The Code and Gnosticism: A Response to Steve Kellmeyer | Carl E. Olson | April 17, 2006The Code and Gnosticism: A Response to Steve Kellmeyer | Carl E. Olson | April 17, 2006

When Sandra Miesel and I wrote The Da Vinci Hoax, we expected to be criticized by fans of The Da Vinci Code (TDVC). And we expected that some of that criticism would be uncharitable and illogical. We haven't, so to speak, been disappointed. But when a fellow Catholic and critic of TDVC recently wrote a column titled "Does Ignatius Press promote Gnosticism?" and made a number of dubious and incorrect statements about The Da Vinci Hoax, I was both surprised and disappointed.

The article was written by Steve Kellmeyer, a graduate of Franciscan University and author of several books, including Fact and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, a 96-page work published in 2004 by Kellmeyer's Bridesgroom Press. I have never met Kellmeyer or spoken to him (nor have I read Fact and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code), but have read several of his articles in recent years.

"The whole Gnostic line is just a throw-away argument"

Kellmeyer's article seems to have been inspired, in part, by my April 5th post on the Insight Scoop blog, which addressed the media furor over the so-called "Gospel of Judas," a gnostic text written sometime in the late second century A.D. At the end of my post, I provided a quote about gnosticism from The Da Vinci Hoax. Kellmeyer left a comment, stating, in part (all quotes by Kellmeyer are in blue text):
You know, everyone is on about how the Da Vinci Code is Gnostic. The whole argument is crap. ...

Just because you guys keep saying it is Gnostic doesn't make it so. DVC isn't Gnostic. It takes the Gnostic gospels as much out of context as it does the real Gospels. The whole Gnostic line is just a throw-away argument Brown uses to open a discussion on the idea that Jesus was really just a man. He mentions the Gnostic thing for about three pages, then never returns to it.

In fact, the whole DVC plot-line is built around a paganized version of the Theology of the Body. You know - sex is holy, marriage is holy, women should be treated like goddesses (i.e., in the image and likeness of God). That's Catholic doctrine.
That comment then led to an exchange of remarks between Kellmeyer and Mark Brumley, CEO of Ignatius Press and associate publisher of In that exchange, Kellmeyer made the following statements:
Not everything Marx said related to economics, nor does everything the Gnostic gospels say relate to Gnosticism. A careful DVC reader who is knowledgeable about Gnosticism will recognize that Brown uses the Gnostic Gospels twice (once from the Gospel of Philip to "prove" that Jesus was married - no Gnostic would do that) and then he never uses them again.

But Catholic apologists were so bent on finding a heresy in DVC that they immediately fixated on the word "Gnostic" in the book, even though that was essentially the only heresy Brown DIDN'T espouse (pardon the pun). The whole thing is laughable. The Gospel of Judas is in the news precisely because Catholic apologists have been advertising a heresy that didn't exist. ...

I don't believe the novel even uses the word "Gnostic." It certainly doesn't use a single Gnostic idea. It quotes from ancient documents that have Gnostic elements, but it doesn't use the Gnostic elements and it doesn't use the quotes to support Gnostic ideas. The only reason it quotes from those documents is that they are ANCIENT and they aren't Christian. That lends a veneer of respectibility to the entirely modern argument that is brought forward - the modern infatuation with goddess worship. ....

And don't hand me that bit about Catholics having no influence on the media. There have been a lot of Catholic apologists on a lot of MSM outlets and all of them having been pushing this Gnostic line. If you all are so inconsequential, then why did you print all those books and DVDs? Who did you sell them to? Give me a break.
Over at The Da Vinci Hoax blog, Kellmeyer's comments -- made in response to this April 11 post -- were even more caustic:
Will Ignatius be producing a DVD that exposes the erros in their own Da Vinci Hoax? Such as the erroneous idea that the DVC is Gnostic, an idea promulgated by Ignatius Press (among others), an idea which made the current uproar over the Gospel of Judas possible? I'm just looking forward to an admission of error here, that's all. And, after Brumley responds -- "If Steve Kellmeyer is looking for an admission of error, he is certainly free to offer one" -- Kellmeyer writes:
Alright. "On behalf of Mark Brumley and Ignatius Press, we apologize for having mislead people into thinking the Da Vinci Code was a Gnostic heresy, when it has nothing to do with Gnosticism at all. Dan Brown's execrable research, which we were attempting to debunk, was in this case matched by our own failure to read and think about what he actually wrote. As a result, we spend a fair amount of time in both our book and our DVD tilting at straw men. Again, Ignatius Press deeply apologizes for the errors in its material." Just send that out in a press release, Mark. Thanks.Gnosticism and the Code

I quote these comments at length because as surprised as I am at Kellmeyer's insistence that Sandra Miesel and I misrepresent what TDVC says about gnosticism and that, in fact, we have created a "straw man," I am even more surprised at the uncharitable and mocking tone of Kellmeyer's comments. Granted, they are made on a blog, and are therefore far more informal than remarks found in articles or essays. Yet, apparently upset that Brumley had finally blocked him from making further comments on the two Ignatius Press-operated blogs (because Kellmeyer failed to change the sarcastic and angry tone of his comments), Kellmeyer decided to take his criticisms to a broader audience, publishing "Does Ignatius Press promote Gnosticism?" on the "Renew America" website on the afternoon of April 12th, less than two days after his first comment on the Insight Scoop blog.

