May 21, 2006

Browning the Bible I

Posted in Literature, Religion, Theology at 4:58 pm by egalitaria

I've written on this briefly before, but again as the movie comes into town with a big bang and wallakazzam I'll summarise a little of what was spoken about today during a "Da Vinci Code I" session. The book and movie are merely new entrants into a growing market for controversies, including the recent discovery and report on the Gospel of Judas. 

The claim made by Dan Brown in his book is that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were secretly married and had a child. This is based upon the Gospel of Philip. In this post I will just focus on the basis of this claim and why it is arguably false.

What these gospels have in common, along with others Gospel of Mary and Gospel of Thomas, is that they are known as Gnostic Gospels. What are the characteristics of Gnostic books?

  • They are contained within the Nag Hammadi texts, discovered in Egypt in 1945.
  • The earliest Gnostic gospel, Gospel of Thomas, was written in the early 2nd Century.
  • They are not historical biographies, as opposed to the four books in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Instead, their contents are skewed towards philosophical explanations.
  • They were written by Gnostics, a small group of Jews who believed that only the elite has secret knowledge that has access to Jesus. (They are called so because of the root word gnosis, which means knowledge) – Gnostics also believe that the body is inherently evil, and were largely anti-feminist.

Based on point two, if the Gnostic gospels were written in the 2nd Century, this means that they were using pseudonyms. It was someone else who wrote and used the names Philip, Thomas, Judas. 

Hence, nobody disputes that these gospels DID EXIST. In fact, Dan Brown's answer is ONLY to this extent. He says that "Documents, rituals, organisation, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist." The existence of a document makes no solid evidence that its contents are accurate. Follow me further.

What we have is a diametrically opposed claim of Jesus' life: The Four Canonical Gospels (in the Bible) vs. the Gnostic Gospels.

  1. The CGs were written in the 1st Century, a mere couple of decades after the death of Jesus. The GGs were written roughly 150 years after the death of Jesus. Historians note that the closer the document is written to its actual date of occurence, the more reliable it is. Based upon the date of writing, the CGs clearly have a higher authenticity level.
  2. The CGs were written by the actual apostles or close friends of Jesus. These were people who were eyewitnesses to the actual life of Jesus. All of them Matthew, Mark, Luke and John satisfied this. The GGs were written under pseudonyms. Do we know who wrote them? The Gnostics. And why write them? Because they had a particular message to communicate across, which they would not otherwise have been successful in doing without using famous names of Jesus' disciples themselves.

Consider this timeline as a visual aid: 

  • AD50: Paul's letters
  • AD60: Mark's Gospel
  • AD62 – 68: Matthew and Luke's Gospel
  • AD90: John's Gospel
  • AD130: The 4 Gospels and Paul's letters recognised as authoritative sources.
  • Late 2nd Century: (AD250+) Gnostic Gospels

How was the New Testament Canon formed, then? And what about the Council of Nicea? And the divinity of Jesus that was seemingly fixed by Constantine the emperor? Wait for II.

Here, if one were to make an objective cross comparison between the Canonical Gospels and the Gnostic Gospels, it would be a non-brainer to state that the former carries a lot more weight than the latter. And if Dan Brown uses the claims made in the Gnostic Gospels to fill in the entire storyline of his book, he stands on rather shaky ground. 



  1. Tracy Reeves said,

    I don’t think Mr. Brown meant his book to be anything but entertainment. Actually, I am glad he did base some of his ideas on the Gnostic Gospels. I had never heard of them before. It has beed educational researching these ideas. Through this search I have come to undertand how the books of the Bible were chosen, and exactly what the Canonical Gospels meant. I think Mr. Brown should be thanked by many Christian writers. His book has sparked a curiosity among Christians, and non-christians alike. Maybe through curiosity they will be guided closer to Christ. I believe that most of us know the truth when we see it. I applaud Mr. Brown for his book. Questions always provoke thought.

  2. egalitaria said,

    you are right that the book certainly has sparked a dive into christian theology. i wouldn’t go so far as to say i applaud him for the book, though. despite the fact that it arouses the curiosity in christianity we would not have gotten otherwise, it creates for others great confusion, especially when they seek not and do not hunt out other alternative arguments, aside from mr. brown’s himself. thanks for the comment.

  3. nav said,

    late 2nd century is AD 150 please correct

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