Apologetics Against "The Da Vinci Code"
Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code. New York: Doubleday, 2003. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary.
Dan Brown has a knack for mystery and excitement. That is one reason why this book is a huge bestseller and will soon be made into a movie. Another reason for its success is that Brown’s New Age worldview is held by so many Americans. They resonate with his baseless assertions as they are carried along by the adventure that briskly unfolds. However, in terms of literary value, none of the characters are developed in any psychological depth. They are little more than fast-moving cardboard figures spouting mostly nonsense.
This book claims to be an historical novel (although that term is not used), because the first page says, It claims that, "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." When an author claims that Jesus was married, that his wife was considered a Goddess, that the Gospels are mere political creations, and so on, the author owns the burden of proof. But the burden of proof crushes Dan Brown into a pancake. I will list 12 of his claims that are manifestly false. For the details, see Ben Witherington, The Gospel Code (InterVarsity Press, 2004). I will not take up the other errors regarding art and architecture, but will stick to claims related to Christianity. This is a but partial list. Brown's claims are in italics. My responses follow.
1. The canonical gospels do not depict an "earthly Jesus." This is manifestly false. In the most theological of the four Gospels, John, declares "The Word became flesh and lived among us." See the entire first chapter of John.
2. The Gnostic documents that mention Jesus emphasize an "earthly Jesus." Just the opposite is true! They denounce the physical as evil and promote the spiritual. That is the essence of Gnosticism. Those who "know" flee the material realm.
3. The Nag Hammadhi texts are scrolls. No, they are codices (books).
4. There were 80 gospels available at the Council of Nicea to choose from for inclusion in the canon. This is a howler, as the British say. There were at most about two dozen accounts of the life of Christ. Our four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were already well established as authoritative in the ancient churches. Moreover, Nicea did not decide the contents of the canon. Rather, it addressed the question of the relation of the Son to the Father. Agreeing with the ancient texts (the canonical Gospels), it affirmed that Jesus was truly God, one substance with the Father. See John 1:1-3, for example.
5. Constantine controlled the outcome of Nicea. This is simply untrue. The bishops decided matters for themselves according to solid hermeneutical and theological principles.
6. The Dead Sea Scrolls speak of Jesus. No scholar believes this. They address matters related to a Jewish sect group, probably the Essenes. They say exactly nothing about Jesus.
7. There is a "sacred feminine" concept in Judaism. By no means is this true. God is neither male nor female. Gender is applicable only to creation; it does not apply to God. No Jew, living in terms of God's covenant, would worship the earth as a goddess. God alone, who created the heavens and the earth, is to be worshipped. See the First of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).
8. The Bible cannot be verified. This is false. The Bible touches space-time history, which can be investigated rationally. There is no need to take a blind leap into the void. That, in fact, is what Brown wants you to do concerning his "accurate" claims.
9. Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. The only support for this comes from the idea that Jewish males at that time had to be married, and that third-century Gnostic documents make the claim. Both ideas are false. Most Jewish males were married, but not all. John the Baptist was not married. There is no internal evidence in the canonical Gospels (all written in the first century) that Jesus was married. In Matthew 19:10-12, Jesus speaks of those who do not marry for the sake of God's Kingdom. He was one of them. The Gnostic documents are third- century fabrications; moreover, even they do not claim Jesus married Mary Magdalene, only that they had a close relationship.
10. The true woman-honoring religion encompasses both goddess worship and Gnosticism. But these two religions contradict each other. Gnostics did not highly honor women. See the last statement in the Gospel of Thomas on that! Women are associated with reproduction and the earth. The Gnostics hated both. There is no earth goddess in Gnosticism.
11. Nothing in Christianity is original; it merely borrowed from paganism, such as Mythraism. This is an old charge and often refuted. Mythraism was probably later than the New Testament documents, was limited mostly to soldiers, and in fact is quite different from the claims of Jesus and the Apostles. See Ronald Nash, God and the Greeks.
12. Sexual desire is viewed as devilish in orthodox Christianity. In no way is this true. God created sexuality for (a) the marriage relationship in itself and for (b) child bearing. Sex within heterosexual monogamy is good, according to the Bible. See Genesis chapters 1-2.
So much more could be argued against Brown’s claims. Suffice it to say that one should not read this book to find any reliable information on the Bible or Church history (or art history, for that matter; but that is another story). Let the reader beware.