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Christians try to debunk the "DaVinci Code"
The Seattle Times ^ | 02/28/04 | Mark O'Keefe

Posted on 02/29/2004 3:33:39 AM PST by JimVT

Christians try to debunk 'Da Vinci Code'

By Mark O'Keefe Newhouse News Service

After reading "The Da Vinci Code," Holly Jespersen wondered if Jesus Christ did in fact wed Mary Magdalene and father her child, as the novel claims.

"It definitely made me question all that I have been brought up to believe," said Jespersen, a Presbyterian who lives in Chicago.

Glen Gracia of Boston, a former practicing Catholic, had a similar reaction, questioning the validity of the Bible if, in fact, it was commissioned and manipulated by the Roman emperor Constantine for political purposes, as the book asserts. "I was basically floored," Gracia said.

Alarmed by reactions like these, defenders of traditional Christianity have launched a counteroffensive against author Dan Brown's fast-paced thriller, which is in its 48th week on The New York Times' fiction best-seller list. It has sold more than 6 million copies, is being translated into more than 40 languages and will be made into a Columbia Pictures film directed by Ron Howard.

Brown has stopped giving interviews. But on the book's first page, he makes an assertion that galls his critics: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."

Books and articles with titles like "Dismantling the Da Vinci Code" and "The Da Vinci Deception" have been or are about to be published. Preachers are giving sermons to church members who ask why they were never told there was a Mrs. Jesus. Web sites and discussion groups are humming over the book's "heresies."

In Seattle, about 500 people turned out Thursday night to hear the Rev. Michael Raschko, a theology professor at Seattle University, "help us separate fantasy from truth" about the book, according to a brochure circulated by parishioners from St. James Cathedral. The discussion was scheduled to be held at St. James but was moved across the street to a larger venue.

On Wednesday night, a similar forum on "the reality behind the fiction" has been scheduled at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue.

Some of the country's most influential clerics are joining in a collective Christian outcry.

In The Catholic New World, the Archdiocese of Chicago's newspaper, Cardinal Francis George calls the book "a work of bizarre religious imaginings" based on "a facade of scholarship" that exploits "gullibility for conspiracy."

When "The Da Vinci Code" was released last March, church leaders paid little attention. Brown was an obscure author, this wasn't the first time a novel had taken shots at Christianity — and it was, after all, fiction.

But as the book became a publishing phenomenon, religious leaders noticed that readers were taking the novel's historical claims as fact. "Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci," a November ABC special that seriously explored Brown's themes, made clear that this was a cultural force to be reckoned with.

Yet where some Christian leaders perceive a threat, others see an opportunity.

The book has sparked interest in early Christian history, with public fascination of topics like the Council of Nicea in 325.

"It's only a threat if people read this fictional book naively, don't think critically about it and don't pursue truth," said the Rev. Mark Roberts, pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, Calif. The plot centers on the search for the "Holy Grail" by a brilliant Harvard symbologist and a French cryptologist, who follow clues in the work of Leonardo Da Vinci.

For example, the feminine-looking person on Christ's right in Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" is supposedly not the apostle John, as is conventionally assumed, but Magdalene, described in the New Testament as a woman who had seven demons cast out of her, followed Christ and was the first to see him after his resurrection.

As the clues lead them through the museums and cathedrals of Europe, Brown's protagonists discover a centuries-old conspiracy, advanced by a patriarchal Roman Catholic Church bent on covering up the truth about the feminine roots of Christianity and the formative effect of its predecessor, pagan goddess worship.

Opus Dei, a Catholic organization based in New York, is portrayed as particularly sinister, with a corrupt bishop directing a devout albino assassin to do his dirty work.

George and other Catholics have accused Brown of prejudicially tapping into the public's suspicion of the Catholic hierarchy after the church's sex-abuse scandal.

"If someone were to say this is just a cute story, that would be fine," said Brian Finnerty, communications director for Opus Dei. "But to present this book as historical is fundamentally dishonest."

