So far, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is one of the most popular, and controversial, books of the new century. It is gripping, fast moving, and (to me) very well written and interesting. (It is also similar in several ways to the recent film release, National Treasure'but I will say no more, lest I spoil it for those of you who have not read it.) The book involves a conspiracy theory, which also undoubtedly adds to its popular appeal. And as it suggests that the story of the Bible is wrong'for example, Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered a line of descendants living even to this day'it also appeals to theological liberals and all who are looking for a reason to discount the true message of the Scriptures.
I have already responded to the theology of the book at my website, but in this article I quote extensively from the work itself. My purpose is to comment on the aspects of the book relating to the Christian scriptures and the earliest centuries of church history, during which the various books of the Bible were being copied and circulated.
All chapter and page references are to the 2003 Doubleday hardback edition.
Claims to factuality
The book begins (page 1) with a qualified claim to factuality: 'FACT:... All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.' Now we do not demand accuracy in a work of fiction, but since author Brown claims that his comments on 'documents
presumably including the Scriptures as well as the many apocryphal and pseudepigraphal productions of later centuries'we ought to hold him to it. And all the more so in a generation when fewer and fewer persons are familiar with what the Bible says. A hundred years ago, for example, I believe the public at large would have ridiculed such a book. Not because they were more puritanical or even necessarily more 'Christian,' but because they would have been more familiar with the facts.
55/231 (chapter 55, page 231):
The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions sic'editions?, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.' My responses will appear throughout this article in bullet form.
' It is true that the Bible was not written all at once, but that does not mean that God could not have created it through an historical process. After all, God often works through people to get his work done.
' It is not exactly true that the Bible is 'a historical record.' Much of the Bible, after all, is poetry'or letters, proverbs, etc. Not is it quite true that the Bible has 'evolved.' Of course it was never meant to remain in the original Hebrew/Aramaic (O.T.) or Greek (N.T.)
it was meant to be translated and copied! Naturally, there are thousands of versions. Thus no 'definitive version.' And yes, some minor differences have appeared in the manuscripts (spelling, word order, etc). But Brown's implication (here on the lips of Holy Grail enthusiast Teabing) is utterly false.
More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for conclusion'Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.
'The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.
' No one who knows the facts'who has read the apocryphal gospels and knows church history'could ever endorse such an irresponsible statement. All four canonical gospels were apostolic'written by apostles or their associates, and in agreement with the authentic apostolic teaching. The later 'gospels' arrived on the scene in later centuries, not in the first century when the four gospels were written.
' Eighty gospels? There were many spurious documents written in the third and fourth centuries, but most of them do not claim to be 'gospels.' Brown has confused his facts.
' Constantine collated the Bible? Utter nonsense! The N.T. scriptures had been written and even appeared in lists (or 'canons') two hundred years before Constantine (who died in 337 AD).
55/233: 'Until the Council of Nicea, 325 AD, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a moral prophet' a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.' It is then asserted that Jesus' divinity was proposed and voted on at Nicea!
' Not only does this ignore the real issues discussed at Nicea, but it misrepresents the truth about how Jesus was perceived. In our time, many accept Jesus as a good man, but not God in the flesh. The incarnation is thus today rejected because Jesus is not thought to be divine (John 1:14). But in the early centuries AD, there was relatively little controversy over Jesus' divinity. What was hard to accept was his humanity!
' Nicea affirmed Jesus' humanity and divinity
it certainly did not deify him!
Constantine upgraded Jesus' status almost four centuries after Jesus' death' Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned.'
' Has Brown forgotten that Jesus died in 30 AD? Nicea took place not even three centuries after Jesus' death and resurrection. Such carelessness with historical dates does not inspire confidence, does it?
' What earlier gospels is Brown referring to? The apocryphal gospels were penned many generations after the four canonical gospels. What evidence does he produce for such a bold claim? None at all.
' And which 'new Bible' is being referred to?
the early Church needed to convince the world that the mortal prophet Jesus was a divine being. Therefore, any gospels that described earthly aspects of Jesus' life had to be omitted from the Bible. Unfortunately for the early editors, one particularly troubling earthly theme kept recurring in the gospels. Mary Magdalene' More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ.'
