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The Da Vinci Code Cult:
A Critical Look at Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code

Much has already been written decoding, deconstructing, and debunking Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, including Tim Callahan’s critical review in Skeptic. But since then the book has become a cult hit, having sold over 25 million copies in 44 languages, and the paperback edition is not even out yet! It reached No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list on April 6, 2003, and has stayed on the list for 103 straight weeks (as of this writing), half at the No. 1 position (and never below No. 5). As a consequence, Brown’s three other novels have now sold over 7 million copies, earning him an estimated $50 million in the last two years. In addition, a film starring Tom Hanks is in production, a sequel is in the works, and at least 20 other nonfiction books have now been published by other authors in response, promising to help readers “decode” it in some way. And if all that wasn’t enough, in March 2005, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, head of doctrinal orthodoxy for the Vatican, issued an official statement on behalf of the Catholic church, calling the novel “a sack full of lies” and urging Christians not to read it. Thus, in addition to it being appropriate to revisit The Da Vinci Code, I also think that its critics have been too soft and that there are even deeper flaws in the book that need to be revealed.

The Da Vinci Code book cover

By definition a novel is fiction, so it would seem that Cardinal Bertone’s assessment is irrelevant. But, in fact, Brown says in the book: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” In this “factual novel,” Brown makes some extremely remarkable claims that, if true, would revolutionize not only all of the Christian religion, but much of history as well. Brown would have us believe that the practices of early Christianity were vastly different than we have been taught, and that a huge conspiracy has prevented us from knowing this. A patriarchal plot by a famous Roman emperor obliterated the early Christians’ worship of “the sacred feminine.” Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and sired a royal bloodline that continues to this day. A secret society of some of history’s most famous scientists and artists has been dedicated to preserving these ancient secrets for almost a thousand years. At a minimum, these claims would overthrow more than a century’s worth of painstaking research by serious scholars from the most respected universities in the world. If ever there were an extraordinary historical claim that requires extraordinary historical proof, this is it. How good is the proof that Brown presents?

The Earliest Christian Records?

The principal claim to support Brown’s radical historical revision is found in the statements by a character in the novel, Leigh Teabing, who is a Grail researcher and scholar: “These are photocopies of the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea scrolls, which I mentioned earlier,” Teabing announces, “[they are} the earliest Christian records” (245). This is spectacularly false. The Dead Sea scrolls are indeed historical documents of almost unparalleled significance. However, they give us no direct knowledge about early Christianity. While the Dead Sea Scrolls certainly add enormously to our knowledge of Judaism during the historical period in which Christianity began and spread, they do not so much as mention Jesus of Nazareth, or any of his followers, or even the movement that came to be known as Christianity. So for Brown to inject the Dead Sea Scrolls as source documents that supposedly overturn our understanding of early Christianity is ludicrous.

What are the earliest surviving Christian texts? If you want to read them, you will find them in the New Testament. Scholars believe that Paul’s epistle, now known as 1 Thessalonians, was written during his second evangelical journey, about the year 51. That would make it the earliest of all surviving Christian documents. Galatians was probably written during Paul’s third evangelical journey, around 54–58. The Book of Acts appears to have been completed by the year 61, although some portions of it appear to be earlier still, and some editing may have occurred a few years later.1 The Gospel of Mark is unquestionably the oldest surviving gospel. It is usually dated around the year 70. Matthew is later than Mark, but was composed before 100. The Gospel of Luke was composed around the year 100. John was written a few years later, but before 120. There is some quibbling about these dates, but New Testament scholars would accept them as being reasonably close.

As for the Nag Hammadi texts, some of which are unquestionably previously unknown early Christian documents, when were they written? The noted biblical scholar James M. Robinson, who headed up the project to study and translate these invaluable archaeological finds, writes that while an exact dating has not yet been determined, “dates ranging at least from the beginning to the end of the fourth century CE have been proposed.” One Nag Hammadi text makes reference to the Anomoean “heresy,” which briefly flourished in Alexandria around the year 360. Some miscellaneous papers bound with the Nag Hammadi Codices can be dated to the years 333, 341, 346, and 348.2 Thus, the physical Nag Hammadi library is unquestionably from the fourth-century, and at least some of its texts are that recent.

