Breaking the Da Vinci Code Book Summary

Title: Breaking the Da Vinci Code
Author: Darrell L. Bock

TLDR: The Da Vinci Code is a fun read, but its historical claims are fiction. This book debunks the novel’s theories about Jesus’s marriage, Mary Magdalene, Gnostic gospels, and the formation of the Bible, revealing the true history of early Christianity.

Code 1: Who Was Mary Magdalene?

This chapter explores the portrayal of Mary Magdalene in The Da Vinci Code and seeks to uncover her true identity and relationship to Jesus. The novel presents Mary as Jesus’s wife and mother of his children, a secret allegedly concealed by the Church. It connects Mary to the Holy Grail through a bloodline narrative, claiming she fled to France to protect Jesus’s lineage. Bock dismantles this claim by first examining the portrayal of Mary in the New Testament.

The New Testament mentions seven individuals named Mary, but Mary Magdalene is always distinguished by her hometown, Magdala, signifying the cultural practice of linking women to their male relatives or place of origin. Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a disciple who witnessed Jesus’s ministry, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. She is never portrayed as his wife, and the numerous opportunities in the New Testament to mention such a relationship, had it existed, are striking by their absence.

Bock further examines extrabiblical texts, including those from early Church Fathers and Gnostic Christian sources. The Church Fathers, like Hippolytus, refer to Mary Magdalene as a “female apostle,” highlighting her role as a witness to the Resurrection and messenger to the apostles. However, she is not singled out as the only female apostle, nor is there any suggestion of a familial relationship with Jesus.

A Gnostic text, the Gospel of Philip, mentions Jesus kissing Mary, but the context and location of the kiss are unclear due to manuscript damage. While some argue for a kiss on the mouth, suggesting a sexual relationship, Bock argues that the kiss likely symbolizes a spiritual intimacy, referencing a parallel passage in the same Gospel that speaks of a “kiss of fellowship” between believers.

Another Gnostic text, the Gospel of Mary, depicts Peter challenging Mary’s role as the recipient of a special revelation from Jesus. While highlighting Mary’s importance, the text focuses on the conflict over access to special revelation, not a gender conflict or a marital relationship with Jesus.

Bock concludes that there is no clear evidence in any ancient text, biblical or extrabiblical, indicating that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’s wife. The absence of evidence, coupled with the abundant opportunities to mention such a relationship if it existed, renders the novel’s central claim highly implausible.

Code 2: Was Jesus Married?

Bock investigates the claims that Jesus must have been married because of Jewish cultural norms and the supposed “evidence” found in Gnostic texts. He acknowledges that marriage was the norm in first-century Jewish culture but highlights exceptions to the rule. The Da Vinci Code argues that a married Jesus strengthens his divinity by demonstrating his full humanity, but Bock points out that Jesus’s humanity is never questioned in Christian theology.

The novel relies on Luke 8:1-3, which mentions Mary Magdalene traveling with Jesus and his disciples, as evidence for their marriage. However, the passage mentions two other women traveling with them, making the link to marriage tenuous. It further relies on the already-debunked idea of a “special” relationship between Jesus and Mary in later Gnostic texts.

Bock systematically debunks each argument for Jesus’s marriage:

  1. Mary Magdalene traveling with Jesus: This argument ignores the presence of two other women in the traveling party and relies on unreliable later Gnostic texts.
  2. Other texts indicating a “special” relationship: The texts, even if taken at face value, do not state or imply a marital relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
  3. A good Jew would be married: Bock argues that Jesus was not a rabbi in the technical sense and that his teachings on celibacy for the Kingdom (Matt. 19:10-12) suggest he himself was not married.
  4. Cultural practices at Qumran: The Essenes, a Jewish sect that resided at Qumran, practiced celibacy as a sign of piety, demonstrating that not all Jews considered marriage an absolute obligation.

