April 14, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

1510 page6 capore than 50 million copies of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code have been sold in book form, and a Hollywood blockbuster movie is scheduled for worldwide release in May 2006. Even those who have never read the book are vaguely aware that it is “anti-Christian” or “anti-Catholic,” or both. There is substance behind that vague awareness. But that should not cause us to react in panic either for or against the book.
For its first half, the book is a page-turner. Brown leans heavily on a book published 24 years ago by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln titled Holy Blood, Holy Grail. He makes no secret of his indebtedness to those authors, even naming some of his characters after them!
Almost exactly halfway through, the author puts his core beliefs into the mouths of his two central male characters, Langdon and Teabing. And the key idea: That Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that they had a daughter, that descendants of the daughter are still around, and that documents are extant that prove this.
The narrative of the second half of the book takes the form of a murderous search for those documents together with what is termed “the Holy Grail,” which, in this work of fiction, means the body of Mary Magdalene.
The “Jesus-was-married-to-Mary-Magdalene” idea has been around for some time. Dan Brown suggests that the Jesus-Mary marriage is, in part, authenticated in the late-date Gnostic gospels. It isn’t. A lot of strange stuff is found in the Gnostic gospels, but not that particular piece.
1510 page6Any danger in The Da Vinci Code comes from the author’s weaving fact and fiction together without making a distinction. Because his taste is for conspiracy theory rather than history, Dan Brown is often guilty of factual errors. Example: He says much about the Vatican organization Opus Dei. Central to his plot is a murderous monk called Silas. Fact: There are no monks in Opus Dei.
Brown argues that Christ’s divinity was a dogma that did not arise until the reign of Constantine in the fourth century. But copies of the Gospels of Luke and John exist dating from between 175 and 225 (that is, a century before Constantine). John’s Gospel begins with the most wonderful affirmation of Christ’s divinity found anywhere.
Yes, Constantine created a religion that represented a mix of Christian and pagan practice. No, he did not rewrite the New Testament.
The central piece of “evidence” produced by Brown’s characters in favor of the belief that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married is Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper. The figure to the left of Jesus, always assumed to be a youthful John, is deemed to have feminine characteristics. Even if that were so, how could it be “evidence”? The painting was done 1,500 years after the event!
Brown’s character Teabing argues that the Christian Church’s teaching about Christ is almost totally mistaken. He offers his listeners “photocopies of the Nag Hammadi and the Dead Sea scrolls” and identifies them as “the earliest Christian records,” which “do not match up with the Gospels in the Bible.”
The Nag Hammadi scrolls, in fact, date from about AD 350. The Dead Sea scrolls are copies of Jewish texts from Old Testament times. Neither the Nag Hammadi writings nor the Dead Sea scrolls relate to the New Testament and the Jesus story. The Gospels and the Epistles in the Bible, however, date from the first century AD. They are the earliest Christian records, by comparison with which the accuracy of all other manuscripts should be evaluated.
The basic assumption in The Da Vinci Code is that the ancient pagan worship of “the sacred feminine” is superior to Christianity. But the author shows his bias by the following:  “The millennium has recently passed, and with it has ended the two-thousand-year-long astronomical Age of Pisces--the fish, which is also the sign of Jesus. . . . Now, however, we are entering the Age of Aquarius. . . .”
In contrast, here’s my credo: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory” (John 1:1-14).
Now there’s a solid foundation.
David N. Marshall is editor at Stanborough Press, England. This editorial is adapted from the British Union Messenger for January 20, 2006.