An analysis of press coverage: "DaVinci Code" vs. "The Passion of the Christ"

Via a link at Stones Cry Out, here is an interesting analysis of the press coverage surrounding The DaVinci Code, as compared to the press coverage of Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ two years ago.

While I'm usually not too quick to jump on the "Oh no! they're PERSECUTING Christians!!!" bandwagon, this story deserves to be read.  Here's an excerpt:

While Mel Gibson was attacked and even psychoanalyzed for his religious beliefs, DaVinci Code author Dan Brown and filmmakers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer were never personally examined or challenged about their personal religious beliefs, their willingness to milk controversy, play fast and loose with facts, and offend Christians for personal gain. Whenever the networks decided to address fact and fiction in The DaVinci Code, they almost always found it was stuffed with falsehoods. But they never focused on the idea that Brown, Grazer, or Howard should be criticized for being too casual with the truth.

And thinking back to this fall, I can distinctly remember several hit pieces that coincided with the release of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe:

  • The New York Times digging into Lewis' past and insuating that he had a sexual relationship with a woman old enough to be his mother.

I suppose the biggest laugh that Mel Gibson and Walden Media had at the expense of the press was that their films went on to be huge hits, despite taking huge hits from major newspaper writers.

DaVinci Code Part Six - Was Mary Magdalene the "Divine Feminine"?

I concluded yesterday's DaVinci Code post with a passage from the Gnostic Sophia of Jesus Christ:

The Holy One said to [Bartholmew]: "I want you to know that First Man is called 'Begetter, Self-perfected Mind'. He reflected with Great Sophia, his consort, and revealed his first-begotten, androgynous son. His male name is designated 'First Begetter, Son of God', his female name, 'First Begettress Sophia, Mother of the Universe'. Some call her 'Love'.  Now First-begotten is called 'Christ'. Since he has authority from his father, he created a multitude of angels without number for retinue from Spirit and Light."

This passage is part of a long-winded Gnostic explanation of the different personalities and spirits of God, a subject that is beyond the scope of these posts.  But this passage (along with dozens of other passages from Gnostic scripture) illustrates the Gnostic belief that God was an androgynous being composed of a series of personalities emanated in male-female pairs.  This line of thinking has led many to believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth -- if he indeed was the embodiment of the spirit of The Savior -- must have had an intimate relationship with an earthly female companion or wife.

Many modern-day mystics and Christians who practice a synchretistic faith (that is, a faith derived from multiple belief systems) have latched on to the Gnostic view of the masculine and feminine characteristics of God and have sought to introduce feminine aspects of God into contemporary Christian theology.  According to their teachings, understanding this "divine feminine" aspect of God is essential -- otherwise we are left with an incomplete understanding of God based only on His aggressive masculine traits.  Therefore, recognizing "Sophia" (or "wisdom") becomes a central part of their belief system.  These worshipers of the "divine feminine" revel in Gnostic teachings about Sophia, even though the New Age "Sophia" dreamed up by feminists bears little resemblance to the ancient Gnostic "Sophia".

But in addition to teaching about God's feminine personalities or spirits, does Gnostic scripture actually record the marriage of Jesus of Nazareth?   Those who believe that it does often site this passage from The Gospel of Philip:

As for the Wisdom [Sophia] who is called "the barren," she is the mother of the angels. And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples [...].  They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?"

92846_1Holes in the original manuscript make it impossible to translate the entire passage, but to some scholars this passage is proof of a deeper relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus of Nazareth.  These scholars believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were husband and wife.  And to some, Mary Magdalene was not only Jesus' physical companion and mortal wife -- she was the Holy Grail, the physical embodiment of the Sophia spirit and perhaps the mother of a human race born of The Savior and Sophia. (The mythical relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene is a bit different than the relationship between Jerry McGuire and Dorothy, but the "You complete me" theme is a part of both.)

Continue reading "DaVinci Code Part Six - Was Mary Magdalene the "Divine Feminine"?" »

DaVinci Code Part Five - Was Jesus Married?

