Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I just finished reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code last night. I didn't want to read it, but I've had so many people ask me questions about it that I thought I needed to.

A couple of quick thoughts. First of all, I was suprised by how clumsy it was. I expected to find a book that was theologically abhorrent but a great read. What I found was a book that was theologically abhorrent and a mediocre read. The first half of the book is pretty entertaining, with lots of twists, suprises, and suspense. The second half of the book is all thumbs. It's didactic, lazy in its exposition (how about showing us something in the narrative rather than just having a character explain it all?), and pointed toward a denouement that makes hash of most of the first half of the book.

Secondly, The Da Vinci Code is as historically uninformed as can be imagined. This is no small point since millions of people are reading this book and saying "Hey, what about this? Is this true?" Brown presents the murder-mystery part of the story line as fiction, but claims that it is ensconsed in a shell of historical truth. In fact, Brown's history is as fictional as his murder mystery. He makes claims that no serious historian--religious or secular--would affirm. For instance, Brown claims that until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., nobody believed in a divine Christ--that this was a new invention imposed on the world by the Emperor Constantine, and that "by a relatively close vote."

In fact, whether one personally believes in the divinity of Christ, there can be no serious historical dispute that His followers did not believe in and celebrate His divinity. The New Testament documents (which are more well-attested than any other ancient documents, and certainly more well-attested than anything Brown cites) make clear that Christ's disciples believed He was divine, and that Christ taught that He was divine. And other extra-biblical evidence from the earliest days of the Church indicate that Christians worshipped Christ as God, including a surviving letter from Pliny the Younger in only 112 A.D. Furthermore, the "close vote" in the Council of Nicea was actually nearly unanimous in upholding what was by then the core teaching of the Church: the divinity of Jesus Christ.

For his main contention--that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdelene and that they had a child together, and that Christ's bloodline thus continued through the centuries--Brown doesn't even attempt to offer anything approaching evidence. There's a good reason for this: none exists. Even the Gnostic "gospels" which Brown relies upon heavily (and which were written much later than the four gospels of the Bible) do not make this claim. Even the ultra-liberal Jesus Seminar, which believes that Christ's body was taken off the cross, thrown in a shallow grave, and eaten by dogs, doesn't make this claim. Brown's main "proof" for the claim seems to be that Leonardo Da Vinci, who lived about 1500 years after Christ, believed it was true. And even that is a dubious assertion, based on such concrete foundations as Brown's interpretation of the smile on the Mona Lisa.

Having now read the book, I have to admit it is a mystery--a mystery how over four million people could flock to buy this book. It would be an unremarkable piece of pulp fiction were it not for the outrageous false claims it makes about the history of Christianity. And ultimately, that's what this book is about. It's not meant to simply be a harmless mystery. It's intent is to redefine and overthrow the faith once for all entrusted to the saints.

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