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The Da Vinci Code

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The DaVinci Code is stirring up trouble.

Check out the Crosswalk story at the link above, and then follow it up with actual excerpts at Envoy. Just go to this link: http://www.envoymagazine.com/EnvoyEncore/Search.asp

and type in "DaVinci". You'll get the whole nasty scoop.

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Thanks for saving me the trouble of reading TDC, Jeffrey. I hadn't heard much about it, but a friend has offered to lend it to me. I think I'll just skip it now. Sounds like I'd be exclaiming, "What! Nooooooo! Are you insane?!" in between bouts of throwing the book against the wall--and it wouldn't even be my book.

Normally, I'm a calm person who subscribes wholeheartedly to Milton's views on freedom of publication, but that doesn't mean I have to read things I already know are nonsense. That's why I read reviews before I buy the book.

I continue to hope (and pray) that Milton was right when he wrote: "Let [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; whoever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter? [...] For who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty? Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps [...]" ("Areopagitica")

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I think I would have to disagree with much of the previous analysis. I actually found the book to be intriguing and enlightening.

A group of friends and I have read it and found it to be enjoyable summer reading. There are several concepts in the book that are difficult as a Christian to handle. However, it is interesting to ask people who do not claim to be Christians why they find this book fascinating.

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Margaret M. Mitchell comments on the book:

Besieged by requests for my reaction to The Da Vinci Code, I finally decided to sit down and read it over the weekend. It was a quick romp, largely fun to read, if rather predictable and preachy. This is a good airplane book, a novelistic thriller that presents a rummage sale of accurate historical nuggets alongside falsehoods and misleading statements. The bottom line: the book should come coded for "black light," like the pen used by the character Sauniere to record his dying words, so that readers could scan pages to see which "facts" are trustworthy and which patently not, and (if a black light could do this!) highlight the gray areas where complex issues are misrepresented and distorted.

Patently inaccurate:

In his own lifetime Jesus "inspired millions to better lives" (p.231); there were "more than eighty gospels" (p.231; the number 80 is factual-sounding, but has no basis); "the earliest Christian records" were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (including gospels) and Nag Hammadi texts (pp.234, 245); the Nag Hammadi texts "speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms" (p.234); the marriage of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is "a matter of historical record" (p.244); Constantine invented the divinity of Jesus and excluded all gospels but the four canonical ones; Constantine made Christianity "the official religion" of the Roman Empire (p.232); Constantine coined the term "heretic" (p.234); "Rome's official religion was sun worship" (p.232). There are more.

Gray areas:

"The vestiges of pagan religion in Christian symbology are undeniable" (p.232), but that does not mean "Nothing in Christianity is original." The relationship between early Christianity and the world around it, the ways in which it was culturally embedded in that world, sometimes unreflectively, sometimes reflexively, sometimes in deliberate accommodation, sometimes in deliberate cooptation, is far more complicated than the simplistic myth of Constantine's Stalinesque program of cultural totalitarianism. Further, Constantine's religious life -- whether, when, how and by what definition he was Christian and/or "pagan" -- is a much debated issue because the literary and non-literary sources (such as coins) are not consistent. That Constantine the emperor had "political" motives (p.234) is hardly news to anyone! The question is how religion and politics (which cannot be separated in the ancient world) were interrelated in him. He is as hard to figure out on this score as Henry VIII, Osama Bin Laden, Tammy Fay Baker and George W. Bush. Brown has turned one of history's most fascinating figures into a cartoon-ish villain.

"Paganism" is treated throughout The Da Vinci Code as though it were a unified phenomenon, which it was not ("pagan" just being the Christian term for "non-Christian"). The religions of the Mediterranean world were multiple and diverse, and cannot all be boiled down to "sun-worshippers" (232). Nor did all "pagans" frequently, eagerly, and with mystical intent participate in the hieros gamos (ritual sex acts). "The Church" is also used throughout the book as though it had a clear, uniform and unitary referent. For early Christian history this is precisely what we do not have, but a much more complex, varied and localized phenomenon. Brown presumes "the Church" is "the Holy Roman Catholic Church" which he thinks had tremendous power always and everywhere, but ecclesiastical history is a lot messier.