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of The DaVinci Code is the notion that the Roman Catholic Church would kill in order to keep its secrets safe.  Chief among the many secrets that the Roman Catholic Church has allegedly undertaken to protect at all costs are the "true" accounts  of the life of of Jesus of Nazareth.  According to The DaVinci Code, Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish prophet and teacher, but was not the "messiah" and was certainly not of divine origin.  He lived a life that was typical for a citizen of ancient Judea -- he worked as a carpenter, he was married, and his wife bore him a daughter.

But his life changed when he began to teach in the Temple and (as witnesses claimed) began performing miracles.  His followers believed that he was the Messiah, and after he was executed by the Romans they stole his body in order to make it appear that he had indeed risen from the dead.  And to perpetuate the idea of the divine origin of Jesus of Nazareth, they concealed both his marriage to Mary Magdalene and the existence of his daughter.

The book also claims that three hundred years later, when the emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the official state religion of the Roman Empire, he was chiefly concerned with the ability of the Roman Church to keep the empire's subjects submissive to Roman law.  Constantine felt that in order for Christianity to be effective in this role, the myth of Christ's divinity had to be preserved and perpetuated.  Under his orders, Church doctrine and scripture were assembled that met this criterion.  Subsequently, all evidence of the "true" life of Jesus of Nazareth was destroyed by the Church.

YeshuammagsmallMost of us who grew up within orthodox Christianity consider the idea of Jesus being married to be so ludicrous as to not even merit comment.  We reiterate our belief that Jesus was part of the lineage of Old Testament Hebrew prophets and point out that the Old Testament rarely mentions the marriage of prophets (the prophet Hosea being a notable exception).  And we point to the divine origins of Jesus (born of a virgin and thus disconnected from the biological act of procreation) and to His divine mission, which was to be sacrificed as atonement for the sins of mankind.

But what if -- as The DaVinci Code speculates -- there is another set of scriptures and religious traditions that both documents and explains the marriage of Jesus of Nazareth? 

Continue reading "DaVinci Code Part Five - Was Jesus Married?" »

DaVinci Code Makes Good

Davincicode_dollarBoxOfficeMojo reports that The DaVinci Code brought in a respectable $77 million in the US and another $147 million internationally to become this weekend's top grossing movie. 

Curiously, there were no reports of Christians rioting, burning theatres, or issuing death threats against Ron Howard.

The Times Online reports that Sony Entertainment is now very interested in filming another novel by Dan Brown, Angels and Demons.

So congradulations to Ron Howard and his cast.  They bucked the critics.  Let's see if the movie continues to do well.

Update: Make that TWO sequels.

DaVinci Code Part Four - Gnostic Christianity concluded

In my previous DaVinci Code post I briefly outlined the central beliefs of the ancient Gnostic Christians, a small yet influential sect that existed within the early Christian church.  According to The DaVinci Code, the ancient scriptures of the Gnostics confirm the marriage of Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene, and also outline a deeper version of Christianity that is much closer to the true teachings of Jesus than the orthodox faith of modern Christians.

Unfortunately, examination of the Gnostic scriptures reveals an elitist, anti-Semitic doctrine that dismissed notions of sin and redemption and instead concentrated on secret knowledge about God and the spirit realm that was revealed through the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and through special dispensations from spirit beings.  Gnostics believed that only those with both the intellectual capacity to understand the order of the cosmos and the spiritual discipline to abandon the pleasures of the flesh, would truly be saved.

The fact that Gnosticism was declared to be heretical by the early church surely was the main cause of its demise as a major force within Christianity; by the fourth century AD Gnosticism had been reduced mostly to dusty collections of manuscripts in monastery libraries.  But another factor must have been its esoteric nature.  Skimming through Gnostic writings leaves one hard-pressed to believe that the vast, uneducated common population of the Mediterranean in the first and second centuries AD could have ever grasped the confusing worldview taught by Gnostics.

Aeons_shiva_tnGnostics believed that the True God was a higher spiritual being of such complexity that He could not be understood or even detected by mortals.  In order to establish His presence in a way that could be understood, the True God emmanated from himself a descending order of spirits that held particular essences of His personality, such as Depth, Thought, Mind, Truth, Faith, Hope, Love, and Wisdom. (Notice that this list resembles the charactheristics that Paul describes in I Cor 13. )  Each of these spirits (or "aeons") had the ability to think and act independently; however, none of these spirits embodied the complete essence of the True God.  But together, these "aeons" combined to form The Fullness of God the Father, God The Son, and the Holy Spirit.  (illustration: Shiva, an 'aeon' from the video game Final Fantasy.)