And so, since I know that some readers are puzzled about Kellmeyer's article and since many of Kellmeyer's accusations call for correction and/or response -- especially since a couple of those accusations are quite severe -- I am going to address the comments made in that article and make some related observations related.
"Gnosticism: The Religion of the Code" | That's Chapter 1 of Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel's book, The Da Vinci Hoax. While the book has been a moderately competent debunk of Dan Brown's novel, there has always been one aspect of it that has been in error, and it is admirably laid out in the title to chapter 1.The Da Vinci Hoax has been moderately competent enough to earn strong praise from Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago ("the definitive debunking"), Dr. Philip Jenkins (author of Hidden Gospels), Dr. James Hitchcock, Dr. Darrell Bock (New Testament scholar and author of Breaking the Da Vinci Code), The Washington Times, and many others. And, in a review of several "debunking books" (including Kellmeyer's book) says of our book: "More than the other titles, this book looks at the cultural and religious factors that have combined to contribute to the success of DVC" and "[its authors] provide a wealth of richly detailed historical and theological information in their extensive volume."
Gnosticism has absolutely nothing to do with the Da Vinci Code. And yet Kellmeyer, in one of his comments on the Insight Scoop blog, states: "A careful DVC reader who is knowledgeable about Gnosticism will recognize that Brown uses the Gnostic Gospels twice (once from the Gospel of Philip to "prove" that Jesus was married - no Gnostic would do that) and then he never uses them again." So "absolutely" must not be completely absolute.

More importantly, within the novel itself are the following references to gnosticism and gnostic texts:

• On page 231 of TDVC, the character Leigh Teabing claims that "more than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament...," a clear reference to gnostic texts, even though Brown's numbers are well off the mark.

• On page 234, Teabing refers to "the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate," first mentioning the Dead Sea scrolls, then "the Coptic Scrolls [found] in 1945 at Nag Hammadi." The Nag Hammadi documents, which were discovered in Egypt in 1945, include numerous gnostic texts. They also fueled a resurgent interest in gnosticism that has been quite influential over the past several decades (more on that below).

• Later (p 245), Teabing opens "a huge book" identified asThe Gnostic Gospels, referring to either the 1979 book by Elaine Pagels -- a key work in bringing some of the Nag Hammadi texts to a popular readership -- or to The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation (Anchor Bible Reference Bible), in which case Brown has the title wrong.

• Teabing explains to Sophie that the these documents are "the earliest Christian records," but that "they do not match up with the gospels in the Bible." This is a key theme in the novel: the gnostics were the first and real Christians, and the gnostic texts offer the earliest and most accurate account of the life of Jesus. And it is obvious that this claim has resonated strongly among TDVC readers (including many talking heads in the mainstream media), despite the equally obvious fact that Brown knows little about actual ancient gnosticism or gnostic teachings.

• Teabing quotes a passage from the gnostic text, "The Gospel of Philip," seeking to prove to Sophie from the text that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. He also references "several other passages" to the same end. In writing this section of the novel, Brown most likely relied upon the work of radical feminist and former Catholic Margaret Starbird, author of The Goddess in the GospelsandThe Woman With the Alabaster Jar. Both books are prominently mentioned in TDVC (p. 253). Both books, especially The Goddess in the Gospels, draw upon gnostic texts and gnostic/neo-gnostic themes, especially the elevation of androgyny, subversion of orthodox authority, and the pursuit of elite and hidden knowledge. Starbird, in The Goddess in the Gospels, uses the quote from "The Gospel of Philip" to support her beliefs that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were sacred lovers, that the Magdalene was persecuted by the orthodox Church, that God can be known through direct experience without need of a Church or structure, and that the Church hates the sacred feminine (pp 119-122). All of these neo-gnostic/neo-pagan notions are picked up and used by Brown.

• On page 247 of TDVC, Teabing quotes from the gnostic text, "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene." Later, on page 248, he refers to the gnostic "gospels" as "unaltered gospels," again feeding the myth that gnosticism presents a more historically accurate picture of first-century Christianity (a myth also used by those promoting the "Gospel of Judas").

• On page 308, Langdon explains to Sophie that gnosis — "knowledge of the divine" — is achieved through "sacred marriage", or "physical union." This is a neo-gnostic reworking of the ancient gnostic notion of syzygy -- the spiritual wholeness achieved when spiritual beings exist in male and female pairs (more on this below).

