What can the popular book “The DaVinci Code” teach us at back-to-school time? History and critical thinking are inseparable for a good education. If read merely as fiction, The DaVinci Code would be an interesting mystery story. However, when the claim is made, both in the book, and in the ABC documentary, “Jesus, Mary and DaVinci,” that a historical core lies behind the story, then it demands our attention.
The DaVinci Code, with six million copies in print and a Time magazine cover, is a popularized version of what some radical theologians have been saying for some time now, as they have attempted to rewrite the early history of Christianity by relying on works such as the Gospel of Thomas, which has 114 sayings of Jesus but no virgin birth, no cross or physical resurrection.
DaVinci Code author Dan Brown claims that Jesus, an ordinary rabbi, and Mary Magdalene were married and had a daughter, Sarah. After Jesus’ death, Mary Magdalene and Sarah settled in the south of France and became the progenitors of the Merovingian Kings. The Catholic Church harshly suppressed this truth since this would supposedly prove that Jesus was merely human and to safeguard male leadership in the church. The church also deliberately marred Mary’s reputation, claiming she was a prostitute.
Most of the historical claims about Jesus and Mary Magdalene are dubious. First, as the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls shows rather clearly, it was not that unusual for holy men to be unmarried in the first century, contrary to the arguments of Brown and others. Secondly, if Jesus was married, this would not have denied his deity, as Brown claims. Jesus ate, slept, cried, and did countless other human acts because he was both divine and human. If Jesus was married, this would have been just another human act of Jesus. However, there is no indication in any of the gospels or in any surviving early Christian literature to suggest that Jesus was married to Mary or anyone else. In fact, when Paul in I Corinthians 9:4-6 argues for the right for Christian leaders to be married, he could have clinched his case by appealing to Jesus’ marriage, but he doesn’t. The strong assumption of every bit of early church evidence is that Jesus was single, not because it would have destroyed his deity, but because it would have gotten in the way of his primary mission which was to reveal the Father and die for His sheep.
Nor was there a conspiracy by the early church to downplay the role of women so that only men would be leaders. If they had such a conspiracy, they did an amazingly poor job, since the four gospels all have women as the primary witnesses to the empty tomb and of the appearances of Jesus. Acts and several of Paul’s letters talk about prominent women who were engaged in the missionary efforts of the church. Furthermore, the adoration of the Virgin Mary is hard to square with any conspiracy to downplay the role of women, since Mary has been described by some Catholic theologians as the 4th member of the trinity!!
It is rather disingenuous for Brown and others to cite the Gospel of Thomas as a purer form of Christianity, reflecting the original exalted role of women in the church when this so-called gospel ends with saying 114, “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘See, I am going to attract her to make her male so that she too might become a living spirit that resembles you males. For every female that makes itself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
The only claim of Brown’s which has validity is that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. There is no evidence of this in the four gospels. Unfortunately Pope Gregory the Great in 591, in a famous Easter sermon, confused Mary with the woman in the gospels who was a prostitute and whose story is told right before Mary Magdalene is introduced (Luke 7:36-8:2). Although there is no reason to believe that this was a deliberate error, it was repeated by many and even today there are Christians who erroneously think Mary was a prostitute.
What Brown has stated openly, however, is that he is trying to rework Christianity to make it more believable. “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christianity is false,” Brown said. In reality, almost everything Dan Brown has tried to teach us about Christ is false.
The silver lining is that this is a great “history lesson!” At this time of year when students’ backpacks are laden with new books, we should encourage them to do their homework and think critically to avoid being easily fooled. Life is full of DaVinci Codes!