Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist
The following is the text from Earl Abbe's presentation on October 16, 2005.
CHRISTIANITY, GNOSTICISM AND THE DA VINCI CODE
Morning. The topic of discussion
this morning is Christianity, Gnosticism and The Da Vinci Code.
My information on the matter was obtained by reading and other study.
Many of the source materials are on the back table for your later
inspection. Our time is brief; we
have only 45 minutes. I plan to
talk for half of that and to invite questions and discussion for the remainder.
We can also continue our discussions at the coffee hour after the
The Da Vinci Code by author Dan Brown is a publishing phenomenon.
Prior to The Da Vinci Code, Brown published three novels selling a
total of 20,000 copies. As of today
(10/16/05) The Da Vinci Code has been on the New York Times Best Seller
List for 133 consecutive weeks and has sold well over 27 million copies.
27 million copies. Clearly the book has something going for it.
It is a fun
read. But why should a
comparatively light-hearted adventure story attract such interest? It is not the complex plot weaving menace with history,
secret societies, art, and architecture. Brown’s
previous novel, Angels and Demons, had all that and even the same hero
but had sold only in the low thousands by that time.
What The Code has that its predecessor lacks is a supposed secret
from the foundation of Christianity, which the Church tried to destroy and a
complex series of people and organizations preserved for various reasons.
And it is not a tale that Brown invented.
THE EARLY CHURCH DIVIDED
supposedly coherent view of Jesus’ life and teachings given in the New
Testament the record is far from clear and there were major, major disagreements
in the early Church. These
disagreements were about such fundamental matters as the nature of God, Jesus,
the World, the crucifixion and resurrection, salvation, the Kingdom of Heaven,
and Jewish scripture and practice.
what was the nature of Jesus? Was
he human or divine or both? Here
are some of the known different beliefs of various early Christian groups:
was a good man adopted by God,
Jesus was two beings—a man possessed by a divine spirit,
was one being who was somehow part human and part divine,
was one being simultaneously completely human and completely divine,
was a subordinate god who only simulated the form of a man,
he was the Creator of the Universe incarnate.
We can see
hints of these divisions in the New Testament Epistles and the surviving
polemics against heresy. But
history is written by the victors. Works
deemed heretical were destroyed or simply not preserved.
Except for isolated fragments, scholars had little material to show what
any of the losers in those early doctrinal wars had really thought.
This changed in 1945.
some of the shared Gnostic beliefs:
god of the Old Testament is an inferior, legalistic bumbler who produced an
inferior, bumbled creation. Man’s
body is from him but man’s spirit is from the ultimate god, who sent Jesus to
show us the way to free ourselves from this sorry world and return to the higher
crucifixion was in some manner a sham. The
resurrection either did not occur or is irrelevant.
Kingdom of Heaven is available now, within each person and hidden all around us,
and is not some entity that will appear on earth after an apocalyptic event.
is to be achieved through true knowledge of the world and self.
This knowledge is secret or esoteric and must be individually attained.
There is no authoritative doctrine or creed.
In the New
Testament the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene are the only women mentioned in
every gospel. In all but one of the
enumerations of the women with Jesus, Mary Magdalene is listed first, appearing
before even (yet another) Mary the mother of two Apostles, and Joanna the wife
of King Herod’s steward. Luke
states (8:2-3) that Mary Magdalene and the others “ministered” to Jesus
“of their substance”; that is, they funded Jesus’ ministry. Mary Magdalene is presented as an independent woman of status
Gnostic Gospel of Mary, Mary Magdalene reports a private apocalyptic vision that
she has received from Jesus. She,
with Thomas and Matthew, receives another apocalyptic vision from Jesus in
“The Dialogue of the Savior”, one of the other Nag Hammadi documents.
Gospel of Mary, after Jesus’ final departure, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as
rallying the dispirited male apostles and sending them forth to preach the good
in a Gnostic document entitled “Pistis Sophia” that was found in Egypt, but
not at Nag Hammadi, Jesus is asked a series of 46 questions. Mary Magdalene asks 39 of those questions and Jesus describes
her as being more devoted to heaven’s kingdom than all the male disciples.
Magdalene appears to have been not otherwise attached, marriageable, and
prominently on the scene.
But is it
reasonable to believe that Jesus married anyone?
It was the usual practice for adult male Jews to be married and the
production of children is an obsessive preoccupation in the early Jewish
scriptures. However, if Jesus had
erroneously believed, like the Essenes, that the end of the world was about to
occur, he, like the Essenes, would probably have been celibate.