Brown propagates the full-dress conspiracy theory for Vatican suppression of women. Feminist scholars and others have been debating different models of the "patriarchalization" of Christianity for decades. Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza's landmark work, In Memory of Her (1983), argued that while Jesus and Paul (on his better days) were actually pretty much pro-women, it was the next generations (the authors of letters in Paul's name like 1 and 2 Timothy and others) who betrayed their feminist agenda and sold out to the Aristotelian, patriarchal vision of Greco-Roman society. Others (unfortunately) sought to blame the misogyny on the Jewish roots of Christianity. More recently it has been argued that the picture is more mixed, even for Jesus and Paul. That is, they may have been more liberal than many of their contemporaries about women, but they were not all-out radicals, though they had ideas (such as Gal 3:28 ) that were even more revolutionary than they realized (in both senses of the term). Alas, no simple story here. And while obsessing over Mary Magdalene, The Da Vinci Code ignores completely the rise and incredible durability and power of the other Mary, the mother of Jesus, and devotion to her which follows many patterns of "goddess" veneration (she even gets the Athena's Parthenon dedicated to her in the sixth century).

This list is just a sample. A "black light" edition of The Da Vinci Code would, however, be unnecessary if readers would simply take the book as fiction. But there is an obstacle: the first page of the book reads, under the bold print headline "Fact": "all descriptions of ...documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."

Margaret M. Mitchell is Associate Professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago Divinity School and the Chair of the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature. Her latest book is The Heavenly Trumpet: John Chrysostom and the Art of Pauline Interpretation (Westminster/John Knox, 2002).

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Hmmm. A bit hyperbolic (did the Christian church "spread through the empire like a firestorm"? only if the Mormon church has been spreading through the United States like a firestorm, too -- the growth rates of the two religions in their first two centuries is about the same), but I definitely think it would be a good thing if we all paid a lot more attention to the church that existed between the death of the last apostle in the AD 90s and the Reformation that took place over 1400 years later. I say this as one who is only beginning to really do so, myself.

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Our priest has decided that The DVC is pervasive enough that he's making debunking it the focus of Adult Ed. Sunday school class for the next two weeks.

He says we don't need to have read the book. Good--because I still haven't! On the other hand, I have no idea what he'll be telling us. Possibly some of the same info noted by Mitchell. He's a nice man, but spent considerable time several weeks ago explaining to me and my fellow chalicer-in-training why the crossing of the Red Sea couldn't possibly have been a real miracle.

Yes, we're looking for a new church. smile.gif

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Has anyone read any of Brown's other books? Are they all so out-to-lunch, theologically?

I haven't read any of his books, but checked a few out via amazon.com. According to their blurbs, the answer to your question would seem to be, "Yes" and "No."

For example, an excerpt from the plot summary of The Illuminati:

Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is shocked to find proof that the legendary secret society, the Illuminati--dedicated since the time of Galileo to promoting the interests of science and condemning the blind faith of Catholicism--is alive, well, and murderously active. [... T]he reader might wish for a little more sardonic humor from Langdon, and a little less bombastic philosophizing on the eternal conflict between religion and science [...]

He has also written a few "straight" suspense-thrillers: Deception Point, e.g.

My sister's a fan.

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My friend (an Israeli Jew) bought this book. She asked me (laughing) if I would like to read it after she will finish.

I really don't know whether or not to read it. From one side I became now very curious, but from the other side

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The Washington Times on The DaVinci Code.

He writes that the Emperor Constantine originated the New Testament during the fourth-century Council of Nicea, a large gathering of Christian leaders that rewrote Jesus into a divine figure, writing that the early church had venerated him merely as a mortal prophet.  

