Tough Questions, Mar 05, AU Edition

Been sucked in by The Da Vinci Code yet?

Along time ago, in a lifetime far, far away, I bought a book called The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail. Hundreds of people queued at my city’s biggest bookshop to obtain the first copies of what was billed as the biggest blow to Christianity in 2000 years.
That book made its authors millions. It took off around the world, all because of its highly controversial allegations – that Jesus Christ did not die on the Cross, but slipped away and secretly married Mary Magdalene before escaping to France and having babies. The essence of the story was that the “Holy Grail” of ancient repute was not, in fact, the chalice from which Christ gave the disciples Communion, but that the real “Grail” was in fact “Sang Real”, or Sang Royale – the royal bloodline of Christ as the authors perceived the story.
According to their “exposé”, a vast network of co-conspirators had worked through the ages to protect the descendants of Jesus – still living in France – and that protection included the Knights Templar and a mysterious monastic organisation named the Priory of Zion which allegedly continues to this day.

Except, as all good adventure story readers know, ripping good yarns like this one are generally a crock, and this one in particular was the Mother of all Crocks. Seems poor old Dan Brown, the author of the bestselling Da Vinci Code, fell for it though.
Brown’s book has spent more than a year sucking people’s money from
their own pockets and into his like a Hoovermatic vacuum cleaner. Brown himself has earned somewhere in the region of $30 million from it to date. So what are his central claims?
Well, he draws heavily on The Holy Blood for inspiration, and has one of his central characters, fictional historian Leigh Teabing, fire a supposed bullseye shot at Christianity in this exchange:
Teabing says to an eager young acolyte, “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book…
“More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.”
“Who chose which gospels to include?” Sophie asked.
“Aha!” Teabing burst in with enthusiasm. “The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the Pagan Roman emperor, Constantine the Great!”
First rule of pulp fiction: never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Let’s examine the illustrious Teabing’s assertion.
What he’s really saying is that by way of some grand Roman political conspiracy, the New Testament Gospels we have today are the ones that suited the Roman Empire’s purposes, and that the vast bulk of “gospels” about Jesus were deliberately left out. Ergo, every poor deluded creature who’s ever entered a church and sung a hymn through the ages has been the victim of a Roman hoax, kept alive through the centuries by church and governmental authorities desirous of retaining power over the peasantry by giving them some spiritual opium. Karl Marx had pretty much the same view. If true, then Christians everywhere have good reason to be concerned about the rationality of their faith. But it’s not true.
Firstly, many of the references to so-called ancient records in The Da Vinci Code are false. Author Dan Brown’s direct claim, via the mouth of his character Teabing, about there being “eighty” suppressed gospels is simply a blatant untruth.
You’d be hard pressed to find eighty bits of paper from 2,000 years ago, let alone eighty gospels. Quite simply, as any recognised university professor can confirm, there were never “eighty” alternative gospels in existence. At most, there were perhaps a dozen or two, ranked in a sliding scale of 1 to 10 in terms of authenticity and credibility.
The top four are the Gospels we have today, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The reason they are at the top of the list is that they were written as early as ten years after the death of Christ. Liberal scholar Dr John A. T. Robinson – no friend of fundamentalists – believes the old view that the Gospels were written up to a hundred years after Jesus died is utterly false, and that the earliest of the Gospels was written and circulating as early as 40 AD.
Those four gospels, and Paul’s letters, had already been meticulously copied dozens of times by hand and sent to Christian communities around the Mediterranean by the end of the first century, and by the end of the second century AD there were hundreds of copies of our New Testament in existence and daily use.
Archaeologists and historians have found numerous letters and sermons, dating from as early as 90 AD, quoting the Gospels and other New Testament books. Those same documents also show the rival alternative “gospels”, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Philip, didn’t appear on the scene until around 140 AD and were not accepted by Christians at the time as genuine. Early Christians regarded those “gospels” as frauds, and so should we.
For The Da Vinci Code to claim that the Catholic Church and a Roman Emperor had any power, by the time they met in 325 AD, to suddenly reinvent the Bible without anyone knowing is so ludicrous it makes the Moon Landing Conspiracy Theory look
