Monday, November 14, 2005

The Da Vinci Codeby Lorraine Shelstad
This book by Dan Brown has been a phenomenal best-seller in many countries. Some have commented that it is not particularly well-written,[1] especially that there is a lack of character development. For example, we don’t really know what Sophie and Langdon are like. In fact, the only thing we know of Sophie’s appearance is that she has green eyes and auburn hair. The characters and even the plot seem to be an excuse for the author to give his views on Mary Magdalene, Jesus and the Catholic Church. Others point out that that which is presented as “fact” is not really fact and that Brown’s research is flawed. This makes us wonder why the book has been so successful. That it is a good mystery with surprises is no doubt one reason. The other reason may be that it accuses the Catholic Church of having concealed the truth for 2000 years in order to hold onto power. Hatred against the Catholic Church seems to be the only allowable discrimination in today’s world. It would not be politically correct to write a book saying that Buddhists had lied about the life of Buddha for hundreds of years. No one would dare accuse Muslims of having lied to the followers of Mohammed. In fact, one of the main characters in The Da Vinci Code, actually discusses the folly of doing this.[2]
If anyone comes to the defense of the Catholic Church as The Da Vinci Code presents her, however, the book’s supporters cry, “But, after all, it’s just a story.” In other words it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. There are some problems with that, however, as some people do seem to take it seriously. Firstly, Dan Brown at the beginning of the novel writes some statements that he labels as “facts’. He also has said that he has done a great deal of research on the historical background of the book. Secondly, if one visits websites where comments are made by readers of this book it is amazing to see how many people take Brown’s historical “facts” as just that – historical and factual. What he has done is mixed truth and untruth which is surely more dangerous than total lies. If we see a movie such as The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, we know that these are not historically true – they are just stories. We can tell it is science fiction. If we read a novel like The Da Vinci Code, however, unless readers have done a lot of study or have background in specialized areas, they do not know what is true and what is not. If the author says it is “fact” the readers are liable to believe him.
I recently read a novel written several decades ago, War and Remembrance, by Herman Wouk.[3] This book is set in the time of World War II. Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, as well as some lesser known real, historical people, are characters in the book. The things they say in private conversations cannot always be historically true, however, as the author was not present and the conversations were not recorded. In the book, there are also characters that are purely fictional. The story centres around the fictional Victor Henry and his family. Herman Wouk, being an author with integrity, writes a lengthy section he calls “Historical Notes” at the end of the novel. In it he explains who and what are historically true and who and what are only his fictional creations. It is an excellent novel which follows historical facts closely but also gives the author’s point of view on war, persecution of the Jews and on religion. Though some readers may not agree with all of his viewpoints, no one would sue him for libel. Wouk does not accuse real people or groups of real people with crimes that they did not commit. The Nazis are accused of crimes against the Jewish people but that is a historically correct fact. Some were convicted of these crimes at the Nuremberg Trials after the war. Dan Brown, however, has made claims and accused real groups of people of crimes which have not been proven as true. He accuses the Vatican of suppression of truth and paying bribes in order to suppress truth. One of the accusations against a group within the Catholic Church, Opus Dei, is murder – a serious charge! False accusation like this is known as slander or libel and is an immoral and often, an illegal offence. Although at the end of the book, Brown says that the Church is innocent after all, one wonders how he can claim this after what he has said the Church has done.
There is also a problem in questioning the so-called historical facts. If we use Scripture or any historical document to defend the Church against claims in The Da Vinci Code, Brown can just answer, “Well of course that is what the documents say because they have been changed by the Church.” So it is really the word of the accusers against the word of those accused. Nothing can be proven because both sides can say the others are lying. Those who could tell us what is true have been dead almost two thousand years.
What are some of these claims and accusations that the author of The Da Vinci Code makes and what are the defenses against them?