Bock then presents three arguments for Jesus being single:

  1. Mary Magdalene is never linked to Jesus as his wife: In passages where other women are identified by their male relatives, Mary Magdalene is not.
  2. Paul cites a minister’s right to marry without mentioning Jesus: In 1 Corinthians 9:4-6, Paul argues for a minister’s right to have a wife, citing the apostles and the Lord’s brothers as examples. He could have easily mentioned Jesus if he had been married, further strengthening his argument, but he does not.
  3. No wife is mentioned at the cross: If any occasion would necessitate the presence of a wife, it would be the crucifixion. Yet, only Jesus’s mother and other women are mentioned, and Jesus shows no concern for a wife, but entrusts his mother to John’s care.

Bock concludes that the evidence overwhelmingly points to Jesus being single. He emphasizes the lack of any early Christian text, biblical or extrabiblical, indicating the presence of a wife during Jesus’s ministry, crucifixion, or post-resurrection appearances.

Code 3: Would Being Single Make Jesus Un-Jewish?

Bock tackles the claim that Jesus’s singleness would be unthinkable for a Jewish man in the first century. The Da Vinci Code argues that Jewish custom condemned celibacy, but Bock demonstrates that while marriage was encouraged for fulfilling the Genesis command to “be fruitful and multiply,” exceptions existed for reasons of piety.

He presents several ancient texts, including Josephus’s writings on the Essenes, who practiced celibacy as a form of devotion to God’s Kingdom. Josephus notes that these Essenes “neither marry wives, nor are desirous to keep servants,” believing that marriage leads to domestic quarrels and detracts from single-minded dedication to God.

Bock further explores the book of Sirach, a second-century B.C. Jewish wisdom text, which, like Proverbs, contains numerous warnings about the dangers of women and infidelity in marriage. He concludes that these texts demonstrate a deep concern among pious Jews about sexuality and the sanctity of marriage. While marriage was the norm, celibacy was an accepted, even respected, practice among specific Jewish groups dedicated to religious pursuits.

Bock acknowledges Jesus’s strong emphasis on fidelity in marriage, aligning him with Jewish views on the sacredness of this institution. However, he also highlights Jesus’s teachings on celibacy for the Kingdom and his frequent interactions with women that went against conventional Jewish customs of the time.

He concludes that Jesus’s singleness would not have been considered unusual or shameful in the first century, as there was clear cultural precedent for it. Moreover, Jesus’s independent approach to Jewish life, often challenging cultural norms, suggests that he would not have been bound by the expectation to marry if it did not align with his understanding of God’s will.

Code 4: Do the So-Called Secret, Gnostic Gospels Help Us Understand Jesus?

Bock dives into the “secret” gospels, exploring the claims made in The Da Vinci Code about their significance and authenticity. The novel asserts that there were over eighty gospels considered for inclusion in the New Testament, but only four were chosen. Bock debunks this claim, demonstrating that the number of extrabiblical gospels was much smaller and that many of the texts referred to were not actually gospels.

He introduces the Gnostic materials, many of which were discovered in the Nag Hammadi library in 1945. These texts, dating from the second to the third century A.D., represent a strand of Christianity different from the one reflected in the New Testament. Bock acknowledges the importance of these texts in understanding the diversity of early Christianity, but argues that they represent a distinct theology and should not be used to revise our understanding of the faith based on the biblical texts.

Bock outlines five key features that distinguish Gnosticism from traditional Christianity:

  1. Gnosis, or Knowledge: Gnostic texts emphasize secret knowledge, revealed to only a select few, as the path to salvation.
  2. Dualistic View of God and Creation: Gnostics believe in a transcendent, immaterial Father God and a lesser, flawed Creator God (Demiurge) responsible for the material world.
  3. Docetic View of Jesus: Gnostics reject the idea of Jesus’s true humanity, believing he only appeared human and did not suffer on the cross.
  4. Direct Revelation and Individual Authority: Gnostics claim access to direct revelation, diminishing the authority of apostolic teaching and the importance of Jesus’s work on the cross.
  5. Limited Elevation of Women: While allowing women leadership roles, some Gnostic texts still express a limited view of women, as seen in the Gospel of Thomas, where women must become male to enter God’s kingdom.

