Da Vinci Blowed

We went to a great talk tonight; our church sponsored a lecture and Q&A about The DaVinci Code, by Mark Strauss (professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, and author of Truth & Error in The Da Vinci Code)

Now I have to say I haven't read the book (and I'm sure I never will), and I haven't seen the movie (I might on DVD), but the talk was peppered with direct quotes from the book. The basic format was to present a quote from the book, and then demonstrate how it is an obvious historical fallacy.

Even without having read the book, the lecture was a great learning experience in terms of early church history. For instance, how accurately do you believe we know the original text of the Iliad? There exist about 500 ancient manuscripts, the earliest of which is a copy from 1000 years after Homer. Compare that to 5000 ancient biblical texts, the earliest of which are copies dating to about 10 years within decades [RR: fixed misquote of the speaker] from the originals! (Not to mention the fact that large parts of the bible (in particular almost all of the New Testament) can be reconstructed from quotations from ancient commentaries, i.e. Augustine and the like).

I hope that the PowerPoint and .mp3 will be made available online; if so, you know I will link to it for you (in the meantime, there is a fairly concise website in support of Strauss' book here). The lecture was about an hour, one could probably read through the PPT in 15 minutes. In the meantime, I say go ahead and read the book or watch the movie, and enjoy, but don't get your panties in a bunch thinking it's some amazing expose of the seamy underbelly of Christianity (despite the "novel's" claim on page 1, under the heading "FACT": "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate")

In closing, I think it's interesting to note how the Christian response to Da Vinci has been radically different from the Last Temptation debacle (claim to fame: my dad and aunt went to school with screenwriter Paul Schrader). I have heard of no protests, no picketing; from the Christian community, I observe an outpouring of measured, reasoned, dismissive bemusement. Let's hear it for Mark Strauss' closing admonition not to forget how I Tim 3:15 flows into the next verse:

but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.


14 Responses

  1. The Da Vinci Code book is written by a prat. You don’t have to be religious to think that. It’s utter twaddle. So brain wrenchingly awful I had to stop reading before I got half way through, despite attempting to discipline myself to stick with it for social reasons. We’re going to see the film, and we’ll write a brief review and link to it in this comment chain if you like.

  2. The Da Vinci Code book is written by a prat. You don’t have to be religious to think that. It’s utter twaddle. So brain wrenchingly awful I had to stop reading before I got half way through, despite attempting to discipline myself to stick with it for social reasons.

    That’s what I’ve heard from many media specialists and English teachers in our county — people who have no religious motivations in denouncing it. Amazing that it would be such a great bestseller nevertheless …

  3. I’d say read or see just so that you are aware of what is influencing people in your culture. Two years ago at my nephew Brian’s wedding (when the two sides of the families rented mountain “cabins” together for the week at the end of which was an outdoor wedding :), we had several stimulating and helpful discussions with the “other side” of the family whom we had never met–all because we had read the book.

  4. I guess there's no accounting for taste; limejelly must have higher artistic sensibilities than the masses!

    But aside from literary quality, I'm curious to know your impression on the relationship between the novel and actual church history; or on the way the book presented itself as history. Did twaddlicious prattishness help you recognize that the book's claims to historicity are nonsense, or did it never seem to you that the book was pretending to be anything more than a novel?

    Maybe I'll have to read the book after all? No, probably not. I have a limited budget of time for reading, and I'm sure it would be more profitably spent elsewhere (I wonder if any of my regular readers thinks The Satanic Verses is worth reading…)

  5. No previous knowledge was required – any premises set up in the book, which the reader could take as as working hypotheses, were spun out incompetently. The impression I had was of material taken from “experts”, badly explained, twisted toward plotworthiness, then fumbled vigorously.

  6. -Agrees with Limejelly.

    The guy caught a wiff of a clever idea and sat down and shoved that idea into the bounds of a story, creating a “suspense drama” around a hypothetical “what if?”

    He approached the writing process backwards.

    As writing it’s simply not good. And it only seems clever because the writer continually tries to point out how clever it is (through lectures and digressions).

    The sad thing is most folks won’t check any of the “claims” in the book do discern which bits are founded and which are not. But that has nothing to do with the book as much as the fact that the vast majority of folks are never taught to have a critical impulse.

  7. Bonus points to limejelly who, while he doesn’t believe what is written (being how he is a scientist and not gullible like the rest of us), he also doesn’t believe what isn’t written.

    I, for one, would like to get some fact checking on your statement that a copy (or snippet) exists which is 10 years younger than some original. I have been led to believe that time gap was more like 150 years. Coming up with a date for any original gospel (MMLJA), sermon (Heb), apocalypse(Rev) or letter(the rest) is hard enough and not without problems. To confidently date a copy with that much precision is interesting.

  8. As for SV, give it a try, but budget many hours to do so. If novel reading is a rare treat, I’d pick one that either is just a sheer pleasure (like Uncle C’s spy novels each summer) or one that might have some staying power–which certainly is SV. If you want just one for the summer, what about Gilead by Marilynne Robinson?

  9. though i would have to agree the quality of the writing in the book is an insult to the intelligence, I think there is a deeper reason why the book has ‘taken off’.

    I think it’s less to do with the truth or otherwise of the Bible or of the example of the life of Jesus – and more to do with the power structure of western society and the formalised church through history.

    I think the idea that western society has been very masculine dominated to the exclusion of the female perspective is at the heart of the da vinci myth – and it’s something that I’d agree with. It’s to do with the dialect of history (on simplyconnect somewhere).

