Virtual Reality Christianity: The Da Vinci Code and the Brown-Out of Historical Christianity, Part Two

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

There is an unusual host of historical errors in a book that claims to list in the historical-fiction genre. Some which seemed to beg for my attention I considered as basic to any university class or seminary class on Christian history or religion. What Brown has done, however, is to take an ancient myth which seemed to surface around the ninth century and weave into it many famous and legendary organizations to purport that the entire history of Christianity as we know it today has been a lie. He has an unusually uncanny ability to blur the line between truth and lie, fact and fiction. Familiar with this storyline, N. T. Wright has written,
“…I had met this myth in various forms all over the place, long before Dan Brown wrote his book. Brown has, however, given it wings, and I fear that it is now flying all over the place and confusing many people as to what they can and can’t believe. The deepest irony about it is that it portrays itself as historically rooted, when it is a tissue of fantasy; as going back to Jesus himself, when he would not have recognized anything like it; as embodying the really creative new voice of Jesus, when it is simply offering a variation on a well-known pattern of postmodern spirituality.” [1].

Allow me to briefly scroll through the key historical errors perpetuated in the book. My page numbers correspond with the paperback version which still stands at number one on the NY Times Bestseller's list. As such, the page numbers will differ from the original hardback version.

First, on page 266, as Brown’s theological cornerstone character Teabing was explaining the significance of the Nag Hammadi writings, he states, “These are photocopies of the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls, which I mentioned earlier…The earliest Christian records. Troublingly, they do not match with the gospels in the Bible.” Brown asserts elsewhere that the four gospels in the NT are older than the writings found as part of the Nag Hammadi library some 60 years ago. That is patently false.
The majority of both liberal and conservative scholars alike date the four gospels somewhere between 70 and 100 A.D. Written during the last thirty years of the first century (and possibly even earlier). And this same majority would also date the Nag Hammadi writings somewhere between the mid to late second century to third century. This means that the biblical gospels were written before the writings of Nag Hammadi, the latter being written at least a hundred years after the four NT gospels.

Second, on page 254, Brown cites the Dead Sea Scrolls along with the Nag Hammadi texts as proof positive of Jesus’ humanity and not divinity. This too is patently false. Copies of these scrolls are available to anyone online or in book form at any major university or seminary library. They are also available on computer software. I’ve had the amazing privilege of seeing many of the original manuscripts myself. A quick computer search of an online version of the scrolls contents for anything having to do with Jesus, Christianity, or the church concludes with “no match found.” And a cursory reading through all the scrolls reveals that there’s no mention of Jesus anywhere. Further, there’s not even any veiled or possibly figurative or metaphorical reference to Him.

Much of the Dead Sea scrolls are actually handwritten copies of every Old Testament book except for Esther, I believe. The rest of the documents were penned by a group of desert-dwellers called Essenes. Living before, during and after the time of Jesus Christ, in the wilderness, with little if any contact with the outside world, they were also noted by the Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus, employed by the Roman Empire to record the conquests of the Empire against the Jews, makes scant mention of them. But the Essenes do not make mention of Josephus or of Jesus or of Christianity at all. Yet Brown treats the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi scrolls as serious alternative sources for the earliest evidence of Jesus’ humanity over against His divinity.

Third, on page 267, Brown’s character Teabing explained, “I shan’t bore you with the countless references to Jesus and Magdalene’s union. That has been explored ad nauseum by modern historians.” boldly claims that in the Nag Hammadi writings there are “countless references to Jesus’ and Mary Magdalene’s union” (p. 333). Do you know how many times Mary Magdalene herself is actually mentioned in the Nag Hammadi writings? Precisely three times. That’s it. And in none of these three mentions, which I will refer to later, is there any possible reference to she and Jesus being married and having children.

Fourth, if it’s the sacred feminine Brown is so eager to preach in this book, he should research again in pagan literature both ancient and modern. One simply does not find any strong support for the sacred femininity in the Dead Sea or Nag Hammadi writings.