Bock contrasts these Gnostic beliefs with the traditional Christian understanding of God’s direct involvement in creation, Jesus’s full humanity and atoning sacrifice on the cross, the importance of apostolic teaching, and the salvation offered to all through faith in Jesus. He emphasizes the significant theological differences between these two expressions of Christianity, concluding that they represent different faiths entirely. He argues that those who promote the Gnostic gospels as a way to “re-evaluate” Christianity are engaging in historical revisionism and obscuring the core tenets of the faith.

Code 5: How Were the New Testament Gospels Assembled?

Bock addresses the novel’s claims about Constantine’s role in assembling the New Testament and promoting Jesus’s divinity. The Da Vinci Code argues that Constantine “commissioned and financed a new Bible” in the fourth century, suppressing those gospels that portrayed Jesus’s humanity and promoting those that emphasized his divinity. Bock argues that this portrayal of history is completely inaccurate, and that the four Gospels were established as authoritative texts long before Constantine’s time.

He highlights the process through which the New Testament canon emerged, noting that by the end of the second century, the four Gospels were already recognized as the primary sources for Jesus’s life and teachings. Bock identifies four factors that contributed to this recognition:

  1. Apostolic Roots: The four Gospels were believed to be connected to the apostles, either directly or through their close associates, giving them a unique claim to authenticity.
  2. Widespread Use: The Gospels were widely circulated and read in churches, indicating their importance to early Christians.
  3. Competing Views of the Faith: The rise of groups like the Gnostics, who held different views about Jesus and salvation, led to a need to clarify the core teachings of Christianity and the authoritative texts supporting them.
  4. Persecution: The persecution of Christians, including the burning of their sacred texts, forced them to identify and protect those books deemed essential to the faith.

Bock examines various second and third-century documents that predate Constantine and Nicea, including the Muratorian Canon, Irenaeus’s Against Heresies, Justin Martyr’s writings, and Origen’s commentaries. These texts demonstrate the established position of the four Gospels within the early church and refute the novel’s claim of a later manipulation of the canon.

Bock further debunks the idea that Jesus’s divinity was a later invention, showing that early Christian writers, including Paul and the author of John’s Gospel, affirmed Jesus’s deity in their first-century writings. The other three Gospels, while less explicit in their language, also portray Jesus as a divine figure worthy of worship and ultimately declare his divinity.

He concludes that the assembling of the New Testament Gospels was a gradual process driven by their apostolic roots, widespread use, and the need to counter competing views of the faith. The claim that Constantine and Nicea were responsible for the canon and the doctrine of Jesus’s divinity is a distortion of history based on a selective and misleading use of evidence.

Code 6: Does Mary’s Honored Role as Apostle Match the Claims of the New School?

Bock revisits the role of Mary Magdalene and addresses claims that the church suppressed her leadership role and defamed her reputation to diminish the influence of women. The Da Vinci Code argues that Mary Magdalene was a powerful figure in the early church, even a potential rival to Peter, and that the church sought to marginalize her by portraying her as a prostitute. Bock acknowledges that the association of Mary Magdalene with prostitution did occur, but points out that this did not happen until the sixth century, long after Nicea and the alleged suppression of women.

He examines the portrayal of women in both the New Testament and extrabiblical texts, demonstrating a more nuanced picture than the one presented in the novel. While Jesus and his followers elevated the status of women compared to the surrounding culture, there were limitations to their leadership roles.

Bock highlights the significance of women, including Mary Magdalene, being the first witnesses to the Resurrection. He argues that this detail, which runs counter to the cultural norms of the time, suggests the historicity of the Resurrection accounts. Had the church invented these stories, they would not have chosen women as the primary witnesses.

