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Transcribed passages from Da Vinci Code appear in red below. And corresponding passages from Rock Prophecy follow in blue.


DC 2003: "These books can't possibly compete with centuries of established history, especially when that history is endorsed by the ultimate best-seller of all time."

"Don't tell me Harry Potter is actually about the Holy Grail."

"I was referring to the Bible."

This line in Da Vinci Code about Harry Potter will help highlight the main issue with Da Vinci Code. I'll call it the Harry Potter Effect. In recent years the world has witnessed a phenomenon of mass scale interest in the story of Harry Potter. Through this, a process was brought to light whereby whole cultures of people fixate on, or fall under the spell, of a certain story. The character and plot elements in Harry Potter are a perfect "fit" for a huge number of humans, people relate to that story as an archetype, a universal ideal, an elementary idea that is a fundamental expression of shared psyche among (so many of) us. It's what so many had been waiting for, without even realizing they'd been waiting for anything. The appeal is subliminal; Harry Potter satisfied a basic need.

My point is that through the spontaneous reaction of a mass audience to Harry Potter, we are able to see a re-play of the phenomenon that took hold around the Mediterranean two millennia ago. There was a similar reaction to the story that came to be named the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Mark is the blockbuster story that hit a perfect "fit" in the psyche of people who became familiar with it. The appeal of the story itself remains unaffected by whether we consider that gospel to be a biography, and whether or not we agree that Jesus was real or fictional.

But when considering Da Vinci Code it is useful to know details about evidence regarding the story of Jesus. Our reaction to those facts will affect our perception of Da Vinci Code, because this book proceeds on an assumption that the case is closed in favor of evidence that proves Jesus was a real person in history, and not, like Harry Potter, a character of fiction. However, the actual evidence suggests that there really is only the Gospel of Mark, and several dozen spin-off stories (all the other gospels) that expand, elaborate, and alter that unique blockbuster. The Gospel of Mark, like Harry Potter today, rapidly captivated the imagination of the ancient world two thousand years ago.

To place this issue in perspective, below is a quick review of the evidence, the only known evidence, to suggest that Jesus was a real person…

In January 2005, David Van Biema, the religion editor for Time magazine, was interviewed on the PBS Charlie Rose Show. "What does historical scholarship tell us about [Jesus], anything? Or is it just faith?" asked Charlie Rose.

"There's only so much that exists outside of the Gospels," answered Van Biema, "a couple of brief sentences about Jesus in some Roman historians' work."

The above brief exchange is the furthest extent to which I've seen anyone in television media try to answer the question about evidence, what can be agreed upon as being indisputable historical evidence. The facts about the evidence regarding Jesus, the "couple of brief sentences in some Roman historians' work," are cited and analyzed below:

Around 40 years after Jesus is said to have died, his story, which came to be called the Gospel of Mark, was written down. Two decades later, which is at least 60 years after Jesus died, a history book called Jewish Antiquities, written by the Jewish writer Flavius Josephus, contains the following passages:

(1) About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

(2) And so he [Ananus, the high priest] convened the judges of the Sanhedrin [in 62 C.E. during the interregnum between the prefects Festus and Albinus] and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. - (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18:63, 20:200)

Scholars and historians debate the origins of some of the above words. John Crossan explains, "The problem is that Josephus' account is too good to be true, too confessional to be impartial, too Christian to be Jewish. It is either a total or a partial interpolation by the Christian editors who preserved Josephus' works…The words in bold italic represent interpolations deliberately but delicately Christianizing, in the words of John Meier, the 'fairly neutral - or even purposely ambiguous - tone' of Josephus' original description."