The Da Vinci Code Claims
Briefly, The Da Vinci Code centres around the following claims: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child; Jesus is not God, he was only a teacher; He was crucified but there was no resurrection. Christians did not claim that Jesus was God until after the Council of Nicaea in 354 AD. Mary Magdalene was meant to be the leader of the Church instead of Peter. The Church kept this a secret in order that men, and not women, would retain power over it. The men of the Church (Brown calls them “the Vatican”, but the Vatican did not exist until the fourteenth century) kept this secret and destroyed the gospels which tell the truth about Mary Magdalene. At the Council of Nicea, the Emperor Constantine, declared which books would be included in the Scriptures and rejected those which tell the truth. The Church kept all this a secret from the 4th century AD to the 21st century. The Sunday day of worship and other ideas were stolen by Christians from the pagans. The group, within the Church, Opus Dei, even commits murder in order to keep the secret. It is the “winners” who write history and therefore we cannot trust history. The “winners” or the Catholic Church wrote the history of Christianity and therefore it is biased. The true story of Jesus in the recently discovered gospels had been purposely left out of Scripture by the Church in order to suppress the truth about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The Church portrayed Mary Magdalene as a prostitute in order to blacken her name and ensure her true position would not be discovered. The Church also outlawed any mention of her name. The secret has been kept for 1500 years but the artist Leonardo da Vinci,[4] left clues in his paintings.

Are the Claims True?
Christians cannot be considered the “winners” before the time of Constantine (circa 273-337 AD). Christians were persecuted and killed by several Roman Emperors and not until Constantine and his fellow-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan (313 AD) was Christianity recognized as a legal religion. Since all of the canonical books of Scripture were written well before this date, they cannot be said to have been written by the “winners”.

Was Constantine a Christian?
Teabing (in The Da Vinci Code) explains to Sophie that it was Constantine, a pagan emperor, who chose the books of the Bible. Most of what we know about Constantine comes from what Eusebius wrote in, Life of Constantine. Granted his biography may be slanted in favour of the Church as he was a bishop! He tells the story as: Constantine, before an important battle, saw a cross against the sun with the words, “In this sign, Conquer”. He won the battle and converted from worship of the Sun god, Sol Invictus, to Christianity. This was the turning point for Christians in the Roman Empire as well. Until this time they were persecuted by Rome and many went to their death because they refused to worship the Roman gods. When Constantine legalized Christianity the persecution stopped. The Christians at the time, no doubt, heaved a huge sigh of relief. But Teabing claims that Constantine wasn’t truly converted but because Christians were multiplying and growing in power, he saw an opportunity and backed “a winning horse”[5] Then he used some of the ideas from his Sun-worshipping religion and adapted them to Christianity and all parties were happy. By the way, Sol Invictus was a male god and not a goddess so the female centered worship that Brown is concerned about does not really enter into the discussion about Constantine.
Firstly, it is not true that Christians were in the majority at the time of Constantine. A.H.M. Jones writes that
The Christians were a tiny minority of the population and they belonged for the most part to the classes of the population who were politically and socially of the least importance..... The senatorial aristocracy of Rome were pagan almost to a man; the higher grades of the civil service were mainly pagan; and all the army officers and men were predominantly pagan. The goodwill of the Christians was hardly worth gaining, and for what it was worth it could be gained by merely granting them toleration.[6]

No one knows, of course, what Constantine’s real motives were and whether or not his conversion was a true one. He did, however, make things easier, for the Christians at the time. He also did call the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 in order to end the arguments within the Church, not whether Jesus was divine, but how he stood in relation to God, the Father. Was his divinity equal with that of the Father? Or was he less divine? Constantine called and financed the meetings but he did not take part in them personally.
Teabing implies that Constantine was not baptized until shortly before his death because he was not really a Christian and was baptized against his wishes. However,it was common at this time to postpone baptism until shortly before death primarily because the penance for mortal sins committed after baptism was so complicated and strict. As an Emperor, particularly, he would be in a position where he would commit serious sins, such as that of torturing and killing prisoners. Constantine was baptized by Eusebius, a bishop, in A.D.337 and died a few days later. There is no evidence for or against the claim that he was baptized against his will.
Down through the ages, customs have often been adopted from pagan cultures after the people were converted to Christianity. In this way the culture also was “converted” so to speak. One common example is the Christmas tree, once part of pre-Christian celebrations in Scandinavian countries and now part of Christmas decorations in many parts of the world. Most scholars believe that December 25 was originally a pagan holiday but was appropriated by Christians as the birthday of Jesus to show his superiority. They kept some of the pagan festivals without paganizing Christianity but rather giving them new meaning to converts in that culture. The Church does not keep it a secret that no one knows the exact day of Jesus’ birth.
It is true that Sunday was a special day to Sun-worshippers, but Sunday had already replaced the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) as the day of worship for Christians because Sunday was the day of the Lord’s resurrection. It is mentioned many times in both canonical Scripture (which pre-dated Constantine):

