JACKSON, Tenn. – May 4, 2006 – Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” is full of half-truths, distortions and historical inaccuracies, a group of Union University professors said May 2 in a panel discussion.
Christian studies professors George Guthrie and Hal Poe, English professor Gene Fant and art professor Chris Nadaskay addressed Union students and community members about the problems with the book and the way Christians should respond to it.
“Dan Brown has given us a fun read, an interesting counter-history and an exciting opportunity to clarify the real history of the first Christian centuries, but he should not be seen as providing a greater clarity on what really happened in the life of Jesus or the early church,” Guthrie said. “For that we must still look, with study and thoughtful reflection, to our earliest texts, the books of the New Testament.”
Guthrie gave an overview of Brown’s claims regarding the historical facts about the life of Jesus and the validity of the New Testament. For starters, Guthrie disputes the book’s claim that thousands of ancient documents exist that present a picture of the life of Christ.
In reality, Guthrie said, there are only four such sources – the books of the New Testament, the second century church fathers (such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius and Polycarp) who had personal relationships with Jesus’ disciples, the New Testament Apocrypha and the Nag Hammadi Library.
“Is it possible that there could be a trove of thousands of documents out there that were not mentioned anywhere in ancient literature, for which there is absolutely no evidence at all?” Guthrie asked. “Perhaps, but the point is, there is absolutely no evidence to support the idea. It is fiction in every sense of the word.”
Guthrie argued that the early church didn’t consider more than 80 gospels for inclusion in the New Testament, as Brown suggests, and he refuted Brown’s claim that Christians didn’t consider Jesus to be divine until the fourth century. Scripture references such as John 1:1, John 20:28, Philippians 2:6-8 and Titus 2:13 clearly attest to the fact that Jesus’ divinity was an accepted fact from Christianity’s outset, Guthrie said.
Poe called the book “pretty shaky historiography” and showed the fallacy of reaching a conclusion based on two isolated sets of facts that are unrelated to each other. For example, just because some prominent world leaders have spoken at Union University over the past several years, that doesn’t make Poe the ruler of the world, he said. Yet that is the kind of logic that Brown employs.
Nadaskay examined some of the artwork found in “The Da Vinci Code,” such as “The Last Supper. He called Brown’s view of art “misguided.”
Art as a means of propaganda is hardly new, Nadaskay said, and it’s not unusual “that Dan Brown looks for a set of art works to support his views.”
Nadaskay pointed out that artists often did with their paintings what they or their patrons wanted (sometimes even including the patron in the painting), so “using a painting as a historical record is a dangerous thing.”
Fant explained the success of the novel by showing how Brown had succeeded in crossing over into multiple genres to become the “king of genre fiction.” The book is so popular that “The Da Vinci Code” is now its own genre.
The danger in reading such books – or any book, for that matter – is accepting its truth claims uncritically, Fant said.
“Readers who uncritically accept Brown’s manipulations are not reading actively,” Fant said.
He encouraged those in attendance to “read redemptively” by thinking about what truths the book contains, what half-truths and what fabrications. He also said that rather than being worried about the effects of “The Da Vinci Code,” Christians should instead embrace the opportunities it provides to talk to people about the truth of historic Christianity.
“We are surrounded by a culture that has read this book and is getting ready to see this movie,” Fant said. “God always redeems these opportunities. God is not afraid of these things.”
DVDs of the panel discussion, “Decoding ‘The Da Vinci Code,’” are available for $5. To request a copy, send your name and address along with the $5 to College of Arts and Sciences, 1050 Union University Dr., Jackson, TN 38305.
Call (731) 661-5356 for more information.