   Other \"facts\" recited by Mr. Brown include assertions that pre-Babylonian Judaism included temple prostitutes, that sex is a prime way to God that has been squelched mainly by the Roman Catholic Church for 2,000 years, that Gothic cathedrals are modeled after the female body, and that Noah was an albino.

* *

Mr. Evans was asked by a parishioner whether the word \"companion\" in the gnostic Gospel of Philip meant \"wife\" in the Syriac language in which the second-century manuscript was written.  

   \"It could be used to mean 'companion,' 'friend' or maybe 'wife,' but that stands against a flood of testimony of it being a different relationship,\" he said. \"The Gospels have her calling him 'rabbi,' 'lord' and 'teacher,' words you would not be saying to your husband and lover.\"

* *

\"To state that the [Catholic] Church burned five million women as witches shows a willful

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However, it is interesting to ask people who do not claim to be Christians why they find this book fascinating.

My Israeli Jewish (atheist) friend, offered me to read this book. However, I told her that I might read it after she'll finish it.

So, last week she did, and she was disappointed about it. She told me it was far of being a good quality literature (every chapter was only 1-2 pages - like for children!!!) and the story was really weird. She said he could make some interesting points, if the level of the book wouldn't be so low and if the story would develop in a more intelligent way, and not all the time in silly quizzes.

Well, I find it difficult to express my self in English. However, my friend finished English Literature in the University, and she knows to appreciate good literature. This book (she says), is far, very far from being this and was very disappointing (and waste of money too).

So, I'm not going to read it (instead I've just finished a very thouching book "Embers", by Sandor Marai).

Have a nice weekend,

Annie

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Jeff, didn't you cite the Spectator in your "Film Forum" today, too? Have Rich Kennedy and Peter Chattaway double-teamed you? smile.gif

I haven't read the Spectator since George Gilder revived it a couple of years ago. I'm not sure he's still behind the magazine. I'm assuming it's worth a read every now and then?

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Okay, I feel a need to rant a little--please bear with me. And I'm not sure if this really belongs to a new thread--but I'm placing it here because DVC is what got me started on this topic, ie., the sacred feminine.

I read DVC back in the summer and found it about as annoying as most folks here. However, I started to feel really troubled after a women's group at my church had an informal discussion of the book in which I was the only person who'd both read the book AND found it annoying. Most who had read the book said that they just thought it was a good thriller (which it's not, IMO) and that there's nothing wrong with it if you just read it as a thriller--that's fine, except that I think many people aren't reading this way.

But what really got to me is that at least one person was excited about the book because despite its historical innaccuraries, many of which she didn't spot, she was excited that the idea of "sacred feminine," which I took from her to mean feminine aspects of God, is getting attention from the masses.

This same person, who has a seminiary degree, in an earlier discussion when I mentioned one of the bigger howlers in book, said "Hmm... you read it more carefully than I did, I guess."

So ANYWAY, several women in the discussion group have read up a bit on the "sacred feminine" and suggested that I maybe read something a little less aggressively anti-Christian on the subject. So I read Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd, which apparently several women in my church read and admired. Well, now I'm even more annoyed. I do believe that our culture has for many years focused too exclusively on God as masculine. And I can see why it would be troubling for some women to refer to God as "he." Kidd makes a decent case for some women's discomfort, telling stories of women and gilrs who got the message that because God is a man, a man must be the best thing to be. And I don't even have much of a problem with people referring to God as a Goddess if it helps them relate better to God's more feminine characteristics.

(FWIW, my pastor is careful not to use personal pronouns when referring to God from the pulpit--which again doesn't bother me, though I personally refer to God as "he" in conversation because my mind doesn't quickly do the verbal gymnastics required to avoid it.)

However, Kidd dances right out of orthodox Christianity when she begins worshipping Goddesses of the past, Minoan Goddesses and figures from Greek myth mostly. She doesn't just say, "Wow, we could learn a lot about the power women can have by looking at some of these stories," she actually reveres this figures instead of the God of the Bible. At one point, she says something to the effect that IAWEH hid the the truth about the Minoan Godessess so people would follow Him! I can't remember the exact words, but I do know that she says outright that IAWEH, not his followers was the one to do this.