' Once again, the early church need to convince the world that Jesus was not only a god, but also a man. Brown apparently has read little of the early Christian literature.
' Jesus chose not to marry'perhaps because he knew he was destined to die and did not want to leave a widow behind. At any rate, there would have been nothing wrong with Jesus marrying, any more than it would have been immoral for Paul to marry (see 1 Corinthians 9:1ff). The debate about sexuality and celibacy was itself largely an overreaction to Gnosticism, which viewed sex us dirty and sexuality as the creation of an inferior god.
' While third century writings may portray Mary Magdalene in an exalted light, or provide a female traveling companion for the apostle Paul, nowhere in the genuine first century documents is there even a hint of such things.
60/256: 'Also rumored to be part of the treasure is the legendary 'Q' document'a manuscript that even the Vatican admits they believe exists. Allegedly, it is a book of Jesus' teachings, possibly written in His own hand.'
' 'Q,' from the German Quelle, or source, is a hypothetical document containing the material common to Matthew's and Luke's gospels but not appearing in Mark (or John). While it may have existed, few if any scholars'in the Vatican or outside the Vatican'teach that it exists or is likely to be discovered.
' Written in Jesus' own hand? Why would that matter? At any rate, from what scholars know about Q, it certainly does not seem to be written by the Lord, but rather by eyewitness(es).
' Further, as far as scholars know, there is nothing in Q that jibes with the spurious gospels, acts, letters, and apocalypses of later centuries. After all, everything that has survived from Q has been incorporated into Matthew and Luke!
' And just wondering, why does Brown keep capitalizing the pronouns relating to Jesus, given that he denies his divinity?
74/309: 'The Jewish tetragrammaton YHWH'the sacred name of God'in fact derived from Jehovah, an androgynous physical union between the masculine Jah and the pre-Hebraic name for Eve, Havah.'
' Again, one must ask, where is the evidence for such an outrageous assertion?
' Jehovah is not even a word appearing in the Bible. If there is any derivation, it is in the opposite direction. In fact, earlier scholars who did not fully appreciate why Jewish copyists applied the vowels of Adonai to the consonants of Yahweh are the ones who created the hybrid Jehovah!
' Brown seems to be attracted (throughout this chapter and others) to the notion that the divine is best experienced through the rites of sacred temple prostitution. Yes, that was a Canaanite practice that infiltrated Judaism, despite the protests of the prophets. (It is also common to other religions, such as Tantric Buddhism.) But such a theology is wholly alien to the Old and New Testaments.
Although the following two comments do not directly pertain to the ancient documents, I include them just to provide a couple of illustrations'and there are potentially dozens'of the author's historical sloppiness.
104/434: Here Brown refers to the 'Western Wall' of Solomon's Temple.
' Once again, the facts are all wrong. The Jews do not believe the Western ('Wailing') Wall was ever part of the Temple, but simply the closest they can come to approaching its original location.
' Solomon's Temple was destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians. It is not at all certain that the 'Second Temple' (completed in 516/515 during the time of Haggai and Zechariah) was constructed on the same site as the First Temple.
' Note: There is some controversy over whether the Temple Mount, or Haram esh-Sharif, was in fact the site of the Second Temple (expanded by Herod the Great and then called 'Herod's Temple') or simply the remains of the Roman Fortress Antonia.
104/435: 'The Star of David'also known as Solomon's Seal, this hexagram had once been the secret symbol of stargazing priests and was later adopted by the Israelite kings'David and Solomon.'
' Where is this mentioned in the Bible, or in any ancient document?
' In fact the earliest attested use of this symbol comes from the third century BC, seven to eight centuries after David and Solomon! This symbol did not become particularly common in Judaism until the Middle Ages!
While I would recommend the book as a good novel, or at least a work to be read if for no other reason than that everyone else is reading it, I cannot commend its accuracy when it comes to history or the ancient documents. The false version of Christianity Dan Brown presents is shameful in both its morality and its scholarship.
Learn more about The Da Vinci Code at the Ann Arbor Biblical Manuscripts Weekend, 20-21 May. (See "Events")