Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What I Think About the DaVinci Code

I feel compelled to add my voice to the DaVinci Code hubbub.  I am most definitely not a conspiracy theory kind of guy.  I don’t see any major conspiracies in Dan Brown’s work or Sony releasing the movie.  Frankly, I think Dan and the media are motivated by the usual culprit- money.  I grow so weary of hearing Christian paranoia about how Hollywood and the “liberal” media are out to destroy Christianity.  They’re not.  They’re out to turn a buck. The Christian “boycott” of the movie helped push its opening weekend tothe number one position. Having said that, there are some major "problems" with the DaVinci Code that I'd like to quickly discuss.

I read the book and found it mildly entertaining.  Normally, I keep the books I read so that I can read them again.  But, this one I sold back to the Half Price Book Store.  I thought it was (Simon Cowell accent here) "Just OK". I took it to be fiction.  But, I have to confess that the opening claim about the FACT(s) of the book made me think there was more fact mixed in with the fiction than there really was.  For me, the biggest problem I have with the book comes right in the opening when Dan Brown claims:

FACT- All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents (emphasis mine), and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.

Note, that conspicuously absent from this list of things that are accurate is “history”.  The book makes a lot of historical claims- put into the mouth of a historian (Teabing).  And, it’s these claims that are the real backbone of the case made by the book and the movie against traditional Christianity.  Some of these claims are factual, some are conjecture based on fact and some are just opinions.  Again, I don’t see conspiracy here.  I see sloppiness and/or greed at worst.  But, in case you decide to read the book or see the movie, please do not base any of your theology on this fictional work. If you’re going to take anything this book or movie say seriously, do a little homework first.  I did a search yesterday and found and read a scathing 23 page report of the “errors” in the book.  I did some more research this morning and found websites, blogs, books, courses, etc. all geared to debunking the DaVinci Code’s “claims”.  You've gotta wonder if Brown and the backers of the movie will make more money or the cottage industry growing up around debunking the DaVinci Code.  As usual, I couldn’t find many (any?) objective sources. Most were Christian groups who are scared the DaVinci Code will topple the church as we know it.  So, I think most went too far to point out the errors and began mixing their own opinions in with the facts- the very thing they accuse Mr. Brown of doing.  But, there are enough factual errors (and not minor ones) to show anyone who is willing to take a few minutes that you should, at the very least, do more research before believing any claim made by the book.

Here’s a very quick list to get you started.

Error:  Teabing, the historian in the book, makes a lot of references to the suppressed Gnostic gospels in the book giving them more credibility than the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  He refers to 80 or more other gospels and makes the claim that Jesus had thousands of followers, was a big impact dynamic character and would have had many, many accounts written about His life- not just the few we have canonized (put into our Bibles).

Response: There were only less than half that many books written about Jesus life.  Jesus was not considered important enough for most people to have noticed Him (during His lifetime).  And, most of the people who knew Him would have been illiterate (90%).  It’s absurd to think that we would find lots and lots of accounts about His life.  Jesus died a criminal’s death.  The two Gnostic gospels Brown relies on most heavily weren’t written until the second century A.D., long after the New Testament gospels were written.  One of them might have been as late as 350 AD.  Most of the canonical gospels are dated as early as 50-70 AD. Say what you will about the way the Bible was formed, it's my opinion that the canonical Gospels carry far greater credibility than the non-canonical gospels for a number of reasons.  But, in any case, there is no reason to think they are less original or written later than the Gnostic gospels.  Gnosticism was a later development than the canonical gospels.  Interestingly enough, the most famous of the Gnostic gospels (the Gospel of Thomas) is not used much or at all in the book.  It has Jesus saying women must become men to receive salvation.  I guess it didn't fit in with the plot of the story. So, this one was left out.  Hey, if I were writing a fictional work, I would have done the same thing!

Error : The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1950’s.

Response: Frankly, I think this one’s minor. I've seen other people really jump on this.  I only mention it because it's easy to remember (in case you're having a discussion with a friend who has fallen for the hype).  But, it just shows not a lot of attention was paid to detail. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, not in the 1950’s.

Error:  The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic texts found at Nag Hammadi are the earliest Christian Records.

Response: The Dead Sea Scrolls are strictly Jewish documents.  They have nothing in common with the Nag Hammadi texts other than they are relatively recent finds of very old documents.  The Dead Sea scrolls don’t contain any gospels or anything even mentioning Jesus. 

Error:  Christianity borrowed its beliefs from the pagan religion of Mithraism.  Mithraism worshipped the pre-Christian God Mithras, called the Son of God and Light of the World, who was born on December 25th, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days.

Response: This is one I really get sick of.  So, I'll have to try hard to stay objective.  Without going into a lot of detail, there are similarities between many pagan religions and Christianity.  But, it doesn’t mean that Christianity borrowed from these religions.  In fact, in many cases, it’s probably the other way around.  To discuss this in detail would take up more space than I’m willing to give it here. But, many similarities can be explained easily by a word- archetypes.  Jesus’ life did fit many archetypes that we find in other religions and psychology. A dying and resurrecting god is not hard to find in pagan religions.  A “savior” is not hard to find in pagan religions.  These are things the human heart longs for. Christian artists did adapt pagan paintings and symbols to use in Christianity because the pagans would have been familiar with these images. But, these are symbols and images taken from the familiar pagan religions and given back to the people in a new form to make them comfortable with Christianity. This does not mean that Christianity made up Jesus’ life based on ancient pagan myths. Again, we're talking symbols and artwork- not history.  Nowhere is Mithras given the title Son of God and the Light of the World.  These sound more like titles that would have been given to Caesar and we some titles given to Caeser were purposely taken by Paul and given to Jesus. But, not Mithras' titles.  Mithras was born on December 25th.  But, Christianity never claimed Jesus was born on this date.  The New Testament doesn’t even mention the date.  The date for Christmas was chosen to give the pagans, who normally celebrated a mid-winter festival something else to do on that day.  Again, replacing one of their symbols with a Christian symbol/day.  Why all of this focus on December 25th, it's near the Winter Solstice- the shortest day (sunlight) of the year- when the sun is "reborn".  The claim that Mithras died and was buried in a rock tomb is just not true.  Scholars will tell you that in Mithraism there is no death of Mithras at all.  So, there was no rock tomb and no resurrection.  Enough said about this one. You can do more research if you want to know more.  But, this is particularly weak.

