Part Three: Gnosticism and Brown’s Claims
In the last two chapters, we examined the beliefs and history of Gnosticism, particularly its views regarding the person of Jesus Christ. Now we will look at how they fit in with Dan Brown’s claims about the early church.
Gnosticism is, in effect, the religion that Dan Brown claims was the first, real Christianity. According to him, “the earlier Gospels [the Gnostic Gospels] were outlawed, gathered up, and burned” (p. 234) after the Council of Nicea when they were deemed by the church to be heretical. The early church, claims Brown, “literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking his human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power” (p. 233 emphasis added). Apparently these earlier Gnostic Gospels cast Jesus’ message in much more “human terms”, as Brown himself has elsewhere stated it.
However, the church was unsuccessful in eradicating all of the documents. Dan Brown accurately notes that “some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive,” (p. 234). However, it was not Constantine who ordered them destroyed, rather, the church council of Nicea as a whole body. According to Brown, these surviving documents are the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered in the late 1940’s and 50’s), and the Coptic texts of the Nag Hammadi Library, found in 1945 in Egypt, which we have discussed these past two chapters.
The reason that we did not examine the Dead Sea Scrolls in great detail is because they do not even reference Jesus, or have any significant implications for his teachings, Gnostic or Orthodox Christian. The Dead Sea scrolls are a collection of Jewish works, a few of which are included in the Old Testament (they contain portions of texts such as the book of Isaiah). They furthermore pose no theological or doctrinal problems to the apostolic Christian faith as we know it--they are a collection of Jewish writings--some biblical, others sectarian--, none of which make any specific reference to Christ outside of what Christians believe to be prophetic statements predicting his coming. Their existence (or ‘survival’ for that matter) is entirely irrelevant to our purpose.
Now we reach the first point to be examined, made by Dan Brown, which is this: that the first Christians believed in a more human Jesus, who preached what would become different scriptures (the Nag Hammadi Library, which is more commonly known as the Gnostic Gospels). Now, is this claim accurate?
Dan Brown is entirely correct that the Gnostic Gospels (Nag Hammadi Library) was regarded by the Catholic Church as heretical, and is also correct in claiming that their authenticity would debase the authority and sovereignty of the church as an institutional order. However, he is incorrect in stating that these documents embellished the “human message” of Christ. If anything, they stressed his spirit-like and Godlike nature over him being human. More so even than the Christian scriptures.
In The Gospel of Truth (one of the Gnostic texts), it is written that “the name of the Father is the Son [Christ]. It is he who first gave a name to the one who came forth from him who was himself, and he begot him as a son.” (Gospel of Truth 38:7-10). There are other references to the divinity of Jesus in other Gnostic writings such as The Gospel of Thomas, the Tripartite Tractate, The Prayer of the Apostle Paul, and the Apocryphon of John. Perhaps one of the most significant references to the spirit-like and inhuman nature of Christ as Gnostics believe was in Acts of John 93, where it is written that “sometimes when I [John] meant to touch him [Christ] I encountered a material, solid body; but at other times again when I felt him, his substance was immaterial and incorporeal…as if he did not exist at all.”
As theologian Darrell Bock observes, “This ‘more divine’ Jesus is the opposite of what The Da Vinci Code claims for these secret gospel texts; they do not have a more human Jesus but a more divine and removed Jesus” (Bock 78). The Gnostic Jesus, as I explained before, is more detached from the physical world around him. This is because in the Gnostic worldview, the physical universe was the result of a false, lesser god who deceived humanity into believing in him as the one true god. It is simply inconsistent with what Dan Brown claims about Gnosticism and the first Christians.
In fact, when compared with traditional Christianity as we know it today, Jesus gains much more of a “human message” than he would have in Gnosticism. An essential dogma of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ was both God and man, equally all, at the same time. “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14 ESV). In searching for a more human Jesus between the two, Gnosticism and Christianity, one would be much more likely to find him in Christianity. And so, in the Christian faith, Jesus Christ’s humanity and divinity are equal and equally important to Christian doctrine, whereas in the Gnostic faith, Jesus is God only.
In any event, Dan Brown’s claims about these ‘first Christians’ are simply untrue. In either of these faiths, Jesus is God, and not simply a human moral teacher. This leaves one to ask questions as to whether or not this significant error is the result of poor research, or the result of fabrication. You may decide which is more likely. However, despite the motives behind this misrepresentation of Gnosticism and the first Christians, the fact remains that it is a misrepresentation.