Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Da Vinci Code Controversy

The Mona Lisa cracks a sly smile, but will all the attention given her by Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code broaden her smile? If she respects historical accuracy, she should frown.

With Brown's book about to debut as a movie this weekend, debate is peaking over whether or not the "facts" depicted in the book--especially those related to Jesus and church history-- really are true.

In his preface to The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown claims, "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." On the other hand, film director Ron Howard and the Code's headline star Tom Hanks have both done everyone a favor by making it clear that this book--and now the movie--is a work of fiction, not fact.

Says Howard: "I think what a lot of people have discovered—a lot of theologians—is this is a work of fiction that presents a set of characters that are affected by these conspiracy theories and ideas. Those characters in this work of fiction act and react on that premise. It's not theology. It's not history."

Adds Hanks: "We always knew there would be a segment of society that would not want this movie to be shown. But the story we tell is loaded with all sorts of hooey and fun kind of scavenger-hunt-type nonsense. If you are going to take any sort of movie at face value, particularly a huge-budget motion picture like this, you'd be making a very big mistake. It's a damn good story and a lot of fun … all it is is dialogue. That never hurts. You would be making a big mistake to take it at face value."

So what are the real facts surrounding Jesus and church history? Last night, Chosen People Ministries sponsored a debate about the movie, with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Dr. Darrell Bock, and Dr. Michael Brown. Bock pointed out several historical inaccuracies of Brown's work.

Concerning Jesus, Bock said there are absolutely zero ancient documents that claim Jesus ever married Mary Magdalene or had children. "There isn't any theological objections to Jesus being married or having kids," observed Bock. "The problem," he went to say, "is that it never happened. That is the objection of the Christian community."

On the assertion that the 4th century Council of Nicea "super-sized" Jesus from a very wise man to a divine, god-like being (to solidify Constantine's political power), Bock said the divinity of Jesus is set forth by Jesus himself, declared by 1st century New Testament manuscripts, and defended by 1st-2nd century church fathers. The point of Nicea was not to determine if Jesus was divine, but to decide in what way Jesus was divine. Bock concluded, "Now when liberal and conservative biblical scholars can both agree on these facts, you can safely believe they are true."

After watching the debate, my wife made a very good observation. Historical novels consist of foreground and background. Foreground is the fictional characters and their actions. Background is the historical setting. Most historical novels have a fictional foreground and a non-fictional background. But the foreground and background of Brown's "historical novel" are both fictional.

One thing is for sure: If Dan Brown wrote a book as popular as The Da Vinci Code, saying that the holocaust never happened, or that Muhammad believed in the Trinity, the tone and media coverage of that controversy would be very different than the one going on today.

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