In attempting to ascertain The Fullness of God by herself (which is impossible), the aeon called Sophia, or "Wisdom" committed a series of blunders.  She was torn in two, and her "lower" spirit was cast out of The Fullness.  The Lower Sophia (who was flawed because she was separated from The Fullness) then created several equally-flawed spirit beings for her own pleasure, including a spirit being known to Gnostics as "The Craftsman" or "The Arch-Begetter."  Because he was flawed and had no knowledge of The Fullness, the Craftsman then created his own world and appointed himself God over it.

The Craftsman and his flawed world are the God of the Old Testament (Yahweh) and his Creation, as described in the book of Genesis. Therefore, Gnostics took a dim view of Judaism, the Hebrew scriptures, and the Jewish race in general.  To Gnostics, the Jews were dupes, fooled by The Craftsman into believing that he was the one True God. For this reason, Gnostic scripture contains no references to the Old Testament, and Gnostics rejected the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was part of the Hebrew prophetic tradition.

Continue reading "DaVinci Code Part Four - Gnostic Christianity concluded" »

An aggregation of DaVinci Code resources

During the time that I have spent researching material for my DaVinci code posts, I have compiled a worthwhile list of good online sources about the claims made in the book and about ancient Gnostic and orthodox Christianity:

Gnosticism
Gnostic Studies On The Web
Valentinius and the Valentinian Tradition
Marcion of Sinope
The Gospel of Thomas Homepage
The Complete Nag Hammadi Library
The Lost Gospel of Judas

Early Christian History

St. Irenaeus of Lyons
St. Irenaeus (WikiPedia)
First Council of Nicea (Catholic Encyclopedia)
First Council of Nicea (Wikipedia)
Nicene Creed (Wikipedia)
Wikipedia entry on The New Testament

Gospel of Judas
The Lost Gospel of Judas
Al Mohler on the Gospel of Judas
Donald Sensing on the Gospel of Judas
Mark Daniels on The Gospel of Judas

Bloggers
Mark D. Roberts (excellent)
Ben Witherington
The A-Team Blog
Sharper Iron

General
DaVinci Code Truth
Jesus and DaVinci
Challenging DaVinci

DaVinci Code Part Three - An introduction to Gnostic Christianity

The author of The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown, asserts that most of the controversial claims made in his novel can be traced back to ancient writings made by Gnostic Christians, an early subset of believers who were heavily influenced by Greek culture and mysticism.  Gnosticism was declared to be heresy by the early orthodox Christian church, and subsequently Gnostics were excommunicated and their writings destroyed.  Amazingly though, a nearly complete library of early Gnostic scriptures was unearthed near Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945.  Those manuscripts, along with other fragments that have survived through the centuries, plus early orthodox Christian writings that attempted to prove the heretical nature of Gnosticism, give us a pretty good idea of what this ancient Christian sect believed.

According to The DaVinci Code, the Gnostic scriptures reveal a version of Christianity that is far superior to the orthodox faith crafted by the Roman Catholic church.  Is this true?  Did Gnostics practice a more 'authentic' form of Christianity?

663pxflammarionThe most celebrated Gnostic theologian was Valentinius, who lived from about 100 AD to 150 AD.  Valentinian Gnosticism was the most widely taught school of Gnostic thought, although there were many others.  Valentinian Gnosticism was based in large part on the Greek idea of the spirit realm, a dimension that mortals were unable to enter unless they perfectly understood its origin and nature.  (The 19th century woodcut to the left is captioned, "A medieval missionary tells that he has found the point where heaven and Earth meet...")

Valentinians further believed that they could never enter the spirit realm unless they took it upon themselves to cast off the temptations and pleasures of their corrupt mortal human bodies.  What mattered most to Gnostics was the divine revelation of the secret knowledge of the spirit realm, for without it they could not be saved.

