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Issue Date:  September 10, 2004

Authors delve into facts behind the Code

By Marvin Meyer with
Esther A. de Boer
HarperSanFrancisco, 122 pages, $17.95

In this slim volume, Meyer, a prominent scholar on Gnosticism, collects English translations of several first-century texts that relate to Mary Magdalene and women’s activities in the early Christian church. The Gospels of Mary contains selections from the four canonical Gospels and from several Gnostic texts, including the short Gospel of Mary and parts of the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip and a series of reflections known as Pistis Sophia (“Faith Wisdom”), a female manifestation of the divine. There is also a final chapter about recent Mary Magdalene scholarship by Esther A. de Boer, a Protestant minister who is an expert on the Gospels of Mary. Meyer wants to make the case that “of all the disciples of Jesus, none seems to have been as independent, strong, and close to Jesus as Mary Magdalene.” He even posits that Mary was the real “beloved disciple” of John’s Gospel. Whether or not one agrees, his book is an interesting examination of some little-known literature from the century after Jesus left the earth.

Edited by Dan Burstein
371 pages, CDS Books, $21.95

Dan Burstein certainly thinks The Da Vinci Code is a good novel. After he read the book he found himself so fascinated with the ideas it brought up about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Templars, Leonardo da Vinci and the rest of Dan Brown’s pastiche that he ran out to a bookstore the next morning and bought “hundreds of dollars’ worth of books” that related to the themes that so excited his curiosity. In Secrets of the Code, Burstein asks the question, “Is The Da Vinci Code fact or fiction? My primary goal is to give you the materials so you can draw your own conclusion.”

Burstein is a journalist, founder of a venture capital firm and author of several books about technology. He does not claim to be an expert on theology. What he does here is assemble a compendium of excerpts from the sources he perused as well as original interviews that he conducted with a variety of scholars and writers in church history, theology, art history and popular culture. Contributors include Esther de Boer, Elaine Pagels, Kenneth Woodward and Richard McBrien, and opinions range from the idea that the novel uncovers deep, suppressed truths to the stance that it’s a lot of entertaining nonsense.

Secrets of the Code doesn’t take the place of a real theological education. But Burstein’s book is a fun and interesting read, and it gives a glimpse of some of the sources Brown used to create his Da Vinci Code phenomenon.

By James L. Garlow and Peter Jones
Victor, 252 pages, $14.99

The cover of Cracking Da Vinci’s Code says, in small white letters: “You’ve read the fiction, now read the facts.” The book is a product of Cook Communications ministries, a nondenominational, evangelical Christian organization, and it aims to provide a systematic refutation to the “heresies” of Dan Brown’s popular novel. Each chapter in Cracking is meant to erase another portion of Brown’s “Divine Arc” by giving the Christian answer to Code concepts about the “sacred feminine,” sexuality, Mary Magdalene, etc. Garlow and Jones hold solid academic credentials and provide some helpful church history. They also write some rather amusing parodies of the New Age-y culture floating around in many of today’s liberal arts universities and divinity schools. But their fundamentalist approach to faith (their most prominent endorsement is from Tim LaHaye of the Left Behind series) won’t be helpful to many readers. If you never thought of The Da Vinci Code as a threat “intended to shake the very foundations of Christianity,” then this book isn’t for you.

-- Antonia Ryan

National Catholic Reporter, September 10, 2004

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