Making the news over the last few days has been James Cameron’s (yes, the man behind Titanic) new documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus. I guess the Da Vinci Code has kind of fizzled out now, with just enough momentum to mean that this new film/documentary/archeological finding gets big press around the world. Mary offers some thought here, but surprisingly the actual findings at the bottom of all the fuss don’t really offer much warrant to believe that it is Jesus of Nazareth’s tomb/DNA/child’s burial place (delete as applicable).
I was fortunate (I think that’s the right word) to be given a ticket to see The Da Vinci Code last night, and after an evening of digesting here are some thoughts…
I have to admit, I was going into this movie with at least one eye on how as a Christian, someone set free by the Truth, I was to respond to it. In a clever opening scene Robert Langdon (Hanks) asks a packed lecture-hall, ‘How do we sift truth from belief? Tonight this will be our task’. It’s a question that sure-enough plots the course of the movie, as the notions of truth, belief, and history are pitted against each other.
If you’ve read the book then you’ll realise what all the fuss is about. Simply put, if the book didn’t orientate around the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, they had a kid, and that the bloodline continues today, then it wouldn’t be half as popular as it has been. But that is exactly what the book does ‘claim’, and as the movie continues ‘fact’ after ‘fact’ is thrown at us as Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellan) unveils ‘the greatest cover-up in history’.
There’s enough places on the net that explain why the evidence given isn’t evidence at all (see my previous post for resources) and if you saw Tony Robinson’s repeated documentary on Channel 4 you’ll understand why. An extremely fanciful use of the gnostic gospel of Philip, a generally twisted use of history, especially when it comes to the canonisation of Scripture and Constantine’s role (although the brief flashback scene of the Council of Nicea is worth a watch for its hilarity) is Dan Brown’s not-quite-original way of creating a rather exciting plotline.
There’s debate as to how the Christian is to respond to this film. Surely, there’s no point getting worked up about it, after all it’s only a film? That view would be easier to hold to if there weren’t reports that it is changing people’s minds. The crowd I saw the film with didn’t seem particularly interested in whether or not it was true. Instead they turned to discuss the variations the film has from the book (…sadly the book of the Da Vinci Code, not The Book).
I feel like it is my responsibility to point people to the Truth, and to do that I need to be ready to defend and present the gospel, and thus the gospels. Some have pointed to the ‘disappointment’ of the church’s ‘bandwagon boarding’ response to Gibson’s ‘Passion’ of 2004, but things like Paul’s willingness to react with the cultures around him in Acts makes me think that we can’t be ignorant of the contexts in which we seek to proclaim the message of the cross.
Aside from the predictable questions about the reliability and authority of the New Testament, it’s also worth bearing in mind the horrific self-flagellation scenes in which Silas, Paul Bettany’s monk, attempts to atone for his sins. Although the Opus Dei bishop (Alfred Molina) points out this is a different practice to that of “cafeteria catholics”, it’s also miles away from biblical Christianity. Your friend knows that you don’t wrap a cilice around your thigh, but they probably haven’t thought through the understanding that only Christ’s death is sufficient to atone for sin.
As the film draws to a close Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), the supposed great, great, great (x 100?) daughter of Jesus and MM, is left with the dilemma of exposing Christianity as a lie or not. Hanks’ character leans over and whispers the apparently reassuring words ‘The only thing that matters is what you believe.’ For a film that’s been plugged with the tagline ‘Seek the Truth’, it does seem a bit of a cop-out to come to this conclusion. But the real irony is that what you believe does matter, and it’s of eternal significance.
‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life. but the wrath of God remains on him.’
Jesus, The Gospel according to John, Chapter 3, Verse 36.