There's no doubt that Brown is rather clueless about ancient gnosticism, which most scholars agree appeared in the early to mid-second century A.D. Those who have read our chapter on gnosticism (pp 45-72, The Da Vinci Hoax) know that we take Brown to task for his skewed and selective use of gnosticism. But, we also explain in detail that his sloppy and syncretistic use of gnosticism -- especially as it is blended with radical feminism, goddess worship, and other New Age notions -- is characteristic of what Dr. Carl A. Raschke, author of The Interruption of Eternity: Modern Gnosticism and the Origins of the New Religious Consciousness (Nelson-Hall, 1980) a study of gnosticism in recent centuries, calls "modern gnosticism." As Raschke and many others have shown, this modern form of gnosticism (like ancient gnosticism) thrives on revolting against "organized" or "conventional" religion and often promotes deviant forms of morality, especially sexual mortality. In the first chapter of our book, we write:
"These comments [by Pagels] touch on gnostic themes found within The Da Vinci Code: suspicion of tradition, distrust of authority, dislike for dogma and objective statements of faith, and the pitting of the individual against the institution. There is also the promise of secret knowledge, which is one of the reasons for the novel's success. Readers believe that they are being let in on a secret that has been hidden for centuries -- a bloody and damning cover-up by an ancient and powerful institution. This has always been the promise of gnosticism: freedom from authority, insight into reality, and enlightenment that goes beyond normality." (The Da Vinci Hoax, pp 46-47) TDVC's promise of secret knowledge involves not only the "truth" about oppressive institutions (the Catholic Church), but the means to direct spiritual experience, such as that described on the final page of the novel (p 454), when Robert Langdon falls on his knees "with a sudden upswelling of reverence" as he encounters the goddess Mary Magdalene ("the wisdom of the ages," another neo-gnostic conceit). Or via sexual intercourse, which Langdon says clears the mind and allows man to "see God." The radical dualism between "the spiritual" and institution is a central theme of TDVC, which constantly depicts Langdon -- the sophisticated, intellectual Harvard "symbologist" -- as having intuitive, special knowledge (a form of gnosis), while the Catholic Church (or Opus Dei, or "the Vatican") controls Catholics via fear, superstition, and suppressive doctrines and practices. This is simply a reworking of the ancient gnostic belief that a few, elite individuals will know the truth, while the rest of humanity is doomed to live without it.

Radical Feminism and Neo-Gnosticism

Our chapter on gnosticism has several pages devoted to modern radical feminism and its use (or, misuse) of gnosticism to promote beliefs that undermine orthodox Christianity by selectively appealing to ancient gnosticism. When we describe gnosticism as "the religion of the code", we do not argue that Brown is a true-blue, second-century gnostic, but that he (like many radical feminists and New Age types), uses certain gnostic elements to promote his particular anti-Catholic ideology and pseudo-spirituality.

Nor do we deny that he points readers toward embracing the "sacred feminine" and rediscovering goddess worship. On the contrary, we point out several times how radical feminism has been at the forefront of using (oftentimes selectively) ancient gnostic texts to promote, among other things, goddess worship, pro-androgynous beliefs, and anti-Christian attitudes. Dr. Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, writes: "Feminist scholars and theologians have been the most ambitious in using the newly found gospels [referring in particular to the Nag Hammadi documents] to reconstruct the early churches in their own image" (Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way [Oxford University Press, 2001], 124). As Jenkins demonstrates in a chapter titled "Daughters of Sophia", use of gnostic texts by feminist activists began in the nineteenth century and was especially popular in the 1890s and early 1900s. In a lecture, "How Gnostic Jesus Became the Christ of Scholars," given in August, 2000, Jenkins provides a detailed history of the marriage between feminism and gnosticism, and states:
"Particularly between about 1880 and 1920, a cascade of new discoveries transformed attitudes to early Christianity, both the mainstream and the heretical fringes. The most exciting find involved portions of the Gospel of Thomas located in Egypt, and then known simply as the Sayings of Jesus. Though the work did not have quite the revolutionary impact that it has on modern scholars, quotations from Thomas were appearing in works of popular piety long before the Nag Hammadi finds. And just as modern writers claim Thomas as a fifth gospel, so many experts a hundred years ago awarded a similar laurel to the recently found Gospel of Peter. Many of the insights and observations which have been based on the recently found Gnostic texts were also well-known before 1900. Even the special role of women disciples, which has attracted so much comment in recent years, was already being discussed in that epoch. The notion was quoted in feminist and New Age writings of the early twentieth century - and though this tends to be forgotten in modern writings, both feminists and New Age adherents wrote extensively on early Christianity in this period. Radical perspectives on religion were not an innovation of the 1960s. The new speculations reached a mass audience through magazines, newspapers and novels: they were thoroughly familiar to any reasonably well-informed layperson." Jenkins later states: "If we look back a century or so, we find that not only were early heresies still known and studied, but they achieved a popular audience in large measure through their appeal to occult and esoteric movements, who saw the early Gnostics as their spiritual ancestors." He then shows howthe Theosophical movement, various occult movements, and many Westerners attracted to forms of Asian mysticism have drawn heavily from ancient gnosticism in creating syncretistic forms of spiritualities. He notes that
" was the early esoteric writers who first comprehended the implications of the new documents for women's role in early Christianity. Indeed, the materials were present for a feminist revision of early Christian history. Just how thoroughgoing such an endeavor could be was indicated by Frances Swiney's important book The Esoteric Teachings of the Gnostics (1909), which is virtually forgotten today. Though she writes from an occult or theosophical perspective, Swiney has much in common with modern scholars like Elaine Pagels or Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, who attempt to restore the lost voices of the women of early Christianity." Philip G. Davis, professor of religious studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, has also studied this connection extensively, especially in his book Goddess Unmasked: The Rise of Neopagan Feminist Spirituality (Spence, 1998). He writes: "People who were dabbling in esoteric traditions like Gnosticism, or attempting to rediscover the spirituality of the ancient Egyptians, Norse, or Celts, frequently came face to face with female images of the divine. These goddesses or female symbols from the past seemed to offer stimulating insights into modern life. Gnosis, one of the most 'academic' of New Age journals, devoted its entire Fall 1989 issue to the Goddess" (Goddess Unmasked, p 20).

