All through history, people have made their thirty pieces of silver by trying to discredit the historical facts about Jesus Christ, and especially the Easter message.
Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code is just one in a long line of people who have either directly or indirectly tried to misrepresent, obscure or emasculate the power of the Christian narrative.
Within days of the crucifixion of Christ, Roman and Jewish guards were paid to peddle a false tale surrounding the resurrection. (The Bible’s Acts of the Apostles says they were paid ‘a lot of money’.) Their employers, avowed enemies of Jesus, needed to explain how the body of Christ came to leave its tomb while their guards had been watching over it.
Only a few months later, false witnesses were paid to discredit the early Christian leader known simply as Stephen. His powerful witness for Christ led to his death as the first Christian martyr.
Money was involved in each of these murky affairs.
Perhaps the most infamous example of this kind of thing is found in the story of Judas Iscariot. This one-time disciple of Jesus betrayed his Lord for 30 pieces of silver.
Of course, betrayal is not the same as denial. Betrayal means turning on someone who has trusted you; it is made worse when that someone has been good to you. Judas was in many ways more culpable that someone like Dan Brown, for he had spent three years living day-in-day-out in close proximity to Jesus.
Judas was an eye-witness to the remarkable goodness, healing power and uniquely humane teaching of this man from Nazareth. Jesus trusted him, even to the point of making him treasurer of his band of followers. Judas betrayed a friend to his enemies: a friend who turned out to be the most influential person in history. And he did it for the price of a small piece of land.
Mr. Brown, as far as I know, has never professed any sort of Christian faith, so he can’t be accused of betrayal in the proper sense of the word. Yet he has betrayed truth, by insisting that Jesus did not die as the Bible suggests, but went on living and eventually marrying Mary Magdalene.
I'm not normally one to get too hot under the collar when opponents of Christian faith speak out. They're entitled to do so, though we sometimes forget that rights bring certain social responsibilities.
Mr. Brown has written a novel – in effect, a modern fairy-story. On that basis, his fantastic distortion of facts might normally be tolerated: he is after all a myth-maker.
However, he makes the claim in his book that the historical events he represents are based in fact. This is hubris of the worst kind and can't be left unchallenged.
The author of The Da Vinci Code has deliberately chosen to overlook the witness of history, which reveals more extant documentary evidence for the existence, work and death of Christ than for the person of Julius Caesar.
No reliable historian of any note has ever maintained that the death of Jesus by crucifixion is a myth. Even today, in the midst of an increasingly pluralistic and secular society, reputable historians might argue about what the crucifixion means, but they don’t deny that Jesus died on a cross.
Even ancient historical texts which were either unfriendly to Christianity or totally disinterested in it – such as the writings of Josephus – recognize the manner of Jesus’ death and the passion of the Christians’ faith in his resurrection.
The crucifixion is also attested to in some religious traditions outside of Christianity.
Most historians who have spoken about his book have expressed annoyance and even anger that by flying in the face of historical evidence he is reshaping people’s perceptions about the past. And he’s doing it via a cheap, unscholarly piece of pop-fiction which he peddles as reflecting facts.
Of course, it’s not just his lies about the cross that have them upset. Many are more upset about his misreading of the work and motives of people like Leonardo Da Vinci.
A key part of Brown’s plot is the idea that in The Last Supper Da Vinci has left coded messages about the ‘real’ story of Jesus.
The figure depicting St. John, says Brown, is actually a woman – a suggestion, by the way, which has been made in the past. Art historians are quick to point out, though, that Da Vinci often used aspects of the same human study on different characters in various paintings.
One face might, for example, turn up several times in various works. Sometimes, a face might be that of a woman on a man’s body or vice-versa. Da Vinci wasn’t sending coded messages; he was simply being economical his best studies.
Ideas like Brown’s have long been refuted by historians around the world, yet he still maintains in the opening to the book that his story is based in fact.
Yes, it is just a novel and, in literary terms, it is not judged a very good one. The danger, though, is that writers like Brown use their considerable skill and the trust of their readership to misrepresent history – and faith. All for money.
The one good thing about the existence and popularity of The Da Vinci Code is that it gives Christians a platform to share the real story of Easter. It gives us an opportunity to speak about the cross and resurrection to a previously disinterested crowd.
At the end of the day, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are such potent events in history that no mere novel can seriously challenge the onward march of the gospel.
The Da Vinci Code and other works like it may be a temporary thorn in the side of faith, but like all false stories it will be overshadowed by the power and efficacy of what Jesus did for us.