utterly sensible.
The 325 AD meeting with Constantine was no more than a rubber-stamping exercise that formally recognised what hundreds of thousands of Christians already knew – the four Gospels, Acts and the Epistles were the true and inspired New Testament given to Christians by God. The first Christians – those people who had seen Jesus alive, watched his crucifixion and witnessed the Resurrection – welcomed the four Gospels as authentic and truthful. The reason the four Gospels were revered by the first Christians is because they were written either directly by Jesus’ apostles (Matthew and John), or by assistants to the apostles (Mark and Luke).
Unlike the much later alternative “gospels”, the top four read like historical narratives with acute attention to detail. Contrast Luke’s writing with later fictitious gospels featuring such additions as a “talking cross” that walked out of the tomb behind Jesus on the morning of his resurrection before, presumably, both he and the talking cross dashed off for coffee somewhere.
As a point of fact, nearly every one of the alternative “gospels” was created by followers of the religion “Gnosticism” which maintains that real spiritual truth can only be obtained by secret knowledge passed from Master to Initiate. Gnosticism was working frantically to counter the rapidly growing Christian faith, and it tried to do so by hijacking orthodox Christian gospels and re-writing them in accordance with its own beliefs.
Gnosticism is at the heart of the New Age movement today, and both The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail, and The Da Vinci Code are nothing more than extended advertisements for Gnosticism.
Which brings me to Big Claim No. 2 in The Da Vinci Code:
The character Teabing refers to the Council of Nicea, which was that aforementioned gathering of bishops in the year 325, and he claims: “At this gathering…many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon – the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of the sacraments, and of course, the divinity of Jesus”
“I don’t follow. His divinity?”
“My dear,” Teabing declared, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.”
“Not the Son of God?”
“Right,” Teabing said, “Jesus’ establishment as the Son of God was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea.”
“Hold on. You’re saying that Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?”
“A relatively close vote at that,” Teabing added.
While the above passage would certainly find some supporters out there in I-read-Dan-Brown land, you truly would have to be extremely gullible to believe it. It is, again, a blatant fiction.
Did Jesus Christ claim to be God in the Gospels? Repeatedly. Take John 10:25-33:
“Jesus answered… ‘I and my Father are one’,” at which point a Jewish crowd tried to stone him to death for blasphemy.
At John 8:58, “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’.”
Think about that statement for a moment. Worded very strangely, isn’t it? Unless of course you are indeed the immortal God who created Time and exists outside Time in an eternal Now. Under those circumstances, it makes perfect sense for Jesus to refer to himself existing before Abraham two thousand years earlier, and to refer to himself in the eternal present tense as “I AM”.
Makes even more sense when you go back to Exodus 3:14 and discover that God introduced himself to Moses as “I AM”.
And while Exodus records the first commandment as “Thou shalt have no other Gods but me” on pain of death, the New Testament shows Jesus clearly saying he is God, using God’s divine name for himself and, at Matthew 8:2, John 9:35-39 and elsewhere, accepting worship from people – something only God was permitted to do. Now of course anyone can claim to be God. Our psych units are full of delusional people who claim to be God. And Jesus was confronted with skeptics as the Bible records in Mark 2:9-12 when Jesus met a man paralysed from birth. He tells the man his sins are forgiven, prompting a gasp from the crowd who remind him only God has the power to forgive sins. So Jesus then asks the crowd which is the easier – to say “your sins are forgiven” or to say “rise and walk”? According to one biblical scholar commenting on this little dilemma, it is “an unanswerable question. The statements are equally simple to pronounce; but to say either, with accompanying performance, requires divine power.
“An imposter, of course, in seeking to avoid detection, would find the former easier. Jesus proceeded to heal the illness that men might know he had authority to deal with its cause.”
So it is abundantly clear all through the New Testament that Jesus both claimed to be God, and performed miracles to prove his claim. He accepted worship as if he were God. And writings from Roman imperial records around 100 AD show people “singing hymns to Christ, as if to a God”.
For Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code to claim that Jesus was never regarded as God before 325 AD is just an outright crock.
Yes, it’ll sell books. But then again a fool and their money are soon parted.