Unveiling Christian Mysteries
The Da Vinci Code, a murder-chase-thriller has sold 40 million copies, spawned over ten rebuttal books from offended traditionalists, and is expected to be a Hollywood blockbuster. Why? Because it opens up a fascinating set of questions about some of our most cherished traditions and institutions.
A series of twentieth century discoveries had already piqued our interest. Ancient scrolls sealed in pots and buried beneath the Egyptian desert or hidden in Israeli caves, the cuneiform code of the ancient Sumerians, archeological digs, dusty libraries, historical records revealing the political machinations of orthodox powers – together these discoveries offer us a small window into the complicated beginnings of Jesus worship and the forces that have shaped it since.
The origins of Christianity are shrouded in a deeper mystery than Dan Brown could ever concoct, a mystery made all the richer because it is woven into our individual and societal quests for truth, goodness, and meaning. Jesus worship has taken many forms in the past 2000 years as finite humans have struggled to comprehend life and God "through a glass, darkly." Though most of these diverse beliefs are lost to us, theologian Bart Ehrman has pulled together some of the remaining fragments in a book entitled, Lost Christianities. Scholars are only beginning to excavate the histories that shaped our modern images of God.
We may never know exactly how Jesus lived or whether he was married—the key question in The Da Vinci Code. We do know that through the ages, millions of believers have thought that Mary Magdalene was his wife, even though Christian orthodoxy teaches that she was not.
On any question like this, both sides line up evidence that is very persuasive. Lee Strobel, one of the lead spokesmen for traditional points of view acts as an attorney, not a scholar. On any issue, he works to make a case for the orthodox position. Consider his book titles: "The Case for Christ," "The Case for Easter." Any debate that involves attorneys needs a wise judge.
We should be wary of anyone who sounds too certain about what really happened in those early years, just as we should be wary of anyone who speaks with brash confidence about what God wants today. Those who sound sure have almost certainly succumbed to hubris, also known as that pride which cometh before a fall.
When it comes to matters of Christianity, such bold assertions often mean that the speaker relies on interpreting the Bible literally without understanding the human forces that shaped it. (Some Christian scholars call this idol worship or bibliolatry. Idolatry is taking something made by human hands, something intended to help convey the magnitude of a god to finite human minds, and giving it the attributes of divinity.) If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, what are the corruptive pressures on a person who believes that God has provided a coded message to humanity and he himself holds the message in his hand and the key in his head?
Fortunately, we humans love mysteries. Just as quickly as the forces of tradition issue definitive doctrinal statements and write rebuttal books and create study guides aimed at closing down questions or securing their authority, new discoveries like the Gospel of Judas or the Gospel of Mary or stories like The Da Vinci Code stimulate our curiosity and set the process of inquiry in motion once again. With time, scholarship, and technology on our side, information is now available that had been lost for over a thousand years. For those who honestly seek the truth beneath the mystery, these are exciting times.
May 8, 2006