It is certainly possible that even though our copy (the only surviving copy) of the Nag Hammadi texts is relatively late, the works themselves may have been composed much earlier. And indeed, this appears to be the case: but not nearly enough to get Brown’s foot out of his mouth. He makes much of the Gospel of Philip, which does indeed depict Jesus kissing Mary Magdalene on the mouth (246). However, the introduction to that book in The Nag Hammadi Library in English states that it was “probably written in Syria in the second half of the third century C.E.” In other words, it was composed between about 250 and 300, making it at least 150 years later than the canonical gospels. As such, it cannot possibly be considered a primary historical source comparable to the canonical texts.

Brown also quotes from the Gospel of Mary [Magdalene] (247), which carries the suggestion that Jesus “loved her more than us.” According to the Nag Hammadi Library’s introduction to the Gospel of Mary, “Although the date of composition is unknown, the Coptic manuscript itself has been dated to the early fifth century, and a Greek fragment of this gospel to the early third century.” There are no grounds to assign to this work an earlier date of composition.

Thus, for Brown to offer up second-and third-century texts as older and more definitive than the first-century canonical texts is laughable. The canonical New Testament gospels and epistles are mid-to-late first century works, or at latest very early second century. Yet Brown confidently asserts that the New Testament books are later than the Gnostic Nag Hammadi texts. In matters of historical analysis, it is not possible to be more wrong than this.

Holy Blood, Holy Grail

The centerpiece of Brown’s thesis is the claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and sired a royal bloodline that survives in secret to this day. This wild claim was first sensationalized in the 1982 book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. Brown’s version of the story is essentially the same as theirs, and the HBHG authors point out that Brown’s “Leigh Teabing” is made up from the name of one of the three authors, plus an anagram of another. So similar, in fact, is Brown’s thesis that Baigent and Leigh are suing Brown for 140 million pounds, claiming that the novel’s premise and chunks of factual research are plagiarized from their book, which has sold more than two million copies despite being denounced by several Church commentators as “pseudo-history.” Baigent said: “Whether our hypothesis is right or wrong is irrelevant. The fact is that this is work that we put together and spent years and years building up.” It includes the Jesus-Mary royal bloodline being protected by such esoteric societies as the Knights Templar and the Priory of Sion, one of whose “Grand Masters” is claimed to have been Leonardo da Vinci.3 A second suit alleging plagiarism has been filed against Brown by author Lewis Perdue, who claims that plot material was lifted from two of his books: The Da Vinci Legacy and Daughter of God.4 Whether or not Brown plagiarized the idea, however, is irrelevant to its veracity. (For a rich source of material debunking Holy Blood, Holy Grail, see the Wikipedia article on it.5) What evidence is there that any of this is historically accurate? Precious little. We begin with the Priory of Sion.

The Priory of Sion

Brown writes: “The Priory of Sion — a European secret society founded in 1099 — is a real organization. In 1975 Paris’s Bibliotheque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secretes, identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Leonardo da Vinci.”

This claim is taken straight from Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which states in chapter 5, “According to the text, the Ordre de Sion was founded by Godfroi de Bouillon in 1090, nine years before the conquest of Jerusalem — although there are other ‘Prieure documents’ that give the founding date as 1099.” This would be very impressive, if it were true. According to Brown, the purpose of the Priory is to guard the supposed secret of the Holy Grail, protect the bloodline of Jesus and Mary, and preserve the knowledge of the “sacred feminine” supposedly practiced in early Christianity (but erased by the Emperor Constantine and his patriarchal henchmen). In Holy Blood, Holy Grail, it is much the same, except that the feminist/goddess angle of the “sacred feminine,” which became prominent in feminist writings during the late 1980s, is absent because it had not yet been popularized.