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow. Acts 20:7

and writings of the Church Fathers:

They no longer observe the Jewish Sabbath, but keep holy the Lord’s day, on which through Him and through His death, our life arose. Ignatius of Antioch. (A.D. 110)

The use of cognates from Latin Deis Dominae for the Day of the Lord in the Romance languages, attest to this fact: Domenica (Italian), Dimanche (French) and Domingo (Spanish). These have nothing to do with the sun. English and other Germanic languages use the Day of the Sun: Sunday (English), Sonntag (German).

Was Jesus only a Prophet?It is also not true that Jesus was thought to be only a human prophet and teacher and not divine, until after the Council of Nicaea. The Scriptures are full of references to Jesus being God (divine) as well as being human. Only a few can be mentioned here:

Jesus claimed to be God and it was this that angered the Jewish officials and led to his crucifixion:

"I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked.
"You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. Mark 14:62-64

Jesus’ use of “I am” was using the name that God had called himself to Moses, YWHW or “I am” (in the Old Testament) and the Jewish authorities recognized this.

When Jesus first appeared to the apostles after his resurrection, Thomas was not present and so he did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. Later Jesus came to them again. This time Thomas was present and Jesus invited him to look at the wounds in his hands and touch the wound in his side. Thomas responds:

My Lord and my God! John 20:28

John in his gospel says this of Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. John 1:1-3

The writer of Hebrews says,
For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”?........And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
But of the Son, he says, Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” Hebrews 1:5-6,8

There is also the writings of the Church Fathers. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 110-117) wrote to the Ephesians:

"For Our God Jesus Christ was borne in the womb by Mary" (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, c. xviii)

Another Church Father, Tertullian (CA. 160-CA.225), states:

God alone is without sin. The only man who is without sin is Christ; for Christ is also God.
Tertullian, The Soul, 41:3.

All these quotations are from writers who lived before the time of Constantine. Even though there have always been those who did not believe that Jesus was God, it seems his followers certainly did from the beginning.

Furthermore, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, there is no point to Christianity. Would so many people have died a martyr’s death just for “a good teacher”? St. Paul makes it clear that Christianity is meaningless without the resurrection of Jesus in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. I Corinthians 15:13,14.

What about the Gnostic Gospels?
It is true that there were a number of books (now called gnostic Gospels) which were in circulation, including the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary, in the second century (100 -199AD). The Church had to decide which books were to be accepted as their official teachings. It was in the second century, at least two hundred years before the Council of Nicaea (and Constantine), that the Church narrowed down the choice of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for inclusion in the Scriptures. At this time the Church was not powerful or influential - Christians were still being persecuted by Roman Emperors. The NT canon of Scripture was set down by Iraneus, a bishop of Lyon, France at the end of the second century (so between 100 and 199 AD). He accepted the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)[7] even though two of them had not been written by Apostles (Luke and Mark). Luke was a physician who travelled with Paul and he also wrote the Acts of the Apostles which is also part of the Christian Scripture. Mark was possibly a nephew of Peter. Iraneus’ criteria for the canon was “the teachings of the churches in the earliest period, meaning whichever of these writings had actually remained in use since that time.”[8] Therefore the books which today are recognized by Protestants, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Churches as Scripture or the canon, were agreed upon well before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD (the 4th century).

The Gnostic gospels (13 volumes) were discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi in Egypt.[9] All of these books were written in the Coptic language and are probably translations from Greek. They were believed to have been written in the 2nd century (100-199 AD). Most Biblical scholars agree that the canonical gospels were written prior to AD70 although some put Matthew at 75-80AD. If this is the case, why would the gnostic gospels be more reliable accounts of the life of Jesus than the canonical gospels which were written closer to the time that he lived? Before AD70 there would have been other witnesses still alive who could have protested any errors in them. By the 2nd century anyone still living would have to be over 100 years old. Of course, Brown claims that the Church “tampered with” the gospels at the time of Constantine.

