Thirty people gathered at St. John Lutheran Church on the afternoon of June 4 to test the historical accuracy of Dan Brown’s best selling novel, and now movie, The Da Vinci Code. At the end of the two hour session, most concluded that as fiction the book was a page turner and the movie was fun to watch, but as history it was filled with inaccuracies if not lies.
Dr. Norman Nelson, who moderated the event, billed as The DaVinci Code: Can You Seperate Fact From Fiction, had two resources at his disposal. One was a video moderated by Lee Strobel, former Tribune reporter and author of The Case for Christ. The other was Dr. Andrew Steinmann, professor of theology and Hebrew at Concordia.
The first issue raised was the credibility of Brown’s sources. At the begining of his book, Brown claims that much of the evidence for many of his assertions comes from a document called the Priory of Scion.
Dr. Paul Maier, author of The DaVinci Code: Fact or Fiction was interviewed in the video and said that the Priory of Scion does exist but has been proven to be a fraud. He declared, “If one of my graduate students would turn in work like that of Dan Brown, I would flunk him.”
Steinmann added that the real problem was that a reputable publisher like Doubleday would want to market a novel which is filled with so much false information.
A second issue was Brown’s assertion that the Fourth Century Roman emperor, Constantine, was a lifelong pagan and controlled the selection of books that made it into the New Testament. Maier called the statement “the greatest character assassination” of all time.
He produced evidence that not only was Constantine a committed Christian but also that the church council which he called in 325 merely confirmed what the Christian church had affirmed for at least two hundred years: that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were the four authoritative Gospels. He concluded that Brown’s book contains 20 percent truth and 80 percent falsehood.
A third issue arises from the second. Brown’s novel asserts that because a male dominated power elite controlled the selection of books that made it into the New Testament, the four gospels included therein cannot be trusted. A second person interviewed by Strobel in the video was Dr. Scott McNight from North Park University who argued that the four New Testament gospels are reliable sources of accurate history.
Brown asserted that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had a child, and that the 80 other gospels available at the time were passed over in favor of books which suppressed such information. McNight acknowledged that there were other gospels available to the Christian church in the first three centuries but reasoned that the other gospels present a more spiritualized and less human Jesus.
A fourth issue was the role of women in the church. Dr. Kathy McReynolds, who teaches at Loyola, acknowledged that the Christian church became less favorable to women as it moved toward the Middle Ages, but disputed Brown’s contention that the church suppressed the sacred feminine and that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.
McReynolds argued that Jesus was not only ahead of his time when it came to women, but that the four gospels reflect this attitude. Steinmann added that in Ancient Near Eastern culture a woman’s testimony was not accepted in court but that in all four gospels, it is women who are presented as being the first witnesses to the resurrection.
Steinmann also argued that the notion of Jesus being married is not really a theological problem that the church would want to suppress. The problem, he said, is historical. There’s zero evidence that he was married or that he fathered a child.
In the question and answer period that followed the video, one participant asked Steinmann if he had been able to “unravel” The Da Vinci Code for unbelievers. Steinmann replied that you can’t argue a person into faith.
Norman Young commented that The DaVinci Code may in fact become an opportunity for Christians because of the interest it may raise in the Bible and Jesus.
If the event at St. John was intended to be a trial of Dan Brown’s critique of the church, it was not fair because no one was present to defend him. The voices of neither pagans nor fans of the Gnostic gospels, like Elaine Pagels, were heard in either the video or the question and answer time.
That did not seem to bother the thirty people assembled in St. John’s sanctuary. As far as they seemed to be concerned, Brown’s assertions had received plenty of air time and now it was appropriate to hear a response that could set the record straight.