Title: Breaking the Da Vinci Code
Author: Darrell L. Bock
Star Rating: ★★★★
Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!
Since its first publication in 2003, The Da Vinci Code has sold over 80,000,000 copies. A major motion picture based on The Da Vinci Code was released in 2006, grossing over $ 758,000,0000 in theatres. Mr. Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, has been given favorable interviews on Major TV networks (CNN, NBC, ABC, etc.) Its influence is far reaching and powerful. Some claim that the information it contains has the ability to destroy Christianity as we know it. But is The Da Vinci Code mostly fact or fiction?
Mr. Brown claims that at least “99% [of it] is true….. the background is all true.” Scholars have called The Da Vinci Code the “intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese”. Despite Mr. Brown’s shoddy research, millions of readers now believe that his is the true version of Christianity’s history. An answer to his claims, bizarre as they may seem, is necessary. Dr. Bock has provided us with that answer.
I have read half a dozen books on the inaccuracies of The Da Vinci Code. This was by far the most scholarly and perspicuous of them all. Dr. Darrell Bock, a research professor of New Testament studies, evaluates the Da Vinci Code by segmenting it into seven fundamental codes. He then uses his extensive knowledge to decimate the false historical claims in The Da Vinci Code.
Code #1: Who was Mary Magdalene? The true identity and character of Mary Magdalene is central to the claims of The Da Vinci Code. According to the novel, Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus; she bore his children, and he intended for her to be the foremost Apostle after his death. But the apostles were horrified by the idea of being ruled by a woman, so they suppressed her claims. They were also apprehensive lest the fact that Jesus was married detract from his pretensions to divinity. So they destroyed her reputation by labeling her a harlot and hid the evidence of her marriage. But is there any basis for these claims outside of speculation?
There are only three sets of references to Mary Magdalene in the Bible.
- As a part of an entourage of women who traveled with Jesus and the disciples (Luke 8:1-3)
- As being present at the cross (Matt. 27:55-56, Mark 15:40-41, John 19:25)
- As a witness to Christ’s resurrection (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:10, John 20:1-18)
These sets tell us practically nothing about her personal background or relationship with Jesus. All that we know is that seven devils went out from her and she was thereafter a faithful follower of Jesus. Her traveling with Jesus’ group ties her no more to Him than it does to any of His disciples. There is nothing special about her presence at the cross; many of His disciples were present. The only set which includes any interaction between Jesus and Mary is the third: after His resurrection. The account of John 20 says:
“And when she [Mary] had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the LORD, and that he had spoken these things unto her.”
This text clearly provides no support for a romance; it is a tender reunion of master and disciple. But then, Dan Brown and those of his persuasion do not consider themselves limited to the Biblical texts. So, what other evidence is there?
There is a record of Jesus and Mary Magdalene kissing in the Gnostic text Gospel of Philip. Or, at least that’s what is claimed. The reality is that so many words are missing from this text that it’s hard to tell who kissed who where and how. Even assuming the record is true (which we don’t know), and that Jesus and Mary did kiss, the text is too ambiguous to prove that Jesus and Mary were married. It would be an example of the command in Romans 16:9 to “Salute one another with an holy kiss.”
Dr. Bock brought up a point that interested me a great deal. It was in regards to the way that women are identified in Scripture: Mary, the mother of James and Joses; Joanna, the wife of Chusa; Mary, the wife of Cleophas, etc. Women are linked to the important man in their life. But what of Mary? She is Mary Magdalene that is, Mary of Magdala. Surely if she were married to Jesus she would have been identified by his name. But she isn’t. All of this leads us to conclude that Mary was not the wife of Jesus.
Code #2: Was Jesus married? Not once in the Scriptures is it stated that Jesus was married. Not once. Jesus is shown in conversations with his disciples, his mother, the Pharisees, little children, etc., but never with a wife. She just doesn’t exist in the Biblical record. So, the burden of proof lies with those who claim that Jesus was married. We need not construct an argument proving that he was unmarried. But we will list a few of the indicators that he was not.
When Jesus was being crucified, he told John the Disciple to take care of His mother, Mary. Surely if he had been married he would have interceded on His wife’s behalf. A man is responsible for his wife before he is responsible for his mother. Mary had other sons to care for her, but Jesus’ wife would have need of a protector. Yet no mention is made of a wife here or elsewhere.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 9, Paul is arguing for the right of church leaders to be married. He points to Peter, the other apostles, and the Lord’s brothers as part of his defense. If Jesus had been married it would have been the simplest and most conclusive argument to say “We may marry even as our Lord was married.” But he doesn’t.
As Dr. Bock says:
“One of the few things on which a vast majority of liberal and conservative Jesus scholars agree is that Jesus was single….. It is such an unusual situation in the study of Jesus for scholars of all persuasions to agree – when it happens, one should note it.” [pg. 33]
Code #3: Would being single make Jesus ‘Un-Jewish’? This argument proposes that marriage was considered an obligation by the Jews. For a Jew to not be married was to deny his responsibility towards God. Therefore, as a good Jew, Jesus would have been married.
The first answer to this is, of course, that while Christ followed the Law of Moses, He did not consider Himself bound by all of the additional rules and cultural practices that had been added to it. So even if marriage was considered to be mandatory culturally speaking, Christ would not have felt Himself astricted to marriage.
The second answer is that not all Jews considered marriage to be obligatory. Probably the most notable example of celibate Jews was the group known as the Essenes. The Essenes believed that women were selfish, jealous creatures who were constantly seeking to mislead men with their deceitful ways. The Essenes therefore regarded continency as a great virtue.