One example (out of many possible examples) of the recent feminist use of ancient gnosticism can be found in Riani Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future (Harper & Row, 1988), which, in the words of one reviewer, "has inspired a generation of women and men to envision a truly egalitarian society by exploring the legacy of the peaceful, goddess-worshipping cultures from our prehistoric past." Many of Eisler's claims will be familiar to readers of TDVC, especially when it comes to ancient gnostic texts: "To gain a better understanding of the real nature of early Christianity, we have to go outside the official scriptures contained in the New Testament to other ancient Christian documents, some of which have only recently been found" (pp 124-25). She then discusses the Nag Hammadi documents, the work of Elaine Pagels, and argues that the first gnostics were persecuted by "orthodox" Christians because they believed in "the idea of the divine as female" (p 127). She then argues -- without support or citation -- that ancient gnosticism was derived "from the earlier religious tradition when the Goddess was worshipped and priestesses were her earthly representatives" (p 128).

Another key connection between radical feminism, gnosticism, and goddess worship is, we write in The Da Vinci Hoax, "a deity who is a perfect balance of feminine and masculine." Here is a lengthy quote from our discussion of this topic:
Some gnostic groups believed that the divine should be considered "masculofeminine -- the 'great male-female power.' Others claimed that the terms were meant only as metaphors, since, in reality, the divine is neither male nor female. A third group suggested that one can describe the primal Source in either masculine or feminine terms, depending on which aspect one intends to stress." Pagels adds: "Proponents of these diverse views agreed that the divine is to be understood in terms of a harmonious, dynamic relationship of opposites -- a concept that may be akin to the Eastern view of yin and yang, but remains alien to orthodox Judaism and Christianity" (Gnostic Gospels, 123-24).

The gnostic deity is both god and goddess, and the Gnostics despised the Christians for "suppressing" the feminine nature of the godhead. In The Da Vinci Code, Langdon lectures Sophie about this, telling her that the Priory of Sion believes that the Emperor Constantine and his successors "successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity" by employing "a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine", destroying goddess worship and insuring that modern religion would be male-oriented (TDVC, p 124). This suppression resulted, Brown's novel tells readers, in a warped and unbalanced humanity, overly masculine and lacking in feminine balance: "The days of the goddess were over. The pendulum had swung. Mother Earth had become a man's world, and the gods of destruction and war were taking their toll." Readers are informed that the "male ego" has run amuck, without being balanced or controlled at all by its feminine counterpart. This has led to the "obliteration of the sacred feminine in modern life", resulting in imbalanced lives, "testosterone-fueled wars", woman-hating societies, and "a growing disrespect for Mother Earth" (TDVC, pp 125-6).

Many gnostics not only believed the true God is androgynous, but that humanity was also meant to be androgynous, or "masculo-feminine". Some gnostics interpreted Genesis 1:27 as saying God created "male-female", not "male and female". Certain gnostic texts describe the Divinity as a "bisexual Power" and state that humanity is a "male-female being". There are references to God as Father and Mother -- a "dyad" of both masculine and feminine. This focus on an androgynous ideal is often referred to in contemporary, neo-gnostic works as "wholeness", a favorite term among many feminists as well. Margaret Starbird, whose books The Woman with the Alabaster Jar and The Goddess in the Gospels are referred to in The Da Vinci Code, repeatedly refers to "the partnership paradigm", which she describes as "the imaging of the Divine as both Bride and Bridegroom". This is necessary, she explains, so that the "collective psyche" of humanity will be healed, made whole, and restored. The essential purpose of this? "We must value our own feelings and emotions, our own intuitions, our own experience, our own selves. We must honor our own journeys." Wholeness, it seems, is merely self-absorption and narcissism.

The idea of an androgynous, "whole" humanity makes an appearance in The Da Vinci Code. In talking to Sophie about the Mona Lisa, Langdon claims that the Mona Lisa is "neither male nor female", but an androgynous portrait that is "a fusing of both" (TDVC, p 120). This is wishful thinking on the part of Langdon (and Brown), since reputable art historians agree the portrait has nothing to do with androgyny, but is simply a masterful painting of an Italian lady, (most likely Mona Lisa Gherardini, the wife of merchant Francesco del Giocondo). However, the idea that Mona Lisa depicts an androgynous person does fit with the gnostic beliefs that those who were enlightened by gnosis needed to be in pairs -- male and female -- forming a perfect whole, or "syzygy". Thus, Jesus would require a female counterpart who would make him complete; in gnostic writings that woman, of course, was Jesus' "consort", Mary Magdalene. (The Da Vinci Hoax, pp 50-54, some footnotes removed).

Muddying the waters, of course, is the fact that Brown proposes the androgynous ideal and maintains a traditional romance story involving Langdon and Sophie. Yet, although he fails to spell it out in any detail, Brown's description of Jesus as the sexual partner of Mary Magdalene draws from this gnostic idea (again, relying heavily on the work of Margaret Starbird, whose books obsess over this topic). Since, Jenkins explains, "the Gnostic world-view demanded that spiritual beings exist in male and female pairs, forming a common whole, a syzygy; how could Jesus exist without his counterpart, with whom he merged in spiritual -- and perhaps sexual -- union?" (Hidden Gospels, p 142).

Brown, again, brings together two contrary perspectives: a neo-gnostic, spiritual union between the feminist Jesus and the goddess Mary Magdalene (via Starbird), and the marriage and bloodline of the mere mortal Jesus who inspires followers but does little else (via Holy Blood, Holy Grail). Confused, absurd, and muddled -- yes. But this, again, is par for the course for an author who seems willing to use whatever is at hand (or whatever was handed to him by his wife) to move his story -- and its anti-Catholic agenda -- along.

