Most of us remember the dramatic ending of the last Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade, when good-guy Jones confronts a wicked quester for the Holy Grail in a room full of cups. A Knight Templar is guarding the vessels, some of which are gorgeous, jewel-studded metal items, others rudimentary wooden cups. But which one is the true Grail, the cup Jesus shared with his disciples at the Last Supper, the cup that tradition (and the Knight Templar) promises will give eternal life? The wicked quester concludes it must be one of the more ornate cups. He grabs a shining gold vessel, drinks from it—and immediately disintegrates into a lifeless pile of dust. The Knight Templar wryly quips: “He chose poorly.”
But is this the only poor choice the wicked quester has made? Or is the whole enterprise of looking for the Holy Grail a poor choice?
The historical search for the Holy Grail seems to have taken place off and on since the Middle Ages (see “From Symbol to Relic”). But the searchers have seldom considered our earliest evidence of this elusive cup: the New Testament. To determine whether such searches for a cup of eternal life might be fertile or futile, we must turn to the Letters of Paul and the Gospels—and not late medieval romances.