Answering Missionaries

June 9, 2006

The Da Vinci Code movie: a brief review and look at some of the claims

Filed under: Gospel reliability,Movie review — answeringmissionaries @ 2:01 am

A few days ago I went to the cinema with my brother and a friend to watch the movie “Da Vinci Code”, starring Tom Hanks. The movie is based on a fictional murder mystery book by Dan Brown entitled “The Da Vinci Code.” I have not read Brown’s book nor am I likely to read it in the future.1 To be frank, I don’t really enjoy reading lengthy novels and stories. That is not to say that I do not read at all; I love reading books on Quranic and Biblical studies. Over the years I have been obtaining a number of books on the topic of the canon of the New Testament, its textual transmission, Gospel studies, historical Jesus, Islamic history, the formation, collection and transmission of the Quran, books on Prophet Muhammed (P) as well as Islamic books in general. Thus, I have now a fairly decent collection of books lying around in my bedroom. In fact, my bedroom has become my mini-library. But, apart from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series and, my favourite, The Count of Monte Cristo, I just don’t like reading lengthy novels.

I was quite eager to watch the movie since I had heard a lot about Dan Brown’s novel. I had a basic idea what the story was about but could not understand all the fuss surrounding it since this was nothing more than a fictitious novel. Later, I was informed that Brown allegedly insists that all of the historical details and claims mentioned within his book are accurate. If so, perhaps this was literary ploy on Brown’s part to capture the attention of the unsuspecting reader? Whatever the truth, Christians have been upset over the book for a long time.

Da Vinci Code

Before watching the movie, I listened to a couple of discussions conducted by qualified New Testament scholars on Dan Brown’s novel which are to be found online. For instance:

Therefore, having heard these discussions, I knew what historical issues Brown had raised in his novel. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to watching the movie.

Finally, got to the cinema and the movie went on for around 3 hours. Well, it was boring. I was so disappointed that I wanted to get out. The only “fun” time I had in the cinema was when the trailers were on, especially the new Superman trailer. Superman seems cool and I would love to watch it as soon as it’s out on cinemas in London. That reminds me, there is also an Indian Superman around. I saw this movie over 10 years ago and I loved it. It is so full of crap and ridiculous that I would recommend it to everyone who wishes to have a good laugh.

Indian Superman

Coming back to the Da Vinci Code, everything seemed to be happening in this movie at a very fast pace and I just found it to be exceedingly dull. There were no good jokes in the move either. Well, just one, the part where Tom Hanks is amazed that his French lady friend, who turns out to be the descendant of Jesus, was given puzzles to play with when she was young whereas he was given “a wagon” as a toy. This was the only part in the entire movie that generated a three second long laughter in the cinema.

There are certainly many historical mistakes within the Da Vinci Code. I refer to three mistakes which are on my mind right now and which were discussed by a number of New Testament scholars in the above referred panel discussions:

  • Jesus (P) was transformed into God during the council of Nicea, when Constantine became a Christian. This is false, Christians worshipped Jesus as God much before that and it may even be argued that at least some of the writers of the New Testament viewed Jesus (P) as a divine being in some way (for instance the author of the gospel of John and Paul), though probably not exactly as the second person of the Trinity. According to most critical scholars, however, it is most unlikely that the historical Jesus (P) viewed himself as God or divine and this is the only part where Brown is on strong footing.
  • Jesus (P) was married to Mary Magdalene and had a daughter – there are no gospels, no early Christian writings, not even non-canonical writings, which suggest or even imply that Jesus (P) was married to Mary Magdalene, let alone had a child. Of course, it’s “possible” that Jesus (P) was married, but that is unlikely. I find it just amazing that all of the ancient documents and oral traditions failed to make mention of something like this. Brown insists that there are non-canonical gospels and texts which do directly refer, or strongly hint towards, to the marriage of Jesus (P) and Mary Magdalene. However, if you check the above referred links which offer a critique of the historical claims within the Da Vinci Code, you will note that Brown is wrong and scholars have strongly questioned his interpretation of those passages.
  • According to Brown, there were 80 gospels out of which only 4 were chosen during the council of Nicea – Brown most likely made up the figure of 80 since we simply do not know how many non-canonical gospels existed. We have evidence of some, but many were lost as well. Thus, there is no way to know precisely how many non-canonical gospels existed in the past. Moreover, the canonical Gospels were not selected for the first time at Nicea, they were already read by large portions of Christians.