So now I'm really troubled. It bothers me immensely that women in my church are latching on to this idea, and I don't know how to discuss it intelligently and gracefully. I'm just worried that many aren't carefully testing these ideas against scripture. And at times it seems to me that my church is so focused on being inclusive and gracious that people are reluctant to point out when something is just plain wrong--even heretical and/or blasephemous. At this point, when things like this come up, I try to point out what I thought was interesting and at least one juicy and obvious error that leads me to think that this line of thinking is not the way to go. I'd love, however, to find some reading material that I could recommend that is feminist, yet biblical. If any has any thoughts, please send them my way.

And thanks for putting up with my rant--and all the fabulous links in this thread! Very helpful stuff!

--Teresa

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And at times it seems to me that my church is so focused on being inclusive and gracious that people are reluctant to point out when something is just plain wrong--even heretical and/or blasephemous.

What did Flip Wilson call it? The Church of What's Happenin' Now? Something like that. Sounds icky.

At this point, when things like this come up, I try to point out what I thought was interesting and at least one juicy and obvious error that leads me to think that this line of thinking is not the way to go.

I like that approach. Maybe point 'em to the Ten Commandments to the early part, to that one that forbids idolatry. That'd be my own nuanced approach. cool.gif Probably wouldn't resolve anything, but...

I'd love, however, to find some reading material that I could recommend that is feminist, yet biblical. If any has any thoughts, please send them my way.

Have you tried Mardi Keyes?

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Question...is this a work of fiction? I haven't read the book. I was under the impression it was fiction. If it is-isn't griping about innaccuracies and bad theology and so on a bit like parsing the Lord of the Rings for IT'S historical innaccuracy? Or is this like the Left Behind books? Fiction that actually reflects what the authors think is really going to happen?

If it is fiction, what is there to debunk?

Edited by Nezpop

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Christian quoted me and added:

And at times it seems to me that my church is so focused on being inclusive and gracious that people are reluctant to point out when something is just plain wrong--even heretical and/or blasephemous.

What did Flip Wilson call it? The Church of What's Happenin' Now? Something like that. Sounds icky.

Yeah, it can be pretty unpleasant. I think it comes out of my church being a former Southern Baptist Church. May of our members, myself included, have found themself having to struggle against those with more fundamentalist tendencies who do try to turn non-essentials into essentials or otherwise malign those who disagree with them.

Thankfully, my pastor is able to state opinions clearly and disagree graciously with others. It's just that the many of the folks in the pews haven't figured out how to follow his example.

And thanks for the Marti Keyes suggestion. I'm not familiar with her.

And Nezpop asked:

I was under the impression it was fiction. If it is-isn't griping about innaccuracies and bad theology and so on a bit like parsing the Lord of the Rings for IT'S historical innaccuracy? Or is this like the Left Behind books? Fiction that actually reflects what the authors think is really going to happen?

Yeah, it's fiction, but it's more like Left Behind than LOTR. It takes place in the present day in our world and involves people who are searching for the "truth" about the foundations of the church. According to Dan Brown's Web site, he actually believes the theory promoted in the book, and the characters reference a number of real nonfiction works that promote these ideas.

If people did just read it as just good conspiracy-thriller yarn, like the X-Files, I wouldn't have a problem with it. And I'm sure many readers don't take it at all seriously. But I doubt that everyone is reading it that way. I know some have said that they were impressed (!) with his "research." And browsing the reviews at Amazon makes it clear that many are using it as a springboard to learn more about the so-called "truths" in the book. And they aren't necessarily reading it critically. That's what bugs me...

--Teresa

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I'd love, however, to find some reading material that I could recommend that is feminist, yet biblical. If any has any thoughts, please send them my way.