The greatest protest has been over the negative portrayal of central Christian beliefs, including:

• Christ's divinity. Brown writes that Constantine collated the Bible, omitting some 80 gospels emphasizing Christ's human traits in favor of four that made him God. This was supposedly done at the Council of Nicea, "in a relatively close vote."

But the actual vote was 300-2, said Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, and it did not determine Christ's divinity. That was attested to much earlier "by many New Testament passages, as well as by the earliest Christians and all the church fathers, even if there was some disagreement as to the precise nature of that deity," Maier said.

The Council of Nicea "did not debate over whether Jesus was only mortal or divine, but whether he was created or eternal."

• The Bible's inerrancy. Peter Jones, co-author of "Cracking the Da Vinci Code," says that in trying to establish that the Bible was cooked by Constantine and his cronies, Brown overlooks the fact that four-fifths of what is now called the New Testament was deemed divinely inspired in the first century — two centuries before Constantine and the Council of Nicea.

• Christ's celibacy. Even feminist scholars such as Karen King, a Harvard professor and leading authority on early non-biblical texts about Magdalene, have said there is no evidence Christ was married to Magdalene or to anyone else.

George and other traditionalists treat the claim as absurd. "All those martyrs the first 300 years, they were covering up the fact that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene? Why in heaven's name would someone go to their death to protect that secret? It's absurd."

The controversy leaves Jespersen confused. She is "still absolutely convinced that Christ is God," but thought Brown made a compelling argument that Jesus was married. Jespersen plans to attend an upcoming discussion on the book.

Regardless of what she learns, she's glad she read it, calling it a conversation piece that "has encouraged me to question what I have always accepted, just because it is what I was taught."

Seattle Times reporter Janet I. Tu contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: accurate; bookreview; davincicode; falsedoctrine; gnostics; how; is; it
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I kinda support Ms. Jespersen's view of the book.

While I don't base my every move on the Bible, I know it offers some enlightening wisdom.

But 2000 years of human editing and "spinning" give me, at least, some pause.

At the very least, Brown's book has value in instigating an interest in early Christianity

1 posted on 02/29/2004 3:33:39 AM PST by JimVT
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To: JimVT
My biggest complaint about Brown's novel (which, after all, is merely a simple potboiler) is its unoriginality -- there's nothing in the background of this book that wasn't already put forth in the schlock/conspiracy classic, Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Baigent et al., published back in the early 1980's.
2 posted on 02/29/2004 3:41:28 AM PST by Cincinatus (Omnia relinquit servare Republicam)
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To: JimVT
But 2000 years of human editing and "spinning"

Do you have a firm basis from which you can make such a claim?

3 posted on 02/29/2004 3:45:48 AM PST by tbpiper
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To: JimVT
I haven't read the book but why would anyone think Da Vinci would have any special knowedge about any of this? The guy was born one and a half millennia after the events in the New Testament.
4 posted on 02/29/2004 3:50:06 AM PST by Straight Vermonter (06/07/04 - 1000 days since 09/11/01)
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there sure is alot of Christian basing these days.
Why is it that Christ, with nothing more than a simple message, peace, good will, harmony, love caring etc. is attacked so vehemently?
Yet, muhammad, a brutal, blood thirsty, robber rapist and murderer is not condemned for the fraud he is? he is the devils prophet that today is causing so much blood to be spilled, yet Christ makes it back into the scene, and it's nothing but slander toward him.
5 posted on 02/29/2004 3:51:34 AM PST by Nathan Zachary
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To: JimVT
But 2000 years of human editing and "spinning" give me, at least, some pause.

You forget that the scriptures you have today are virtually identical with the oldest manuscripts known.

As I recall, the oldest portion of scripture that has been found was a papyrus scroll found in Egypt, containing a portion of the Gospel of Mark, dating from the early third century. It was written in Greek, I think, and is almost identical to Greek manuscripts from centuries later.