Is the Jesus of the Code Really Gnostic?

So, does Brown skew the truth about early gnosticism to fit his needs? Absolutely. Is Brown's depiction of ancient gnosticism often inaccurate? Undoubtedly. Has Brown's novel brought an incredible amount of attention to gnoticism and gnostic texts? Most certainly. It has also fed off a curiosity about gnosticism and "lost gospels" and "hidden Scriptures" that already existed. The fact is, both ancient and modern forms of gnosticism don't worry too much about logic and coherence, but are interested in knowing secrets, subverting power, mocking orthodoxy, and freeing themselves from the mundane world of daily living. Which is why Teabing mockingly describes Christianity as "the greatest story ever sold" (p 267) and why Langdon, who epitomizes the modern gnostic ideal, assures Sophie that "those who truly understand their faith understand the stories are metaphorical" (p 342).

In defending the Ignatius book against this charge, Mark Brumley, CEO of Ignatius, has this to say, "DVH makes a sophisticated argument re: Gnosticism and the DVC. Brown draws on some elements of Gnosticism, frames some of his arguments based on how Gnosticism is used by others today, and ignores other aspects of Gnosticism that contradict his overall thesis."Quite right, just as I have summarized.
Now, as I have pointed out elsewhere, The Da Vinci Code's contact with Gnosticism is essentially non-existent. It quotes from two documents that contain Gnostic elements: the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. In neither case does Brown use the Gnostic elements in those documents, nor does he use the quotes that he does draw from the documents to support any Gnostic idea whatsoever.This is not accurate, as my comments above show.
In fact, every idea that he brings forward concerning Jesus is antithetical to Gnosticism.This, I think, gets at the heart of where Kellmeyer disagrees with Sandra and me. We do agree that the Jesus described by Brown in his novel really isn't the Jesus found in many of the ancient gnostic writings. But Kellmeyer seems to think that gnosticism is defined solely on its depiction of Jesus and that gnosticism is an all-or-nothing belief system. Both assumptions are incorrect. One of the remarkable things about TDVC, I think, is that it purports to be about Jesus -- but really says almost nothing about him (essentially what I've described above). This latter point, however, should not be overlooked too quickly, Part of the "code" that readers are given access to in the novel is the assertion that Jesus is of little consequence today, but was in his day simply a nice guy who "inspired millions to better lives" (p 234) and who was later used by Constantine to establish Catholicism and solidify the "Vatican power base." Or, in the words of Teabing, the "most profound moment in Christian history" was when Constantine created "a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike" (p 234). The statement is incredibly ridiculous, but that shouldn't overshadow the fact that this is how many people understand the gnostic "gospels" (nice, human, real Jesus) versus the canonical Gospels (fake, unreal, god-only Jesus).

Noted Scripture scholar N.T. Wright, in a 2005 talk, "Decoding The Da Vinci Code: The Challenge of Historic Christianity to Post-Modern Fantasy," discussed the popularity and appeal of neo-gnosticism:
One of the basic fault lines in the contemporary Western world is the line between neo-Gnosticism on the one hand and the challenge of Jesus on the other. Please note that, despite strenuous attempts to make this line coincide with the current sharp left-right polarization of American culture and politics, it simply doesn't. Nor, for that matter, does it coincide with the polarizations of British or European culture either. So what is this real, deep polarization which runs through our world?

Neo-Gnosticism is the philosophy that invites you to search deep inside yourself and discover some exciting things by which you must then live. It is the philosophy which declares that the only real moral imperative is that you should then be true to what you find when you engage in that deep inward search. But this is not a religion of redemption. It is not at all a Jewish vision of the covenant God who sets free the helpless slaves. It appeals, on the contrary, to the pride that says "I'm really quite an exciting person, deep down, whatever I may look like outwardly" -- the theme of half the cheap movies and novels in today's world. It appeals to the stimulus of that ever-deeper navel-gazing ("finding out who I really am") which is the subject of a million self-help books, and the home-made validation of a thousand ethical confusions. It corresponds, in other words, to what a great many people in our world want to believe and want to do, rather than to the hard and bracing challenge of the very Jewish gospel of Jesus. It appears to legitimate precisely that sort of religion which a large swathe of America and a fair chunk of Europe yearns for: a free-for-all, do-it-yourself spirituality, with a strong though ineffective agenda of social protest against the powers that be, and an I'm-OK-you're-OK attitude on all matters religious and ethical. At least, with one exception: You can have any sort of spirituality you like (Zen, labyrinths, Tai Chi) as long as it isn't orthodox Christianity.
That, I think, perfectly describes the neo-gnostic "spirituality"advocated by TDVC.

The "Gospel" of "Judas"

Kellmeyer wrote:
Recently, Carl Olson wrote a column for Ignatius Insight complaining about the uproar over the Gnostic Gospel of Judas. Since his column accepts comments from readers, I pointed out that the uproar was in part fueled by his erroneous book and DVD -- he and Ignatius have been promulgating information on a heresy that the Da Vinci Code never even refers to. Two years of Ignatius' hype concerning this straw-man argument undoubtedly played no small role in the rising interest in Gnosticism.Then, in another article, "The Gospel of Judas" (April 14, 2006), he wrote:
Now, why is such a silly document getting so much press coverage? Because a bunch of Christians - especially a bunch of orthodox Catholics - made sure it would. For the last two years, the people who took on the role of official debunkers to Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, have been insisting that Brown's work is a Gnostic heresy. It is nothing of the sort.First, I'm not sure how Kellmeyer can pass judgment on the content of our DVD (hosted by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.) since it just came out. In fact, I haven't even seen the final product as of this writing.