Paul was a great Jewish scholar both before and after his conversion to Christianity. He remained single throughout his life as a Pharisee and later in his life as a Christian clearly taught that both singleness and marriage are permitted. “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry.” (1 Cor. 7:8-9)
Code #4: Do the so-called secret, Gnostic Gospels help us understand Jesus? Approximately 52 Gnostic texts have been discovered so far. These texts are diverse in name and nature, but they contain five basic teachings which diverge from orthodox Christianity.
1) Gnosis. Central to the Gnostic teachings is the idea of secret knowledge. According to Gnosticism there are certain mysterious features of the faith that are revealed only to insiders. However, when questioned by the high priest about His doctrine, Christ said, “I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.” – John 18:20
2) The dualistic nature of God and the universe. Gnosticism teaches that the spiritual is the highest and best, and the physical world is to be abhorred. It also teaches that there is a hierarchy of ‘aeons’ (spiritual beings). The most spiritual of all is the transcendent God; the lowest is the ‘Demiurge’, who is the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. It was this Demiurge that mistakenly created the physical world, thus mangling the realms of spiritual and physical.
3) Jesus: His person, works, and accomplishment. Christ was another aeon who occupied the body of Jesus and came to free us from materiality. On the cross it was only the physical Jesus who suffered; the incarnate Christ was too spiritual to be touched with pain. According to Gnostic teaching, we are not saved by Christ from God’s wrath, but by secret knowledge from physicality. Our problem is ignorance, not sin.
4) Revelation, authority, and spirituality. Jesus is not the truth, he is simply an avenue to truth. Revelation does not come through Christ and the apostles; it comes through any holder of gnosis. Anyone who challenges this revelation is automatically outside of the church.
5) The Role of Women. Although it was prohibited in the Bible, Gnosticism encouraged women to baptize, perform exorcisms, and experience revelation. Perhaps it was in an attempt to reconcile the two teachings that this passage came into existence……
“Simon Peter said to them [the disciples], ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her, in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’” – Gospel of Thomas 114
Scholars proclaim that we should accept these books as having the same authority as the Christian Scriptures; that we should view them as complementary sources of information. But this ignores the original tension that existed between Orthodox and Gnostic Christianity. Both systems repudiated the other.
“The view that Christians shared a vast array of writings that some reduced in number to produce Scriptures of their own later design ignores this debate’s contentious nature from early on.” [pg. 97]
“This view is asking for something that neither of the early Christian alternatives in its time would have accepted as a viable option. The lesson of history is that these two approaches to Christianity were so very different from each other as to be incompatible from the view of each school.” [pg. 89]
Code #5: How were the New Testament Gospels assembled? The Da Vinci Code posits that the Council of Nicea decided to recreate Christianity in such a way that it would give them more power. It claims that many books were thrown out of the New Testament as part of this plan. But the reality is, that the Council of Nicea only recognized what was already regarded as the New Testament canon of Scripture.
“The vote at Nicea, rather than establishing the church’s beliefs, affirmed and officially recognized what was already the church’s dominant.” [pg. 102]
Code #6: Does Mary’s honored role as Apostle match the claims of the New School? The Da Vinci Code claims that Jesus was “the original feminist”. Unlike his misogynist disciples, He recognized the ‘sacred feminine’ and established women as founding church leaders. Proof of this is Mary Magdalene’s presence in Da Vinci’s picture ‘The Last Supper’.
But as Dr. Bock states, to suggest that Jesus was a feminist is “to impose a twenty-first-century standard on first-century evidence.” It is true that Jesus treated women with a greater respect than was common in the first century. But then, he also treated beggars, lepers, and publicans with greater respect than was common. This should be taken as evidence that God is no respecter of persons, not that Christ was seeking to liberate women from their lawful leaders.
The disciples maintained the patriarchal order that Jesus established before his ascension. They did not seek to repress women; on the contrary, many Bible passages speak positively of women.
1) Women are commended for the services they offered to the Apostles.
“I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receiver her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.” – Romans 16:1-2
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” – Romans 16:3-4
“Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.” – Romans 16:6
2) Women are noted for their faith and courage.
“Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” – Hebrews 11:11
“By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” – Hebrews 11:31
3) The glorious Church of Christ is compared to a bride.
“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” – Revelation 21:2,9-10
Another point to be noted, is that if the disciples were seeking to discredit women, they would have repressed the fact that women were the first to discover Christ’s resurrection. And yet in each of the Gospels the same account is given: women were the first to see the empty tomb.
As for Mary Magdalene’s supposed presence in The Last Supper. First, even if Da Vinci did paint Mary Magdalene into the picture, it doesn’t really matter. Da Vinci lived 1500 years after Christ. He is hardly a first account witness. Secondly, it is true that the John in this picture looks very girly. But this is a common feature in Da Vinci’s paintings. He often made young men look beautiful, soft, and dreamy. This tells us more about Da Vinci’s perverted life than about who was present at the last supper.
Code #7: What is the remaining relevance of The Da Vinci Code? The remaining relevance is basically this: The Da Vinci Code is indicative of the atmosphere of our time. The enemies of Christianity are eager to nip at its heels, so they use whatever resources are in their power – including disreputable scholarship and downright lies. The use of Gnostic texts is crafty because it seeks to assault Christianity at the very foundation; its claim to authority. The use of Mary Magdalene as an oppressed female (instead of one who was liberated from devils) is an appeal to feminism, one of the dominant forces of our time. The bottom line is The Da Vinci Code provides us with nothing new: it’s only a repackaged version of the attempt of humans to escape the reality of God.
Conclusion. An excellent book for those interested in The Da Vinci Code and its implications. Purchase a copy here.