Several months ago I read a novel entitled The DaVinci Code. It was a good read, if a bit far-fetched, but then this was fiction, or so I thought. Only later did I learn the book’s author considered the plot historically plausible.
Recently, ABC presented a news special entitled, “Jesus, Mary and DaVinci.” Correspondent Elizabeth Vargas examined the premise of The DaVinci Code, namely, that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered a child. Supposedly, a corrupt church suppressed this knowledge, but the story of Jesus’ “royal bloodline” was kept alive by a secret society that numbered Leonardo DaVinci among its members.
The DaVinci theorists do cite some interesting facts: (1) It was highly unusual for a Jewish rabbi like Jesus to be unmarried in the first century. True enough. (2) The “beloved disciple” in DaVinci’s masterpiece, “The Last Supper,” is quite feminine in appearance. I’m no expert on the appearance of youthful Renaissance men, such as DaVinci’s model for the painting, but I’ll concede the point. (3) The “woman” in the painting is Jesus’ wife, Mary Magdalene, a clue DaVinci left to reveal Jesus was married to his foremost disciple. It’s here I start to smile. Surely, someone is pulling my leg.
Had Jesus been married, the Gospels would have almost certainly noted this fact. Why? Because it was highly unusual for a young Jewish man in Jesus’ day to be unmarried. Biblical scholars speak of the “embarrassment factor” when sifting out historical fact from theological reflection in the Gospels. If something the church might find embarrassing appears in the Gospels, one can bet this is historical fact.
Otherwise, the Evangelists would have omitted the troublesome information. For example, Jesus’ singleness in a society where marriage was the norm no doubt raised eyebrows. Public relations would have been much easier were he married. Why, then, don’t the Gospels tell us Jesus was married? For one simple reason: He wasn’t.
The other major premise of The DaVinci Code is that Mary Magdalene’s preeminence as one of Jesus’ foremost disciples was suppressed by the church. There is some truth to this charge, if one is talking about the second, third or fourth centuries. However, in the New Testament proper, Magdalene’s importance is undisputed.
According to John’s Gospel, she is the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection—in a culture where a woman’s testimony was not admissible in court. That Jesus christened a woman, Mary Magdalene, as the first herald of his Easter triumph speaks volumes. If the church of the New Testament period was trying to silence that epoch-making event, it failed miserably.
The DaVinci Code is a fair read at the level of fiction. However, the notion that the New Testament failed in presenting the facts about Jesus, but for a $19.95 purchase of The DaVinci Code one can know the truth, strains belief. Such a claim makes for good marketing but bad theology.
Bob Setzer Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church, Macon, Ga.