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Da Vinci Code
Fact or fi ction?

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SUMMARY: The reader is meant to be swept along with the belief that the Bible is a male plot against women, and the real Jesus was a feminist before his time. ‘Real Christianity’ is not what William Wilberforce thought it was — evangelicalism — but a mixture of goddess worship with what Brown thinks is gnosticism.
Animated by paranoia and armed with a conspiratorial view of history, Dan Brown draws his readers into the “real” facts — that Jesus had sexual relations with Mary Magdalene, that the Bible was decided upon in the days of the emperor Constantine (who died in A.D. 337), and that in 325 the Council of Nicaea voted that Jesus was divine, in a kind of ecclesiastical promotion, all to serve the interests of the male bishops.

By PETER BARNES
DAN BROWN’S ‘historical’ novel The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003, and has been at the top of the bestseller lists ever since.
A year after its publication, it had sold almost six million hardback copies. The Sydney Morning Herald on 25-27 March 2005 reported that 25 million copies had been sold in 44 languages.

The movie is due for release in 2006 directed by Ron Howard. The book is a gripping murder mystery, with an extraordinary number of events compressed into a period of little more than 24 hours. As a thriller, it succeeds at one level, with each of the 105 chapters (followed by an epilogue) ending in such a way that the reader feels compelled to read on. With suspense, conspiracies, and a touch of romance (albeit more gnostic than physical!), it is a real page-turner. Having said that, the plot is clever but contrived, the story line is far-fetched, and the ending is particularly lame.

The message of the novel is that, in the words of Sir Leigh Teabing, “almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false”. Or, in the words of Robert Langdon, “every faith in the world is based on fabrication”. “Those who truly understand their faith understand the stories are metaphorical”. The reader is meant to be swept along with the belief that the Bible is a male plot against women, and the real Jesus was a feminist before his time. ‘Real Christianity’ is not what William Wilberforce thought it was — evangelicalism — but a mixture of goddess worship with what Brown thinks is gnosticism.

Animated by paranoia and armed with a conspiratorial view of history, Dan Brown draws his readers into the “real” facts — that Jesus had sexual relations with Mary Magdalene, that the Bible was decided upon in the days of the emperor Constantine (who died in A.D. 337), and that in 325 the Council of Nicaea voted that Jesus was divine, in a kind of ecclesiastical promotion, all to serve the interests of the male bishops. Mary Magdalene herself is supposed to be the Holy Grail — a secret guarded by the Priory of Sion.
One can understand the sarcasm even of the extreme liberal, John Dominic Crossan, who has quoted the ancient and venerable principle of biblical exegesis, which states that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a camel in disguise.
THE DEITY OF CHRIST AND THE COUNCIL OF NICAEA
Sir Leigh Teabing, who appears initially as the eccentric English historian of the Holy Grail, makes the most unhistorical claim concerning the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325: “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … a great and powerful man, but a man nevertheless. A mortal”.

Sophie Neveu’s breathless response is: “Hold on. You’re saying Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?” Undeterred, Teabing pontifi cates on without batting an eyelid: “A relatively close vote at that”. He even adds that the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi texts reveal a human Jesus. The reader is meant to understand that Sophie Neveu has just been initiated into what her name implies — “new wisdom”.

How do we unpack all that? What is history and what is fi ction? The short answer is that it is almost entirely fi ction. It is true that there was a Council of Nicaea in 325. After that, Teabing gets nothing right.

The council was called because a presbyter named Arius, who worked in Alexandria in Egypt, came to the view that Christ is the fi rst created being. About the year 318 Arius was busy preaching that God created Christ, then the Holy Spirit, then the world.

Like the modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses, Arius viewed Christ as the highest of the angels, not the divine Word made fl esh. Whatever Arius’ defi ciencies as a theologian, he certainly did not teach that Jesus was simply a mortal prophet. Neither side in the debate believed anything remotely as low key as that.

Nor was the vote a relatively close one. We are not sure how many bishops were at Nicaea as no minutes have survived.
Eusebius thought that 250 bishops attended the council but Sozomen put the fi gure at 300.
How many supported Arius?
Sozomen writes that 17 supported Arius at the opening of the council, but only fi ve bishops refused to sign the creed and/or the attached anti-Arian anathemas. So it seems that Teabing’s mathematical skills rival his expertise in history.

