultimately derive from the life of Jesus Christ as recorded in The Gospels.
Drawing on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, ancient papyri texts then recently discovered at Khirbet Qumran in Israel, the Gnostic Gospels and the Apocrypha, The Sacred Vine reframes the lives of some three hundred real and fictional individuals from the Buddha, through Louis the Sixteenth of France, to Pinocchio, into one vast scheme where the key events of the life of Jesus play out in endless replication through the lives of others. Majestic in its scope and ambition, The Sacred Vine reveals patterns of narrative that many have overlooked but ultimately it fails in its stated aim of proving that the life of Jesus is the fons et origo for every story ever told and many of its conclusions are, frankly, delusional. Nevertheless, Mrs Shepo’s concluding statement that:
We are all Jesus; chosen by God, scourged, denied and crucified by man, we shall all sit at His right hand in heaven.
is, in your editor’s opinion, one of the great closing lines in modern academic literature.Among the lives of the fictional characters examined by Mrs Merriel Shepo is Bheathain Somhairle, the hero of Acts of the Servant, and, although her conclusions are flawed, her depiction of Bheathain’s character and story is intriguing. She begins with his birth, noting that he is immediately set apart from others as a consequence of his cursemark, and then compares an early attempt on his life with the Massacre of the Innocents, described in Matthew 2:16-18. Later, once Bheathain is on the Isle of Skye, Mrs Shepo notes that the man Bheathain calls his father is not his birth father any more than the father of Jesus is Joseph and that when we first meet Bheathain he is, as Jesus is so often portrayed, a shepherd rescuing a lamb that has strayed from the fold. Bheathain, as we have seen, rejects Màiri Mulcahy’s news that he has acquired the gift of Grace and Mrs Shepo compares this with an event in the little known Infancy Gospel of James, an apocryphal second century text purporting to relate the childhood of Jesus.As Bheathain discovers, children are cruel to those who are different from them and the infant Jesus suffered likewise. Eventually, unable to bear it any longer, Jesus reacts to the taunts and beats a boy to death with a stone. Regretting his wickedness, Jesus prays to God and begs to be released from the burden of being His son. Instead, God reveals to Jesus how to use his gifts for good purposes, beginning with restoring the life of the boy he murdered. Bheathain will also ultimately learn to use his gift for the benefit of others.
Another parallel between Bheathain’s story and that of Jesus is Bheathain’s relationship with Màiri Mulcahy which, as you may perhaps have guessed, Mrs Shepo compares with that between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, as depicted in the gnostic text, the Gospel of Nicodemus. However, at this point I think it best to cease comparisons as it risks revealing too much of Bheathain’s future and spoiling the tale for those unfamiliar with MacGregor’s novel.The Sacred Vine is an enlightening and entertaining read: who would ever have thought of comparing Pinocchio with Jesus Christ: the one crucified upon a wooden cross, the other whose burden, or cross, it is to be made of wood; both the ‘sons’ of carpenters or woodcarvers; both reborn after death, Pinocchio as a real boy and Jesus as, well, the resurrected Christ; and both one part of a trinity, the roles of The Father and the Holy Ghost taken in Pinocchio’s story by Geppetto and the Fairy with Turquoise Hair. If, perhaps, I have suggested that Mrs Shepo is to be mocked, then it is not my intention: in attempting to prove the unprovabale The Sacred Vine touches on a truth central to all narrative, but Jesus’ story – and I remind you I am a practising Christian – is not the template for all other narratives, but rather follows a pattern common to all, whether they are drawn from myth or fiction or from histories that recognise the truly mythic in the flesh and blood of real people and real events.
Thus Bheathain’s story does not lie in the shadow of Jesus Christ but rather follows a universal pattern much, much older, perhaps dating back to the first story ever told. Humans are, above all, storytellers and the story is how we make sense of the world.