Sunday, August 07, 2005

Dan Brown, Jesus loves you!

I've got way too much to read as it is (I'd name check, but I don't want to embarrass people, especially myself.) and I'm a slow reader. So, ya'll've got a month to get me some N. T. Wright, peeps. For those who don't know who this Anglican bishop is, I was hipped to him by Philip Yancey and by doing a cursory reading of Anne Rice's reading list. (Yes, Anne Rice. She is a devout Catholic now. And she's writing a book about the life of Jesus. I flippin' kid you not. The Godmother of Goth!) Anyway, if you are one who thinks that Biblical scholars are now convinced that the Bible is inaccurate and that the historical Jesus is a different being altogether from the one presented in the New Testament, this cat's for you.

He made a stop at Seattle Pacific University, gave four lectures and an interview. The following excerpts are from his speech entitled, "Decoding The DaVinci Code," in which he tackles the best-selling, and horribly researched, thriller - which alleges, among other things, that the true accounts of Jesus were the Gnostic Nag Hammadi so-called Gospels, including the "Gospel of Thomas" and the "Gospel of Philip," that Jesus was not divine, that the canon Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were added and endorsed much later, specifically by rule of Emperor Constantine hundreds of years after Jesus died, that Jesus was basically a good and intelligent man who wanted to help people live good lives, and that Mary Magdelene had Jesus' love child and the Catholic Church is working hard to cover that fact.

What then about the place of Mary Magdalene, who, according to Dan Brown and some other writers, features strongly in the Gnostic writings, representing a goddess-figure, the embodiment of the "sacred feminine," the Holy Grail, the Rose, the Divine Mother? It is all pure imagination. (Well, it is at least imagination, certainly.) Mary Magdalene is mentioned in precisely three of the Nag Hammadi scrolls (as against "the countless references to Jesus' and Mary Magdalene's union" (333)). The "Gospel of Mary" is the report of a vision which sets the material world against the nonmaterial, seeing Mind as the intermediary of Soul and Spirit. This is fairly standard Platonic idealism; it is hard to see what it's got to do with the sacred feminine, but it's easy to see that it has nothing to do with a first-century Jewish prophetic movement such as that of Jesus. "The Gospel of Philip" is the one where Jesus kisses Mary - but the idea that a kiss was a key gesture of romantic attachment won't survive two minutes when we move away from Hollywood and into the real world of late antiquity. There is not the slightest sign, in Nag Hammadi any more than in the Dead Sea Scrolls, of Jesus being married to Mary and having a child by her. The "Gospel of Thomas" has one saying about Mary (51:19), in which "Jesus" states that "Mary will be saved if she makes herself male, because every female who makes herself male will become fit for the kingdom of God." That is hardly a ringing endorsement for the sacred feminine. If it's sacred femininity you want, you must look elsewhere, to various forms of paganism ancient and modern. These have become enormously popular in some strands of New Age and postmodern thinking. They have found their way into some revisionist versions of western Christianity. But they have nothing to do with Nag Hammadi and nothing whatever to do with early Christianity.

Dan Brown, apparently, can't be bothered to check his facts.

In particular, the resurrection of Jesus was central to early Christianity, though you'd never know that, either, from Dan Brown or from the many other writers who perpetrate the modern myth in its various forms... The early Christian gospel, which was then written up in the four canonical Gospels, was the good news, not that a new teaching about hidden wisdom had appeared, enabling those who tapped into it to improve the quality of their lives here or even hereafter, but that something had happened through which the evil which had infected the world had been overthrown and a new creation launched, and that all human beings were invited to become part of that project by becoming renewed themselves. In particular, this included from the start a strong political critique. Not the tired old left-wing harangue in Christian dress, of course, but a more subtle, more Jewish, more devastating critique: Jesus is Lord, therefore Caesar isn't. That is there in Paul. It is there in Matthew, in John, in Revelation. If the canon was written, or read, to curry political favor, it was dramatically unsuccessful. Those who were thrown to the lions were not reading "Thomas" or Q or the "Gospel of Mary." They were reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the rest, and being sustained thereby in a subversive mode of faith and life which, growing out of apocalyptic Judaism, posed a far greater threat to Roman empire and pagan worldviews than Cynic philosophy or Gnostic spirituality ever could. Why would Caesar worry about people rearranging their private spiritualities?

Indeed. Flippin' morons.

Oh, and can someone get me some Eugene Peterson? I already have most of The Message. I'd like Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, if you may.

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