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What’s all the fuss? Code breaks itself with obvious errors

Some Christians are reacting to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with strong denunciations. The book has sold well over 40 million copies in hardback, and the movie is expected to get a correspondingly huge reception at the box office when it opens May 19. Sony has sunk both star power (Tom Hanks) and proven directorial skills (Ron Howard) into making it a summer blockbuster. Officials at the Vatican have called for Roman Catholic faithful to boycott the movie. Various Protestant churches have joined to denounce both the book and the film. Some Christians plan to picket theaters on the Friday the film is released. So what’s all the fuss? Is this film going to expose and falsify the Christian religion? Prove we have a corrupted or “wrong” Bible? Destroy the Roman Catholic Church? Show that the deity of Jesus is a fourth-century doctrine the earliest church never believed or promulgated? My personal view is that the book and movie are great teaching moments. And while God may call some of his people to debunk and boycott, I sense instead the call to play off the book to teach the neglected (and sometimes boring!) facts about the history and theology referenced in The Da Vinci Code.
Constantine . Many of the Code’s errors of fact center on the Roman Emperor Constantine. Itclaims, for example, that he convened the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. to establishthe doctrine of Jesus’ deity (passed by a very narrow vote!), move the day ofChristian worship from Saturday to Sunday, settle the choice of four Gospels(i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) for the New Testament, and suppress themany older Gospels that described the human aspects of Jesus.

The only factabout Constantinein the paragraph above is that he called church leaders together for theCouncil of Nicea in 325. The deity of Jesus had been affirmed in the earliestwritings in the New Testament – the letters written by Paul in mid-firstcentury (cf. Philippians 2:5-11); Nicea discussed how the divine and humannatures of Jesus were related to each other and took no “vote” on his deity.Sunday was the primary day of Christian worship from the start (Acts 20:7; 1Corinthians 16:2); Constantinehad proclaimed Sunday a state holiday four years before Nicea.
Which books to include in what became the New Testament wasnot a topic of discussion at the church’s first ecumenical council; Matthew,Mark, Luke, and John had been accepted as authoritative accounts of Jesus’ lifefor well over 150 years by that time. There is no historical evidence of anybook burning or Gospel suppression as a result of Nicea; the Gospels ofMatthew, Mark, Luke, and John are clear about the human (e.g., tears, pain,hunger, etc.) as well as divine (e.g., insights, miracles, resurrection, etc.)natures of Jesus.

The Bible. The Da Vinci Code explains that the NewTestament we have today is unreliable as an account of the life and mission ofJesus. An older and more faithful account is known to scholars from thediscovery in the 1950s of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi documents. Butthe Vaticanhas suppressed public awareness of these valuable works.
All these assertions are false. The Dead Sea Scrolls – found in 1947, by the way – contain no Christian documents and never once mentionJesus; it is a library of Jewish literature hidden away by a first-century Jewishsect of Essenes. The 46 Nag Hammadi documents are Gnostic works, include noneof our canonical Gospels, and contain noreference to an alternate “grail” story. The Vatican has never controlled or hadany desire to conceal either collection of documents.

Jesus. The bookand movie make much of an alternate account of Jesus’ marriage to MaryMagdalene as “a matter of historical record.” The affirmation is that a marriedJesus “makes more sense” in light of the Jewish social customs of that timewhich “virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried” and specifically “condemned”celibacy.
In the first place, marriage is honorable and holythroughout Scripture. I know of no reason Christ could not have married, ifthat had been his choice. The fact is, however, that there is not a singledocument from antiquity – biblical, Nag Hammadi text, or any other – thatclaims he was married. It is certainly untrue that celibacy was “condemned” byJewish culture in Jesus’ time. Does anybody remember John the Baptist? Paul?The Essenes of Dead Sea Scroll fame?
The “argument” in Brown’s novel that the Aramaic word koinonos in The Gospel of Philip actually means “spouse” – and thus does make aclaim that Jesus was married – would cause any biblical or linguistic scholarto laugh. For one thing, Philip isknown to us only in Coptic and not Aramaic. For another, the word koinonos means “associate” or “friend” –a status our canonical Gospels affirm not only for Mary Magdalene but forseveral other women of that time.

The Sacred Feminine. The Code has the Priory of Sionperpetuating goddess worship because the group knows a secret hidden from themasses by the Roman Catholic Church. That secret is that “early Jewishtradition involved ritualistic sex” in the Jerusalem Temple,where “Shekinah” was housed as the powerful female consort of the male Yahweh.
“Shekinah” is not the name of a female deity but the termused to describe the brilliant glory that attends the presence of Yahweh. AndYahweh – who, by the way, is neither male nor female – is never referred to inany documentation from ancient times in terms of sexual rituals at the Jerusalem Temple. If Catholics are offended by theinsulting misuse of “historical fiction” – it would more correctly be called “fictionalhistory” – so are Jews by so outrageous a claim as this one.
The biblical record has Yahweh creating both male and femaleto bear the divine image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), giving laws unique toantiquity that were meant to protect women from common abuses (e.g., divorcecertificates), and honoring their role in Israel’s history (e.g., Sarah, Ruth,Deborah). Women figure prominently in the ministries of both Jesus and Paul.
It is church history rather than Constantine or the abolition of a “sacredfeminine” that reflects the shameful exclusion and exploitation of females inthe church. Both Catholic and Protestant actions have too often reflectedpatriarchal culture over divine ideals. Such Gnostic literature as The Gospel of Thomas demeans women andholds out the salvific ideal of their being transformed into males.

Thegarbled representations of The Da VinciCode just might prompt many of us who suffer from a growing biblicalilliteracy to dust off some old documents. And then the flap will have been agood thing.

Rubel Shelly is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Rochester College and interim
minister for the Plymouth (Michigan) Church of Christ. Contact him at [email protected].

May 22, 2006

Filed under: Insight Staff Reports

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