The factual history of the Priory of Sion is outlined in great detail on the website www.priory-of-sion.com. The supposedly ancient “order” was in fact founded in 1956 by Pierre Plantard (1920–2000), a French anti-Masonic and antiSemitic con man who was frequently in trouble with the law. Following the Nazi invasion of France, he even went so far in December, 1940, as to write a letter to Field Marshall Petain, head of the Nazi supported puppet government in Vichy, warning of Jewish-Masonic conspiracies. In 1953 Plantard began a six-month prison sentence for misappropriation of property, and in 1956 he began serving a 12-month prison sentence for “détournement de mineurs” (corrupting, or possibly “kidnapping,” one or more minors).

In Holy Blood, Holy Grail we learn that, according to Les Dossiers Secretes, the Priory’s Royal Merovingian bloodline extends back even before the Trojan War, to the Old Testament patriarchs themselves. How credible are these supposed documents? Were they actually found in the French national archives? Technically, yes, they were found in the archives in the early 1960s. However, there is no record of them having ever been properly entered or registered there. The documents appear to have been planted so that they could be found there, but lacking registration within the archives themselves, there is no way they can be considered valid. So where did Les Dossiers Secretes come from? We learned the full story when Plantard and his co-author Gérard de Sède had a falling-out. As explained on www.priory-of-sion.com:

The “parchments” in particular were created by Philippe de Chérisey and the book contract to L’Or de Rennes [the Gold of Rennes(-le-Chateau)] reveals he was entitled to a share of the book’s profits for producing the “parchments.” A split between the three occurred in 1967 when Gérard de Sède refused to split the book royalties and Plantard and de Chérisey declared the “parchments” to be forgeries (the book’s main attraction and major selling point).6

In short, the “Priory of Sion” has nothing whatsoever to do with a medieval crusaders’ organization.

The Constantine Conspiracy

Another remarkable claim in The Da Vinci Code is that “the Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine the Great” (231). Or as Brown’s character Robert Langdon explains it to Sophie: “The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever” (124).

Notice how this passage implies that the Greco-Roman polytheistic religion had been happily matriarchal and worshipping “the goddess” until Constantine conspired to change it. This claim flies in the face of everything we know about the religious practices of the ancient world. Jupiter (or Zeus) was King of the Gods, the ruler of the world, and was firmly in charge. While both gods and goddesses were worshipped, there is absolutely no Roman or Greek text suggesting anything remotely resembling a “matriarchy”; the male gods were clearly dominant. For example, The Iliad, with its chronicle of the machinations of gods and goddesses, is extremely warlike and is concerned overwhelmingly with matters masculine, such as bravery in battle. Women are prizes to be won in battle. Nothing within it suggests “the sacred feminine.” Brown lifted this idea straight from Holy Blood, Holy Grail:

In A.D. 303, a quarter of a century earlier, the pagan emperor Diocletian had undertaken to destroy all Christian writings that could be found. As a result Christian documents — especially in Rome — all but vanished. When Constantine commissioned new versions of these documents, it enabled custodians of orthodoxy to revise, edit, and rewrite their material as they saw fit, in accordance with their tenents. It was at this point that most of the crucial alterations in the New Testament were probably made and Jesus assumed the unique status he has enjoyed ever since. The importance of Constantine’s commission must not be underestimated.7 (emphasis added)

The HBHG authors do not cite any references for their claims of wholesale 4th-century biblical rewriting, undoubtedly because none could be found. Nonetheless, the claim has by now taken on a life of its own as a modern urban legend. What is the historical truth? What the HBHG authors and Brown have done is to distort beyond all recognition a well-known event in church history — the Nicene Council of 325 — which was indeed organized by Constantine on behalf of church leaders. The Council was convened to resolve several major theological disputes, none of which involved Mary Magdalene, matriarchy, feminism, new gospels, or, for that matter, Constantine.