As we were leaving the cinema, we were approached by an individual who gave us a small pamphlet2 addressing some of the factual historical mistakes in the Da Vinci Code. I eagerly read this pamphlet and found myself both agreeing and disagreeing with some of its contents. A few disagreements:

  • 1. Textual integrity of the New Testament – In response to the following quoted statement in Brown’s book (I am simply assuming that Brown makes this statement) pertaining to the Bible, that it has “evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions”, it is said:

      “We have about 5,700 early Greek New Testament manuscripts, which is far more than of any other ancient book. It means that we can be sure that we have the original texts. Translations are all about trying to provide from the original languages, an up to date translation of those documents. That there are many translations in print today, is evidence of the integrity of the translators who revise their work to try to guarantee accuracy.”

    I do not have a major problem with the comments pertaining to the New Testament translations. However, it seems to me that the author is arguing that because there are so many thousands of New Testament manuscripts, it follows that we have the “original text.” Using a similar line of argument, the defenders of the majority text also argue in support of a late and unreliable text type since many more manuscripts contain it. For instance, around 80% to 90% of the New Testament manuscripts contain the Byzantine, or the majority, text type. Thus, if one appeals to the numerical superiority of manuscripts, then it also needs to be acknowledged that the vast majority of the manuscripts contain an inferior quality text type. It is interesting to note that while the Byzantine text type is defended by some with an appeal to the majority of manuscripts, other Christian apologists also appeal to the quantity of manuscripts in order to defend their claims pertaining to the alleged textual accuracy and integrity of the New Testament writings even though they do not accept the majority text as the “original”! Moreover, textual critics themselves, in sharp contrast, do not appeal to the quantity of manuscripts. It is the quality and age of manuscripts which matter and not just mere quantity. Only a few manuscripts are used by textual critics in order to prepare the critical editions of the New Testament text. Furthermore, the critical editions are working texts; they should not be confused with the so-called “original text.” One eminent textual critic describes the Nestle-Aland critical edition as follows:

    This text was agreed by a committee. When they disagreed on the best reading to print, they voted. Evidently, they agreed either by a majority or unanimously that their text was the best available. But it does not follow that they believed their text to be ‘original’. On the whole, the textual critics have always been reluctant to claim so much. Other users of the Greek New Testament accord them too much honour in treating the text as definitive.

    [D. C. Parker, The Living Text Of The Gospels, 1997, Cambridge University Press, p. 3]

    There is no one New Testament manuscript which contains the “original text.”

    For more information, see the detailed article:

  • 2. Authorship of the gospels – while defending the historicity of the canonical gospels and attempting to dismiss the non-canonical gospels, the authors claims:

      “However, the point about Matthew and John is that they were eyewitnesses, and Mark and Luke based their writing on eye-witness testimony. Later legends are only what they claim to be – legends.”

    In fact, the author fails to mention the widespread controversy and disagreement among Christians pertaining to the authorship of the canonical gospels. For example, definitely you will come across a few who would defend the traditional authorship claims of the gospels. However, you will come across many more Christians who will only partially acknowledge the traditional claims of authorship, and then there even more who outright dismiss the authorship claims in their entirety. Therefore, I believe that the author is being dishonest when he presents widely disputed and rejected claims as if they are acknowledged “facts”, giving the misleading impression that there is no controversy over the matter.

    The vast majority of Christians (not just the evil “liberals”) dismiss the traditional claim that the gospels according to Matthew and John were authored by eyewitnesses and only some defend the authorship of Mark and Luke. According to the late Raymond Brown:3

    None of the Gospels mentions an author’s name, and it is quite possible that none was actually written by the one whose name was attached to it at the end of the 2nd century . . .

    [Raymond E. Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament, 1997, The Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday, p. 7]

    According to the author, “One needs accurate, well-tested and proven information. Therefore, read Matthew, Mark, Luke or John for yourself. be introduced to the real Jesus.” The advice to read the gospels for ourselves is one which I would give to everyone, however, the author naively assumes that all the information within the canonical gospels is “accurate;” “well-tested;” “proven information” and that these gospels present the “real Jesus.” But again, these are all pious and convenient assumptions and no more. The historicity of the gospels, particularly that of John, has been widely questioned, primarily by Christians themselves, and it is today widely acknowledged that not everything within the gospels is 100% accurate and historical. Even conservative scholars generally agree upon this much despite their overall positive outlook and evaluation of the New Testament documents. The fact that not everything with the gospels is historical or fully accurate is almost universally acknowledged and is not a “controversial” or widely disputed point; only the extent of their historical reliability/unreliability is in dispute.