6 posted on 02/29/2004 3:57:39 AM PST by jimtorr
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To: JimVT
No, this isn't "early Christianity", these are the writings of the third century gnositc offshoots that mixed chirsitanity with their elitist beliefs.

The reason they are now so "popular" is that they affirm the gnositicm of modern USA. And a lot of it is due to modern theologians such as those in the "jesus seminar" who want to make a new scripture.

You might want to read Phillip Jenkins in his book "the Hidden gospels: How the search for Jesus lost it's way".

I don't know scripture studies but did a few courses in ancient history. A lot of his historical comments make sense to me. He points out that the gospels tell us a lot about first century culture, customs, and correspond to the intellectual trends of those days. And mnay of the new testament writings were quoted by early church fathers who are well documented on where they worked and where they were martyred, and whose writings CAN be historically dated thanks to Roman documents (Jesus' death was a routine execution, whereas Jestin Martyr had written to pagan philosophers, for example, and was better known to the intelligencia of his day)

These "gnostic gospels tell almost nothing about first century Judean culture, let alone first century Roman culture. Instead, they are fulll of mystical wishy washy stuff similar to writings in the late second and third century.

It would be like taking a nihilistic novel like Cold Mountain and claiming it was actually written after the civil war: but if it HAD been written then, the same story would have been written much differently, probably closer to "gods and generals": in cold mountain, the people acted and spoke like late twentieth century upper class new yorkers, not like southerners back then or even southerners today. So Jenkin's arguments make sense to me.
7 posted on 02/29/2004 3:58:59 AM PST by LadyDoc (liberals only love politically correct poor people)
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To: JimVT
I read the book and found it an interesting read.It did not give me pause to question the Bible.It is a novel.
8 posted on 02/29/2004 3:59:35 AM PST by MEG33 (John Kerry's been AWOL for two decades on issues of National Security!)
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To: JimVT
Well, here's Hollywood's answer to Gibson and The Passion. The book will be optioned for a blockbuster film, and they can imply anything they want about Jesus with impunity. Artistic license is a big tent. Many would go to see that film, but not nearly as many will see The Passion.
9 posted on 02/29/2004 4:01:57 AM PST by hershey
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To: JimVT; All
I may be wrong, but the theory of the DaVinci Code I believe is the root of the "Albigensian Heresy" or "Cathar Heresy".

Someone out there with a good historical grounding in this subject, please lend a hand.


10 posted on 02/29/2004 4:04:55 AM PST by Jimmy Valentine (DemocRATS - when they speak, they lie; when they are silent, they are stealing the American Dream)
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To: JimVT
I've read the Da Vinci Code and found that it was quite a good book. But there is one thing that is very important to remember. It's Fiction.
11 posted on 02/29/2004 4:11:58 AM PST by SpottedBeaver (Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What's a sun-dial in the shade? - Benjamin Franklin)
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To: JimVT
But 2000 years of human editing and "spinning" give me, at least, some pause

The fundamental question is whether the Bible is the insprired word of God or not. (It claims to be over 1500 times).

But putting that aside for a moment, let's look at one example. The dead sea scrolls contain a complete copy of Isaiah 53 written sometime in the 1st century BC. When compared to our copy today, there are 17 word differences. Sixteen of the seventeen are simply tense differences are other insignificant variations that have no effect on the text. The seventeenth is a translation of the word "light" that is different than today. However, the difference is immaterial to the context. Take a look at Isaiah 53. It is not short.

The second thing I would point out is that there are over 5000 extant copies from the 1st and 2nd centuries of the New Testament texts. By the time we reach the 4th century, there are 20,000. By comparing all the texts, Bible scholars are able to determine with amazing accuracy the original text. For example, if 19 of 20 copies contain the word "fish" in a particular passage and the 20th does not, we can conclude the 20th is a human transcription error. No other ancient document can even come close to the number of texts with which to work.

