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ARCHIVE: The Da Vinci Code, Gnosticism and the Gospel of Judas

1. The Da Vinci Code: A Christian Response
2. The Nag Hammadi Documents and Gnosticism
3. The Gospel of Judas
4. The Gospel of Judas - A Retake
5. Teachings in the Gospel of Judas Compared (Part 1)
6. Teachings in the Gospel of Judas Compared (Part 2)
7. Teachings in the Gospel of Judas Compared (Part 3)
8. Canonicity and the Gospel of Judas



by Ong Kok Bin

A niece once came to me not too longer ago and asked: ‘What do you think of The Da Vinci Code?’

I was not quite prepared for the question since I had not even touched a copy of the book, let alone read it. But I had read something about it and knew in some vague fashion that it had to do in some ways with Christ and the church, that the things it said about Christ and the church were not true, and that it was purely a piece of fiction. In that frame of mind, I blurted out: ‘Don’t take it too seriously since it is only fiction. The things in it are not true.’

End of the conversation and not too great a piece of theological discourse or engagement in the mysteries of puzzles, anagrams, and hidden codes.

But lately, certain mysterious forces or qi (if I may) have compelled me to visit The Da Vinci Code once again: not the book itself, since I deign not to read it at all - considering it too futile to waste precious time (and money) on a fiction that pretends to be historico-theological scholarship. Yet, it is precisely this fiction that pretends to be historico-theological scholarship that energizes an otherwise enervate spirit that is me to get up and find out more about the book that is The Da Vinci Code. Consider some of the review statements made about the book:

     You will be amazed at the revelations that come forth in this book.

     It is a wonderful - and very effective - mix of history, mystery, action, puzzles and suspense. The
     idea behind the story may seem controversial, but once you think about it, it really does become
     quite real and even natural.

Therein lies the danger. Fiction interlaced with history - and not alerted - has a way of being mistaken for ‘real’ and ‘natural’, which effectively means that it becomes the real history itself. And all the more so when the Code’s author, Dan Brown, brazenly claims, ‘all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate’.

Not so, say the experts!

Dan Brown is an engaging writer. This much must be admitted. He has the dexterity to weave certain facets of Christian history, Gnostic belief, Da Vinci art, and sundry legend into his fabric of imaginative plot to make the book a compelling read. He spices it up with creative anagrams, codes and brain-teasers to add suspense and excitement. And to top it all, he throws in dashes of footnotes to give his work that scholarly appearance and what is make-believe becomes believable; well, almost (at least, to the unsuspecting).

The plot in Dan Brown’s story alleges a church cover-up of the truth surrounding Jesus Christ. Per Brown (of course, through the voices of his fictional characters), Jesus was not divine; but purely and wholly human - nevertheless, a prophet. Further, Jesus was not the celibate bachelor that died on the cross. He was married - to none other than the Mary Magdalene who went to Jesus’ tomb ‘at dawn on the first day of the week’ (Matt. 28:1). This Mary Magdalene had the power of the sacred feminine - reason enough for the church to want to suppress the truth about the union between Jesus and Magdalene since it considered this sacred feminine to be Satanic. Too, Mary Magdalene was of royal blood; and astonishingly, she was actually the Holy Grail (or, per one legend, the missing chalice from the Last Supper). She was with child when Jesus was crucified. After his death, she fled to Gaul and gave birth to a daughter named Sarah. This bloodline dripped into the Merovingian dynasty of France. When the Crusaders invaded Jerusalem in the 11th century, the existence of this bloodline was discovered. The church organised the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar to keep the lid on this secret. In Brown’s novel, the female protagonist, Sophie Neveu, was a descendant of the Merovingians and thus had the blood of Jesus and Magdalene. ‘Preposterous,’ you might say; and I would add, ‘Well said.’

Yet, we need to cut through this preposterousness to reveal the truth for what it is. We will not be able to comb through every single detail but we will focus on three main allegations surrounding the figure of Mary Magdalene.

The sacred feminine is an ancient pagan metaphysical principle given to a wide variety of interpretations and practices. At a more humanistic level, it espouses the concepts of wisdom, beauty, justice and compassion - the ‘unseen dimension of [the] soul’, ‘the invisible spirit guiding human consciousness’. But at a more esoteric and religious level, it is:

     a concept that recognizes that “God” ultimately is neither anthropomorphically male or female but a
     Divine Essence beyond form and duality - an essence that is a balance and unification of
     masculine and feminine principles, an essence that possesses within itself the potential for
     manifesting both male and female - a dynamic, interdependent immanence that pervades all life.

In the Code, Dan Brown appears to be stricken with this sacred feminine and an early challenger of the Christian faith - Gnosticism. As a system of belief, Gnosticism is rather varied; but by and large, it posits that the material world, including the human body, is evil and that the way to escape this evil is through knowledge - especially knowledge of the ‘true God’. But the ‘true God’, to the Gnostics, is not the God of the Christians; rather it is the ‘great male-female power’ characterising the sacred feminine and is truly androgynous.

Brown, through one of his characters, alleges that when Constantine embraced the Christian faith, he managed to convert a matriarchal pagan world to a male dominated Christianity ‘by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine’, thus, ‘obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever’. Brown’s interest and agenda in the sacred feminine becomes clearer when he revealed in an interview in his website:

     Two thousand years ago, we lived in a world of Gods and Goddesses. Today, we live in a world solely
     of Gods. Women in most cultures have been stripped of their spiritual power. The novel touches
     on questions of how and why this shift occurred...and on what lessons we might learn from it
     regarding our future.

