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Those in Glass Houses ...

Concerning the Hypocritical Attacks against Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code

by Gerd Lüdemann

Dan Brown's thriller The Da Vinci Code purports to expose the greatest cover-up in history. Jesus is the victim of conspiracy. The perpetrator is the Catholic Church, which among other things has suppressed documents that report he was married and fathered a daughter.

In fact, the plot of the novel is a complex chain of "mysteries" involving Jesus and the primitive church that serious historical and theological research must assign to the class of ludicrous absurdities. Three striking examples of this silliness will suffice: Jesus is said to have composed a chronicle of his life; Mary Magdalene is reported to have kept a diary; and three centuries thereafter we find the Emperor Constantine selecting from more than eighty existing gospels the four included in the New Testament.

Beginning on May 18 this incredible but entertaining story will be seen in American cinemas and soon after throughout the world. A star-studded cast led by Tom Hanks playing Harvard Professor Robert Langdon - who must reluctantly reveal the truth about Jesus' life - assures a wide audience and a huge profit.

In the meantime spokesmen from various churches have joined the Vatican in issuing a flood of condemnations in both print and electronic media in an attempt to limit the damage by protecting their flocks. Protesting that Dan Brown has twisted biblical truth, they accuse him of perverse and malignant deception. Yet in crying, "Wolf!" these orthodox teachers of faith beg the question by failing to distinguish between Brown's fictional story - whose heroes admittedly talk lots of nonsense - and the fraudulent or poorly researched textbooks they themselves commonly employ. Indeed the pious churchmen who accuse Brown of a great deception are flinging stones at The Da Vinci Code from within a glass house of their own making. Brown claims only that all cited documents or monuments actually exist and that all texts are reproduced accurately; he nowhere alleges that the revelations of his fictional characters represent historical facts. The outraged shepherds who accuse Brown of spreading errors and inconsistencies should remember that the same charges may be leveled against the New Testament Gospels - and the more so since each claims to present an accurate picture of Jesus and Christian tradition still trumpets those dubious claims.

Research on the historical Jesus during the last 250 years has demonstrated that the process of exaggerating and falsifying the words and actions of the man Jesus began in earliest Christianity and had already arrived at an advanced stage when the gospels were written. Most of the traditions preserved in the New Testament, all of which pretend to give authentic testimony about him, are in blatant contradiction to his actual words and deeds. The historical judgment must be that early Christians tailored Jesus to their wishes and interests - which often involved first and foremost their efforts to silence and demonize those professing divergent beliefs. The charismatic exorcist Jesus was thus turned into a performer of preposterous miracles; the prescient Jewish parabler was distorted into a resentful anti-Semite; the restless itinerant preacher of righteousness was re-drawn as a cosmic ruler, the Risen Lord who one day will pass judgment on the living and the dead.

Worst of all, the ecclesiastical authorities who now raise their voices against Dan Brown must have become acquainted in their seminary days with the widely accepted results of research on the historical Jesus. And yet they censure clergy and professors of theology who introduce church members to a human Jesus and pander to the credulity of "the faithful" by attacking the author of a novel, its protagonists (!), and their absurd historical fictions. Two thousand years ago devout Jews coined a word to characterize the pious but unscrupulous falsification of Jesus' words and actions by the New Testament authors and their precursors: Deception. This time-honored but long-ignored thesis of theirs should be made part of the resurgent public discourse now that Dan Brown's book has become a movie.


Copyright © Gerd Lüdemann (gluedem@gwdg.de)
Last updated on May 10, 2017
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