He also acknowledges the biblical evidence for limitations on women’s roles, such as the selection of the Twelve apostles, all of whom were men. This selection, Bock argues, was made by Jesus himself and not a later invention of the church. While women could be prophets, teachers, and even apostles in a less formal sense, the highest leadership roles were reserved for men.

Bock revisits the phrase “apostle to the apostles,” often used to argue for Mary Magdalene’s superior position in the early church. He examines the text from Hippolytus, a third-century Church Father, which is often cited as evidence for this claim. Bock demonstrates that the phrase does not appear in Hippolytus’s writing and that Mary is not singled out as the “apostle of the apostles,” but is grouped with other women who witnessed the Resurrection and were commissioned by Jesus to announce his rising.

Bock further examines the Gospel of Mary, which portrays a conflict between Peter and Mary over her reception of a special revelation from Jesus. He argues that the text is more symbolic than historical, representing the broader conflict between orthodox Christianity and Gnostic groups claiming access to secret knowledge. He concludes that the conflict is not about gender roles but about the nature of revelation and authority within the early church.

Bock concludes that the evidence for the suppression of women in the early church is overstated. While the later association of Mary Magdalene with prostitution is problematic, it does not represent a coordinated effort to demote women’s status. The real conflict in the early church centered on theological differences regarding God, Jesus, salvation, and revelation. The role of women, while important and elevated compared to the surrounding culture, was not the primary source of tension between competing Christian groups.

Code 7: What is the Remaining Relevance of The Da Vinci Code?

Bock summarizes his investigation, concluding that the foundational claims of The Da Vinci Code about Jesus’s marriage, bloodline, and the suppression of Mary Magdalene are historically baseless. He reiterates his debunking of the novel’s assertions, highlighting the lack of evidence for its central claims and the distortion of historical data. The Priory of Sion, the Knights Templar, Opus Dei, and the Merovingian dynasty, while interesting historical entities, have no connection to Jesus’s bloodline or the alleged cover-up.

The only historical claims of the novel that hold water are the elevation of women by Jesus, though not to the extent claimed, and the fact that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. Bock acknowledges that the novel’s portrayal of gender roles in the early church has some merit, but emphasizes that the evidence is often exaggerated and misinterpreted.

He argues that The Da Vinci Code, while entertaining, is ultimately a work of fiction with a hidden agenda. By appealing to a strand of academic scholarship that seeks to revise the traditional understanding of Christianity, the novel perpetuates a distorted view of history and seeks to undermine the uniqueness and vitality of the Christian faith.

Code 8: The Real Jesus Code

Bock moves beyond historical analysis to address the personal and spiritual implications of the issues raised in The Da Vinci Code. He argues that the novel’s focus on conspiracy theories and hidden secrets distracts from the real code: the transformative power of Jesus’s resurrection. He uses personal reflections on the mysteries of life and death to introduce the significance of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.

Bock argues that the Resurrection is not simply a historical event but a decisive act of God, vindicating Jesus’s claims about himself, God, and the Kingdom. It is the ultimate code breaker, revealing the triumph of life over death and God’s power to renew creation.

He emphasizes that Jesus’s teachings on the Kingdom are not about secret knowledge for insiders, but an open invitation to experience life abundantly in the presence of God. Bock highlights Jesus’s teachings on sin, forgiveness, and dependence on God, arguing that the Christian faith provides a realistic perspective on the human condition and offers hope for transformation through a relationship with God.

Bock connects Mary Magdalene to this message by portraying her as a witness to the resurrection, a disciple who encountered the transformative power of Jesus’s life and teachings. He concludes that Mary Magdalene’s role as a disciple is far more significant and meaningful than her portrayal as Jesus’s wife in The Da Vinci Code. She stands as a testament to the life-changing impact of encountering the risen Jesus and embracing the message of the gospel.

Bock concludes his book by urging readers to move beyond the distractions of conspiracy theories and focus on the real Jesus code: the message of God’s love, forgiveness, and abundant life offered through Jesus Christ.

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