(I was interviewed for the story, too, but didn't make the cut.)
Kaufman, though, stands by his author.
"Nothing is made up in Dan's research," he says. "He's a student of this stuff.
"This is a contemporary story, completely fictitious, but woven around a vast amount of research into buried history."
I'm having a couple of email conversations with people about this, both of whom are, shall we say, open to Brown's theories. But at the same time, they mildly scold for, "it's only a novel." Don't get so upset about it.
Well, no one's "upset," but you know, we ascribe to a faith grounded in truth - and not just your truth or my truth, but truth about historical events. And if there's a work out there presenting falsehoods, and it's being accepted by people as truth, we have a responsibility to respond. This is different say, from a novel that has a scoundrel priest as a protagonist or one that has a bishop covering up for a crime...
Yeah, you see the difference, right? Besides the "truth is stranger than" factor in those examples I just sited, a novel with negative Christian characters is, in my opinion, not an apt target for criticism just because the Christian characters are negative. Some think so, and some jump on any such portrayal in fiction or film as "anti-Christian." Well, no. There are people who are like that, there is a grounding in reality there.
But this is different. Brown is presenting, as his rep indicates in the quote up there, the framework of his fiction as the fruit of "historical research" and if you read the Amazon reviews, you'll see that people are taking it as such. So here we do have a responsibility to at least get correct information out there and invite people to pay attention and for pete's sake, to be more critical.
When I was teaching high school, I was always fascinated by the fact that so many of my students, while embracing a stance of absolute skepticism towards traditional religious claims, would turn around and embrace complete gullibility when it came to claims of neo-paganism and the occult. Their eyes, when looking at Scripture would be like radars, trying to find contradictions and impossibilities, but when reading about the supposed effect of some wiccan spell or something, they'd be all "Whoa, cool. And I know it really happened, because my cousin's boyfriend's stepsister was there."
Same thing here. But, it all comes down to the simple fact that people will believe what they want to believe.
One more point: one of the themes that's coming out of all of this is the supposed determination of the early Church, in its composition and selection of the canonical texts, to excise the scandalous, to hide the uncomfortable facts about its origins - here, the supposed marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and her pre-eminence among the disciples and the real Gospel which was all about the Sacred Feminine...yeah.
If you ever find yourself arguing this, take this point with you, offered at no charge.
The premise: that this was hidden because it was scandalous, makes no sense in the context of the Gospels. Why? Because the Gospels are already full of scandalous, counter-cultural factoids and scenes and themes that would, in the context of the 1st century, already discredit the Christian message without any extra effort.
Let's just take two: First, the wretched behavior of the Twelve, presented consistently through the Gospels. They are dim, they are self-centered, they hardly ever grasp what Jesus is talking about, and, of course, when push comes to shove, they almost all run away except for the one guy who denies knowing the Master. (and John).
Now, if you were writing the origins of a religion, and you wanted to make it acceptable and pretty it up, and make it fit in with current modes of thinking, would you present your religion's founding fathers in such a light? No. You'd render them as flawless heroes, with never a moment of doubt.
(And by the way, read Matthew 28...even after Jesus rises from the dead, as he gathers them for what we call the Great Commission, the evangelist tells us, "but some doubted.")
Secondly, and more to the point, take women. The first witnesses to the risen Christ were women. In this part of the ancient world, women's testimony was not accepted in court. They were not trusted. Jewish men of this time rose in the morning and said a prayer of thanks that, among other things, God had not made them a woman.
(For a positive take on this prayer go here.
Again, if you were making stuff up and covering inconvenient facts that would make you look bad, would you have women giving the first testimony to this most startling event?
So really, this whole song-and-dance about the early Church creating a veneer for the outside world that was more acceptable makes no sense because the documents it did present to the world were full of counter-cultural moments. Further, the stuff that these people say is being covered up - some kind of feminine-based mystery cult - WOULD be more acceptable, if not among Jews, in the broader ancient Near East, where such cults and such thinking was all the rage.
Another point that's come up is Jesus being married. A correspondent writes that it would be highly unusual, given the context of the time, for Jesus not to be married, and that she thinks it's not mentioned in the gospels because everyone knew it and took it for granted. Okay, well, I'll leave the second point for you all,but the first point is, of course flawed. Certainly, marriage was valued in Judaism, but at the same time, it would not be that unusual for someone particularly dedicated to this kind of teaching to be unmarried - the prophetic tradition in Israel, the various monastic communities that existed at the time, all provided room for an eschatologically-minded unmarried figure.
And again, the arguments just keep falling in on themselves...if it was normal to be married, and the gospel writers and those who filtered the canon were intent on stripping the gospels of the strange and esoteric...then wouldn't they include Jesus' marriage? Because they..
It's all just too much.
History is a complex, mysterious thing, and it is true that official history often excludes inconvenient facts and de-emphasizes aspects that don't fit the party line, and the history of Christianity is no different on this score. That's not the point. The point is that this particular line of argumentation, both in terms of historical claims and art history claims is bogus, and not even historians unsympathetic to institutional Christianity buy them. So what does that tell you?