Even if we take the passage as it is and accept that Josephus wrote every word, we are still referring to a writing that was made six decades after Jesus died, and two decades after the Gospel of Mark started to circulate. The question then becomes, to what extent can these words of Josephus be considered "historical evidence" that Jesus was a real person, and not a character made up for the Gospel of Mark? Common sense dictates that it is entirely possible, and even probable, that Josephus (like many other people in Rome when he wrote these observations in 93 C.E.) is commenting on the Gospel of Mark, which was the blockbuster story of the day. Writing his Antiquities 60 years after Jesus died, and 20 years after Mark was written, Josephus wouldn't necesssarily be able to know whether the story really happened, or if it was made up by a storyteller long before Josephus was born. The brief passage in Josephus' writings does not explain how he became aware of the Jesus story. It is possible, and probable, that, like many people in those days, Josephus knew about the Gospel of Mark. We need only think of Harry Potter, a story that nearly everyone has heard about. And the passage shown above of Josephus' writing is about the cult of followers of the Jesus story. That these people could be fans of a fictional story is a real possibility, if not probability.

The point is, this brief passage from Josephus, written 60 years after the death of Jesus, can not be considered proof, nor even evidence, that Jesus was a real person, no matter how much we wish to believe in Jesus. Such belief can still only be based on faith in what one wishes to be true.

The next incident of Jesus being mentioned in a verifiable history book, where we know who the writer is (as opposed to gospel stories, which are all written by unnamed sources), comes from Cornelius Tacitus, the aristocratic Roman historian whose father-in-law was Gnaeus Julius Agricola, governor of Britain between 77 and 84 C.E. The passage from Tacitus is even briefer than Josephus' blurb, and Tacitus wrote this around 120 C.E., some 90 years after Jesus died (which is about 50 years after the Gospel of Mark was written, and about 30 years after Josephus wrote his quick mention of Jesus). Tacitus is writing about how a rumor had blamed Emperor Nero for the fire that swept Rome in 64 C.E.:

Therefore to scotch the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christian. Christians, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate, and the pernicious superstition was checked for the moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. (Tacitus, Annals 15.55; Moore & Jackson 4.282-283)

The same problems that prevent us from regarding Josephus's words about Jesus as "evidence" are here only amplified. Like Josephus, Tacitus is noting an incident of some 50 years prior that had involved Emperor Nero. And looking back a half century at that, Tacitus is then looking at the cult of Christians in 64 C.E. who were already at that time yet another 30 years removed from the time of Jesus. As with Josephus, we have to again ask, how did Tacitus become aware of the story of Jesus? He is commenting about a "founder of the name" that these people said lived a century earlier than Tacitus.

It is possible, and likely, that the Christians under Nero were the same as Christians today - they heard the Gospel of Mark and decided they wanted to believe it is true. By that time, three decades after the incident was supposed to have happened, it no longer mattered whether or not an unknown storyteller simply made the whole thing up. The story was already being accepted because of its message. Verifiable and accurate facts about this story had long since ceased to matter.

Tacitus could have learned about the Jesus story from the writings of Josephus, or he could have known about it from the Gospel of Mark, or any of the spin off stories that were becoming popular at the time (Luke, John, etc). He could have learned about Jesus because of stories about how Nero murdered Christians decades earlier, long before Tacitus was born. But to suggest that this paragraph from Tacitus, like the one from Josephus, constitutes "historical evidence" that proves Jesus was real is not a credible assertion. Such a belief is still only a claim of faith in what we wish for.

We can speculate forever about the likelihood that Jesus was real. The fact that dozens of people were writing stories about him decades later often suggests to people that a real man must be at the center of such an effort. But that whole line of argument comes to a dead end called the Harry Potter Effect. The fact is that we see clearly from the Harry Potter craze that there are indeed certain stories which, when presented at the right time, can satisfy some fundamental hunger in the thinking of people. Humans are literally prone and susceptible to these stories as a reflection, or an outlet, for images and connections that swirl around in the daily thoughts of masses of people.

Like many people, I want to think, and I wish to believe, that Jesus lived in history, a real person. But my curiosity, and urge to consider the facts, brings other possibilities into view. Bottom line, end of the day reality is that we can't today prove that Jesus was real, while at the same time the evidence is overwhelming that 1) a large percentage of humans are susceptible to acceptance en mass of certain stories, and 2) what little we do know about the transmission of the Jesus story over the centuries reveal that details of the story have been re-written often. These edits were designed to make the story conform to agendas from those who carried out the edits, an agenda from those who presented the writings.

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