Dan Brown is mistaken in his allegations, especially the one about the church demonizing the sacred feminine and making ‘church’ a male domain. It is true that our English Bibles consistently used male pronouns in place of ‘God’, but this is merely a linguistic convention and does not reflect on the gender of God. We simply cannot ‘silk-screen’ our perceptions of maleness and femaleness into the spiritual realm. Maleness and femaleness are creations of God for the propagation and companionship of the living creatures he has put in this world. In the spiritual world, human gender conventions and sexuality will not do. As Jesus once answered a group of Sadducees, ‘At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; but they will be like the angels in heaven’ (Matt. 22:30). The apostle Paul put it more succinctly when he wrote that ‘there is neither...male nor female’ for all ‘who were baptized into Christ’ (Gal. 3:27-28).

The Holy Grail may be synonymous with intrigue and adventure to many of our young people; but the origin of this myth is still being debated. One theory has it as belonging to a pagan Celtic legend in which the grail was a vessel with magical qualities that would give its possessor ‘endless nourishment and regeneration’. In a 13th century story of Joseph of Arimathea, the grail was the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper. However, the wide acceptance is that a grail or graal (‘serving dish’ or ‘bowl’ in Old French) first appeared in a French story in which a young knight marvelled at a radiant dish at a king’s banquet. Unbeknown to the knight, the dish or, grail, contained a Mass bread that helped to keep the king’s crippled father alive.

It must be observed that as varied as the origin of the idea of the Holy Grail may be, the grail in all these legends is that of a containing vessel - a cup or a dish. Yet, in Brown’s novel, the grail is an ‘ancient symbol for womanhood’ and the Holy Grail ‘represents sacred feminine and the goddess ... now...lost, virtually eliminated by the Church’. Through Robert Langdon, the novel’s male protagonist, Brown asserts that the Holy Grail is in fact Mary Magdalene or, rather, her womb that carried the ‘royal bloodline’ of Jesus. To support his assertion, Brown alleges a linguistic error in the designation ‘San Greal’ or ‘Holy Grail’. He claims that in its most ancient form ‘San Greal’ should be read as ‘Sang Real’ or ‘Royal Blood’. But as Norris Lacy, a French and Medieval Studies professor, points out, ‘the earliest form was simply graal, a common noun referring to a serving dish’.

In our Christian and biblical tradition, there are no magical qualities attributed to the cup used by Jesus in the Last Supper. Neither is there any further ‘legend’ surrounding the cup. In Jesus’ own words, the cup ‘is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matt. 26:28; see too Mark 14:24 & Luke 22:20).

Mary Magdalene is a biblical figure. In Luke 8:1-3, she was named as the woman whom Jesus drove out seven demons and was among the women who helped to support the ministry of Jesus. She was at the crucifixion scene and was among the first who visited the tomb of Jesus (Matt. 27:55-56; 28:1). In John she was the first who saw the resurrected Jesus and told the disciples about it (John 20:10-18). Some have thought she might be the ‘sinful woman’ (a prostitute) who came to anoint Jesus with an ‘alabaster jar of perfume’ (Luke 7:36-50). However, there is no biblical record of any other liaison between her and Jesus. As to her purported marriage to Jesus, this is what Ben Witherington III has to say,‘She was an important disciple and witness for Jesus, but there is no historical evidence for a more intimate relationship.’

Those who want to slur the name of Jesus would have to go to some other source: and it is in the Nag Hammadi documents or the Gnostic Gospels that Dan Brown finds his clue. The Gnostic Gospels , though they be called ‘Gospels’, were written some three centuries after the death of Jesus and have never been recognised as reliable or canonical documents. In one such Gospel, the Gospel of Philip, a verse (v. 55) reads:

     Wisdom, whom they call barren, is the mother of the angels, and the consort of Christ is Mary
     Magdalene. The [Lord loved Mary] more than all the disciples, and he kissed her on the mouth many
     times]. The other [women/disciples saw]...him. They said to him, “Why do you [love her] more than all
     of us?” The Savior answered and said to them, “Why do not I love you as I do her?”

And then there is verse 32:

     There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother and her sister and Magdalene,
     whom they call his lover. A Mary is his sister and his mother and his lover.

To the uninitiated in Gnosticism, these verses may provide the proof-texts for Brown’s allegation of a marriage between Jesus and Magdalene. But the Gnostics loved to write in ‘strange symbolic language’ meant to be read only by those within their circle. To those outside, such ‘strange symbolic language’ will remain unintelligible. For example, the kiss (as in v. 55 above) may be part of a Gnostic sacrament that symbolized spiritual conception or the spiritual union of the initiate with the Holy Spirit. One writer has commented that the ‘Gnostics would be repulsed by the idea of physical relations between Mary Magdalene and Jesus’.

We refute the notion that there was any form of an amorous relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. But we do understand from Scripture, that there is a special symbolic relationship between Jesus Christ and his church; that is, the church is the bride of Christ (see Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9; Eph. 5:25-33).

The Da Vinci Code contains many erroneous and often blasphemous claims with specificality to Jesus Christ. The entire plot is a plot against the historical church. A Christian must be wary when reading such a book as the Code.

Note: This article was written almost entirely based on Internet sources.

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