The Da Vinci Code

I read Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’ several years ago and saw the film. I couldn’t put it down. It made compulsive reading.

It’s a novel of course, although the author claims that much of the history and symbolism referred to in the book are true. It suggests that Mary Magdalene and Yeshua the Nazarene were married and had a daughter, and their bloodline can be traced to this day.

The church clearly feels threatened by these ideas. They lobbied against the book and  picketed cinemas where the film was shown.  The Vatican even established an anti-Da Vinci Code Commission! If, as they claimed, it could be dismissed it as a mere work fiction, why all that effort to discredit it? Perhaps it’s because they recognised that it contains more than a grain of truth.

If the Da Vinci Code should be ignored because it is full of distortions, fabrications and exaggerations and has been written to put a particular slant on events, should we also dismiss that other book full of distortions, fabrications and exaggerations – the Bible? They don’t want that one ignored, of course!

The Da Vinci Code tackles head on the way women were viewed at the time the New Testament was compiled – the first four centuries CE. We know that women played their full part in the early church, but when the Emperor Constantine decreed that Christianity was to be the official religion of the Roman Empire, the church had a dilemma: Rome was a very male-dominated society. They did not want to see women elevated in any way. They were thought to be a distraction and carry a greater burden of sin than men. They felt vindicated by the story of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden – often taken as an allegory for the evil nature of woman.

Jesus

In 1486 things took an even uglier turn when the Catholic Church published a guidebook on how to spot witches and what to do with them. It argued that women were more credulous and therefore more susceptible to the influence of the devil, and because women have slippery tongues, they spread the evil they knew. So wayward women had to be rooted out and eliminated by any means possible, including burning and drowning.

Today the Catholic Church still insists on a male only clergy – and a (supposedly) celibate one at that as if contact with women demeans or dirties a man. Why? Because the scriptures say Yeshua was a man, born of a virgin (allegedly), and he chose only male disciples (or did he?). And the sort of women admired by the church are invariably the meek and mild, like Mother Teresa – a wonderful woman, but not one to stand up and be counted on issues such as the root causes of poverty, injustice, inequality and disease.

Who can seriously argue that women are not just as capable of being good priests, ministers, bishops – or popes? Look again at the strengths of women: the ability to relate, give comfort to others, make peace and nurture the next generation. Aren’t these the essence of spirituality? Yeshua certainly thought so. He cared deeply for women, and he frequently put himself on the line by spending time with them and praising them.

Given the history of the Catholic Church, is there a hidden reason why it felt so threatened by The Da Vinci Code?

Perhaps many people wanted it to be true even if there is no factual basis to it!

Most people recognise that women have had a raw deal down the centuries. They warm to the notion of Yeshua’s humanity as a father and a sexual being.  They no longer believe that maleness is inherently superior, and that women are unfit to play a full part in the church. And they know the Catholic Church is vulnerable on any matter to do with gender and sexual conduct.

They like the idea of a woman as Yeshua’s spiritual equal and co-leader of his movement, someone with whom to share and discuss spiritual ideas. And they would like to see a genuine reassertion of the feminine principle in our religious and spiritual life.

Thankfully these changes are gathering pace! Perhaps one day other religions that insist on divinely ordained male supremacy will follow suit.

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 16.10.2017

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Balboa Press, 2015

 

Holiness was equated with purity in 1st Century Jewish society

In the 1st Century BCE, holiness in Jewish society was equated with cleanliness and governed by the Purity Laws. They dated back to the Torah written hundreds of years before. These are the basis of Christian morality because they were the basis of Yeshua’s morality.

Among the 613 strictures of the Torah were:

  • To circumcise all males on the eight day after birth.
  • Not to withhold food, clothing, and sexual relations from your wife.
  • Not to have sexual relations with an animal.
  • Not to have homosexual relations.
  • To ritually slaughter an animal before eating it.
  • Not to work the land during the seventh year.
  • Not to tear priestly garments.
  • Not to appear at the temple without offerings.
  • Not to wear clothing of the opposite sex.
  • Not to listen to a false prophet.
  • Not to possess inaccurate scales or weights even if not for use.
  • To fear and respect your father and mother, and not to curse or strike them.
  • Not to panic or retreat during battle.