It was this trait of Gnosticism that concerned early orthodox church fathers.  While orthodox Christianity maintained that salvation through Jesus Christ was available to "whosoever believeth in Him," Gnostics believed that only a select group of intellectuals -- those who were able to grasp the complex details of their secret teachings -- would receive true salvation.  Gnostics believed that only by understanding the true nature of God, the Fullness of the spirit realm, and the order of the universe, could a man be saved.  As Gnostic scholar Elaine Pagels correctly observed, to Gnostics, "theology is really anthropology."

Continue reading "DaVinci Code Part Three - An introduction to Gnostic Christianity" »

"DaVinci Code": Rotten

Davincirotten... according to Internet movie review site RottenTomatoes.com.

On the other hand, Roger Ebert, with whom I usually agree, liked the movie.

And make sure you read Ben Witherington's review.

However, Mark D. Roberts' review takes the cake.

DaVinci Code Part Two - Why Gnostic beliefs are still appealing today

In my introductory post on the controversial claims made in The DaVince Code, I briefly discussed the main conspiracy theory: Jesus of Nazareth was married to Mary Magdalene and the two of them had a daughter together.  Evidence supporting this claim is supposedly contained in the scriptures of the ancient Gnostic Christians.  Today I'd like to briefly discuss why the Gnostic scriptures still appeal to many, including some modern-day Christians.

In 1945, two brothers digging for limestone to fertilize their fields unearthed a large ancient storage jar near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi.  Inside of the jar was a set of Gnostic manuscripts dating back to the late fourth century AD.  The manuscripts were written in Coptic, a form of the Egyptian language that employed the Greek alphabet.  The manuscripts were stored while arrangements were made with the Egyptian government for them to be turned over to universities for scholarly study.  Famed psychologist C. C. Jung, interested in Gnostic lore, took possession of some of the manuscripts.

CopticThe manuscripts were finally restored, and the entire library translated into English, in the late 1970's.  At last, scholars had access to a library of 52 documents that were thought to have been lost forever – the Roman Catholic church declared Gnostic Christianity to be heresy as early as the first Nicene Council (325 AD) and subsequently excommunicated Gnostic Christians and ordered their writings to be burned. (The image at left is a page of the Coptic manuscript of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.)

Since the publication of the Nag Hammadi library, several serious Christian scholars, including Elaine Pagels and Karen King, have written apologetically about ancient Gnostic Christianity. Pagels, King, and others have suggested that this ancient ideology, which relied heavily on classical Greek thought, still has important spiritual insights lacking in orthodox Christianity.

In fact, there is a very active set of clergy and believers within several mainline Christian denominations who are looking to various belief systems, including Gnosticism, Eastern religions, and even Old Testament-era Eastern paganism, in order to find spiritual insights that they believe to be missing from Christianity.  To these seekers, the ideas presented in The DaVinci Code have extraordinary appeal.

Continue reading "DaVinci Code Part Two - Why Gnostic beliefs are still appealing today" »

"DaVinci Code" not so hot among Cannes critics

Drudge is reporting today that the film adaptation of The DaVinci Code proved to be somewhat of a snoozer for critics at the Cannes film festival.  (By the way, this is the same crowd that heaped praise on Fahrenheit 911 two years ago.)

Here's how the AP put it:

CANNES, France - "The Da Vinci Code" drew lukewarm praise, shrugs of indifference, some jeering laughter and a few derisive jabs Tuesday from arguably the world's toughest movie crowd: critics at the Cannes Film Festival.

The year's most anticipated movie, "The Da Vinci Code" was a generally faithful adaptation of Dan Brown's monster best seller, spinning a murder thriller that stems from a cover-up of secrets about Christianity's roots.

While readers worldwide devoured the novel, reaction from Cannes critics ranged from mild endorsement of its potboiler suspense to groans of ridicule over its heavy melodrama.

... The Cannes audience clearly grew restless as the movie dragged on to two and a half hours and spun a long sequence of anticlimactic revelations.

... One especially melodramatic line uttered by Hanks drew prolonged laughter and some catcalls, and the audience continued to titter for much of the film's remainder.

Some people walked out during the movie's closing minutes, though there were fewer departures than many Cannes movies provoke among harsh critics. When the credits rolled, there were a few whistles and hisses, and there was none of the scattered applause even bad movies sometimes receive at Cannes.

