The Jesus Dynasty

Thoughts on the film
The DaVinci Code
by Prof. James D. Tabor

Some Personal Reflections the Morning After Seeing the DaVinci Code

I went to see the DaVinci Code film yesterday and it has been much on my mind since. As one who has been quite critical of the book I came away very positively impressed. It is, of course, highly dramatic, fast-paced, with MI and James Bond kinds of elements—chase scenes, impossible escapes, murders, and a constantly shifting plot—which one would expect for a film of this type, built upon the book which many people found hard to put down. But given its genre, from start to finish I thought it was exceptionally well done and that it effectively conveyed its central message regarding the humanity of Jesus. I highly recommend this film.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of the historical errors that were in the book, and that have been correctly and endlessly pointed out by scholars such as Bart Ehrman and Ben Witherington, were either corrected, considerably softened, or even eliminated entirely. For example, the false claim that the divinity of Christ was invented by the emperor Constantine at Nicea in 325 AD is spouted by the character Teabing but then disputed by the main character, Prof. Langdon, who argues that such ideas came in much earlier. When the Gospel of Philip is quoted, just at the part about Jesus kissing Mary Magdalene often on the ________, Teabing's reading is interrupted so we don't get the word "mouth" inserted. The text itself has a break just at that point, and Brown had been criticized for adding the word "mouth," as some translators have done, in order to imply something sexual. I notice probably a dozen more places like this where the film was trying to be more accurate and more balanced than the book. Apparently Ron Howard, I assume with Dan Brown's approval, was trying to be responsive to some of the legitimate criticisms of the book in terms of its factual errors.

The film and the book are of course works of creative fiction and I remain unconvinced that there is any solid historical evidence that Jesus was married or sexually involved with Mary Magdalene and had children with her. It is not that I find the idea offensive or shocking in any way. I just think it lacks any historical source. That is not to say that the Jesus family has no offspring today, since we do have evidence that James and the other brothers, and we might assume Jesus' sisters as well, were married and had children, the descendants of whom are surely on the planet today. It has also been demonstrated that the entire notion of the Priory of Sion, made famous by Baigent's Holy Blood, Holy Grail, is a fictitious creation based on a hoax. I suppose there is a "danger" that the masses of readers and film goers exposed to The DaVinci Code story will naively believe it is the truth. But the interviews I have seen seem to indicate that people are aware of the fictional nature of the story. Surely the Christian opponents of the film have worn themselves out pointing out these elements to any who will listen, as a simple Google search on the Internet will abundantly demonstrate.

Frankly, these fictional elements do not overly worry me because I think the film on the whole conveys an important message loud and clear—that Jesus of Nazareth was an extraordinary teacher and prophet, but a human being, not a God—and that the recovery of his humanity can free Christianity of a wrong turn it took many centuries ago and allow us to discover him anew and hear his message unclouded by theological dogma. Since the primary purpose of my own non-fiction book, The Jesus Dynasty, is to give the reader a glimpse at the historical Jesus as a human being in his own place and time, I found that element of the book, and particularly the film, to be laudatory, and in some sense, complementary, to my own work. Also, the film speculates on the possibility that the DNA testable remains of the Jesus family might indeed be found, and as far-fetched as that might sound, if the ossuary or "bone box," that came to light in 2002, inscribed "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" turns out to be authentic, such an option might be possible. The latest on this subject is conveniently archived at the Biblical Archaeology Web site and I relate the story of the dramatic discovery of this artifact in the Introduction to my book.

Of course there are millions of Christians who believe that the salvation of their eternal souls depends on faith in Jesus as God, but if people are willing to educate themselves regarding the origin and development of this idea it would open the way for Jesus as a Jew who honored the One God of Israel and quoted the Shema to emerge from obscurity. Such an insight can in turn lead to a new type of devotion to Jesus more in keeping with his own message. The essential Jewishness of Jesus is a theme that scholars have abundantly explored now for over 100 years, but without really penetrating the wider public consciousness.

The ending of the film, when Prof. Langdon and Sofie Neven share their parting thoughts and carry on their extended conversation about Jesus Christ and his place in history, I found to be exceptionally moving and well executed. It had an emotional impact on me beyond what I felt in just finishing the book. There was a message there, loud and clear, and I think it offers possibilities for a more informed and historical view of Jesus and even for the notion of the "miraculous," that modern people can live with without checking their intellects at the door of their churches.

James D. Tabor

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The Jesus Dynasty by Dr. James D. Tabor provides a new historical investigation of Jesus, his royal family, and the birth of Christianity