Thoughts to Ponder are my musings regarding community, things of the Spirit, and living as a Christ-follower. I don't offer the words of a professional or an expert; just a fellow traveler and explorer. Please don't take my musings more serious than I do. I've discovered a long time ago that I do not hold the keys of knowledge or wisdom. If I did, I misplaced them somewhere...typical.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Da Vinci and Judas?

I've read the Da Vinci Code and enjoyed it--to a degree. However, the characters and plot were obvious. The ending was a huge let down--something you'd expect in a Harlequin Romance, perhaps. Then there were the incredible mistakes and outright fabrications regarding art, architecture, history and linguisitcs.

Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright clucked at the several inaccurate details of Westminster Abbey ("gaffe after gaffe" in his own words). Art historians would never call Leonardo by the name Da Vinci. After all Da Vinci isn't a name, it is a place! Also, The Mona Lisa is certainly not a self portait of Leonardo! It is a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Constantine did not make Christianity the state religion. In the Edict of Milan (311) he merely legalized Christianity. It was Theodosius who made Christianity the state religion nearly 70 years later. Brown also misrepresents what happened with the Council of Nicea.

I especially cringed when I read Brown's description of the etymology of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH or Yahweh). Hints: ask any first year Hebrew student, look up Jehovah in a good dictionary, or read the preface of any modern Bible translation! Brown obviously fabricated the origin of God's name to fit his own plot.

These are just a few inaccuracies. I don't have the space to deal with every incident!

What was especially troubling was his opening assertion that the architecture, documents, rituals, and organizations (i.e., Les Dossiers Secrets, The Priory of Sion) were historically accurate. The Priory of Sion was founded in the 1950s by Pierre Plantard. Le Dossiers Secrets has been proven a hoax nearly 30 years ago. The ancient document was forged in the 1960s by three Frenchmen . One needn't go to great depths to discover the fraudulant nature of the Priory and Les Dossiers Secrets. On line encyclopedia Wikipedia has a fairly detailed article on the matter ( For another interesting article on the Priory of Sion and it's founder, Plantard, check out the website for the Center for Studies of New Religions You may also wish to examine

Dan Brown's characters would have us believe that due to a vast conspiracy the true nature of Christianity (and the true nature of Christ) has been suppressed by "The Church" (i.e., the Catholic Church). Jesus was merely a man, a great teacher, who was married to Mary Magdelene.

Other claims in the book is that other gospels (gnostic texts like the Gospel of Thomas) and even the Dead Sea Scrolls attest to the total humanity of Jesus. Of course, there is one nagging little problem: the Dead Sea Scrolls are not New Testament documents, nor do they mention Jesus!

Now we have the gospel of Judas: a newly translated document from the Nag Hammadi finds. It has led recently to all kinds of outrageous claims about how Christianity will be forever altered.

Here's the rub. These gnostic texts are two-hundred to three-hundred years after the crucifixion of Jesus while the four canonical gospels were all written within the first 50 years following Jesus' death. The gospels of Judas and Thomas do not even reflect a first century Jewish culture but a late 2nd-3rd century Greek culture.

Furthermore, contrary to Dan Brown's claim, these gospels do not point to a human Jesus. Gnosticism had the opposite view. The Gnostic Marcion believed Jesus only appeared to be human. Others believed that the spirit of the Christ possessed the man Jesus and left him at the crucifixion. In that case, the man, Jesus was merely used and discarded.

What is really interesting is how prudish some of the Gnostics were. Jesus in The Gospel of Thomas tells Peter that Mary will have to become a man in order to experience salvation! Marcion promoted aceticism and practiced a strict celibacy. So much for celebrating the sacred feminine!

So, what of these "gospels" and The Da Vinci Code?

1) Remember, fiction is fiction--even when it claims to be fact! It's what my dad always advised me: Don't believe everything you read!

2) The four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) have more in common with first century Judaism than do the Nag Hammadi texts. This fact alone gives much more credibility to the canonical gospels above the Gnostic texts.

3) The Jesus of the New Testament is more human than the Jesus of Gnosticism! New Testament theology proclaims Jesus as fully human and fully deity. We don't need Dan Brown or some shadowy Priory of Sion to make Jesus more human for us! The New Testament is sufficient.

4) Christianity demands that we immerse ourselves in our world to make it a better place. Where have all of the hospitals come from during the past several centuries? Or the charities? Or services to the poor? Leaders like Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa based their activities on a God who is active in the world. The gnosticism that is gaining popularity in society today is primarily focused on self-fulfillment rather than unselfish service.

So, read The Da Vinci Code. Watch the movie (I hope it's better than the book). But take it for what it is: fiction. And please, please! Don't base your theology or spirituality on a popular novel!

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