Error:  Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

Response: Well, this may or may not be an error.  I can't prove Jesus wasn't married to Mary Magdalene.  But, to claim it as fact is weak.  The New Testament never mentions Jesus being married or even suggests it.  So Brown uses one of the Gnostic gospels, the Gospel of Philip, to support this claim.  We only have fragments of the text he uses as his support and that text reads as follows:
“And the companion of the…Mary Magdalene…her more than…the disciples…kiss her…on her…” (Philip 63:33-36).  Philip 58-59 seems to indicate that the kiss would have been on the lips. 
In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul mentions this kind of chaste kiss of fellowship (Greet each other with a Holy Kiss), and this is likely what is meant here. This one is interesting.  Could Jesus have been married?  Certainly.  Jesus could have been married.  However, whether He was or not is difficult to say. On the one hand, it was normal Jewish practice for a man (even a Rabbi) to get married.  Generally, it was considered a sin for a man to reach the age Jesus was and not be married.  But, this was not a “law” and there were exceptions given to men who dedicated their lives to the law.  There were even sects of Judaism that were at least partially celibate (the Essenes which some scholars think Jesus may have been).  So, while we can argue from the silence in the NT about Jesus’ marital status “If Jesus was single, the gospels would explain He was and tell why”, it’s a weak argument at best.  I would not adamantly say that Jesus couldn’t possibly have been married.  But, then there is no evidence to show that He was (other than silence and an obscure passage from a questionable “Gospel”). 

Just a note which doesn’t have anything to do with whether Jesus was married or not, but again shows the lack of attention to detail, The protagonist in Brown’s book claims that the word “companion” in this verse actually means spouse because that’s what the Aramaic word really means.  The Gospel of Phillip wasn’t written in Aramaic.  It was written in Coptic.  The word used for companion is koinonos and it means companion, not spouse.

Error:  Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine changed the day to coincide with the pagan veneration day of the sun.

Response: This is simply wrong, wrong, wrong. All available evidence shows that Christians were honoring Sunday as the Sabbath long before Constantine.  This is even noted in several places in the New Testament documents, written well before Constantine.  The early Christians went to Synagogue on Saturday (because they were Jews) and gathered together on the “Lord’s Day” Sunday.  This day coincided with the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  That’s why it was honored among Christians.  It has nothing to do with a pagan honoring of the sun. It is clear from scripture that the Christian Sabbath is on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2).

Error: No one believed, prior to the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 that Jesus was divine.

Response: We can argue about whether Jesus was divine or not.  But, it’s clear that the belief did not begin at the Council of Nicea.  The Jews thought Jesus was claiming divinity.  This is the main charge against Him- blasphemy.  The view that the early Christians believed Jesus was only a mortal is shaky, at best. From the very beginning, Christians worshiped Jesus as the Son of God. "Cracking Da Vinci's Code" authors Jim Garlow and Peter Jones have compiled a list of several Church Fathers – all of whom wrote before the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 – affirming the doctrine that Jesus was divine. Those Fathers include: Ignatius (writing in A.D. 105), Clement (150), Justin Martyr (160), Irenaeus (180), Tertullian (200), Origen (225), Novatian (235), Cyprian (250), Methodius (290), Lactantius (304), and Arnobius (305). Furthermore, one of the earliest Christian creeds was "Jesus is the Lord" (Kurios) (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Error: In "The Last Supper," Leonardo da Vinci allegedly painted Mary Magdalene seated next to Jesus.

Response: One of Dan Brown's proofs is that John looks so feminine in the painting.  But John is often portrayed in such a way in art from around DaVinci’s time because he was young. Just as you can identify Peter because he is holding keys, and you can tell Andrew because he is holding a Cross like an X (the kind on which He was crucified), so you can tell John by his feminine looks. But even if the person in the picture is Mary Magdalene and not John, we have a problem.  Where is John?!  (the beloved disciple)

Was there any fact-checking?

OK.  That’s enough.  My intent was not to bash Dan Brown or the  DaVinci Code. Personally, aside from the claim at the beginning of the book, I wouldn't even care about the fact checking. It’s a mediocre work of fiction.  I liked Angels and Demons much better (it’s still on my bookshelf).  But, the DaVinci Code is just a work of fiction.  It’s not a history book.  It’s not a theology book.  And, I don’t believe it’s a plot to destroy Christianity or the Catholic church.  I think it’s just entertainment meant to make money.  And, thanks at least in part, to an overreaction by the Christian community, I think it’s going to pull in money by the boatloads. As for me and my house, we’ll wait until I can get it on DVD from NetFlix.  The problem with the DaVinci Code lies with mixing in just enough history, along with some blatant inaccuracies, that people might be misled.  Don’t be. Take this as an opportunity to educate yourself on the foundations of your faith and the DaVinci Code can be a blessing for Christianity. The church has enough real sins and secrets that we don’t need to go around believing ones that are completely false.

No comments: