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ss nucleus - summer 2006,  Seek the truth?

Seek the truth?

Sarah Gwynne decodes the Da Vinci

There seems to be no escaping the Da Vinci Code. It has generated massive interest since Dan Brown's bestseller was published in 2003. The film, released worldwide in May 2006, has only served to increase the hype.

Essentially, it's a fast-paced murder mystery involving the smart and handsome Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of symbolism, and his love interest Sophie Neveu who is a police cryptologist. They are set against a violent Catholic group called the Opus Dei who make sure that the real truth about Jesus (which has been covered up by the Church for centuries) stays hidden. All this in order to preserve the power of the Christian authorities whose only wish is to undermine Jesus' true teaching that he was not God, and that his followers should embrace the liberating power of the sacred feminine and goddess worship.

Everywhere I go I see adverts for the book, books about the book and people talking about it. It seems everyone has read it and has an opinion on it, but what about us?

As Christians should we have anything to say about this book, and if so what?

If you are reading this article and realising that you are not sure how to respond to them then this is for you. Some have said, 'If only we knew our Bibles better, we would never have problems with things like the Da Vinci Code.' But this is only part of the story. You could have memorised your Bible, but if you don't know why you believe it and ultimately why others should believe it, you're sunk! This is because people like Dan Brown don't want to argue chapter and verse with you - they argue the very validity of those chapters and verses!

It was the French philosopher Voltaire, a self proclaimed anti-Christian, who said, 'If we [are to] destroy the Christian religion, we must first of all destroy man's belief in the Bible.'

The trailer for the film makes the startling statement 'Seek the Truth' and in the foreword to the book Brown lists several 'facts', including, 'all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate'.

Reviewers of the book have told of Dan Brown's impeccable research and books.com tells readers to be entertained and educated.

The Da Vinci Code claims that…

  1. Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had a child, Sara.
  2. At the time of the crucifixion Mary was pregnant with Sara and fled to France.
  3. Mary was originally the person worshipped, not Jesus. She is referred to as the sacred feminine.
  4. Jesus never claimed to be God; he was declared to be God at a church council in Nicea in 325AD.
  5. The truth about the story of Jesus and Mary is documented in other original gospels, of which there are many. These include those found at Qumran and Nag Hammadi.
  6. Emperor Constantine decided on the four gospels we have today in 325 AD. There were at least 80 possibilities. They were adjusted to support the doctrine of Jesus being God's Son.
  7. Members of a secret fellowship, the Priory of Sion, have always known the truth, but kept it hidden.

What about all those gospels?

No one is quite sure where Dan Brown gets the figure of 80 from.

He talks about some documents found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. But contrary to what you read in the book the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran weren't discovered in the 1950s but in 1947. Furthermore, there were no gospels found there. They were Jewish documents, which included the books of the Old Testament including nearly perfect copies of the book of Isaiah. There goes Brown's argument for the Bible changing throughout history! The remainder of the documents found there merely outlined the lifestyle of the Jewish community in Qumran.

There were some so-called alternative gospels found at a place called Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. These alternative gospels include the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. First and foremost, the alternative gospels found at Nag Hammadi are not really what we would consider gospels, that is works that outline the life and teachings of Jesus. The Gospels of Thomas and Philip are simply collections of sayings from Jesus. The others read more like apocalyptic works, like the book of Revelation.

Another very important thing to know is that these so-called gospels are clearly Gnostic in content and style. The Gnostics believed that Jesus reserved his most powerful and important teaching for his closest disciples. It was this secret knowledge – or gnosis – which contained the real salvation message. The Gnostic movement did not pick up steam until the late second century, almost two hundred years after Christ. Contrary to what Brown says, the Gnostic gospels were not the earliest Christian writings, and they have virtually no historical credibility.

What about Jesus and Mary Magdalene?

Why would Dan Brown go out of his way to show that Jesus was married with kids? Well, firstly if Jesus were married and/or had children, that could undermine his claim to divinity. The second reason is quite simply because it is the linchpin of his story. If Jesus didn't have a relationship with Mary Magdalene, there would be no children, no bloodline, no Priory of Sion to protect the bloodline, no cover up, no conspiracy, and no novel!

Mary Magdalene, unlike many other women of the Bible, is never associated with a male figure, which would have been very important in a patriarchal society. All we really know about her is her name, Mary Magdalene. Magdalene means 'from Magdala' just like Jesus the Nazarene means that Jesus was from Nazareth. She is featured four times in the New Testament. There is nothing to suggest that she had a special relationship to Jesus. At no time is she introduced as Mary, wife of Jesus, which would have been the norm had she been Jesus' wife.

The so-called Gospel of Mary Magdalene is the book used in the Da Vinci Code as evidence that Jesus had a relationship with Mary and that his teaching leaned heavily towards goddess worship. It, too, is a Gnostic document that bears little resemblance to the world of first century Jews in Israel. Furthermore, the passage that suggests the relationship is partially destroyed, and to arrive at the desired conclusion, the destroyed bits have to be filled in a very specific way and translated from Coptic into English in a very specific way. Additionally the very notion that Jesus was really just a man, that he took a wife and had children would have disgusted the Gnostics. To them, Jesus wouldn't dirty his hands with human beings. Brown takes Gnostic theology and twists it into this own theology to defeat Christian theology!

Was the Bible really collated at the council of Nicea?

There was near universal knowledge and acceptance of the four canonical gospels by the late second century – over a hundred years before Nicea. You can see this in the early writings of the Church fathers such as Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons. Brown also claims that the council voted to make Christ God and that even that decision was a close one. In fact, the only aspect of Jesus 'debated' at the Council of Nicea was whether he was eternal with God or created by God in time. The man who was suggesting that Jesus was not eternal but rather created in time was a man named Arius; his Christology was similar to modern day Jehovah's Witnesses. But the key is that they all argued from the same New Testament. Neither the books nor the text of the New Testament were debated, changed or authorised at Nicea!

What about the painting of the Last Supper?

The theory that Leonardo Da Vinci included Mary Magdalene in his painting 'The Last Supper' is not accepted by art historians, who say that the 'feminine' figure seated to the right of Jesus is the boyish Apostle John as he is normally depicted in artwork of the period. Brown dismisses the testimony of expert art historians by simply claiming that, 'We see what we've been told to see.'

And the Priory of Sion?

An eccentric Frenchman in the 1950's, Pierre Plantard (1920-2000), created the organisation Prieuré de Sion and made up the story of the Meroving dynasty descending from Jesus and Mary. He claimed that he himself belonged to this dynasty and as a result claimed the right to the French throne! In 1993 he admitted under oath that it was all pure imagination.

Conclusion

We could sum up Dan Brown's theology in the words of Robert Langdon:

Every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith - acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove. Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory, and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school. Metaphors are a way to help our minds process the unprocessible. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors...Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.

Contrary to Dan Brown's summation, as Christians we have faith in a historical figure for which there is much evidence, some of which I have included here. Jesus was a historical figure who said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life' (Jn 14:6). Christian faith is reliance on that which is both reasonable and evidence-based. If anything, Dan Brown's novel and its success are testimony to the power of a conspiracy theory. They underline the fact that people will believe almost any far-fetched theory if it will help them avoid the claims of Christianity on their life.

Further Reading

  • Bock D. Breaking the Da Vinci Code. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006
  • Bruce F. The New Testament Documents - are they reliable?. Leicester: IVP, 2003
  • www.thedavincicode.org.uk - one good Christian website addressing the claims of the novel
  • www.danbrown.com - Dan Brown's website
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