The primary issue debated at the Nicene Council centered around the debate that has given us the expression “differ by one iota”:

Homo Ousion (same substance) vs. Homoi Ousion (like substance): The sticking point at the Nicene Council was a concept found nowhere in the Bible: homoousion. According to the concept of homoousion, Christ the Son was consubstantial (sharing the same substance) with the Father. Arius and Eusebius disagreed. Arius thought the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were materially separate from each other, and that the Father created the Son.8

The Nicene Creed still recited in many churches today is a succinct summary of the doctrines agreed upon by this conclave. There is an excellent scholarly article on the Nicene Council in The Catholic Encyclopedia,9 summarizing the whole agenda of that council. The only role played by Constantine was to urge the squabbling bishops to all come together in one place, to make available the resources for that to happen, and to urge them to stop squabbling.

Brown’s “grail scholar” Leigh Teabing says, “Jesus’ establishment as the ‘Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea” (233). This is highly misleading. Brown wants you to think that prior to the Nicene Council, nobody thought of Jesus as divine, and that such a doctrine was established by a vote of said Council, “a relatively close vote at that.” In reality, the Council’s famous vote concerned whether Jesus was of the “same substance” as the Father, or of “similar substance,” with the former view prevailing. No churchman was suggesting that Jesus was merely human. The debate concerned whether Jesus the Son was in some sense subordinate to the Father, or fully equal to him. According to Teabing, “establishing Christ’s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman Empire” (233). This is simply absurd. The Gospel of John, written a full two centuries before the Nicene Council, has Jesus saying things like (11:25): “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Setting aside the question of whether Jesus actually said these things, it demonstrates that by the early second century, Christians were worshipping Jesus as a divine being who had power over life and death.

What about the claim in The Da Vinci Code and in Holy Blood, Holy Grail that Constantine “commissioned new versions of these documents,” effectively rewriting the New Testament? To put it bluntly, there is no historical evidence whatsoever to support this remarkable claim, and quite a bit to disprove it. The emperor did indeed order that new copies of the Bible be made (then a laborious manual process), but they were for use in the new churches that were planned, and they were identical to the Bible texts already in existence. Many New Testament manuscripts and fragments pre-dating the Council of Nicaea still exist, and their text is the same as the versions we know today.

In Saint Athenasius’ Festal Letter of 367, the accepted New Testament Canon was set forth, and non-approved works declared heretical.10 Notice that the purge initiated by Athenasius, who earlier had attended the Council at Nicaea, consisted of removing documents but not in adding or revising them. The texts approved by Athenasius are the familiar canonical texts of today, while most of those disapproved are still extant, but seldom read, and tend to be of later composition. This appears to have been the start of a church-wide purge of “heretical” documents. Presumably some monk, ordered to destroy “heretical” texts at Nag Hammadi, sealed them in jars and buried them instead. The New Testament Apocrypha, the books that Athenasius sought to ban, are widely available in translation today.11 If anyone expects to find secret matriarchal rites in them, they will be very disappointed.

Who Was Mary Magdalene?

The conventional answer to this question is that Mary was a former prostitute who repented and became a follower of Jesus. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that she was a prostitute, although Jesus is said to have cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2). That she was a prostitute was a tradition that began in the sixth century with a sermon by Pope Gregory the Great. Brown’s answer is that in addition to being the wife and confidant of Jesus and the mother of his children, Mary was the embodiment of the Sacred Feminine, the very Holy Grail itself (the Grail being a metaphor for her womb).

There are excellent reasons to doubt the historical reality of all of these interpretations. The name “Magdalene” may be derived from a description rather than a place, and indeed that woman may well have been created as a literary device to attract invective that would otherwise be directed at Jesus’ mother. During the fractious early days of Christianity, a serious accusation was frequently made by angry Jews against Jesus’ mother Mary. The Roman philosopher Celsus wrote a book On the True Doctrine opposing Christianity (partially preserved only in the Contra Celsum, a work by the Church father Origen opposing Celsus, all such early anti-Christian writings having long since been destroyed). In it Celsus has a “philosopher” accusing Jesus:

Is it not true, good sir, that you fabricated the story of your birth from a virgin to quiet rumours about the true and unsavory circumstances of your origins? Is it not the case that far from being born in royal David’s city of Bethlehem, you were born in a poor country town, and of a woman who earned her living by spinning? Is it not the case that when her deceit was discovered, to wit, that she was pregnant by a Roman soldier named Panthera she was driven away by her husband — the carpenter — and convicted of adultery? Indeed, is it not so that in her disgrace, wandering far from home, she gave birth to a male child in silence and humiliation?12

To the modern reader who has heard only the Christian accounts of Jesus’ birth, this accusation comes across as shocking, blasphemous, and absurd; yet there is evidence in ancient Christian and Jewish texts to suggest that Celsus’ charge is credible. This is discussed at length in my book The Making of the Messiah.13

What does this have to do with Mary Magdalene? The Biblical scholar R. Joseph Hoffman of Wells College in New York has noted that when the Jews referred to Jesus’ mother (Miriam in Hebrew) as the “dresser of women’s hair,” the Hebrew phrase is Miriam, m’qadella nashaia.14 Thus, the earliest Christians, and would-be Christians, heard much from Jews about Miriam, m’qadella, who was said to be a prostitute. They were talking, of course, about Jesus’ mother. It is possible that Christian evangelists, realizing that such talk was not about to go away, invented a new character, whose name — not occupation — was Miriam m’qadella, and who was once a prostitute. That way it could be claimed that all the terrible things being said about Miriam m’qadella referred to this other, once disreputable woman, and not to Jesus’ mother. Indeed, it is possible that all of the confusing Marys of the gospels may be in fact the same woman. John inexplicably and repeatedly refuses to name Jesus’ mother, but speaks of “Mary the wife of Cleophas,” whose two sons happen to match Jesus’ siblings as enumerated in Mark.

Ancient Christian Matriarchy Proven in Nag Hammadi Texts? According to Brown, before Constantine and his henchmen rewrote the Bible to make it patriarchal, “Jesus was the original feminist” (248). Christianity used to worship the “sacred feminine” of the “lost goddess,” based on the supposedly ancient principle of “the Chalice and the Blade” (237–8). Actually, The Chalice and the Blade is the title of a 1987 book by feminist Riane Eisler, promoting speculative claims that ancient Crete was supposedly “nonpatriarchal.” And Eisler based her thesis, in large part, on the interpretations of the late archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, who early in her career forged an excellent professional reputation, but later wandered off into extreme feminist “goddess” interpretations of ancient drawings and icons that were almost universally rejected by her peers. In the introduction to her book, Eisler explains the “gender-holistic” symbolism of the “Chalice and Blade,” which she herself invented, in conjunction with Gimbutas.15 Thus there is no way that any ancient secret society could have used the “chalice and blade” symbolism, because that symbolism did not exist until 1987.

A number of popular books have convinced many that the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts proves the existence of a more feminist-oriented version of ancient Gnostic Christianity. Most prominent of these is The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, a scholar who actually worked on the Nag Hammadi Project.16 Pagels’ book is not an explicitly feminist work, and contains a great deal of valuable information about the Nag Hammadi texts. She suggests that Mary Magdalene was inserted into some Gnostic texts as a literary “figure” to illustrate the conflict between those who wanted to expand women’s roles within the church versus those who would restrict it, a suggestion that makes a great deal of sense. She cautions against taking these later gospels as having much historical content: “Antagonists on both sides resorted to the polemical technique of writing literature that allegedly derived from apostolic times, professing to give the original apostles’ view on the subjects.” In other words, many of the second- and third-century noncanonical Christian texts, Gnostic or not, were written by religious zealots to demonstrate that “the apostles agreed with me.”

Many feminists cite The Gnostic Gospels to support claims that the Gnostics were early feminists, a claim not actually supported by the book’s text. Pagels writes, “Gnostics were not unanimous in affirming women — nor were the orthodox unanimous in denigrating them. Certain Gnostic texts undeniably speak of the feminine in terms of contempt.” However, she does suggest that, on balance, women were somewhat better off in the Gnostic Church than in the orthodox. Afterwards, writing in other popular venues, Pagels has taken a strong feminist position, claiming that Gnostic feminism had been “suppressed.”

