Friday, March 24, 2006

Preparing for DaVinci The Movie

The Da Vinci Code continues to reign atop the best-seller lists and now the hype for the movie based on the book is beginning (even as a copyright infringement suit against the author, Dan Brown, is being tried in London which could delay the movie release). Christians around the world tried to respond to the twisted version of early Christian history that was presented in the novel as an integral part of the plot because Dan Brown claimed it was the "real" story that the church had suppressed for centuries.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a movie worth a million? Here's a real challenge for people of faith--how to respond to the many movie-goers who will believe that Jesus was not the son of God, that he married Mary Magdalene and that from that child came the heirs to the throne of France. The mischaracterizations of groups like the Priory of Sion, the Catholic Church heirarchy and Opus Dei are equally insidious.

Sony Pictures which is releasing the movie version, has created a website for Christian critics of the book so they can present their views of the movie. I've read that the company is concerned about a Christian "backlash" against the movie and is trying to avoid that possibility. We don't know how faithful the movie will be to the book, but there is no way to present the story in the novel without including much of the controversial background created by Brown. Scrolling through the list of "experts" who were invited to contribute, I found that they represent a broad theological spectrum and I am familiar with many of them.

The first week of April I will begin a new class at church for our Wednesday evening program to address the issues raised for Christians by the book, and presumably, by the movie. It's a real challenge because showing the fallacy of Dan Brown's version of early Christian history involves a knowledge of early Christian and Gnostic texts, early Christian history, the development of the New Testament canon, background in ancient languages and even an understanding of art history.

I think the movie presents Christians with a wonderful opportunity for evangelism. Everyone will be talking about it and some will wonder if the assertions made in it are really true or fictional. That gives believers an opportunity to show why the New Testament canon may be accepted as a reliable record of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit among his disciples and the early churches of Asia Minor and Rome. So I am going to try to concentrate on giving class members some background and information on these issues that they can share with family and friends so they will feel comfortable disputing the movie's version of the life of Jesus and the history of the church.

Several video documentaries and a slew of books have been published in response to The DaVinci Code. Some of the books provide lengthy academic analysis and others are written for the layperson. There is also a lot of information on the internet from authors with varying degrees of credibility. I am going to use a video that has 15 minute presentations covering themes in the book--for example: The Gnostic Gospels, the formation of the NT canon, Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper, etc. -- and supplement it with handouts for the class to keep.

A couple of people have told me they plan to attend the class but refuse to read the book and don't plan to go to the movie. I told them that this isn't going to be a "book club" type of discussion where familiarity with the text of the book is important, so they are welcome to come. I read the book and thought it was an absorbing thriller--but when I got about 25 pages before the end of the novel I guessed where the plotline was going and went "OH NO! Not THAT old canard again"! I have no problem with the subject of the novel as long as it is understood as COMPLETELY a work of fiction--but that's the crux of the problem, isn't it? Dan Brown has stirred up a lot of controversy (and MILLIONS of book sales) by pretending it includes new revelations of fact about the life of Jesus.

If you are leading, or planning to lead, a similar study in your church I would love to hear your plans and what materials you are using in the comments. If you would like to attend a class like this I'd like to hear what questions about the book and movie you would like to see addressed.

14 comments:

Andrea said...

The main response I feel to all the DaVinci Code stuff is, "Good. People are talking about Jesus. Maybe it will start people thinking who would never engage with 'institutional Christianity'...perhaps our friends and neighbours will now be thinking about truth and the Church and who knows what else."

What would happen if we simply ENGAGED in dialogue, doing as much (or more) listening as talking. I think it would be much better than the 'party line' defensive things I usually hear.

I'm glad you're inviting people in your church to engage with the book and its ideas...there's nothing worse than Christians who have no clue about what the majority of our culture is partaking in...I don't think we have excuses to be ignorant of what is a part of our friends and neighbours' everyday lives. Seems a bit irresponsible to me.

Thanks for your post!

reverendmother said...

What's the name of the video you are using? I'd be very interested in it.

When does the movie come out?

Quotidian Grace said...

The video I am using is The Da Vinci Code Deception which is available from www.visionvideo.com for about $16.

It is based on 3 books on the subject. Visionvideo has another DVD too. I also bought it but think this one is better because it is a more scholarly and thorough presentation. Ignore the Bible study and sermon notes--they're worthless--but some of the other extras on the disc are interesting.

The other video does have a good presentation on how to discuss the claims in the book with others that I may use as our closing session.

The movie is set to come out May 15, but may be delayed by the plagarism suit brought against Dan Brown by some authors in the UK.

j,too said...

I loved the book as a "thriller" and would recommend it to anyone for a good read. But, whew!, what controversery over fiction. Of course there are folks that believe the Roswell, NM stuff too. Makes the world go 'round. Wish I could take your class.