Reliability of the Canonical Gospels As ancient manuscripts are copied, scribes often make mistakes or omissions. Errors occur even in our modern day of computers but think of these lengthy manuscripts being copied by hand often with light from only a candle! The job of textual critics is to reconstruct the text to what is closest to the original. Textual critics may be Catholics, Protestants, Jewish; some are just interested in ancient manuscripts and languages and may not have any specific religious beliefs. Textual criticism is not only carried out on Scripture but on any ancient manuscript including classical texts. Usually there is only one existing manuscript, if there are more, say ten, than there is a great advantage in knowing what was originally written. But in the case of the New Testament, there are nearly five thousand manuscripts in Greek in existence as well as many quotations from them in the writings of others! Furthermore, the manuscripts of classical authors usually date only from the Middle Ages but there are manuscripts of the New Testament Scriptures as far back as the end of the 2nd century. That is, they were written only a century after the original manuscripts were written. Helmut Koester, a Professor at Harvard University, says, “Thus it seems that NT textual criticism possesses a base which is far more advantageous than that for the textual criticism of classical authors”.[10] It requires a stretch of the imagination to suggest that the Catholic Church or Constantine was able to “tamper” with five thousand manuscripts which were spread all over the Roman Empire. To orchestrate this today would be a feat but in the 2nd century one wonders how it would be possible.

Was Jesus married?
It seems that only one Gnostic gospel out of the thirteen, the Gospel of Phillip, suggests a special relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. In one passage the author uses the Greek word, koinonas, to describe the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus and mentions that Jesus often kissed her on the mouth.
Following is the passage from the gnostic Gospel of Philip:

And the companion (koinonas) of ... Mary Magdalene loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us? The Gospel of Philip

Surely, if Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been married, the other disciples would not have found it unusual that Jesus loved her more than he did them!

In their discussion of this passage, Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel point out that koinonas can mean “spiritual companion” , “partaker with” or “consort”. It is used to describe a marriage partner in Matthew 2:14
Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you.
Although Teabing in The Da Vinci Code says that this “companion” always means “wife”, the word is also used in Scriptural passages to refer to non-sexual relationships :

If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them (koinonas) in the shedding of the blood of the prophets. Matthew 23:30

For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners (koinonas) with Simon. Luke 5:10

What the pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners (koinonas) with demons. I Corinthians 10:20

In regard to “kissing on the mouth”, there is also a passage in The Second Apocalypse of James (another Gnostic text) in which Jesus is said to impart his secret mysteries to James by kissing him on the mouth and calling him, “My beloved!” [11]

Why, if the Church had tried to destroy the gnostic gospels and still suppresses them and the information about a relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, can these gnostic gospels be accessed at the website of the Catholic Encyclopedia – ? Instead of suppressing truth it looks as if the Church is not afraid of anything these books might reveal. Truth is never afraid of the revelation of truth!

In the early Church, St. Paul defended his right to be supported financially by the churches he taught at. From other passages we know that Paul was not married but he asks if he would not have the right to bring his wife along as some the apostles do, if he did have a wife:

Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas n? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living? I Corinthians 9:5-6.

He mentions Cephas (Peter) and the Lord’s brothers (or cousins) as examples. If Jesus had been married would he not also have mentioned him as an example?

Who was Mary Magdalene?
The first mention of Mary Magdalene by name is by Luke:

The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. Luke 8:2,3

She is called Mary Magdalene presumably because she came from the town of Magdala in the province of Galilee on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. There were other women known to the disciples whose name was Mary so possibly this was used to identify her.
Mary Magdalene is also mentioned by name by all four of the canonical Gospel writers as being one of the women who was present at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. They were the first to know that Jesus had risen from the dead and they were the ones to give the news to the other disciples. The following is from Matthew, but the others are similar:

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When Jesus was declared dead by the soldiers, Joseph of Arimathea asked for his body in order to bury it in his own new tomb:
He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. Matthew 27:55,61

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week (Sunday) was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. ....The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, He has been raised from the dead.......So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:1-8

Luke’s account shows the reaction of the disciples when the women told them that Jesus had risen:

Now it was Mary Magdalene and, Joanna, Mary mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, and he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. Luke 24:10-12

If the men of the Church had tampered with the words of Scripture one would think that they would have also changed this passage. The men (except for Peter) didn’t believe the story because, after all, it was just an idle “woman’s tale” and who would believe women? It makes the disciples look rather foolish that they did not believe the women when later, as the Church teaches, the women were right
It has been said (although not in the book, The Da Vinci Code), that Mary Magdalene would not have been able to claim Jesus' body if she were not his wife. But in the gospel story it is Joseph of Arimathea who goes to the authorities to ask for Jesus' body. This was a special case as usually the corpses of those crucified were not buried but left to hang on the crosses. The women, in fact, were worried about how they would have access to the tomb because of the stone closing the tomb. When they arrived they found it had been rolled away already.