    For more information, see the article in this blog entitled:

    A REASSERTION THAT MATTHEW 24:42 IMPROVES THE IMAGE OF JESUS OVER THAT OF MARK 13:35

  • 3. The alleged divinity of Jesus (P) – According to the author:

      “In the New Testament alone there are about 500 verses where it is taken for granted that Jesus is Himself God. God took on Himself human flesh, so that Jesus is both fully God and fully human.”

    I think it is a huge exaggeration to assert that there are “500” verses where “it is taken for granted” that Jesus (P) is God. In a section entitled, “Did NT Christians call Jesus God?”, the late Raymond Brown says that there are no more than three reasonably clear instances in the New Testament where Jesus (P) is referred to as God, as well as five instances that have a probability. These eight instances are to be found in Romans, Hebrews, Titus, John, I John and II Peter. This is far, far less than the unsubstantiated assertion of “500”. Moreover, according to the same Raymond Brown, Jesus (P) is never called God in the Synoptic gospels and even the fourth gospel does not portray Jesus (P) as saying specifically that he is God. Similarly, the late Brown goes on to say that the sermons in Acts which are attributed to the beginning of the Christian mission also do not speak of Jesus (P) as God. To quote Raymond Brown: “Thus, there is no reason to think that Jesus was called God in the earliest layers of the NT tradition.”4

  • 4. According to the author:

      “Eyewitnesses, however, did record that Jesus was born, lived, taught, ministered . . .”

    The problem with this assertion is that we have, in fact, nothing from any eyewitnesses. There are no records in our hands that originate from eyewitnesses who witnessed the birth of Jesus (P), or witnessed him teaching and ministering first hand. Even if we do accept the traditional Christian claims pertaining to the authorship of the gospels of Mark and Luke, we would still not have anything from “eyewitnesses” since Mark and Luke were merely alleged followers of apostles (Luke being the follower of Paul, who was himself not an eyewitness!), not eyewitnesses themselves. At the very least, claims of eyewitnesses are widely disputed and dismissed by the vast majority of scholars, including Christian scholars. Hence the author is again passing along unsubstantiated and widely/commonly rejected assertions to the unsuspecting masses, who generally know little about Biblical issues to begin with.

  • Although I have problems with some of the other assertions in this pamphlet, the above examples will suffice for now.

    In my view, both Dan Brown and Christians such as Roger Carswell are guilty of spreading misinformation to the public pertaining to issues relating to the Bible and Jesus (P). Both make claims without proof, merely assuming that their assertions are the gospel truth and, for some unknown reason, seem to think that their readers are so dumb that they won’t even try to critically study and research their far-fetched claims.

    In conclusion, no, I won’t recommend the movie Da Vinci Code. But I will ask you to watch X-Men 3 and to keep an eye on the new Superman and the re-making of The Omen. Also, don’t forget the Indian Superman. Enjoy it’s review.

    Bubye…

    Notes

    1. However, my little cousin tells me that she will disown me if I do not read Dan Brown’s novel. I will, therefore, definitely acquire it ASAP.

    2. “Vinci De Coded” by Roger Carswell

    3. Although Raymond Brown is a little receptive towards the traditional authorship claim pertaining to the Gospel according to Luke. Brown writes (p. 326): “We have no way of being certain that he was Luke, as affirmed by 2d-century tradition; but there is no serious reason to propose a different candidate.” According to Brown, it is possible that Luke, a minor figure who travelled with Paul for some time, wrote the gospel of Luke and Acts decades after Paul’s death.

    Consider the view of the conservative scholar Bruce Metzger as well. Metzger does not believe that the apostle Matthew authored the gospel of Matthew and that the apostle John was responsible for the gospel according to John. But he is sympathetic towards the traditional authorship of Mark, but without clearing stating if Mark authored the gospel attributed to him. Metzger does not say whether or not the second century tradition which assigns authorship of the third gospel to Luke, a follower of Paul, is accurate. See his evangelical introduction of the New Testament: Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, it’s background, growth, and content, 1985, 2nd edition, enlarged, Abingdon Press Nashville, pp. 96-98.

    4. Quotation from p. 190 and discussion summarised from pp. 189-190. See, Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology, 1994, Paulist Press.

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