Summary: Brown offers an revisionist, alternative, speculative view of the historical Jesus that lacks historical evidence, in the guise of a conspiracy thriller.
Dealing with Da Vinci—the lure of ‘other’ gospels. –Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts Scripture reading—Psalm 119:89-96
Dan Brown’s provocative book, The Da Vinci Code, has topped the best-seller list for over half a year and has inspired TV documentaries; the movie will be out in 2005, directed by Ron Howard. In the guise of a thriller, Brown has raised serious questions about the legitimacy of Christianity. This work of fiction paints a revisionist view of Jesus, a modern spin claiming that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, but instead married Mary Magdalene; they had several children, and moved to France. In the novel, the “Holy Grail” turns out to be, not the chalice used at the Last Supper, but the bloodline, the children born of the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The heroes of the book go in search for Mary’s tomb, which promises to reveal hidden secrets that will shake the Christian world. It all sounds preposterous, even blasphemous, but many people are buying it as fact. Brown offers an alternative, speculative view of history that lacks historical evidence.
Dr. Karen King, professor of Church History at Harvard, authored a book, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala. In it she disputes any theory of a married Jesus as myth and legend completely devoid of any historical basis. King also disputes Brown’s claim of accuracy for the supposed “facts” within his fiction. Unfortunately, King’s scholarly book isn’t a bestseller, while Dan Brown’s book is causing many people to wonder if the truth about Jesus has been suppressed. Brown bases his conspiracy theory on the “Gnostic Gospels” discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. They are a collection of unconventional writings about Christ.
It should come as no surprise that the writers the Holy Spirit used to produce the NT weren’t the only ones writing about Jesus. We know that Paul wrote letters that weren’t included. Not everything “made the cut”. As evangelical Christians, we believe that God superintended the process by which godly church leaders determined what to include in the canon, i.e. the list of writings that were declared the inspired word of God. Some writings were turned down because they contained false teachings, or were late (post-1st Century works) or because the authorship was questionable.
Although the non-canonical Gnostic writings were rejected, there was no secret conspiracy afoot to suppress them. They were simply never considered Scripture. The Gnostic writers claim their writings reveal secret knowledge, but many of them simply quote and reinterpret existing Bible passages. A common Gnostic theme is that all knowledge worth knowing comes from looking within one’s own self to discover the divine…all of which sounds suspiciously like the message of the Eastern Hindu and Buddhist religions. The Gnostic gospels present a Jesus far different than the One found in the New Testament; he is an enlightened Revealer, an “Illuminator,” but not a crucified Redeemer.
Armchair theologians have pondered what would happen if some ancient writings surfaced that contradicted the Christian message, what that might do to faith. Well, ancient writings have been found, but they do not make the Scriptures false. They provide a useful standard of comparison with the Biblical writings. The truth of the Bible contradicts the error of all other writings. Go to any bookstore and you’ll find plenty of books that reject God’s written revelation. In my study I have books about the Bible, and while they’re very useful, the Bible alone is God’s word. It is appalling that some scholars are treating these writings as accurate historical documents. They are lumping all ancient religious manuscripts together, denying that there is a definitive written word from God.
How did the “Gnostic Gospels,” which the Da Vinci Code relies on, come about? Gnosticism was a philosophical system Christians and some Jews adapted from Greek influences. Gnosticism was a complicated worldview that stated, among other things, that the flesh was evil. Some Gnostics taught that, because the flesh was evil everyone should be ascetic and celibate; others claimed that the flesh was an illusion and it didn’t matter what we did with our bodies. Because of their view of the body, the Gnostics denied that Jesus came in the flesh, and they in turn rejected His virgin birth and bodily resurrection. They claimed that Jesus only appeared to be a man. They copied some of His sayings, and added ones of their own. They borrowed from a mix of religious ideas and traditions. The most well-known example is the Gospel of Thomas, discovered in the 1890’s. Rather than a narrative, it contains a collection of detached, haphazard sayings. According to tradition, Thomas became a missionary to India, which may connect the “Gospel” bearing his name to Eastern religions (no scholars believe the disciple Thomas is the author). Among snatches of material from reliable sources are inserted some rather enigmatic, mystical and cryptic statements.