How “feminist” the Gnostics actually were is difficult to conclude with certainty, and one’s conclusion will depend on which texts one chooses to concentrate on, and which texts one ignores. In several Gnostic works, God the Father is praised and celebrated as “thrice-male,”17 which is scarcely likely to appeal to feminists. In the Gnostic Dialogue of the Savior, Jesus directs his disciples to “Pray in the place where there is no woman,” and urges that “the works of womanhood” be destroyed.18 The Gnostic Sophia [Wisdom] of Jesus Christ says “These are all perfect and good. Through these was revealed the defect in the female.”19 Most damning of all, in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Simon Peter says, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.” Jesus replies, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”20 It is obvious that any interpretation of the Gnostic movement as proto-feminist requires an extremely selective reading of its texts.

Professional historians and archaeologists almost universally reject feminist claims of ancient feminist/goddess cultures in the Mediterranean, or elsewhere. (See Goddess Unmasked by Philip G. Davis for an excellent overview of the unscholarly foundation on which feminist scholars have built such claims.21) All known human societies, past and present, are “patriarchal” in the sense that formal leadership both in society and in the home is predominantly associated with the male. “Women’s Studies” classes claim many exceptions, but those claims do not survive critical scrutiny.22 This does not mean that no leaders are female, nor does it deny that women often have enormous informal power not accounted by formal measures.

Mickey Mouse and the Holy Grail

Most rational persons will conclude that a book is wholly unserious when they read a passage such as the following from The Da Vinci Code:

Langdon held up his Mickey Mouse watch and told her that Walt Disney had made it his life’s work to pass on the Grail story to future generations. Throughout his entire life, Disney had been hailed as “the Modern-Day Leonardo Da Vinci.” Both men were generations ahead of their times, uniquely gifted artists, members of secret societies, and, most notably, avid pranksters. Like Leonardo, Walt Disney loved infusing hidden messages and symbolism in his art. (261)

The evidence for Disney’s involvement with the Grail and “the sacred feminine” is said to be found in Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and most especially in The Little Mermaid. It is indeed possible that Brown included this section as a warning to the reader not to take anything in this book seriously. But if so, he did it in a cypher so opaque — a reductio ad absurdum — that almost nobody has yet managed to decode it. This supposition is strengthened by the subsequent solemn pronouncement that the Age of Aquarius is about to dawn (268), as if this were some freshly-decoded development of a conspiracy, instead of a foolish and trite expression popular a generation ago.

The rational person can enjoy reading works of fiction or science fiction, even trite fiction like The Da Vinci Code, without worrying excessively about obvious absurdities within the story. But a problem arises when a work of fiction explicitly claims to be more than a work of fiction, when it resonates with other widespread misinformation within the culture, and when 25 million readers are bamboozled by its specious assertions. The alleged “facts” in The Da Vinci Code are no more credible than those in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, from which they are taken. If you think of yourself as a skeptic you’ll do well to realize that very little fact is mixed in with Brown’s fiction.

