I recently received a request from a parishioner to write something about the upcoming Da Vinci Code movie. I really haven't addressed this topic, other than occasionally mentioning gnostics.
I was asked if the Episcopal Church had an official position. When Ron Howard was asked why he didn't put a disclaimer before the movie, he replied here,
"This is a work of fiction that presents a set of characters that are affected by these conspiracy theories and ideas," Howard told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. "Those characters in this work of fiction act and react on that premise. It's not theology. It's not history. To start off with a disclaimer ... spy thrillers don't start off with disclaimers."
I guess I would say in the same vein, the Episcopal Church does not take official positions on works of fiction. (Just imagine - "Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold gives Lambeth Vacation two thumbs up!!!")
Of course, I haven't seen the movie, although a couple of reviews I have seen are pretty negative. (see A 'Da Vinci Code' That Takes Longer to Watch Than Read from the NY Times.) I listened to the audiobook version a year or so ago, and was alternatively saying "Cool!" when Brown linked some interesting things together and "Huh?" when one of the characters would assert something that was patently untrue.
Some of the things I specifically remember saying "Huh?" about:
- That the idea that Jesus was married and had a child was something suppressed and not talked about. Actually, this theory was put forth in Holy Blood, Holy Grail (You know, the guys that just lost a case against Dan Brown in British court) in 1983. Scholars point out that there is no direct textual evidence for this in any writings of the times, including the 'Gnostic Gospels" that Brown talks about. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene MIGHT allude to Jesus kissing her, but the text is so corrupt that it can be read several ways. Arguments that Jesus as a Jew could not be celibate ignore the example of the Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and practiced celibacy.
- That Emperor Constantine the Great established the divinity of Christ and content of the Bible at the Council of Nicea. The Apostle's creed, which predates Nicea, refers to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Council of Nicea was concerned with further defining exactly how to articulate it, but it was accepted by everyone long before the council, including the Arian heretics the council was to denounce. The Council did not even address the contents of the Bible.
- That the "Gnostic Gospels" emphasized the humanity of Jesus. The Gnostic Gospels are a category of writings that were written later than the canonical four. A few scholars have hypothesized that the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas was earlier, but the majority of textual critics refute this. "Gnosis" means "knowledge." Gnostics, whether Christian, Jewish or Pagan, believed that there was a "Secret knowledge" that had to be attained in order to free the soul from the body that held it captive. It's really pretty similar to modern Scientology. Christian Gnostics held that Jesus had a "secret teaching" and wrote their own Gospels while the canonical Gospels are held to be the product of the students of the apostles. With their very non-Jewish idea of spirit being good and body being bad, the gnostic Gospels, if anything, emphasize the divinity of Jesus at his humanity's expense. Most of these Gospels were lost for centuries, and were found again from 1945 onward (The recently published Gospel of Judas is a recent example.) I have a book that has over 20 of these Gospels (or fragments thereof) in it. They were not "suppressed" by Constantine - evidence holds that most Christians simply did not consider them authoritative, so they fell out of general use perhaps one hundred or so years before the Council of Nicea. Another strange assertion in The Da Vinci code is that the Dead Sea Scrolls have something to do with Jesus. They only contain Old Testament texts.
- The practice of the Templars, Cathars and Hieros Gamos. In the Da Vinci code, a link is made between the Templars and the Cathars (a french heretical sect), which is unlikely since the Templars sometimes went on crusade against them. There are also allegations that Templars and Cathars practiced Hieros Gamos, or sacred sex (I'm not sure where Brown pulled this concept from exactly - maybe modern Wicca?) Both the Templars and Cathars were celibate, with nothing in the record to indicate otherwise.
Despite some holes in the facts that you can drive a Mac truck through, I enjoyed the book. Or, I should say, I enjoyed the conspiracies. The characters were VERY wooden and the writing was sometimes tortured. (The review reminded me of this one, "Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino with long white hair." - WOW!)
But why does this book resonate so much with people? I think there are several reasons:
- People LOVE conspiracy theories. 'Nuff said.
- The idea of a "Sacred Feminine" has a lot of appeal. Having the Western church formed in misogynist Roman society and then put in the hands of celibate men for a thousand years doesn't help your concept of women and the role of the feminine. The Eastern Church did better, with both the Holy Spirit and the personification of wisdom keeping their original Greek female gender. But we in the Western Church are bereft of feminine imagery, other than the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was made into an unreachable paragon of what celibate men thought a woman should be.
- The idea that sexuality can be divine. Once again, despite Jewish ideas that sexuality was a gift from God, a celibate male priesthood tended to portray sex as evil. It even began to be portrayed as the "Sin of Eden" even though it seems clear from the text that sexuality was intended from the beginning. (The punishment for the fall was that Eve's pain be greatly INCREASED in childbirth, indicating that reproduction was already a possibility.)
In other words, the Da Vinci Code is pointing out some weaknesses in the Christian Tradition that I think are valid, even though the way it plays out in The Da Vinci Code is distinctively kooky. Whether or not the movie will be better or worse remains to be seen. I probably will see it and add onto this post after wards.
The good news beyond The Code by Frank Logue