Further, the dates we are talking about in terms of ancient text analysis make the copies we have essentially contemporary to the original writing. Most non-Biblical ancient texts have only a handful of copies to work with that were written several hundred years after the original.

But we don't need to rely only on the text. By looking at the writings of early church fathers, we can reconstruct all but a few verses of the the New Testament through their quoting of it.

Some texts were rejected by early church fathers as not divinely inspired - for example the Gospel of Thomas. But if one looks at the rejected texts, what you will find is that they bare little resemblance to the accepted texts often containing fantastic elements and myth - for example, giant dragons and enormous crosses and the like.

Finally, if we look at the history of New Testament development, we find that by about 160AD we have a copy of the New Testament that is essentially what we use today (there were a view debates concerning a few of the books - for example, Jude and 3 John. However, the Gospels, Acts, Paul's letters and the other Apostle writings have always been considered scripture - even at the time they were written. Peter refers to one of Paul's letters as scripture and Paul refers to one of the Gospels as scripture (the greek word for scripture used by Peter and Paul appears 57 times in the New Testament - 55 of the 57 are references to the Old Testament, which was accepted to be divinely inspired. The other two are the two I mentioned.)

The bottom line is that we can trust the text we have today.

12 posted on 02/29/2004 4:21:38 AM PST by Pete
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To: tbpiper
But 2000 years of human editing and "spinning"

If you look at the revisionism and spinning of events in our own time, such as the Vietnam War, the deifying of Kennedy (who started Vietnam), there is good cause to suspect that the absolute truth of the biblical times is lost forever. It may be better to concentrate on the wonderful mystical aspects of Christ rather than the vicious mass tortures and murders of the times.
13 posted on 02/29/2004 4:23:36 AM PST by tkathy (The liberal media: september 10th rhetoric in a september 11th world.)
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To: tkathy
If you look at the revisionism and spinning of events in our own time, such as the Vietnam War, the deifying of Kennedy (who started Vietnam), there is good cause to suspect that the absolute truth of the biblical times is lost forever

See my post #12 above.

14 posted on 02/29/2004 4:25:14 AM PST by Pete
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To: JimVT
sounds like the efforts to cash in by affiliation has begun. What next for sale holy relics?

Every JC movie ever made will be re-re-re-released and special released and director's cut released in the comming months.

Just a distraction from the release of a masterpiece of a movie.
15 posted on 02/29/2004 4:29:49 AM PST by longtermmemmory (Vote!)
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To: JimVT
you can debunk it by going to the front of the book and pointing out the place where it lists itself as 'fiction'
16 posted on 02/29/2004 4:30:17 AM PST by InvisibleChurch (Remember, God made you special and He loves you very much!)
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To: JimVT
Like they could keep that a secret (Jesus marriage) for over 2,000 years? geez!
17 posted on 02/29/2004 4:36:32 AM PST by moonman
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To: jimtorr
Odd how people don't seem to question the accuracy of the Iliad, despite it's many copies. It's just easier to question the authenticity of scripture because it is in our fallen nature to do so. It all started when we bought the first lie....."hast God said?"
18 posted on 02/29/2004 4:36:57 AM PST by anniegetyourgun
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To: tkathy
there is good cause to suspect that the absolute truth of the biblical times is lost forever.

Not when you consider the fact that the earliest texts of what comprises the new testament are essentially the same texts we have today. There has been no spinning or editing. The absolute Truth is alive and well. Also the victims of "the vicious mass tortures and murders of the times" didn't die for some "wonderful mystical aspects of Christ" but for the reality of a risen Savior.

19 posted on 02/29/2004 4:37:15 AM PST by tbpiper
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To: JimVT
AMOS 8:11

Behold,the days come,saith the lord GOD, That I will send a famine in the land, not of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:

People are "starving to death(spiritual death)" because the words that are spoken from the pulpits of our land today are from the traditions of men, not the word of god.
20 posted on 02/29/2004 4:38:10 AM PST by repub32
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