What about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947? They predate the New Testament, and unless one suffers from the same sort of hallucinations that have beleaguered the career of Barbara Thiering, one must conclude — not surprisingly — that they simply do not mention Jesus. In Barbara Thiering’s absurd theory, John the Baptist is the “Teacher of Righteousness” mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Jesus is the “Wicked Priest”.

The Nag Hammadi texts are different, however. They come from the second century and later, and are full of references to Christ. Gnosticism is a dualistic view of life, where spirit is seen as divine, and matter (fl esh) as evil. This means that the gnostics rejected the incarnation, and in the gnostic scheme of things Christ is a divine spirit, not God made man. The gnostic Christ, like Leigh Teabing’s, is a long way from the Christ of the gospels, but for different reasons.
THE TRANSMISSION OF THE BIBLE
Teabing explains that the Bible is a work of man: “The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven”. His claim is that “it has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions”. Teabing asserts that there were over 80 gospels, but Constantine ordered a new Bible and had all the earlier gospels burnt. He also refers to a “legendary Q document”.

In reply, a number of points need to be made: (a) The Bible has not evolved through translations. Translations usually go back to the early Hebrew and Greek texts. A worthwhile translation is not a translation of a translation.

(b) There is some genuine debate over some verses, but there is not one Christian doctrine under threat in this debate.
All the major Christian doctrines — such as the resurrection of Christ — are taught in many places in scripture. (c) There are over 5,000 complete and about 8,000 or more incomplete Greek manuscripts, plus quotations from the early Church Fathers, plus early translations into other languages besides Greek. That is a huge number of manuscripts. There is no other piece of ancient literature which comes anywhere near that. For Caesar’s Gallic War, for example, there are 9 or 10 good manuscripts. That is typical for ancient writers, but not for the New Testament. The New Testament translator has more manuscripts to deal with than he can reasonably handle.

(d) There were only ever four gospels. In his Against Heresies Irenaeus of Lyons — whose writings fl ourished around A.D. 180 — contributed to the emerging pattern of orthodoxy. He asserted that there were only four gospels because there were only four world zones, four winds, and four faces on the cherubim. His reasoning may seem less than incontrovertible, but the important thing is that, speaking for the church, he was certain that there were only ever four authentic and authoritative gospels. They were accepted well before Constantine was even born.

(e) Q is a hypothetical document referring to material common to Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. Its supposed existence is of almost no consequence to biblical criticism. One may accept or dismiss that Q exists, and still hold to the full authority of scripture — and vice versa.
THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS
Brown is relying on the so-called Gnostic Gospels, none of which can be dated in the fi rst century and none of which can be regarded as reliable, let alone authoritative. He specifi cally mentions The Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. His assertion, through Teabing, is that the gnostics remained faithful to the original history of Christ. They also supposedly tell of Christ kissing Mary on the lips often. In fact, the text of the Gospel of Philip is quite broken and dislocated, and reads: “And the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene. […loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and used to] kiss her [often] on her […].”

One may assume that it is Jesus who is kissing Mary, but it does not say that it is on her mouth. Greeting someone with a holy kiss was common practice in the early church (e.g. Rom.16:16). If more is meant, one needs to recall the gnostic practice of allegorising scripture. The gnostics relied on “hidden” meanings, and one of their practices was the so-called “bridal chamber” where the physical represents the spiritual. The text is meant to be read allegorically. Nevertheless, the main point must remain that, even if the Gospel of Philip was trying to say something serious about literal history — which is unlikely — its credibility rating is not high.

Brown gives the wrong impression of the gnostics. Because of their dualism, the gnostics rejected the humanity of Christ. Christ appears rather like the old Phantom — “the ghost who walks”.
For example, in the Acts of John it is said of Jesus: “I will tell you another glory, brethren; sometimes when I meant to touch him I encountered a material, solid body; but at other times again when I felt him, his substance was immaterial and incorporeal, and as if it did not exist at all.” His footprint never appeared on the ground. To the dualistic gnostic, God could not be the creator; the Word could not become fl esh and dwell among us; Christ could not suffer on the cross; and the body could not be redeemed. It was widely believed in gnostic circles that Christ did not suffer on the cross but escaped his body, and laughed at the ignorance of those who thought that he had been crucifi ed.

All the gnostic writings are to be dated far later than the New Testament. The Gospel of Philip, for example, dates from about AD 250.

Some modern scholars with agendas, such as Elaine Pagels and Karen King, think that the gnostics


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Appeared in Issue 21.1 CETF NR 35 April 2006
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