Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Da Vinci Code: Threat or Opportunity?

I promised David about a week ago that I would put up my first posting here on the Agora. I'm currently studying in the US and the Da Vinci code movie (which opens this Friday) has garnered a lot of interest and controversy here. David has been doing a fantastic job at putting up relevant materials in English and in BM in regards to the book. I'd just like to pipe in with my 2 cents worth.

Firstly, I think that some of the reactions towards to the movie have been overblown. Calls to boycott the movie have been issue from many quarters. The Vatican has been particular vocal in its criticism of the book and the move. While the foundations of Christianity would be shaken if the "claims" of the book is true i.e. Jesus didn't die on the cross but married Mary Magdalene and had a family, Dan Brown seems to have reserved his ire squarely at the Catholic church, accusing them (through the plot of his book) of a huge conspiracy to cover up what happened to Jesus and their willingness to go to any and all extremes to do so. This may partly explain why the Catholic church has been particularly vehement in its opposition towards to movie and the book but still, I can't help but feel that they've let slip a great opportunity to tell the world the truth of the gospel.

Secondly, I think that us Christian should THANK Dan Brown for giving us this great evangelism opportunity. I think that this movie has created opportunities for conversations with non-Christians that might not have occurred otherwise. Many churches and Christian organizations have seized the opportunity to talk about the validity of some of the "claims" of the Da Vinci code and to use that as an opportunity for evangelism. Many people who would not have otherwise stepped into a church or go to a Christian talk, would do so just at the mention of the Da Vinci code.

Recently, I attended such a talk organized by a few Christian groups at Duke, which is where I'm currently attempting to do my PhD in political science. The speakers were two renowned NT scholars - Richard Hays from Duke and Bart Ehrman from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Normally, the attendance for these GCF-type (Graduate Christian Fellowship) events would draw 50 people and that's on a good day. This particular talk drew more than 500 people. I'm sure that the roadshows that Dr. Ng Kam Weng of Kairos and David have been doing have also drawn a high level of interest among Christians and non-Christians alike.

The organizers used the Da Vinci code debate to draw in people to talk about, in my opinion, a much more important topic - the validity of the bible. The factual inaccuracies in the Da Vinci code book are too numerous to list. It has spawned a little cottage industry of books aimed at debunking it. One can easily find these by a simple google search. Both speakers dismissed the historical accuracy of the book. But the fact that so many people actually thought that there was some 'truth' in the "claims" of the book led me to think this - "If people are willing to believe in the claims made by a work of fiction that is riddled with historical inaccuracies, shouldn't they have more confidence in believing the claims of the bible, a book (or collection of books) which has stood through centuries of historical and theological criticism?"

I think it's relatively easy to dismiss the "claims" of the Da Vinci code by pointing out the many historical inaccuracies as well as some theological ones. For example, if the church had wanted to downplay the role of Mary Magdalene, why are there 13 references in the gospels to her and in one gospel, John, she was actually the first person to visit the empty tomb where Jesus was buried?

It is much harder and requires much more effort to dismiss or at least tear down some of the claims made by Bart Ehrman, one of the speakers at the above mentioned talk. He's obviously a learned and well-respected scholar and has the right academic credentials and research work to back up his arguments. One of his most popular books is "Misquoting Jesus : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" which basically says that we cannot trust the writing of the gospels because it has been changed so many times throughout history and that there are so many copies and versions floating around that we cannot be sure of what the original copies said.

Does this sound familiar? He's basically saying, in different words, that the bible (or more specifically, the gospels) have been 'corrupted' by scribes and the early church founders who had their own agenda to push.

It reminds of talks by Muslim apologist, Shabir Ally, which I listened to during my undergraduate days in the UK. In one variant of his argument, Shabir Ally tries to show that the image of Jesus was increasingly 'elevated' from Mark, Matthew, Luke and then finally to John. He wasn't really 'God' or all-powerful in Mark but was increasingly portrayed as being more and more powerful in Matthew and then Luke and finally John.

Richard Hays, an ordained Methodist minister as well as a renowned scholar, gave a solid defense of the validity of the gospels as well as throwing some questions of his own against Bart Ehrman. The fact that we have four versions of the gospels, told from different perspectives and having different purposes, actually strengthens our belief and faith in the message of Jesus. All authors have their own 'agendas' and each of the authors of the gospels had their own story to tell about Jesus. If the early church fathers had wanted to compile a more consistent version of the life of Jesus, wouldn't it have been easier for them to put together a story that didn't have contradictions instead of including Mark, Matthew, Luke and John?