Of course the reception of the film by the snobbish, effite, metrosexual Cannes crowd is no reflection of how the film will perform domestically in the US.  But this is the film's first wide exposure to entertainment critics, and based on these comments I don't expect that reviews of the film will be very kind.

DaVinci Code movie opens Friday - Part One of a series of posts on DaVince Code controversies

The most anticipated movie of the summer (and one of the few that isn't a sequel or a remake) will open nation-wide this Friday.  The film is of course The DaVinci Code, a big-budget adaptation of Dan Brown's runaway best-seller.  The film stars Tom Hanks and is directed by Ron Howard.

030727767401_sctzzzzzzz_The story itself is a murder mystery.  The film's heroes, Robert Langdon (Hanks) and Sophie Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou, a newcomer to the American screen) attempt to solve the grisly murder of the chief curator of the Louvre Museum, who just happens to be Sophie's grandfather.  Along the way they meet up with a historian named Sir Leigh Teabing (played by Ian McKellan) who supplies them with pieces of a centuries-old conspiracy theory that the Louvre's chief curator may have uncovered, thus leading to his death.  The secret conspiracy involves the centerpiece of the Christian faith – the true identity of Jesus Christ.

But don't we already know who Jesus was?  What secrets could be so damning that the Roman Catholic Church (or her proxies) would kill for them?  Consider whether or not the following could be true:

1.  Jesus of Nazareth was a great teacher, a mortal embodied with the spirit of The Savior whose role was simply to reveal to mankind the secrets of the origin of the universe and the existence of an "inner light" within each of us.

2.  As a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth was expected to marry.  His wedding to Mary Magdalene was kept secret by his disciples in order to preserve his image as a teacher and prophet.

3.  Jesus and Mary had a daughter.  She was also hidden by Jesus' closest disciples.

4.  After Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Romans, his body was stolen by his disciples and the myth of his "resurrection" was born.

5.  After the crucifixion of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and her daughter by Jesus were taken from Jersualem.  Their whereabouts were kept secret.   Jesus' bloodline exists to this day, known only to a handful of watchers whose sworn duty is to prevent the truth about Jesus and his descendants from ever being revealed.

6.  Many people wrote down the true teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  But these writings were destroyed by the Roman Catholic Church because the true teachings of Jesus undermined the authoritarian, patriarchal version of Christianity crafted by Roman Church under the supervision of the Roman government.  The Romans used their own "Christianity" as a tool to conquer and rule their empire.  Modern orthodox Christianity is derived from this Roman Christianity.

7.  The true teachings of Jesus are contained in the so-called "gnostic scriptures," writings produced by a subset of Christians called Gnostics.  These gnostic scriptures also contain clues to the veracity of the marriage of Jesus and provide a more complete record of his teachings.  The first nearly complete library of these rare writings was discovered in Egypt in 1946.

In the world that Dan Brown has imagined, the Roman Catholic Church still struggles with keeping alive its fabricated religious traditions, while at the same time working to suppress and destroy any  attempt to re-establish the "truths" contained in the Gnostic scriptures.

Many gifted scholars and writers have tackled the theories presented in The DaVinci Code.  I am not going to attempt to rehash their work.  Rather, I am going to look at myths of The DaVinci Code and the authentic second and third century teachings of Gnostic Christianity and ask the following questions:

- Why does Gnostic Christianity still appeal to so many?

- Does Gnostic Christianity truly offer a legitimate alternative to orthodox Christianity?

- Is modern Christianity (and especially American evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity) still struggling with ideas that are more Gnostic than orthodox in their origin?  The answers to this question may surprise you!

- How can Gnostic Christianity and the myths of The DaVinci Code be used to strengthen our beliefs in orthodox Christianity and the truth contained in the Holy Bible?

I will also be posting an extensive list to good online resources about The DaVinci Code that I have found during my research.

Readers: Your thoughts and comments are welcome.  I am a true "layman" and not a Biblical scholar or theologian.  I am also part of the Arminian/Wesleyan holiness Christian tradition, and my ideas will reflect the A/W understandings of free will and evangelism.  So please feel free to agree or disagree with my conclusions – just be nice!