Gannet Girl said...

The Joe Kelly refernced in this article is the person we had come and speak to us about the book. I loved the book as a novel -- great fun -- but that's about as far as it went.
http://www.futurechurch.org/marym/da-vinci.htm

Anonymous said...

Ms. Grace...

Mark Roberts is in the midst of just such a series over on his website... I find that most of the material he presents in his daily doses is easily digestable even by us igernant lay people...

Dave K.

Songbird said...

I'm not a fan of the Da Vinci Code, but I wonder, were you this disturbed by the misrepresentations and skewed view of The Passion of the Christ?

Quotidian Grace said...

Dave K,

The Mark D. Roberts series is very good. I've been following it and plan to use some of the material. I recommend it to anyone who is interested. He also gives permission for you to download,copy and use it in church groups which is just great!

For those of you not familiar with him--he is a Presbyterian minister and also has a Phd in
New Testament from Harvard where he studied under George MacRae of Harvard Divinity School who was a member of the academic team that translated the Nag Hammadi texts (also known as the Gnostic Gospels). He is very well qualified in the field. His website is www.markdroberts.com.

Songbird,

I'm not personally disturbed by the stuff in the Da Vinci Code because I see it as fiction. I'm not on some anti-Da Vinci Code crusade. I would never tell someone not to read the book or see the movie--just to view the entire plot as the fiction that it is. It is an entertaining read and probably will be a very entertaining movie.

I'm happy the book and novel have brought the opportunity to discuss the Jesus of the Bible with people who might not otherwise be interested and to get folks to ask questions about who Jesus is, about the formation of the Biblical canon, and other issues related to the early history of Christianity which most don't know anything about. I want to help people do that.

I don't understand your comparison between Da Vinci Code and The Passion of the Christ. I thought Passion was excessively and unnecessarily violent and I would have preferred a more complete depiction of Christ's life and ministry than Mel Gibson chose to present. The film was criticized by some for its depiction of the Jews in the story--but the Gospels have also been criticized for the same thing. Passion made an effort to be true to the Biblical text while Da Vinci Code presents an alternative story of Jesus which Dan Brown tries to sell as a truth that was suppressed by the church.

Songbird said...

I make the comparison because Passion is full of apocryphal material that some people seeing the movie will naturally assume came from the Bible rather than from the visions of a nun many, many centuries later. I would suggest that the use of the Gospel was in service of the visions rather than the other way around, but that's just one woman's opinion. I don't find that particularly different from using "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" as a source for a fictional view of Jesus.

Sally said...

This is something I am working on too, a friend of mine Steve Hollinghurst, is a reasearcher into Post Christian Culturefor the Church Army his latest book is on the Da Vinci Code entitled Coded Messages it is available from Grove Books... www.grovebooks.co.uk.

Working in that New Age environment as I do I am concerned about the number of folk who have swallowed Dan Browns book as tryuth, our job is to unravel fact from fiction, we need to be sensitive in our apologetics as the book raises some real concerns about church practices!

Jeannie said...

I did a study on DVC at my church with young adults a coupla years ago. It was a six-week Wednesday night study and not heavily book-focused. Instead, it addressed a few of the questions we had from reading it. Week 1 was an intro, Week 2 we talked about the actual compiliation of the gospels (very skewed in the book), Week 3 was kind of "what if Jesus really did have sex? and what does that mean to you?" One week we actually read the passages in Scripture about Mary of Magdala so we could compare-- in history she has been combined w/ every Mary mentioned in the gospels except Mary, Jesus' mom. This means she was a prostitue, posessed, etc., thus furthering the model of women to be either virgins or whores, but nothing in between.
One week we did some slideshows of dV's artwork and looked at religious themes.
And another week we talked about sex in/and the church. Who made it evil, how, and why?
Obviously this was a good convo with young adults... I have no idea how it might go over with another audience.

It was always helpful to remind people that 1) The book is not scripture and shouldn't be studied as such, 2) It's fiction, and 3) he's not necessarily telling the reader what to believe so much as he's reporting on what a certain sect DOES believe. Check out the book's website, it has some fun activities/puzzles that you may be able to adapt to keep things interesting.

Peace,
Jeannie

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks so much for this very helpful information about your experience, Jeannie.

Mary Beth said...

Agree entirely about the book. I was WAY disappointed in the ending!

Interesting stuff. I'm glad you're looking at it! Look forward to hearing how it goes. You have such a cool job!

Jon said...

Songbird,
Sorry I just don't see your analogy with The Passion of the Christ as valid at all. In his movie, Mel Gibson treats the scripture accounts of the Passion as, well, Gospell. The "extra" stuff that some folks complain about do not alter the story or meaning of the scriptures at all. In Dan Brown's case, he just junks the Bible as one big conspiratorial lie and makes a movie based on made up stuff.