The Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine
~Bart D. Ehrman
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ISBN/ASIN : 0195181409
Manufacturer : Oxford University Press Inc, USA|
Release data : November, 2004
A selection of product reviews
Too many documents are ignored or minorized
Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is such a success that many are trying to get a piece of the cake. It is so disquieting about the rule and power of the Christian churches, and first of all the Catholic Church, that some professional intellectuals who have dedicated their entire life to scrutinizing the Christian religion have to protest and act against such heretic - sorry we say false or fictional today - assertions about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Apostles, and many other things. Since Ehrman does not really need a piece of the cake, he must be getting on the move for ideological reasons. And this book is an essential book. It tries to reestablish the « truth » about Jesus and Christian history without - how could they dare - denying the right to any author to use any historical reference in his fiction and imagination. Yet the book is outstanding, not for that « truth » that probably does not exist, but by the intellectual method used to discredit the book at the religious level. Ehrman disagrees with the assertion that the feminine principle was essential in religion before the patriarchalization of Christianity that is finally achieved and triumphant with Constantine, that Jesus was in love with Mary Magdalene (Ehrman concedes that she is in no way a prostitute), married to her and the father of her child. His arguments are purely historical, though all the documents (and they are few, and yet many) we have are too scarce and too distant from the time of events to be sufficient to apply any historical method reliably. We should use an anthropological method, the only way to reconstruct a puzzle when too many pieces are missing (the main rule is that when something is forbidden it exists, and when something is not forbidden, hence not spoken of, it may exist and be accepted, or it may not exist). The second mistake is that he hardly takes into account the problem of the language, except to his advantage. All these documents we have started as a direct oral tradition in a fundamentally oral society. This means that it is not a modern boy's game whispering some message to his neighbor for him to whisper it then to the next neighbour, and so on. Memory in such a society is paramount and absolute. What is important then is not what is common but what is different : Ehrman only works on what is common. He accepts the fact that the four canonical gospels are written in Greek, though they were in Aramaic in the oral tradition (some catholic research workers have noticed that these gospels can be easily sliced in verses that were originally in Aramaic and originally in Greek, which explains all the double statements that come over and over) but he refuses to take into acount that some of the similar testimonies from noncanonincal apostles were transmitted orally in their various travels and missions to other areas where Aramaic was not the standard language and that these oral traditions were then transferred into Coptic for example and kept in that language : for him if it is in Coptic it is recent, hence unacceptable, but this conclusion is absurd in any scientific approach of an oral civilization. But worse of all, Ehrman does not analyze some essential documents we have today, such as Mark's Secret Gospel revealed in a letter by Clement of Alexandria dealing with Carpocrates, or analyzes some of them skimpily whereas he hammers some quotations from the canonical gospels over and over again. Even worse : he quotes the canonical Gospels and cuts the quotes short to draw conclusions that have nothing to do with the full quotations. He declares Jesus to be « a male Jewish apocalypticist », which is at least debatable if we consider the whole life of Jesus, and does not say a word about John's Apocalypse that would have revealed that the feminine principle is fundamental in the vision since the Jerusalem of the future is the Bride to which the Lamb will be married, unifying thus the male principle and the female principle into two images that represent the divine. So, this book is essential for you to discover how institutionalized research workers in the field of the Christian faith and history are reluctant at discussing anything that may disturb their personal, and supposedly dominant (among them), vision of who Jesus was, and the whole thing is clothed in an extremely condescendant and over-repeated attitude towards « independent researchers » (i.e. not institutionalized) and other fiction writers. Read it, but not with a handful of salt as the author would say, but with a full cartful of salt, and the help of a good Jerusalem Bible and many apocrypha and pseudepigrapha.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
Scholarly yet accessible on flawed historical claims
"If Dan Brown had gotten all his facts straight, there would have been no compelling reason for me to write this book. But he didn't", concludes Bart D. Ehrman in his epilogue to 'Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code' (p. 189). Ehrman, also the author of 'Lost Christianities' (Oxford University Press, 2004), chairs University of North Carolina's Department of Religious Studies and is considered a leading expert on the life of Christ and the documents and practices of early Christendom. Having read (or rather devoured) Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' (Bantam Press, 2003), I found myself greatly in need of a historian's unbiased opinions on the historical claims made by the novel's fictional scholars. What sets Ehrman's effort apart from most of the other books written in critical response to Brown's novel, is the fact that his is not a Christian polemic. In a scholarly yet pedagogic way, the author takes the reader on a journey during which all the major claims of Robert Langdon and Leigh Teabing (and ultimately, one suspects, of Dan Brown himself) that are based on ancient, Middle Eastern documents, are thoroughly evaluated. (He does not, however, discuss claims relating to religious symbolism, art, rituals and architecture.) Ehrman skillfully deals with the various claims in enough detail to make it an enlightening read for people like myself, who are fairly well acquainted both with the New Testament and with the history of the ancient Church. At the same time, he studiously avoids getting too deep for his prime audience: the inquisitive and perhaps confused layman. The book is divided into two major sections; the first dealing with accusations hurled against Constantine the Great, Rome's first Christian emperor, and the second with what we actually know about the historical Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Ancient written sources refered to in 'The Da Vince Code', such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library, are dealt with at length. As a bonus, the reader is given a basic understanding of historical methodology in general, and how it pertains to early Church history in particular. Special emphasis is here given to the formation of the New Testament canon. For an analysis of religious symbolism and societies described in the novel, you must look elsewhere. To pull the carpet from under the feet of the novel's most serious accusations against the ancient Church, however, you need look no further.