Secondly, the statement about our book fueling the controversy around "The Gospel of Judas" is silly and misinformed. For example, a search of Google News produces some 754 news articles about "The Gospel of Judas." A search for "The Gospel of Judas" and "Da Vinci Hoax" produces one article: Kellmeyer's. Meanwhile, a search for "The Gospel of Judas" and "Da Vinci Code" produces 163 articles, including this April 11 piece, which contains this quote: "'I think the massive media interest in the 'Gospel of Judas' is related to the whole 'Dan Brown phenomenon'," said Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, referring to the US author of the international bestseller, 'The Da Vinci Code'." That same connection has been made by many observers, most of whom are likely oblivious to our book.

The interest in "The Gospel of Judas" is due to a number of factors: 1) a very deliberate and successful marketing campaign by National Geographic, 2) the media's general enthusiasm for "secret gospels" and anything that undermines traditional, orthodox Christianity, and 3) a substantial interest in alternative, customized, flexible, amoral, and self-serving spiritualities.

The Popularity of Gnosticism

The point I want to focus on here is that gnosticism/neo-gnosticism has been of great interest to many academics/scholars, the media, and the general populace for quite some time -- long before Dan Brown and I began writing books. This fact is addressed in a recent document, which states:
At the same time there is increasing nostalgia and curiosity for the wisdom and ritual of long ago, which is one of the reasons for the remarkable growth in the popularity of esotericism and gnosticism. Many people are particularly attracted to what is known – correctly or otherwise – as "Celtic" spirituality, or to the religions of ancient peoples. Books and courses on spirituality and ancient or Eastern religions are a booming business, and they are frequently labelled "New Age" for commercial purposes. But the links with those religions are not always clear. In fact, they are often denied.

An adequate Christian discernment of New Age thought and practice cannot fail to recognize that, like second and third century gnosticism, it represents something of a compendium of positions that the Church has identified as heterodox. John Paul II warns with regard to the "return of ancient gnostic ideas under the guise of the so-called New Age: We cannot delude ourselves that this will lead toward a renewal of religion. It is only a new way of practising gnosticism – that attitude of the spirit that, in the name of a profound knowledge of God, results in distorting His Word and replacing it with purely human words. Gnosticism never completely abandoned the realm of Christianity. Instead, it has always existed side by side with Christianity, sometimes taking the shape of a philosophical movement, but more often assuming the characteristics of a religion or a para-religion in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all that is essentially Christian". An example of this can be seen in the enneagram, the nine-type tool for character analysis, which when used as a means of spiritual growth introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith.
That quote comes from "Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life -- A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age'," produced by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue on February 3, 2003 --  a month before TDVC was published. That document mentions gnosticism and neo-gnosticism numerous times. Therefore, should we assert that it undoubtedly played no small role in the rising interest in gnosticism?
After all, even the word "Gnostic" never appears in the Da Vinci Code. Certainly none of its ideas are present in the Code. As we've seen, the word "Gnostic" does appears in TDVC (p 245), as does "gnosis" (p 308). (Besides, if it doesn't appear in the novel, how can Kellmeyer state, in a comment on our blog: "But Catholic apologists were so bent on finding a heresy in DVC that they immediately fixated on the word "Gnostic" in the book"?) As I've shown, many gnostic and neo-gnostic ideas are found in the novel. Yes, gnosticism is remarkably complex, which may account for some of the confusion about how it is used and misused by Brown.
Gnosticism is a remarkably complex and relatively obscure heresy that almost no one knew existed prior to the erection of the strawman argument. This remark is simply off the mark. So "obscure" is gnosticism that the Catechism of the Catholic Church references it as the first heresy confronting the early Church (par 465) and the New American Bible describes it, in a footnote to 1 Timothy 6:20-21 as "the great rival and enemy of the church for two centuries and more." One of the first great works of Christian apologetics, Adversus Haereses (or "Against Heresies"), written by St. Irenaeus in the late second century, was a refutation of gnosticism. Manichaenism, a very popular form of gnosticism founded in the Middle East in the third century, had an adherent named Augustine for many years. And now, due to the popularity of TDVC, a number of novels and books are being produced that feature the Cathars, a gnostic movement that thrived in western Europe during the tenth century.

Since the publication of TDVC, sales for books such as The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief (about the gnostic "Gospel of Thomas"), both by Elaine Pagels, have increased. The latter book, published in May 2003, was a New York Times best-seller and was given all sorts of media attention (none of which, I should point out, mention me or The Da Vinci Hoax, possibly because our book wasn't published until June 2004). The jacket for Beyond Belief states that "the impulse to seek God overflows the narrow banks of a single tradition." Pagels, of course, is hardly on the fringe, but has a Ph.D. from Harvard, is a professor at Princeton, and has won numerous awards for her books espousing a feminist, neo-gnostic spirituality.

