Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Da Vinci Debate: Let's Be Fair.

Time called Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code the novel that swallowed the world.

Critics call it the book that swallowed the truth.

In a sense, Brown has done a service. Regardless of one's position, he undeniably has brought Christological and theological issues to the forefront of culture that otherwise might have remained cloistered or ignored.

One need only look at the volume of magazine covers, newspaper articles, books, television shows, and the piece de resistance, the feature film directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, to see that The Da Vinci Code has generated, and will continue to generate, unprecedented controversy about religious topics.

In the course of this (and all others for that matter) debate, I believe it's important to characterize fairly the other's positions. For example, the fine folks at In the Agora have provided a generally fair and useful summary of the points made in the book and their rebuttals. Moreover, the great La Shawn Barber is organizing a blog swarm to coincide with the run up to the film's release.

In addition to blogs, a veritable cottage industry of books responding to The Da Vinci Code has emerged. Revealing its thrust, one such book, entitled The Da Vinci Deception by Erwin W. Lutzer unfortunately does not adhere to the "fairness doctrine" as I have articulated it.

Lutzer writes:

"It is not my intention to list all of the historical errors in The Da Vinci Code--that would be a lengthy list indeed. These false statements included: 'Jesus was a historical figure of staggering influence...(he) inspired millions' when he was here on earth and 'during three hundred years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women." (E. Lutzer, The DaVinci Deception, p. xxi; emphasis supplied.)

Two problems. First, the author provides a single page citation in his endnote for this quotation (p. 125). However, turning to Brown's text, one discovers that Lutzer actually amalgamated two (2) separate quotations into a single thought and endnoted only one.

The second half of the quote beginning with "during three hundred..." does appear on page 125, but the first part does not. Instead, it is found on page 231 of The Da Vinci Code. This may simply be an error of editing or carelessness. But, it leads to a larger concern.

Second, Lutzer attributes a significant thought that does not appear in Brown's text. Even if one were to find the page to which Lutzer was referring, one ascertains that the words "when he was here on earth" do not appear in the cited Brown text.

Here's the full quote from The Da Vinci Code: "Jesus was a historical figure of staggering influence, perhaps the most enigmatic and inspirational leader the world has ever seen. As the prophesized Messiah. Jesus toppled kings, inspired millions, and founded new philosophies. As a descendant of the lines of King Solomon and King David, Jesus possessed a rightful claim to the throne of the King of the Jews. Understandably, His life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land." (D. Brown, The Da Vinci Code, p. 231.)

In other words, Lutzer apparently wants to show that Brown is deceiving his readers into thinking that Jesus "inspired millions" while on earth, when any casual student of the New Testament and its milieu would know that Jesus did not encounter, let alone inspire, millions during his earthly ministry. That inspiration came later.

The glass house analogy comes to mind when one somewhat sanctimoniously titles his book The Da Vinci Deception, and then does not fairly or accurately characterizee the book it attacks as being deceptive.

I'll have some additional comments on the "It's a novel" versus "It's making historical claims" debate in part two.