The Gospel of John has an additional story in which Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene alone:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white.... They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She
said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him,. and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to the Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” and she told them that he had said these things to her. John 20:11-18

In all there are twelve references to Mary Magdalene in the four Gospels (more than the references to some of the apostles). All we know from these gospels is that Jesus cast out seven demons from her, she was present with other women at the death of Jesus, she and other women went to the tomb and found it empty on Sunday, they went to tell the other disciples what they had seen. In one of the gospels, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene alone and speaks with her and tells her to go and tell the disciples that she has seen him. In John’s account she is the first person to meet with the risen Christ; surely a great honour. Again, if the Scriptures had been tampered with by the Church 200-300 years later, one would think they would also remove this passage. Although there is nothing in it which suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, it does put her in the privileged position of being the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. In this passage, she calls Jesus, Rabboni or teacher. If Jesus were her husband it is hardly the greeting she would use when she sees that Jesus is alive!
St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD), who lived around the time of the Council of Nicaea, wrote a sermon which praised Mary Magdalene and the other women for their care of Jesus:

Let us men imitate the women; let us not forsake Jesus in temptations. For they, for Him, even [though when he was] dead, spent so much and exposed their lives, but we neither feed Him when hungry, nor clothe Him when naked, but seeing Him begging, we pass Him by.
John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, Homily LXXXVIII.

This praise would hardly have been written by someone who was trying to keep quiet about Mary Magdalene and any rôle she might have played in the story of Jesus.
Did the Church conduct a “smear campaign” to label Mary Magdalene as a prostitute in order to mask her real role as an apostle? There are three other women who have sometimes been linked with Mary Magdalene by the Church in the past. We will examine the stories of these women as they appear in the gospels.
The first “other Mary” is called Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. These three lived in a place called Bethany. There were apparently two places called Bethany but John says, Bethany was near Jerusalem (John 11:18) so it is not near Magdala in the north and therefore not in the district of Galilee.
Luke tells the story of Jesus and his disciples’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary. Martha was busy serving them and Mary sat and listened to Jesus’ teaching. Martha resented the fact that her sister Mary left all the work for her while she sat by but Jesus said to Martha:

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. Luke 10:41

The only other gospel writer to mention this Mary by name is John. He tells the story that Lazarus is sick. The two sisters send word to Jesus asking him to come and heal their brother. Jesus delays and Lazarus dies. When Jesus does come he raises Lazarus from the dead.. It is John who identifies this Mary as the woman who anointed Jesus:

Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.
John 11:2

This “anointing” occurred after the raising of Lazarus but John identifies this Mary to his readers after the fact. He tells the story later and Matthew, Mark, and Luke also have almost identical stories but they do not name the woman.[12] Jesus is eating a meal at the home of Simon the Pharisee (or the Leper[13] in Matthew and Mark). John instead says that the dinner is at the home of Lazarus:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. John 12:1-3

Judas Iscariot, the disciple who was about to betray him, objected to the “wasting” of the expensive perfume and said it could have been sold to help the poor. He apparently did not care for the poor but was the treasurer of the disciples and used to steal from the purse. Jesus defended her:

Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me. John 12:7-8.

