Saturday, January 21, 2006

Jesus did not have sex with Mary Magdalene

Leave me out of this

I am horrified to learn that Random House is planning to print more than five million copies of "The Da Vinci Code" beginning in March when it finally comes out in paperback.

It is difficult to understand how this awful book was able to sell 12 million copies hardcover. It is poorly written. The dialogue is didactic and scarcely believable. It uses mechanistic formulas to add suspense. It asserts a great many things, hardly any of which are true, not in religious history, not in art history, not in science. I'm no longer a Christian, so the various assertions concerning Christianity that Brown makes do not offend me per se. Instead, they offend me because they are unsupported by reason or evidence. Jesus did not have sex with Mary Magdalene. Opus Dei is not a group of hardened priest-assassins. And Mona Lisa is not a self-portrait. The entire book, in all its lunacy, is nicely summarized here.

Brown borrowed heavily from books about the early Christians written by Elaine Pagels. These books are popularizations. Some of them discuss alternative meanings of Christianity that can be found in the apocryphal books of the bible, the books discarded when the nascent Catholic church was trying to determine what it believed exactly. It's doubtful if Brown understood the difference between secret texts chosen by a shadowy, powerful cabal, and texts that were discarded in order to choose a particular creed.

And yet, Elaine Pagels writes very interesting books. I particularly enjoyed Adam, Eve, and the Serpent but more relevant to Dan Brown's book is The Gnostic Gospels For many Christians, it is revelatory to learn that the form of their church was not obvious from the beginning, that many strong leaders worked over centuries to keep certain views in and to push other views out.

There are at least three books out specifically debunking The Da Vinci Code, none of which look very good. National Geographic has a short article relating to its documentary on the subject. Here is a nice, gently written article from a Christian commentator, that also gives a short-hand view of Pagel's heretical beliefs.

What is worse, the Da Vinci Code movie is coming out in May. It stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou. The movie is written by Akiva Goldsman, who has written several popular movies and one good one (A Beautiful Mind). Generally, though, looking at his movies reveals one stink-bomb after another (Batman & Robin, Lost in Space).

I believe that the movie will be an unmitigated disaster. Goldsman did a fine job of distilling a semi-complex biography of John Nash, and he added a memorable portrayal of serious mental illness; but hardly any of his other scripts show any complexity or wit at all. They will water down the controversial parts of the book. The movie will be reduced to Hanks and Tautou running away from one mortal peril after another, while Hanks tries to keep a running dialogue going about obscure Gnostic texts. Good cinema, it ain't.

Also, while Audrey Tautou is a wonderful actress, she is miscast in the role of Sophie Neveu. This actress is best in intense, soulful roles where her intelligence shines through. You may have seen the wonderful Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, but have you seen Stephen Frear's Dirty Pretty Things or the fantastic French twenty-something movie L'Auberge Espagnole? (Admittedly, Tautou is a very small part of that movie.)

To sum up, Elaine Pagels = interesting, Audrey Tautou = talented, Akiva Goldsman = in over his head, and Dan Brown = hack.

A very, very rich hack. Sigh.


Anonymous wrd said...

So bad it's funny: check out Dan Brown's "Angels & Demons." Can't wait for the movie!

Monday, 23 January, 2006  
Anonymous quasicrazy said...

I thought that "The Da Vinci Code" was a big excuse for people who read 1.5 books a year to call themselves "readers". To me, it read like a screenplay, like he knew this would be made into a movie. God forbid books make us think, or god forbid that books tickle us with the art of words strung together like music.

Audrey Tatou was good in Amelie, but Dirty Pretty Things was not only a more interesting role for her, but just a more interesting movie. I also liked A Very Long Engagement.

Anyway, thanks for a great revelatory post -- didn't know about all this! To think all this time I thought Jesus knocked boots with Mary M.

Friday, 27 January, 2006  
Blogger travis said...

well, I know you're kidding, but I want to be clear: no one has any certain idea about what the historical Jesus really did or did not do. There's only a couple of contemporary bits of data: the Jewish historian Josephus, who worked for the Romans, referred to him glancingly as a rebel leader. I've also been told by some Orthodox Jews that there are records of his going to religious school, which is believable. Everything else is written by people who were either for or against Jesus on religious grounds.

So no one really knows the truth of it. Even if you follow the bible very closely, he basically goes from an infant to a young man of 30 or so. Some of the apocrypha have unintentionally funny stories about teenage Jesus, and how he would zap people who annoyed him.

Before the ascendance into dominance, the Christians were engaged in a long running battle with the Jewish leaders of that time, who naturally considered them heretical. (This battle is part of why why Paul extended Christianity to the gentiles. Before that, Christianity was a Jews-only religion, a chosen people of the chosen people, if you like). When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, the game was up, as far as any historical record was concerned. With the Christians in charge, they burned every bit of information that was anti-Christian or did not conform to the orthodoxies of the time.

Morton Smith wrote a fascinating book called Jesus the Magician. Among other things, he reads the gospels, very, very closely and extracts some very interesting conclusions, e.g., the emphasis on Mary's virginity was in direct response to attacks waged on Jesus's illegitimate birth.

I said Jesus didn't have sex with Mary Magdalen because we don't know anything about what he actually did, because this story doesn't appear in any version of the New Testament, and because only the possibility of it is obliquely there in a few of the apocrypha. And again, all the books of the New Testament and the apocrypha were written years to decades after Jesus died, all by people who simply had no conception of what an accurate history might look like.)

For Dan Brown to state that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalen, baldly, as fact, is false on multiple levels. However, for all I or anyone knows, the historical Jesus was having sex with everyone in Jerusalem.

Saturday, 28 January, 2006  
Anonymous quasicrazy said...

Jesus, what a pimp (maybe?!), I love it.

Monday, 30 January, 2006  

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