The Da Vinci Code: A Myth of Christian Origins
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is a book about a non-existent code to provide clues to uncover suppressed evidence about a marriage that never took place. But why cover up evidence that does not exist? How does one cover up non-existing evidence? And why cover up evidence about a relationship that never existed in the first place? Such is the “logic” of The Da Vinci Code, and the above non sequiturs already make clear that the conspiracy theory underlying the book has holes so large to accommodate much more than the proverbial Mack truck. So, why has this novel been so wildly successful when its plot inventions add up to some “hefty speeding tickets” for its author, as Amy Bernstein aptly noted?
I think the well-known New Testament scholar Tom Wright has put his finger on the pulse of this issue when he writes that the thesis underlying The Da Vinci Code is part of the mainstream liberal American “myth of Christian origins” that is found at elite educational institutions such as Harvard, moderate Southern Baptist churches, and leading scholarly societies such as the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature alike. According to this “myth of Christian origins,”
- Besides the four canonical Gospels there are hundreds of other documents about Jesus that present him as a human being and that tell us the “real truth” about Jesus. In order to know what Jesus really was we must expand our horizons to include these other, more pristine, sources.
- The four canonical Gospels are later products of the church that seek to elevate Jesus to the status of deity and that claim power and prestige for the church. The deity of Jesus is not so much a sincere, early theological belief grounded in Jesus’ own divine self-consciousness and the testimony of his first followers but a function of ecclesiastical power and control.
- In fact, however, Jesus was not at all who is portrayed to be in the four canonical Gospels. Rather, he is much more like the person depicted in those alternative documents: he was a mere human, a teacher of wonderful, lofty ethical and moral teaching—oh, and he may have been married, maybe with a child on the way when his career was tragically cut short.
- Christianity as we know it is based on a gigantic mistake. Mainstream Christianity, including Roman Catholicism as well as all other mainline denominations and other forms of institutionalized Christianity, is sexist, anti-women, and anti-sex. This, incidentally, goes over particularly well with those who are trying to escape from fundamentalism or certain forms of Roman Catholicism.
- Here is the payoff: Give up, as historically unwarranted, theologically unjustified, and spiritually and socially damaging, the traditional understanding of Jesus and Christian origins and instead, get in touch with a different form of spirituality based on religious feeling. Discover whatever faith you find that you can believe in. Rather than destroy Christianity, as may be surmised, this actually will revive the truth for which Jesus lived and for which he died. One more thing: This spiritual quest will also involve reconnecting with the “sacred feminine” that the church suppressed in its early goings.
The Da Vinci Code came and went (including the movie with Tom Hanks and millions of people being treated to the conspiracy theory of Jesus’ marriage with Mary Magdalene), but this liberal “myth of Christian origins” still persists. It persists because it is part of this esoteric blend of New Age spirituality, neo-Gnosticism, feminist scholarship, an anti-supernaturalist, critical, post-Enlightenment stance toward Christianity, and a postmodern, subjectivist approach to history and truth. It is this later, more abiding and pervasive phenomenon that should concern all serious, Bible-believing Christians.
For the Jesus of The Da Vinci Code, the Jesus of the “Jesus Seminar,” and the Jesus of the Gnostic Gospels is not the real Jesus, the biblical Jesus, the historical Jesus. The Jesus of popular imagination and of sub-Christian pedigree is an emaciated Jesus who lacks the power to save. He is a domesticated Jesus who is cut down to the size of the person who wants, not a Savior, but a moral example, an inspirational, non-threatening figure a la “Book of Daniel” rather than a Lord who compels obedience and commitment in discipleship. Neither is the Bible of those who would erode the canon the same Bible as the Bible of the early church or the orthodox, historic, biblical church of the ages.
As Tom Wright writes, “Those who were thrown to the lions were not reading ‘Thomas’ or Q or the ‘Gospel of Mary.’ They were reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the rest, and being sustained thereby in a subversive mode of faith and life which, growing out of apocalyptic Judaism, posed a far greater threat to Roman empire and pagan worldviews than Cynic philosophy or Gnostic spirituality ever could. Why would Caesar worry about people rearranging their private spiritualities?” Indeed, Caesar would have been completely unconcerned about anyone rearranging private spiritualities as the Gnostic documents suggest and as The Da Vinci Code promotes.
The explosive, subversive character of true, biblical Christianity comes from the exclusive claim of Jesus, propagated by the early Christians, that there is no other way of salvation but Jesus (Acts 4:12), that, in Dan Brown’s words, “all those who do not accept Christ as their personal savior are doomed to hell,” and Jesus did in fact rise from the dead as the one crucified by men but vindicated and exalted by God. This truth, and this news, is not merely of private import; it is public, universal, and calls for a response from every individual. Jesus, and the gospel of salvation in him and him alone, is the one and only standard by which people will be judged. There are not many equally legitimate personal “paths of spiritual enlightenment” people may choose, but one divinely mandated path equally open to all, but one nevertheless of God’s, rather than man’s choosing, centered on Christ and on the cross.
References: Amy D. Bernstein, “Decoding the Da Vinci Code,” in Secrets of the Da Vinci Code (U.S. News & World Report, 2004), 15; Tom Wright, in a lecture given at Seattle Pacific University (posted at www.spu.edu); and Dan Brown’s website, www.danbrown.com.
Note: The above post is excerpted from an article I wrote for Reformation 21.
See also “The Da Vinci Code: Tale of Our Times, Opportunity for Witness,” posted at www.deeperdevotion.com; The Da Vinci Code: Is Christianity True?; and my book (co-authored with Michael Kruger) The Heresy of Orthodoxy (Crossway).