    I’d argue that this masculine force is deeply dangerous as well as creative – it’s the controlling, analysing and domineering force that can be seen through western history, not only in the church – but certainly strikingly in it.

    The opposite is the ‘feminine’ force, more accepting, holistic, pluralistic – and INTUITIVE… this (and women generally) has been airbrushed out of the wider picture of western culture and society. This force actually underpins true religious or spiritual sensibility.

    So ultimately, power – control – atomistic analysis is anti-spiritual/anti-god – as faith involves a certain trust in the universe, in something bigger than oneself. A kind of bigger plan working itself out through history.

    So really, the Da Vinci code could be seen as a deeply spiritual work – talking about the return of this more complete worldview… it’s possibly compatible with christianity too, depending on your particular creed.

    Formalised christianity has always had a problem with the corporeal, the material world, going back at least as far as the Nicene creeds… particularly with the body and particularly therefore with Jesus – as how can he be both man and god. I believe in Jesus as a great prophet and spiritual leader, but personally I believe some aspects of the story – such as virgin birth – were added after the event to explain the apparent contradictions over this dichotomy.

    does that make any sense to anyone?

  10. This force actually underpins true religious or spiritual sensibility.

    I disagree; true Christianity does not try to feminize men, but trains them to be Godly Men; strong leaders. The withering of this doctrine has caused much destruction in the modern church.

    Formalised christianity has always had a problem with the corporeal, the material world

    That’s absolutely wrong. Biblical Christianity teaches that God declared his creation GOOD; although fallen, it can and will be restored. Heaven will be physical; a new heavens and a new earth, with the saved occupying glorified, resurrected bodies. Jesus’ incarnation was not a necessary evil, but an affirmation of the potential of the perfected physical (only with God’s grace). It is heretical gnosticism that has always had a problem with the material world.

  11. hi Rube – i think you misunderstood me, or I didn’t make myself understood…

    i’m not talking about christianity feminising men – I was saying that the spiritual impulse, or religious insight itself is a form of ‘intuition’ a kind of direct knowing.

    i would define as againt it a kind of ‘masculine’ analysing, atomistic vision of the world. in itself it is powerful and useful – but ultimately when divorced from spirit/religion denies the existence of anything it cannot see or touch.
    ie: you can’t ‘prove’ God – you have to experience it/him, or believe in it through faith.

    the strength or otherwise of the godly is immaterial to the point I was trying to make.

    I agree with all your second point about what the bible teaches… but I still believe that the established church – in Europe has had serious problems with the material world…

    The established church in Europe (particularly the UK) has an extremely bad reputation, maybe why we’re relatively godless compared to the US.

    We have relatively recent memories of bitter religious wars and persecutions, when hundreds of thousands of people died just for belonging to the ‘wrong’ branch of Christianity. I guess you guys don’t have this.

  12. Fortunately, nobody around here cares enough about their religion to die for it.

    Unfortunately, that’s because nobody around here cares enough about their religion to live for it.

  13. I've read with great interest and amusement the comments about the DaVinci Code and its interpretations, implications, and deductions, and the first thing I'll say is "People, lighten up!" It is just a novel! However, having said that, I realize that the written word is very powerful and does influence people (think of Mein Kampf, Mao's Little Black Book, not to mention the Bible, Koran, Torah, etc. etc.) Personally, after reading the Code, I wondered what all the hoopla was about. The book is intriguing at first, but around the middle it gets tedious, and the ending is boring. Great literature it is not. (I sound like Yoda, don't I?)
    I am an English major and teacher, and there are myriads of books I'd rather read and recommend. There is one in particular (or rather one chapter of the book, for those with limited budgets for reading, RubeRad) that will test one's faith and give one a lot to ponder. That book is The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevski, and the particular chapter is "The Great Inquisitor." Give it a try and see what you all think.
    Another point to which I'd like to add my $.02 is the idea that Christianity may or may not feminize men. First of all, I see nothing wrong with that since that would add to a man rather than diminish him, perhaps giving him more compassion and ability to nurture. Why would that be a bad thing? Secondly, in an anthropology class I once took for fun (not required), our professor pointed out that in almost all religions, the holy leader (be it a priest, a Shaman, a rabbi, or whatever) wears or wore at one time in history a flowing garment much like a dress because he is supposed to be a man of peace (as opposed to warriors). Can you imagine going to war in a cassock-like robe? (Kilts don't count because they are short and don't get in the way as a long skirt would) So if religion is not supposed to "feminize" men, why all the long robes, a traditionally feminine garment?
    So as I said at the beginning of this comment, lighten up, read the book as mediocre "literature," as you would read science fiction or fantasy or historical fiction: with a grain of salt and for entertainment, certainly NOT as gospel truth (pun intended).

  14. It is just a novel!

    I'd be OK with that too, except it is in the oxymoronic genre of 'historical fiction', in the tradition of The Agony and the Ecstasy, so it presents itself as being founded on facts. Which would still be ok, if he admitted that he took extreme liberty with factual history to compose a thrilling conspiracy story, but the p.1 claim quoted above just goes too far.

    I did read "The Great Inquisitor" back in high school, and I don't remember word one. I should check that out again.

    As for feminizing men, I'll just say that it's sad that in our society (and the church has fallen prey to this as well), there's no room to extoll and instill (hey, are those words related?) masculine virtues without an outcry that women should be allowed those virtues too. What are 'masculine virtues' anyways; do there remain any that our modern society would not obliterate with caveats?

    And don't forget; you can't spell 'YOlanDA' without 'YODA'…

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