Fifth, Brown communicates as fact that Jesus’ divinity was a matter voted on by the Nicean Council in 325 A.D. How interesting then to note that almost all NT scholars in the field of Paul’s letters should agree on at least a core of his letters, all of which were written within twenty to thirty years of Jesus’ death, and all of which proclaim Jesus as divine, as the Son of God, as God Himself. What’s also shocking is that Brown makes no mention of the apostle Paul at all, whom almost every legitimate NT scholar with his salt claims as the most central and formidable figure in first century NT Christianity.
This method of scholarship is like playing a game of baseball and failing to realize you don’t have a baseball. But you’re just happily running around doing whatever it is you can do to play baseball without a baseball, while everyone else is sits in the bleachers looking strangely at the whole comedy wondering what’s really going on. Also Matthew, Luke, John and Hebrews, largely undisputed as first century writings, also claim Jesus’ divinity, having all been written at the latest by 90 A.D., and possibly even earlier. Brown does not even take notice of such widely-known and accepted scholarship which places the teaching of Jesus’ divinity over 150 years prior to his exotic claim.

, Brown claims that the four gospels we have in the NT today all excise the human elements of Jesus. This is supposed to prove the conspiracy that He was not really divine but just an ordinary man, a great teacher, and that the church covered it all up by changing these writings or choosing them because they didn’t talk about His humanity but played up His divinity. I’m just baffled at such a claim when any ordinary person, Christian or not, can read the four gospels and not turn a page before noting something that points directly or indirectly to His humanity. I mean seriously, there are so many references to it that picking a few would seem foolish. This is especially significant for Hebrews where the writer there spends dozens of verses making a specific point on what kind of relationship we can have with Jesus today, all based on His humanity (chapter 4).

, Brown also claims that early Christianity was simply about living a better life and doing the best one can. Jesus is simply a teacher of that better way. But again history, and this time the blood of Christ’s followers, cry out in vehement protest. During the course of time in which Brown supposes the Nag Hammadi texts were having their greatest worldwide influence before being squashed by religious regimes, Christians were dying under the hand of rage-filled emperors, being set like torches in their gardens, persecuted in imaginable ways, beheaded and filleted and skinned alive, sawed in half, crucified, and dressed in animal skins and sent to roam to the coliseum floor as mock prey for wild lions and tigers being cheered on by masses of people hungry to see bloodshed.

Do you know why they were treated this way? Their blood was spilled not because they were simply trying to live a better life. They were treated this way because they believed Jesus was God and Caesar was not. They believed Jesus Christ was worthy of their worship and honor and Caesar was merely worthy of the reverence due a governing official. They willingly gave their lives for their Savior not because He was merely a great teacher of prophet but because they knew that in rising from the dead He promised them the same ultimate victory in their worship of only Him.

And what do we suppose fueled their subversive faith and life amid such treatment? They were tortured and murdered not because they were reading the Nag Hammadi writings, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, or the Gospel of Mary Magadalene. No, they suffered willingly because of the divine power communicated to them through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts, through the truth of Hebrews and Revelation, through the testimony and suffering Paul and Peter as attested to in their writings. These dear saints didn’t suffer for trying to live a better life. Caesar would have simply snorted at them and turned the other way if this were the case. No he murdered them because he was jealous of their worship, envious of a people who worshiped a man named Jesus as God rather than the Caesars as gods. This is a terrible fact that Brown misses and this should make us angry that their sacrifices are conclusively dismissed and treated as if they are merely misled individuals who were ignorant of the real truth or unenlightened.

Again, Brown discovers what is not there to find. And in the process he makes a mess of his own ability to deal factually with historical data. As the English would say, “Poppycock!” These are just a sampling of the errors. And as I indicated in this post I intend to deal with just two or three of them in more detail in the coming days' posts.


[1] Wright, N. T. “Decoding The Da Vinci Code, in Response 28:2 (Summer 2005), at uc/ response/summer2k5/features/davincicode.asp.

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