Luke says she is a “sinful woman” but does not use her name:

Now the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him –that she is a sinner.” Luke 7:40

Jesus tells the Pharisee a story about forgiveness and says that those who have been forgiven much will love much; those who have been forgiven little, will love only a little:

Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” John 7:44-50

The third woman is the “woman caught in adultery”. This woman is not named and is not identified with any other woman. Her story is told only in the Gospel of John:

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"
They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." John 8:3ff

It is true that the Catholic Church has over the years identified these women as one woman. That is, Mary Magdalene was the woman who anointed Jesus, the woman caught in adultery and also one of the women who was present at the crucifixion and a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. It was probably not out of spite, however, that this was done but in order to simplify the multiplicity of “Marys”. Passion plays in the Middle Ages identified Mary Magdalene and the woman caught in adultery as the same person. Gregory the Great (ca 540-604 AD) identified Luke’s “sinful woman” with Mary Magdalene. Biblical scholars today believe that it is unlikely they are the same person but the connection lives on. In The Passion of Christ we see Mary Magdalene thinking back with gratitude to the scene when she was dragged before Jesus and instead of supporting her accusers, he forgives her sins. However, in the new version of the Lectionary (1969)[14] the Church has changed the readings for July 22 (the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene) to include only those which definitely refer to Mary Magdalene therefore leaving the question open whether she was any of the other women.
Even if the Church identified Mary Magdalene with “the sinful woman” they have also declared her a “saint’. Her character was not blackened anymore than any of the other men and women in the gospel stories. All were sinners and because they believed in Jesus and his power to save them, they became saints. If the Church did want to hide that she was meant by Jesus to be the Head of his Church, it would have been easier to leave her name out of their Scriptures altogether. Instead they declared her a Saint and celebrate her feast day every year on July 22. Some churches have been named in her honour of her.
No one knows for sure what happened to Mary Magdalene after the crucifixion. There is one legend that she and some others went to France and there is another story that she went to Ephesus with the Virgin Mary and John and was later betrothed to John. The Church does not say either is true as there is no definite evidence. However, there are two monasteries in France which claim to have relics of Mary Magdalene: the Association Jerusalem at Vezelay and The Dominican Fathers, Hôtellerie in La Saint-Baume. Anyone can visit these places and they are mentioned in a book written by a Catholic about places of pilgrimage.[15] It doesn’t seem to be a very good cover up or smear campaign!

What about Leaonardo’s painting?
The painting “The Last Supper” is tempera on a plaster wall (not a fresco as Brown claims) in the refectory of the church Santa Maria del Grazie in Milan. It was commisioned by Dominicans and was painted by Leonardo da Vinci between 1452 and 1519. As previously mentioned it portrays the moment when Jesus announces that one of them (the disciples present) will betray them.

Truly, truly, I say unto you, one of you will betray me. John 13:21.

The reaction of the apostles can clearly be seen showing Leonardo’s gift of revealing the inner emotions of his subjects.
The claim is made in The Da Vinci Code that the disciple to the right of Jesus is a woman, that is, Mary Magdalene. The identity of this person has historically been that it is John, the disciple. In fact, a 16th-century copy of the painting is in the small church of Ponte Capriasca near Lake Lugano in Italy. On the fresco are the names of the twelve apostles, naming the figure in question as John. Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel point out that, “ The figure undoubtedly is effeminate, as Leonardo depicted the youthful John in the early fifteenth-century Florentine style”.[16] It is also true of Leonardo’s painting of St. John the Baptist done ca. 1413-1416. Teabing explains to Sophie that Peter is making a threatening motion toward Mary Magdalene “slicing his blade-like hand across her neck.” [17] But as the authors of The Da Vinci Hoax point out, if that were so, why is the person (John or Mary Magdalene) leaning trustingly toward Peter? It does not seem the pose of someone who was being threatened.[18]
Elizabeth Lev, who teaches art history at Duquesne University’s Rome campus says, “John is portrayed, as is common in many Renaissance paintings, as the "student”. A favored follower, a protégé or disciple, is always portrayed as very youthful, long-haired and clean-shaven; the idea being that he has not yet matured to the point where he must find his own way. Throughout the Renaissance, artists portray St. John in this fashion....To the Renaissance artist the only way to show St. John was as a beardless youth, with none of the hard, determined physiognomy of men. The 'Last Supper' of Ghirlandaio and Andrea del Castagno show a similarly soft, young John....Of course, if St. John were really Mary Magdalene, we may well ask which of the apostles excused himself at the critical moment.” [19]

