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Da Vinci Code - my sideways view.
Boris Johnson speaks some sense about the Da Vinci Code in the Telegraph this morning. Humorously but with more respect for the faith than many commentators in my opinion.
PS Sorry Mary, while you were drafting your comment I was working on this.
By my maths, that means that there are at least six or seven million people in this country who now believe that it's true: that for two millennia the Roman Catholic Church has been engaged in a desperate struggle to conceal the existence of the Christ family, and that they are probably all over the place: behind the fish counter at Sainsbury's; creating loaves for Hovis; causing people to rise from their beds in hospital. They could be anywhere. They could be reading this paper. They could (gulp) be you.
Dan Brown has reopened a controversy that the Church thought had been settled in ad325.
The reason this piffle is such a howling hit is that it resurrects the great unspoken doubt in the minds of all Christians, that has existed ever since the doctrine of the Incarnation. It is about whether Christ can really be man and God at once.
If he was a god, how come he died? And if he was a man, how did he rise from the dead? From the very beginning of Christianity, there were Gnostics, who contested the full divinity of Christ, and by the third century AD the chief exponent of this type of view was a Libyan Christian bishop called Arius.
Arius spoke for everyone who has ever said that "Jesus was a really great guy and a great teacher, but I don't think he was really the biological son of God". He had many supporters, and the wrangle engulfed the Christian world until Constantine settled it rather incompetently at the Council of Nicaea in 325, and the doctrine of the Trinity was pronounced.
But the controversy rumbled on for hundreds of years, until it produced its most potent successor, Islam, which regards the idea of the son of God as blasphemous.
This book may be bilge, but it awakens an ancient and distinguished heresy. Dan Brown is the new heresiarch, and I vote that he, the Pope, Austen Ivereigh and the rest of us convene a new Council of Nicaea to settle the matter.
What has always fascinated me is the fleeting glimpse the Bible gives us of the rest of Christ’s earthly family. I don’t dispute the creed, Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. I say it most Sundays and I believe it. But his earthly father Joseph was of utmost importance. He was of David’s line, hence the journey to Bethlehem. The New Testament opens Matthew 1:1-17 with the genealogy of Christ’s descent from Abraham, through David to Jacob (father) of Joseph, the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus called Messiah. 3 groups of 14 generations each. Luke also gives a family tree which differs in a few details.
We know (Luke Chap 1) that Mary had a kinswoman Elizabeth (of a priestly family descended from Aaron). She went to visit her when they were both expecting babies. Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. So he and Christ were cousins, a relationship which does get celebrated in some quarters, especially Mother and Child organisations.
Christ grows up. He calls his apostles and starts to preach. And his mother and brothers went with him (Matthew 12.47). When he preaches at the synagogue in Nazareth we get their names “is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his Mother called Mary, his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters here with us?” And the locals knew him too well to be impressed, unfortunately. Matthew 13.56, Mark 6.3.
So 4 named brothers, several sisters. Brothers who, with the Virgin Mary, were present with the apostles at the ascension and prayed together frequently thereafter (Acts 114) What happened to them? Their genes will still be in the gene pool. We do know a little of what happened to James. He went on to lead the Church in Jerusalem and was visited by both Paul and Peter during the following years. Which has always left me wondering why Christ entrusted his Mother to John? Perhaps his brothers were younger and not yet mature. And who was the Virgin Mary’s sister, who was with her at the foot of the cross (John 19.25) “Near the cross stood Mary his mother, with her sister” An unknown Aunt - Elizabeth mother of John the Baptist perhaps?
These glimpses of the women have given me a lot of food for thought over the years. So many of them are called Mary. I read an archaeological report that says that one in three women of the Holy land in the first century was called Maryame. Miriam in a Hebrew version favoured for translations of the Old Testament, Maria in Latin, Maryam still popular in Arab speaking countries. That alone suggests that Dan Brown was inventing pure fiction when he gave the name Sarah to Christ’s daughter. That name had fallen out of favour at that period; nearly all the women are called Mary, except Martha, Joanna, Salome, Susanna and Elizabeth. And the ones who are identified only by their men folk, daughter of Jairus, wife of Zebedee.
There is nothing in the Bible that says that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. She was a woman from who 7 devils were cast (Luke 8.2). She may, or may not, have been the same woman who had been “living an immoral life” and washed his feet with her tears at the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7.37) But an immoral life falls some distance short of prostitution.
There is nothing in the Bible either that says that Salome danced the dance of the seven veils. A daughter of Heriodias did dance for Herod’s delight (Matthew14.6) Herodias had quite a few daughters, Salome was only one of them. The only Salome mentioned by name in the Bible was one of the women who went to the tomb with Mary Magdalene. Which does not sound like the same person to me.
So if people want to think of Christ’s bloodline still in the world, they don’t need a conspiracy theory. They just need to consult their Bible where clearly and openly his brothers, sisters, aunt and Mother carried on spreading the Good News.