The Code and Gnosticism: A Response to Steve Kellmeyer |
Carl E. Olson | April 17, 2006
The 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
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
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 IgnatiusInsight.com.
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
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
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
"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 FaithfulReader.com, 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
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 Gospels andThe 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
"...it 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.
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.
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).
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
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
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
The "Gospel" of "Judas"
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
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 ’Äì correctly
or otherwise ’Äì 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 ’Äì 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 --
¬Ýa 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
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
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,
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 Beliefnet.com, 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 amazon.com 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
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"
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
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.
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"
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
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,
Readers may also be interested in these online articles about TDVC and/or
Gnostic Jesus Became the Christ of Scholars" by Philip Jenkins.
The Da Vinci Code: The Challenge of Historic Christianity to Post-Modern
Fantasy" by N.T. Wright
New Gnosticism and the 'Scandal of Particularity'" by Christopher
One Who Serves" by N.T. Wright, in which he discusses the "Gospel
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 IgnatiusInsight.com.
He is the co-author of The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author
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 www.carl-olson.com.
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