Is there an agenda behind the book?
Does the author of The Da Vinci Code (and the authors of his sources) have a reason for accusing the Church of a cover up of Mary Magdalene’s “true identity”? Today there are a number of feminists (most of them in America) who think that the Catholic Church should allow women to be priests. They have set out to prove that the Catholic Church has discriminated against women and held women back for centuries. One might ask them if any of the world’s religions allows women to be in a teaching or leadership role. It is not just Catholics who do not allow women clergy and it is only recently that “some” Protestant denominations allow women to be “preachers”.
Islam does not have female Imams, Jews do not have women rabbis (apparently, this has recently changed) and Buddhists have female nuns (as do Catholics) but not in leadership or teaching roles. In fact in most cultures of the world (and not only in religions) women have held subordinate roles to men. Only recently have women been in leadership roles in the secular world. Why single out Catholics for the accusation? The accusations seem particularly malicious- these writers seem to really hate the Catholic Church.
Ironically, Protestants accuse the Catholic Church of making too much of one woman, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and raising her to be almost equal to Jesus. Catholics honour her because she is the Mother of Jesus and he gave her to the Church as our Mother when He was on the cross. She is not thought of as divine and she is to be honoured but not worshipped. She is a model for Christians as she obeyed God and without her obedience our salvation could not have been accomplished. Surely one who was chosen to be the Mother of the Savior deserves special attention and devotion. In fact, Luke records Mary’s words,

All generations will call me blessed. Luke 1:49

and the words of her relative, Elizabeth:

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? Luke 1:42,43

Does the Church discriminate against women?
It is a generally thought that Jesus treated women better than they were treated in the culture of the time. The story of the woman taken in adultery is a good example. The men who brought her to Jesus were ready to stone her – they were not Christians, but Jews. Actually the law of Moses said that both the man and the woman were to be stoned, not just the woman. So the Jews in the time of Jesus were not keeping their own law ie the Law of Moses.

If a man commits adultery with another man's wife--with the wife of his neighbor--both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. Leviticus 20:10

In this case it seems the man was not being punished. Jesus did not say that the woman had not sinned but he forgave her sin and told her to sin no more. The men, believing that only God can forgive sins, were shocked that this “man” said he forgave her sin!
The early Church, too, treated women more fairly than they had often previously been treated. Although it is true that the major evangelizers and preachers mentioned are men, there are also women mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, the story of the early Church. An example is Priscilla (or Prisca), a woman who is mentioned several times along with her husband.

There he [Paul] met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Acts 18:2

The couple taught as a team as we see in the following passage:

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Acts 18:24-26

They are again mentioned in the letter of Paul to the Romans as he sends greetings:

Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Romans 16:3

But there are other women mentioned whose names are not linked with those of a husband:

In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

Peter went with them and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He gave her his hand and she sat up. Acts 9:36-41

St. Paul in his teaching told men to treat women with respect. Although he told women they were to be “subject to their husbands” and “the husband is the head of the wife just as the Christ is the head of the church” he also instructed men:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her....husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Ephesians 5:25,28-29.

St. Paul asks the Church in Philippi to help the women who have worked with him:

I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women [Euodia and Syntyche] for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers. Philippians 4:2-3

Ironically it is in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas where a comment that is very derogatory to women is found:
Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Gospel of Thomas 114

There is no remark which even comes close to such a demeaning view of women in the canonical gospels and it is difficult to believe that Peter and Jesus spoke this way about women. And yet feminists say that the gnostic gospels were suppressed by the Church because they do not want the the true position of women to be known!