References & Notes
  1. Carrington, Philip. 1957. The Early Christian Church. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, xiii–xiv.
  2. Nag Hammadi Library, 15–16.
  3. See The Telegraph, March 10, 2004. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/10/03/wvinci03.xml&sSheet=/ news/2004/10/03/ixnewstop.html
  4. “Da Vinci author is hit by fresh plagiarism claim,” Edinburgh Evening News, Jan. 12, 2005. http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=42132005
  5. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia: Holy Blood, Holy Grail. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Blood,_Holy_Grail
  6. See http://priory-of-sion.com/psp/id84.html . Also see http://www.cesnur.org/2005/mi_02_03d.htm
  7. Holy Blood, Holy Grail, 368.
  8. “Arian Heresy,” Ancient History, About.com
  9. “The Catholic Encyclopedia: The First Council of Nicaea.”http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11044a.htm
  10. For an excellent explanation of this, see Athanasius of Alexandria in The Development of the Canon of the New Testament.
  11. See Schneemelcher, Wilhelm, ed. 1989. New Testament Apocrypha, 6th edition. 2 Vols. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, and Robinson, James M., ed. 1981. The Nag Hammadi Library in English. New York: Harper & Row.
  12. Celsus. 1987. On the True Doctrine. (ed., trans. R. Joseph Hoffmann.) New York: Oxford University Press, 19. See also Origen, Contra Celsum 1:28.
  13. Sheaffer, Robert. The Making of the Messiah (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1991). See Chapter 4.
  14. Hoffmann, R. Joseph. 1984. Jesus Outside the Gospels. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 41–42. “The floating tradition concerning the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53–8:11), if part of the Mary-tradition, may point to an early stratum when Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary of Magdala were one and the same. In any case, the gospel tradition concerning the latter Mary may have emerged as a corrective to the story that Jesus’ mother was an adulteress. “About the two Marys,” Hoffmann notes, “even the Gospels offer confused reports.”
  15. Eisler, Riane. 1987. The Chalice and the Blade. New York: Harper Collins, xvii.
  16. Pagels, Elaine. 1979. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Random House. See chapter 3.
  17. Nag Hammadi Library in English, 64,375,446.
  18. Nag Hammadi Library in English, 237–8.
  19. Nag Hammadi Library in English, 221.
  20. Nag Hammadi Library in English, 130.
  21. Davis, Philip G. 1998. Goddess Unmasked. Dallas: Spence Publishing.
  22. Goldberg, Steven. 1993. Why Men Rule. Chicago: Open Court.
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Skeptic volume 11 number 4

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Ernst Mayr, 1904–2005

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2 Comments

  1. Stephen Cote says:

    Paul’s letter to the Galatians is the most interesting letter in my humble opinion in all of his writings for it describes how Peter and the brother of Jesus, James, have a problem eating with gentiles. Paul by his own words never met the alive Jesus and very interesting that both Peter and James who are alleged to have lived with him appear to have a drastically different view on who jesus came to save or who is allowed into their sect. check it out. You can read the the entire letter in only a couple of minuts

  2. Cory Gross says:

    The dispute in Galatians wasn’t that Peter and James weren’t eating with Gentiles. It was that Peter was only refusing to be *seen* eating with Gentiles when the Jewish Christian party from James was around (see Gal. 2:11-14). The controversy in the Church at the time was whether non-Jews had to become ethnic Jews in order to be Christians. Or, more susinctly, is becoming a Jew a predicate to being saved? Paul says no: a Greek can be saved *as a Greek* and an Ethiopian can be saved *as an Ethiopian* and so on. There is no need for a person to give up their cultural identity to become a Christian. If we think that’s not so serious an issue, recall that the idea that being “Christian” and being a “civilized European” were considered the same thing during the age of colonialism and cultural genocide in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Paul states in Galatians that Peter actually agreed with him on the matter, going so far as to eat with non-Jews. James, who was actually not one of the Disciples either, believed that Gentiles should become Jews first, then Christians, and weilded the instutional authority of the Jerusalem church. If you have ever had to work in the Church, you know how problematic the people with institutional authority can be, so I don’t necessarily blame Peter for being politically afraid of them. Paul was shocked at Peter’s hypocrisy and called him out on it.

    Paul and James were pretty well diametric opposites, theologically and politically. Besides the question of good works in salvation, James was basically assumed into heirarchical leadership in the Jerusalem Church because of his kin relationship to Jesus. Paul stood outside of the heirarchy of the Church and takes up a good part of Galatians expressing his pride over the fact. Contra the heirarchical Priestly system of Judaism he asserts a new class: the Apostle, an egalitarian role open to any person who testifies to a personal experience with the risen Christ. Comparing this to the teachings of Jesus preserved in the Gospels, I think Paul is far more in line than is James. Jesus was radically egalitarian, and I tink Paul grasped this fact as deeply and intutively as only someone previously dedicated to the violent eradication of Christians could be.

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Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall, M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods. The lectures each range from 32 to 45 minutes.

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Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

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The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

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Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

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The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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