And what about Dan Burstein's Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The DaVinci [sic] Code, published in April 2004, and featuring essays by various authors, including some whose work was relied upon by Dan Brown? It has sold three million copiessince it was published! Included are numerous essays about gnosticism and the "Gnostic gospels" (one section is titled "The Lost Gospels"). Many other examples could be given, including the November 2003 ABC primetime special, "Jesus, Mary, and Da Vinci," which prominently featured Pagels, Karen King (The Gospel of Mary of Magdala), and Margaret Starbird. In a revealing interview with, the host, Elizabeth Vargas (a Catholic), stated: "After I got the assignment, I began reading [many books]. There have been books around for decades talking about Mary Magdalene and theorizing about her importance--scholarly looks at aspects of Bible history, like Elaine Pagels' Gnostic Gospels. I didn't know that there were Gnostic gospels." Again, I must point out how little involvement I had with the special, with the exception of a review of it that I wrote for National Catholic Register.

A search for "gnostic" on turns up over 250 titles. Numerous books have been written in the past forty years about gnosticism and the gnostic texts; some of them have sold very well. Evangelical author James A. Herrick, in his book The Making of the New Spirituality (IVP, 2003), provides a detailed history of modern gnosticism ("The Rebirth of Gnosticism," pp 177-203) from the Enlightenment era to 19th-century America to Carl Jung, Jean Houston, and various works of popular science fiction. And there have been several books in recent years detailing the decades-long relationship between radical feminism and neo-gnosticism, including God or Goddess?(Ignatius, 1995) by Manfred Hauke, The Feminist Question (Eerdmans, 1994) by Francis Martin, Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism (Ignatius, 1991) by Donna Steichen, and The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God (Ignatius, 1992), edited by Helen Hull Hitchcock. You can also read pages 89-98 of our book for an examination of how the gnostic Mary Magdalene, as appropriated (or created) by Brown and various radical feminists, is mixed with neo-gnosticism and neo-paganism.
Given how bad Dan Brown is at research, it isn't clear he even realized he was quoting from Gnostic documents. There's certainly no evidence he taught anything approaching Gnostic philosophy. Although I understand the temptation to make light of Brown's research, the novelist knew he was using gnostic texts, even if he didn't fully know what they meant. He refers to the "Gnostic Gospels" on his website and in his witness statement, given in London during the recent trial involving his publisher, he mentions the "Gnostic Gospels" several times, including this reference: "In chapter 58 of The Da Vinci Code I cite a passage from the Gospel of Philip and another from the Gospel of Mary, which both allude to Mary Magdalene's relationship with Jesus and her important role in his Church. The Gospels of Philip and Mary both come from the Gnostic Gospels and I recall seeing them in many sources" (par 192).
So, when I heard about Carl's column, in which he laments the existence of an uproar he and Ignatius helped to create, I asked Carl and Mark to give me one example of Gnostic philosophy, theology or even general thought in the Da Vinci Code. They couldn't.

This essay is my first response to Kellmeyer's assorted comments, so I'm not sure why he says I couldn't give him a response -- especially since he allowed all of 24 hours to do so (that is, before he claimed I wasn't able to provide an answer).

I pointed out that Brown quoted from ancient documents that contained Gnostic elements, but Brown never, in fact, used any of the Gnostic elements. Indeed, as I realized later, if we were to use this new Ignatius Press standard for what constitutes adherence to a particular philosophy, we would be forced to insist that Ignatius Press supports Dan Brown's philosophy and theology, since their book quotes from The Da Vinci Code. If Brown quoting from Gnostic documents makes him Gnostic, then Ignatius Press quoting from the Da Vinci Code makes them adherents to Dan Brown's philosophy. QED.

Again, silly.

The Ignatius Press' position is quite clear: "DVH makes a sophisticated argument re: Gnosticism and the DVC. Brown draws on some elements of Gnosticism, frames some of his arguments based on how Gnosticism is used by others today, and ignores other aspects of Gnosticism that contradict his overall thesis."

The argument is apparently quite sophisticated -- so sophisticated, that it is not something Mark Brumley, CEO of Ignatius Press, or Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel, the authors of The Da Vinci Hoax, are willing to actually enunciate to the rest of us
Perhaps I should apologize that my life doesn't revolve around answering mocking questions at the drop of the hat?
Carl and Sandra give a basically accurate description of what Gnosticism teaches and then say, "Gnosticism was exclusive, elitist, and esoteric, open only to a few." But Brown's argument is precisely that pagan goddess worship -- which is NOT Gnosticism -- was NOT elitist, esoteric or open only to a few. That's only part of the story. Yes, Brown's narrative states that pagan goddess worship was once the norm (and all was perfect because of it). But he also says:

• Judeo-Christianity destroyed goddess worship: "Genesis was the beginning of the end for the goddess" (p 238). The goddess was "banished" (p 239) and the old pagan religions were destroyed by Christianity. Or, as Brown wrote in his witness statement: "My reading convinced me that there was a great case to be put forward that woman had been unfairly treated in the eyes of society for hundreds of years if not longer, and that religion had played a big part in this" (par 112).

• Women have "been banished from the temples of the world" and have been demonized by conservative religious groups (p 125). The goddess has been "obliterated" from "modern religion forever" (p 124).

• Enlightenment comes from a perfect balance of male and female elements -- an androgynous ideal captured by Leonardo da Vinci in "Mona Lisa" (p 120). Balance, harmony, peace and respect for "Mother Earth" will be restored only when women are restored to their proper place (p 126)

• Jesus was 'the original feminist" (p 248) who "intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene."

• Peter and the other apostles ruined that plan (p 248). Mary Magdalene's reputation was attacked (pp 249, 254, 261) and her "name was forbidden by the Church" (p 254).