In addition, one has to ask whether the 'errors' which Bart Ehrman talks about actually change the theological content of the gospels. Richard Hays asked this question. My pastor, JD Grear, at the Summit Church here in Durham, North Carolina also addressed this issue. I'd encourage you to listen to this sermon online. Many of the so-called errors or inconsistencies among the different versions of the gospels that we still have today boil down to spelling differences, sentence ordering and the like. None of them change the theological content of the gospels.

The fact that we have some 14,000 copies of the gospels from around the 1st century actually increases our assurance in the message of the gospel. We can be sure that if a person had wanted to 'change' the message, he or she would have had to change all the copies that were in circulation during that time.

I'm looking forward to watching the Da Vinci code when it opens this weekend. I'm a big Ron Howard fan (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind). Plus, I actually enjoyed reading the book, as a work of fiction, and I'm sure that the movie will be good. Hopefully, it will continue to stir up lots of opportunities for conversation and debate that will reverberate long after the movie has ended its run.


Seven Star Hand said...

Hello Kian,

There's a bit more to the story of the Vatican's reaction than most are yet aware of. Read my analysis below to understand what they truly fear.

Remember, "I come as a thief..." ?

It's not the DaVinci Code or Gospel of Judas per se, but the fact that people have been motivated to seek out the unequivocal truth about an age of deception, exactly when they expect me to appear. The Gospel of Judas and DaVinci Code controversies are allowing people to take new stock of the Vatican/Papacy and the religions it has spawned. It also shines a bright spotlight on the undeniable symbolic content of these texts and traditions and that path leads to the exposure of ages-old religious deceptions. Seek to understand the symbolic significance of my name (Seven Star Hand) and you will have proof beyond disproof that Christians have long been duped by the great deceivers I warned humanity about over the millennia.

It is quite a joke that the Vatican and Catholic Church have the gall to accuse the author of a novel of attacking their fantasies and dogma. Remember that this is the same organization that manufactured fake relics and miracles for many centuries. This is the same group that massacred and tortured people for seeking the truth and having a mind of their own. This is the same group of deluded deceivers that makes more noise about a fictional book and movie than about child raping priests, aids, famine, or even the Holocaust! At what point does the Vatican's behavior go from the absurd to simply purely evil?

It is undeniable the New Testament is framed by symbolism and allegory. The same is evidenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Gnostic texts, biblical apocrypha, and other related texts. All ancient religious, mystical, and wisdom texts have been shrouded in mystery for millennia for one primary reason: The ability to understand their widely evidenced symbology was lost in antiquity. How do we finally solve these ages-old mysteries? To recast an often-used political adage: It’s [the] symbology, stupid!

It's amazing the Vatican still tries to insist the Gospels are literal truth. It is beyond obvious they are replete with ancient Hebrew symbology. Every miracle purported for Jesus has multiple direct symbolic parallels in the Old Testament, Apocalypse, Dead Sea Scrolls, and other symbolic narratives and traditions.

Likewise, the following Washington Post article ( The Book of Bart) describes how many changes and embellishments were made to these texts over the centuries, unequivocally demonstrating they are not original, infallible, or truthful.

What then is the purpose of "faith" but to keep good people from seeking to understand truth and wisdom? It's no wonder the Vatican fears the truth more than anything else. Now comes justice, hot on its heels... (symbolism...)

Revelations from the Apocalypse

Here is Wisdom!!

Matt said...


I agree with you - this is a tremendous opportunity. Bringing up Christ in today's American culture is tricky at best. When the Chronicles of Narnia came out I had co-workers ask me if C.S. Lewis really intended it as an allegory for the sacrifice of Christ. I am looking forward to many more asking what I think about the Da Vinci code.

I posted a few ideas about why this could be good on my blog as well - be blessed!

The Hedonese said...

'7 star'... actually, serious NT historians have established that the Gospels are not myths but correspond to first century, See for example Wallace's study on Acts (whose author is the same as the gospel of Luke for example)

A mystical gnostic religion may be purely symbolic but not the canonical gospels...

Textual variants do not in fact show any conspiracy to change the text and we have manuscripts tat predate constantine more than 100 years :)

The Hedonese said...

I think I am wrong after all... I'm such a nut to be deceived like that...

After much thinking and research and serious investigation, I've become a staunch believer in Dan Brown now...

Da Vinci IS a grandmaster of Priory of Sion and hid a secret code in the last supper painting... But the secret is much, much more DANGEROUS than anything Dan Brown could ever imagine! This is...The REAL Da Vinci Code.