April 06 Da Vinci Code

Da Vinci Code

            I was about two-thirds through my visits as I approached a general medical ward in search of a Dalry man who, like most on my list, was a total stranger to me. I had been performing this ritual visitation dance for over an hour, dodging doctors and sundry other health workers.

            I approached his bed and introduced myself. You will not believe the conversation that followed. The work of the parish minister is a rich pageant of experience.

            Hello, My name is Martin Thomson, I am the minister of Trinity Church in Dalry. I hope you don’t mind me calling on you…” I was unable to finish the sentence.

            ‘Very kind of you. I’m a complete atheist, unbeliever, I’ve nothing to do with the church, never will’

            Really, and what made you…’ I was unable to finish the sentence.

            Church is based on lies. It’s all lies..’

            Lies? What…’ I was unable to finish the sentence

            Its all in Da Vinci’s painting. That figure to the side - it’s a woman. It’s Mary Magdalene. And Jesus and she had children.”

            I glanced to see if any medication was being administered intravenously, before he spoke again:   Aye its all in the The Last Supper. Look and you’ll see.”

            I confirmed to myself that this was a medical ward and not a psychiatric ward before responding: ‘To be honest with you, I’m not the minister of Dalry Trinity. My parents are extraterrestrials from Proxima Centauri who came here in the 1950’s. I’m not even human.’

            Actually, I didn’t say that. I bit my tongue, realising that he might not appreciate my humour. More to the point, he might have believed me. I was mercifully saved by a nurse looking for blood pressure. (His, not mine)

            Nothing in what he said was entirely new to me. I remember reading part of a book entitled ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’ back in the 1980’s, which made similar daft claims. I also remember being disappointed with Umberto Eco’s, ‘Foucault’s pendulum’, which also has this nonsense about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. I gather there is a significant publishing industry based on the idea.

Later, I came to realise that the probable source of this hospital man’s delusions were ‘The Da Vinci Code’ written by the best selling writer, Dan Brown. I have since learned that Brown is being sued by the authors of ‘the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’ for plagiarism. I think they may have a point, although I am not sure that stealing nonsense is a great crime.

            I have since borrowed, and read, ‘The Da Vinci Code’. It is my first read of a Dan Brown book, and he writes a decent thriller. The first half of the book had me interested. Then comes all this wild nonsense after page 300.

            The story presented, within this fictional thriller, is that Jesus was not divine, but that this belief was imposed at a Church council in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine, who further stitched up the contents of the New Testament to advance this claim. Alternative accounts of Jesus were, it is claimed, destroyed by Constantine, except for a few which survived and were discovered at the end of the war (The Nag Hammadi Library). Further to this is the claim that Jesus was married to Mary and they went on to have a family, whose descendants live in Paris today. This royal line has been kept hidden by a secret society within the church (Opus Dei), who will kill to keep this a secret. Leonardo’s ‘Last Supper’, which most of us have taken to depict Jesus and the disciples, according to Brown’s plot has Mary Magdalene sitting on Jesus’ right. The Glasgow response is….…. Aye right!

            There is also some tasteless stuff about sex, which I will return to next month.

            Brown makes high claims that his novel is based on real organisations and established facts, which some basic research exposes as false, or wildly inaccurate. The preface to the book claims that in 1975 secret documents in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris were discovered which identified members of a secret society, The Priory of Sion, to include the likes of Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci and others. In fact, in the early 1990’s, a Frenchman called Pierre Plantard admitted fabricating these documents. He also admitted forging a spurious bloodline from Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and planting them in libraries before duping some British journalists to go looking for them (These journalists included the authors of ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’)

            This is one of several key ingredients of Brown’s plot which he presents as ‘fact’. Here is a further selection of inaccuracies:

i)          He describes the Catholic association, Opus Dei, as a religious order, which it is not, but is, in fact, an organisation largely for catholic laypeople – so its website tells me.

ii)         In his presentation of ‘history’, he claims that, at the Council of Nicea, under imperial duress, the divinity of Christ was ‘proposed’ and accepted by a very narrow vote. In fact the Council, in reaction to the views of a man called Arius, who argued that Jesus was not fully God, agreed to recognise Jesus’ divinity, and the vote was 298 to 2. In any case, there is ample evidence from early secular sources that Jesus was worshipped as divine from the earliest times.

iii) By the time of the Council of Nicea, in 325AD, Christians were already in broad agreement as to which books should be read as Holy Scripture. The contents of the New Testament were not therefore a sudden committee decision, forced by an emperor with ulterior motives, as Brown would have us believe. At Nicea they acknowledged what had been largely agreed for a long time.

iv) The Nag Hammadi Library, which it is claimed expose inaccuracies in the New Testament, contains documents scholars date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The New Testament documents were 1st century and, being closer to events, more reliable. Far from championing the humanity of Jesus, these documents denigrate humanity and find sex repulsive, which is the very opposite to what the novel claims. I read some of them years ago and they are very unlike the Bible. The early Christians did not have a very difficult decision in dismissing them as spurious.

iv) Emperor Constantine did not unify his empire successfully under the single religion of Christianity. In fact a later emperor, Julian, instigated a pagan revival around 361 AD. The Dan Brown version of Church history is less than reliable.

v) The argument is made that since Jesus was a rabbi, then he would require to be married, thereby making the whole Mary Magdalene thing more credible. Jesus was not a rabbi (although He was sometimes called one). He never held any official position. Indeed, a key theme of the gospels is the conflict with the religious authorities, which led to his crucifixion. Dan Brown seems to accept that the authorities crucified Jesus.

            I present these (sample) inaccuracies, because if we cannot trust the author to present easily verifiable facts correctly, then we will be cautious when considering his claims based on them.

            We live in days when people are willing to believe something from fiction, based on a hoax. It is certainly true that powerful organisations are often found to be guilty of cover-ups, making us more inclined to believe conspiracy theories. The Church has been guilty, as an institution, of many things – of exerting power callously, of cover-ups (e.g. of abuse), and of hypocrisy. Perhaps it is not surprising that people find a conspiracy involving the church believable. We who are the Church must bear some responsibility here.

            However, we must remember that beliefs should be held with good reason. Dan Brown’s beliefs are based on distortion and inaccuracy. The Christian’s beliefs rest more securely – read one of the Gospels and see!

            Your minister,

            Martin Thomson

<< Return to letters

Copyright © 2009 Dalry Trinity Church of Scotland