• "History is always written by the winners" (p 256), so the "truth" about Jesus and Mary Magdalene has been largely hidden for centuries. The Church has used violent and dark means to keep people in the dark (cf., p 407). But some, such as Teabing and Langdon, know the truth.

• The Holy Grail involves discovering/recovering the "sacred feminine", as well as knowing "secret history" and "lost documents" and finding a "glorious, unattainable treasure" in a "world of chaos" (p 444).

So, in the end, the hero (Langdon), who helps Sophie (Sophia!) find her family and her true heritage (descendent of Jesus) is finally initiated in full into the mystery of the "sacred feminine," marking some sort of ascension into a state of higher spiritual awareness/knowledge -- a thoroughly neo-gnostic idea.
In fact, the whole DVC plot-line is built around a paganized version of the Theology of the Body. Dare I point out that TDVC never uses the phrase "theology of the body"? Or that ritualized and "sacred" sex hardly adds up to a form of the theology of the body? Regardless, I address this particular argument at length in the May 2006 issue of Saint Austin Review, which includes an article by Kellmeyer that fleshes out (no pun intended) this argument, and my response to it. As I wrote in my response:
It's very revealing that when fans talk about the Code, they don't usually discuss the characters, the plot, or even the sex. No, they focus on the claim that Jesus is not who the Church tells us he is, that this is further proof of how horrible the Church is, and this in turn validates how smart and open minded they are for embracing these "facts." They talk about how they are "spiritual," not religious and congratulate themselves on finding a "truth" that works for them. In a recent issue [October 2004] of the Village Voice, a leading voice among alternative, radical perspective, Curtis White summarized it this way:

"The Da Vinci Code is important as an expression of a desire for a spirituality that cannot be had within the confines of the institutionalized church. More simply yet, it is the popular expression of a desire for a kind of meaningfulness to life that is missing for most of us. And certainly, it is the scandalous expression of a willingness to be disobedient to achieve the heretical end of a salvation outside the confines of the church."
It would be difficult to find a better description of neo-gnosticism. And this comes from a fan of the novel who is analyzing the success of TDVC.
I guess they are fighting fire with fire. Too bad the rest of us are too stupid to understand. Just remember: the Ignatius Press use of Gnostic strawmen and/or Gnostic arguments had nothing to do with the uproar over the Gospel of Judas. Not a thing. Just ask them. Just because you say it is so, doesn't make it so. Provide some proof that our book and our comments about gnosticism have had a direct affect on the media furor surrounding "The Gospel of Judas." Frankly, I'd be flattered (and stunned) if you found any.

Finally, from Kellmeyer's April 14th column about the "Gospel of Judas":
But the constant drumbeat from Christian apologists who don't know history or Gnostic theology has incorrectly painted the Da Vinci Code as a Gnostic heresy, thereby raising interest in a train of thought that had been shown up for a farce over 1800 years ago. Because the Christians kept incoherently insisting Brown's book was Gnostic when it was nothing of the sort, the Gnostic Gospel of Judas is now news.

And now Christian apologists are complaining about the MSM's attention to the newest unveiling of a Gnostic Gospel. No wonder the world laughs at Christians. If these people had only bothered to learn a bit about Gnosticism first, or - better yet - had bought copies of Fact and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code...
In light of those strong assertions, I should point out what some readers already know: that nearly all of the other "debunking" books written by Evangelical Protestants and Catholics include substantial sections about ancient gnosticism and modern gnosticism. These works include:

Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D (Thomas Nelson, 2004). Bock is a research professor of NT studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a well-regarded and well-published scholar specializing in NT studies, the historical Jesus and Gospels studies.
The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci by Ben Witherington III (IVP, 2004). Witherington is professor of NT at Asbury Theological Seminary and the author of numerous books on the NT and the historical Jesus.
The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code by Richard Abanes (Harvest House, 2004). Abanes is a noted Evangelical authority on cults and religions and the author of a dozen books on related topics.
Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code by Bart D. Ehrman (Oxford, 2004). Ehrman is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina.
De-Coding Da Vinci by Amy Welborn (OSV, 2004).
The Da Vinci Deception by Mark Shea and Edward Sri (Ascension Press, 2006).

Readers may also be interested in these online articles about TDVC and/or neo-gnosticism:

"How Gnostic Jesus Became the Christ of Scholars" by Philip Jenkins.
"Decoding The Da Vinci Code: The Challenge of Historic Christianity to Post-Modern Fantasy" by N.T. Wright
"The New Gnosticism and the 'Scandal of Particularity'" by Christopher Brown
"As One Who Serves" by N.T. Wright, in which he discusses the "Gospel of Judas"
"Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life -- A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age'" by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

It's possible, of course, that the authors of these books and articles addressing TDVC "don't know history or Gnostic theology." Or it could be that Kellmeyer is mistaken in his criticisms and that it is he who has failed to read and think about what Dan Brown, fans of TDVC, and many in the mainstream media have written and said about gnosticism, the gnostic "gospels," and related topics. Although I have no problem arguing over those issues, I do hope our discussion can avoid the sort of polemics and rudeness that not only distract from the topics addressed, but may also cause scandal among readers. All of us who have criticized TDVC agree that it is an assault on orthodox Christianity, especially Catholicism, and I hope and pray we can continue to fight together to defend Truth and to make a defense to those asking us to give an account for the hope within us (1 Pet 3:15).

Carl E. Olson
is the editor of

He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers.

He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, and two children. Visit his personal web site at

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