This article by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis lays the situation out very clearly to define "the basic differences between a truly biblical gender equality and other religious feminist perspectives

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This article by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis lays the situation out very clearly to define "the basic differences between a truly biblical gender equality and other religious feminist perspectives

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I like a good popcorn story as much as the next person. But when I finished reading The DaVinci Code yesterday, I was left with the feeling you get when a solitary kernel has lodged itself in the back of your throat and you just can't hoc it up. You know what I mean? You've just enjoyed an entire buttery tub, only to have it ruined by a tiny husk that just won't go down. Well, that was the feeling I was left with when I put down The DaVinci Code.

Now, it wasn't the story that bothered me -- pedestrian as it may be. It wasn't even the theology -- I knew going in that it would be critical of Christianity as a whole, Catholicism in particular. For myself, I came at this from a completely secular background, and it was going to take some effort on the part of the author to get my goat. And finally, it wasn't the loose interpretations of facts or histories or speculations. Let's face it, this is a simple book.

And therein lies my problem. It's too simple. This book is such an easy read, that I'm betting it doesn't provoke much thought from the average reader once they've put it down. And it is because of its simplicity that I don't believe the average reader is going to feel compelled to do much research into the history that inspired this story. Which means that for certain people, The DaVinci Code is going to become a "fountain of facts" instead of a piece of pulp fiction.

It's pretty much the same feeling I got from the movie JFK. Now, I loved that movie... but I had the advantage of coming to it with a fairly knowledgable background of the Warren Commission Report as well as many, many conspiracy theory books both plausible and laughable. And with that knowledge I was able to see JFK for what it was... a riveting, speculative entertainment that was not entirely fact, but not entirely fiction. However, there are those who believe that JFK the movie is indeed history, and you can't argue that point with them.

And that's what I see happening with The DaVinci Code. A certain amount of people are going to accept this simple piece of fiction as the truth, and will turn a blind eye to any arguments to the contrary.

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What are going to do, though? This has been happening for ages now. As a history buff, I try not to get hooked on stuff like this, but it is easier to get seduced by a film. The thing that troubles me is that there is usually a clear indication on the cover of a book as to whether it is a creation or an attempt at history: the words "a novel". This is no insult to fiction.

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And therein lies my problem.  It's too simple.  This book is such an easy read, that I'm betting it  doesn't provoke much thought from the average reader once they've put it down.  And it is because of its simplicity that I don't believe the average reader is going to feel compelled to do much research into the history that inspired this story.  Which means that for certain people, The DaVinci Code is going to become a "fountain of facts" instead of a piece of pulp fiction.

And that's what I see happening with The DaVinci Code.  A certain amount of people are going to accept this simple piece of fiction as the truth, and will turn a blind eye to any arguments to the contrary.

I think you've hit it on the nose right here. My own experience bears this out, too. Most people I've known who read and liked the book weren't inclined to think critically about the "facts" presented therein. They read the little introductory statement about all historical documents, artifacts, etc., being accurately described; they knew that some of the "facts" (e.g., Christmas isn't the actual date of Jesus' birth) were true; and they could see that Brown had done lots of reading about things they knew nothing about (e.g., Knights Templar), so they just sort of assumed that the "facts" presented were basically accurate--even if the interpretation is a little off.

I'm still sticking with pointing out that some of the "facts" are patently incorrect and can be proven so, and then pointing out that if Brown can't be trusted to get those things right, how can we trust that he didn't play fast and loose with the rest?

--Teresa

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From the CNN article:

Many critics have taken issue with Brown's claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child who was whisked away to France after Jesus' crucifixion.

I love it that everyone points to this as the primary bone of contention. Sure, I think that idea is nonsense, but the more serious claims are that Constanine "commissioned" the Bible we read today in the fourth century and that the idea of Jesus being divine was not a widespread belief at all until that time. If it weren't for those claims it would be much easier to for me to brush the whole thing aside. But though I happen to believe that Jesus wasn't married, it wouldn't ruin my whole conception of who he was and what my faith is about if it turned out that he did marry. But Christ's divinity--the origins of scripture--those are bedrock issues.

But I guess they're just not "sexy" enough for the news media--which is just as well, perhaps.

--Teresa

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