But at the
Marriage in Cana, Jesus does not object to the event and performs his first
canonically recorded miracle to facilitate the proceedings.
Also, in the
canonical and Gnostic gospels, Jesus is frequently called rabbi or teacher.
These may have been unearned honorifics.
After all, honorifics are cheap. (In
my career, I did on more than one occasion deliberately call a major
“colonel” or add in a gratuitous “doctor” when speaking to someone whose
favor I wished to obtain.) If these
rabbi references were more than empty air they are significant however.
Holy Blood, Holy Grail quotes from Jewish Mishnaic Law, “An
unmarried man may not be a teacher.”
wedding event report is a puzzle in itself and may be one of those Biblical
accounts that show the effects of bad editing.
As presented, an itinerant preacher early in his career and others
associated with him are guests at a wedding party. The wine has run out. Suddenly
the preacher’s mother and then the preacher start giving orders and the
servants of the household snap to and immediately obey them despite their
strangeness and wine is produced from water. But why was Mary so concerned about the state of the party?
Why should it have been Jesus’ responsibility to do anything to bail
out the host? Why were the servants so ready to run about doing strange
things for these strangers? It
makes more sense if one assumes that it was Jesus’ house and hence his own
WITH THE MAGDALENE?
get to the sexy parts, found in the Gospels of Phillip and Mary.
Gospel of Mary:
to Mary: “Sister, we know that
the Teacher loved you differently from other women.
Tell us whatever of any words he told you which we have not yet heard.”
At this Levi
spoke up: “Peter, you have always
been hot-tempered, and now we see you repudiating a woman, just as our
adversaries do. Yet if the Teacher
held her worthy, who are you to reject her?
Surely the Teacher knew her very well, for he loved her more than us.
Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is described as Jesus’ “companion” or
“partner” or “consort” with all that implies.
The Coptic language word used can be translated equally well into any of
And so from
the Gospel of Phillip:
walked with the lord: His mother,
his sister, and Mary of Magdala, his companion.
His sister and mother and companion were Mary.
companion of the savior is Mary Magdalene.
The savior loved her more than all the disciples, and he kissed her often
on her mouth. The other disciples
said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?”
The Savior answered, saying to them, “Why do not I love you like
So we have
an interesting possibility that can’t be ruled out, out of hand, that Jesus
married Mary Magdalene, and perhaps together with her produced a child.
Gnostic Christians, a couple hundred years after Jesus’ death, appear
to have believed in this marriage. It
is of course far, far from proven. I
think that even if the modern group purporting to be the Priory of Sion does
come forward with its supposed hidden evidence, the matter will still not be
How do I
feel about the concept? I think
that these words from Holy Blood, Holy Grail, summarize my thought far
better I can myself:
most Christian theology is the assumption that Jesus is God incarnate.
In other words, God, taking pity on His creation, incarnated Himself in
that creation and assumed human form. By
doing so He would be able to acquaint Himself at first hand, so to speak, with
the human condition. He would come
to understand, in the most profound sense, what it means to be a man—to
confront from a human standpoint the loneliness, the anguish, the helplessness,
the tragic mortality that the status of manhood entails.
By dint of becoming man God would come to know man in a way that the Old
Testament does not allow. Renouncing
His Olympian aloofness and remoteness, He would partake directly of man’s lot.
By doing so He would redeem man’s lot—would validate and justify it
by partaking of it, suffering from it, and eventually being sacrificed by it.
symbolic significance of Jesus is that he is God exposed to the spectrum of
human experience—exposed to the first-hand knowledge of what being a man
entails. But could God, incarnate
as Jesus truly claim to be a man, to encompass the spectrum of experience,
without coming to know two of the most basic, most elemental facets of the human
condition? Could God claim to know
the totality of human existence without confronting two such essential aspects
of humanity as sexuality and paternity?
“We do not
think so. In fact, we do not think
the Incarnation truly symbolizes what it is intended to symbolize unless
Jesus was married and sired children. The
Jesus of the Gospels and of established Christianity is ultimately
incomplete—a God whose incarnation as man is only partial.
The Jesus who emerged from our research enjoys, in our opinion, a much
more valid claim to what Christianity would have him be.”
And I now
invite your questions and comments.
discussion lags, ask questions…)
Why do you
think people are unsettled by the idea that Jesus was married and fathered a
Jesus after the resurrection choose to appear first to Mary Magdalene?