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[COMMENT: This is a good piece on a subject which I have so far pretty much ignored. I hope that faithful Christians will welcome the engagement rather than running from it. This is the sort of thing we should excel in, not hide from. But we are the products of our public schools and lame-brained (for the most part) Sunday Schools. We can do better. This sort of stuff Stephen Noll talks about below should not be strange or new material to Christians. E. Fox]
I recently bought a paperback copy of *The DaVinci Code* in the airport at the beginning of a long trip. I found the first half of the book (230 pages to be exact) entertaining reading, if one likes thrillers. The book has Western snob appeal, with references to the Louvre in Paris, to Leonardo, Vatican jets, French estates, English cathedrals, and Harvard professors.
But when I got to page 231, I stopped short because suddenly "Professor" Langdon was lecturing on something I happen to know about: the background of the Bible. "The Bible is a product of man, my dear," he condescendingly informs his pupil Sophie. Well, yes, I too believe that "men moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke of God" (2 Peter 1:21).
That's not enough for DaVinci, however. Author Dan Brown's "experts" (clearly his mouthpieces) go on to claim that the New Testament as we know it was collated by the emperor Constantine in 325 AD, three centuries after the events it describes. Constantine, he says confidently, not only created our New Testament Gospels but suppressed other Gospels about a Jesus who did not die on a Cross but was married to Mary Magdalene with a daughter named Sarah.
"Fortunately for historians," Brown continues, "some of the Gospels Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive," such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Coptic Gospels. Wait a minute! I thought. I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the late 1940s and 50s. The Dead Sea Scrolls have attracted more than their share of crackpot commentators, but the consensus of serious experts is that they are Jewish documents about Judaism that say nothing at all directly about Jesus and the Christian movement.
As for the Coptic Scrolls (discovered in Egypt in the 1930s), again the broad consensus of scholarship is that they are the work of "Gnostic" Christians, who wrote their "gospels" 150 years after the time of Jesus. The Gnostics believed that the God of the Old Testament was a devil and the material world He created was evil. Jesus, they said, came to share secret knowledge (gnosis) on how to escape from this evil world and become pure spirits. Jesus, the Gnostics taught, was a guru not a Saviour.
Whatever one thinks of the Gnostics' theory, they almost certainly had no connection with the historical Jesus. Now *The DaVinci Code* trumpets on its fly-sheet that it is FACT: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." As for the documents I know something about, I can tell you: this is a lie. The "facts" about the Gospels in *The DaVinci Code* are pure fiction, and no credible historian has upheld them.
What can we say about the real Gospels? Well, scholars vary somewhat, but only marginally, on when the final editions of the Gospels were produced. Dr. N. T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, who has written three highly-regarded books on Jesus and the Gospels, sums up this way: "The canonical gospels - despite every effort to prove the contrary - are still regarded by the great majority of scholars as early, written within the first 50 years of Jesus' lifetime, quite possibly much sooner."
Would we trust the memories of Ugandans writing about Idi Amin's era? Would there be eyewitnesses to Obote I and Obote II?* Clearly, the answer is Yes. Well, that's the kind of evidence we have for the New Testament Gospels.
*DaVinci's* Coptic Gospels, on the other hand, are as if Alice Lakwena were trying to write the history of the Uganda Martyrs. She might remember some facts from her school days and then channel the rest through her familiar spirit. Would you put your trust in the Gospel of Alice?**
So who are you going to believe: *DaVinci* or the Bible? According to *DaVinci*, Jesus was a great guru whose teachings have been perverted (page 234); all religions are figments of man's imagination (page 342); the supreme sacrament is sex (page 310); and the whole Christian Church - note, not just the Roman Catholic Church - has been the great Enemy of the real truth of religion (throughout).
According to the Bible - let's take St. Paul reporting eyewitness testimony - Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried and on the third day rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). By these saving acts, we are saved from sin, not in some airy-fairy world but in this world. No one has ever been saved by *The DaVinci Code*, and indeed many may be led astray.
So should you go see the movie? To the gullible, I would say: "Don't go, because the video medium can be very deceiving." For those who are sure of the truth, maybe you need to see DaVinci in order to present the real Jesus better to those who do not know Him.
For those who wish to dig deeper into this subject, let me suggest several websites: www.jesusdecoded.com, www.markdroberts.com and www.thedavincichallenge.com. Just a little internet sleuthing will not only show that DaVinci is not FACT but FALSEHOOD and inaccurate in just about everything, from art history to the floor plan of Westminster Abbey.
This article was first published in New Vision (Kampala) 21 May 2006. The link is www.newvision.co.ug.
--The Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll is Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University in Mukono. He is author of books and articles on the Bible and its background.
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