Sunday, March 19, 2006

Truth and Fiction

Now that closing statements for the copyright hearing in London are underway, it seems appropriate to note Dan Brown's own witness statement of Dec 21st, 2005. Paragraph 192, for example, makes it clear that the paragraphs from the Gospel of Philip and Mary cited in the DVC as (the only) ancient evidence for the marriage of MM and Jesus derive from secondary sources such as Elaine Pagels' book, The Gnostic Gospels.

Paragraph 217 clarifies that DVC as a novel is a work of fiction that uses verifiable material such as Da Vinci's paintings, the Gnostic Gospels and Hieros Gamos. These facts are interpreted by fictional characters in DVC in ideas that Brown believes have merit but the reader is encouraged to come up with opinions about religion and faith assessing the evidence for themselves.

An opinion piece by Viv Groskop in the Observer for March 19th makes the point that critics of Brown are having a field day since revelations of the trial like Brown's witness statement above make it fashionable to sneer at popular money-making novels. Groskop rightly notes that all this is beside the point. I agree and in public always say that anything that promotes discussion of ancient Christianity or ideas in the DVC such as recognizing male bias in ecclesiastical tradition is all to the good. No matter that DVC rests on our fascination with conspiracies. The timing of its phenomenal success has to do with, I believe, the scandal of pedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church that is far from over.

Religious leaders need, for example, to take note of widespread interest in the argument of DVC that the church has suppressed the feminine whether in ecclesiastical imagery, theology, or office holders. What is the evidence? How might it be interpreted? The argument of the Catholic League that Ron Howard should add a disclaimer at the beginning of the DaVinci Code that the movie is fictional rests on the notion that we faithful cannot think for ourselves. Religious leaders have yet another opportunity to discuss many issues the book raises including the sources of women's spiritual authority when the movie is released in May.

The paragraphs from the Gospels of Mary and Philip cited in the DVC need to be read in context of the gospels from which they derive. Not even gospel writers thought that Jesus' cursing of the fig tree (reported in Matthew and Mark and interpreted in Luke) had anything to do with a fit of pique. The notion of a kiss in the Gospel of Philip, for example, is that it is the means by which "the perfect" conceive and give birth. Perhaps this is the way initiates join a community of "perfect" in Philip: initiates come into being through the generating activity of that community whether by sacramental acts or other types of initiating rites. Any interpretation of a kiss in the Gospel of Philip must start with its notion of sacramental reality.

Of course its not easy to understand ancient texts like Philip and Mary especially since they stand outside a 2000 year old tradition of interpretation. But new editions and interpretations of these texts and others like them are published all the time!

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