Purity depended on:

  • Birth. The priests and Levites (which were hereditary positions) were the most pure, followed by the rest of the Jewish born population, then converts. Near the bottom were those born out of wedlock, homosexuals and, right at the bottom, those without a penis (yes, really!). All non-Jews were considered impure.
  • Women were thought to be less pure than men due to childbirth and menstruation, but being male did not automatically make you pure.
  • The unclean included criminals, outcasts and untouchables. Jews often used the word ‘sinner’ to denote impure.
  • Physical wellness. The chronically ill and maimed were impure; so were people lacking in personal hygiene and those with damaged testicles.
  • Wealth: being rich did not automatically make you pure, but poverty made you impure. Since the poor could not afford to observe the purity laws, it indicated unrighteous living.

No wonder the New Testament is so hard on women. By definition purity was beyond them!

Effects

The Purity System created a society with sharp social boundaries. The priesthood relied on it to maintain their high social, economic and religious status. Everything was classified according to its degree of purity. Agricultural produce, for instance, could not be pronounced clean until a tithe had been paid to the priests – for them, a nice little earner!

The gospels tell us that Yeshua had an alternative social vision in which love, compassion and humility replaced purity as the guiding principles. Yet it is still with us, but in a different form. How you speak, your taste in clothes, music, art, food, hairstyle, perfume, youthfulness and fashionable appearance are all signs of ‘purity’ of a sort. People still judge by wealth and status and there’s as much prejudice as ever there was, except it’s more subtle.

 

©David Lawrence Preston 30.8.2016

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G_d is an equal opportunities employer – pity about the church!

I saw a T shirt, ‘God is an equal opportunities employer – pity about the church!’

20th November 2012 saw the debacle in which a handful of Church of England members were able to scupper the Church’s plans to introduce women bishops. It was later reversed, but not to universal acclaim.

The argument against women bishops centred on a number of fallacies. The first (and most obvious) is that 21st Century humans should pay blind obedience to words written nearly two millenia ago by people belonging to a primitive society very different to ours. Opponents of women clergy claim that the scriptures state unequivocally that only men are suitable for the calling. They say Yeshua himself was a man, he chose only male disciples and there are biblical references to women taking a subsidiary role in church. These don’t come from Yeshua himself, but from his self-appointed, celibate and seemingly misogynistic apostle, Paul.

Paul clearly regarded women as subservient to men. For example, in Corinthians 1 he stated that a husband is the head of his wife and tells women to cover their heads when prophesying.[1] Nor did he regard them as suitable leaders. ‘Paul’s First Letter to Timothy’ sets out the author’s advice for running a church. ‘I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent’, he wrote. He then tells women that their salvation comes from having children, which makes me wonder what devout and celibate nuns make of that!

Jesus

There are many reasons for not relying on these words. For a start, Paul didn’t write them. The letters to Timothy were written in the final decade of the First Century (thirty years after Paul’s death) by an unknown author. It was considered perfectly acceptable in those days to ‘borrow’ the name of a deceased person and express what the author thought that person would have said had they still been alive.  That’s what the author(s) of most of the New Testament letters did.

The early Christian community was noted for its egalitarian attitude to the genders, which brought condemnation from their Jewish neighbours. By the end of the First Century some Jewish Christians thought it had gone too far. 1Timothy was part of their attempt to put Christian women back in their place.

Secondly, the ‘Purity Laws’ that ruled Jewish religious practice decreed that women were less pure than men due to their natural bodily processes of childbirth and menstruation, and because they don’t have a penis (yes, really!!).

Thirdly, we don’t know for sure what the original passages actually said. All the New Testament writings were augmented, edited, redacted, translated and mistranslated many times before reaching their final form. That year, church leaders in Rome recognised today’s 27 books as the New Testament, but by then many ‘adjustments’ had already been made. Women were thought to be a distraction and carry a greater burden of sin than men. The evidence was the  story of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, proof of the evilness of women.

Another fallacy that was put forward by opponents of women bishops is that the Church of England should pay heed to the wider community of churches, including the Roman Catholics. But excuse me, didn’t the Protestant churches break away from Rome precisely because they didn’t agree with Catholic teachings and practices? Fortunately in 2014 the C of E took the lead. By then the outgoing and incoming Archbishops of Canterbury supported women bishops, and even Pope Francis was moving slowly in that direction.

Who can seriously argue that women are not just as capable of being good priests, ministers, bishops – and Popes – as men? Women have proved their worth as ministers in many denominations for many years. Aren’t many of the feminine traits the essence of spirituality? Yeshua certainly thought so. The gospels say he cared deeply for women, and frequently put his reputation on the line by praising them.

It’s time for enlightened 21st Century thinking to put unenlightened and outdated 1st Century thinking in its place in every denomination. I just hope I live long enough to see it!

 

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Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 23.3.2016

 


[1] 1 Corinthians 11:5

Front cover 201 things

Hay House/Balboa Press, 2015