The Catholic Church has remained adamant that it will not ordain women as priests. It is not the aim of this book to investigate the reasons for this. Suffice it to say that this is not because the Church teaches that women are inferior to men. It does teach that the rôles of women and men are different but equal in importance. Although Jesus had many women followers who supported him in his mission, he chose men as his apostles, trained and commissioned them to carry on that mission. In the Mass the priest acts as the person of Christ (in persona Christi) But women have not been left out of the work of the Church. Each person has their responsibility within the Church: priests, religious (Brothers and Sisters in special Orders), married couples and single persons. For hundreds of years Catholic Sisters have managed hospitals and schools all over the world and today there are women who teach in Catholic universities (and undoubtedly even teach future priests). Notably, although only in recent years, the Church has declared several of its women saints as Doctors of the Church, indicating the importance of their teachings. This puts them beside such “greats” as St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Thomas Aquinus! These women are: St. Therese of Avila (1515-1582), St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), and St. Therese of Liseaux (1873-1897). St. Catherine of Siena is well-known for essentially telling the Pope at that time (who was living in France instead of Rome) to “Be a man, and go back to Rome where you belong.”
It must be admitted that it has been women down through the ages who were (and are) often treated unfairly by men and are in the most vulnerable position. Women are beaten by their husbands, are victims of rape and human trafficking. They have been kept in low paying jobs, treated as objects and only in recent history have been recognized as "persons" and allowed to own property and vote for their governments. It is also true that there have been individuals in the Church that have treated women unfairly, not because they were Catholics but because they were men. This is not to say that women sometimes treat men badly, too, using them for their own means. Since this tension between men and women seems to be true in all cultures, it is unfair to blame it on the Catholic Church. A more reasonable explanation is that the sin first committed by Adam and Eve (the disobedience to God's command not to eat the fruit of one of the trees in the garden) is the real culprit. The perfect companionship which was meant to be between men and women, was marred by that first, original sin causing instead competition, rivalry for power and misunderstanding between the two sexes. If this is the case, then the wiping out of this sin by the death of Jesus and forgiveness of our sins brings reconciliation, not only with God, but also between men and women as well as all peoples of the world.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:23

[1]Olson, Carl and Meisel, Sandra, op.cit. p.39
[2] Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. New York: Doubleday. 2003 p. 370.
[3] Wouk, Herman. War and Remembrance. New York: Pocket Books. 1978.
[4] da Vinci means “from the town of Vinci” (in Tuscany, Italy) and so the artist would never have been referred to as only “da Vinci” but always “Leonardo from Vinci”. Brown mistakenly calls him Da Vinci in his novel.
[5] Brown, Dan. op.cit. p. 251.
[6] Jones, A.H.M., Constantine and the Conversion of Europe, p.73 quoted in Olson and Meisel, op.cit. p. 138.
[7] The first three gospels are called the synoptic gospels meaning that the stories coincide more closely than that of John. The stories do not agree exactly, just at witnesses of an event today do not always exactly agree on what happened. That they are not identical is evidence that they are genuine for it is more likely that witnesses will not remember things exactly the same. If they were “made up” or tampered with, they would be identical.
[8]Koester, Helmut. History and Literature of Early Christianity, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter and Co. 1982. page 11.
[9]The Dead Sea Scrolls, also mentioned by Brown, however, were all books of the Old Testament, none were from the New Testament and so do not mention Jesus.
[10] Koester, Helmut. op.cit.
[11]This is from the discussion by Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel, op.cit. p. 95
[12] It has been suggested that Luke who does not mention her by name is protecting her identity as she is still alive. John, whose gospel is written later, mentions her by name as she has already died.
[13]A leper was someone with a skin disease, not necessarily leprosy.
[14] The Lectionary is the selection of Scriptures which are read each Sunday during Mass.
[15]Wright, Kevin J. Europe’s Monastery and Convent Guesthouses.p. 119, p. 198.
[16]Olson, Carl and Miesel, Sandra, op.cit. p. 269.
[17] Brown, Dan. op.cit. p. 269.
[18] Olson, Carl and Miesel, Sandra, op.cit. p. 271
[19] Lev, Elizabeth. Leonardo’s Real Intention, Zenit Daily Dispatch 2/12/2004. Print Article


Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. (Thai) Bangkok: Amarin Publishers. 2004

Jones, A.H.M., Constantine and the Conversion of Europe. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1978.

Koester, Helmut. History and Literature of Early Christianity. Vol. 2. New York: Walter de Gruyter. 1980.

Lev, Elizabeth. Leonardo’s Real Intention Zenith Daily Dispatch. 2/12/2004.

Olson, Carl E. and Sandra Miesel. The Da Vinci Hoax. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2004.

Wouk, Herman. War and Remembrance. New York: Pocket Books. 1978.

Wright, Kevin J. Europe’s Monastery and Convent Guesthouses. Liguori, Missouri: Liguori Publications. 2000.


www.newadvent:com The Catholic Encyclopedia and Writings of the Church Fathers are available at this website.


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Lorraine Shelstad said...

I don't remember - I know it is quite long! I thought about it for a while and then wrote it gradually.

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