My Da Vinci Code

 

If I had written The Da Vinci Code, the controversial scene at Leigh Teabing’s mansion would have gone as follows. Of course, it’s easy for me to say this, given that I’ve had the luxury of researching everything in retrospect. But, we can thank Dan Brown, despite his errors, for sparking inspiration and providing a literary template. Without further adieu:

TEABING:
The Bible did not arrive via facsimile from Heaven. It’s not even a cohesive work, let alone a divinely inspired tome. The New Testament, for instance, represents an entire departure from the Old.

LANGDON:
The whole thing practically springs from Paul’s Hellenistic vision.

SOPHIE:
Hellenistic?

LANGDON:
Ah, yes. The period in history that followed Alexander the Great’s historic conquests. Ancient Greece was known as Hella, or the land of the Hellenes. After Alexander, Greek influence was infused throughout half the known world. Even among the Jews.

SOPHIE:
And what does this have to do with Paul?

LANGDON:
Well, Paul was a Hellenized Jew. According to the Book of Acts, he hailed from outside of Palestine, in Tarsus of Asia Minor–a city that rivaled both Athens and Alexandria in Greek thought during Paul’s day. Moreover, he is history’s formal introduction to Christianity. His Epistles are the earliest documents in the New Testament, and virtually everything that follows accords with his theology.

TEABING:
Paul was indeed the preeminent apostle to the Gentiles. He took Jesus’ earthly message and shrouded it in a cloak of divinity.

LANGDON:
Some of that arguably predates Paul. There’s some question as to how much he innovated and how much he inherited.

SOPHIE:
So, what are you saying? That Jesus was not the Son of God?

TEABING:
Not even his nephew twice removed!

LANGDON:
Christianity among Jesus and his disciples would have been much more Jewish in orientation than what we see today. Jesus’ death on the cross had made him a martyr for the faith, and his earliest followers would have inevitably read some sacrificial meaning into the event.

TEABING:
Such was the tradition set forth by Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant–the Israelite captive to Babylon that so many Christians unwittingly mistake for a prophetic charade about Jesus.

LANGDON:
2 and 4 Maccabees feature martyrdom accounts as well. Christ’s admirers would have found consolation in those passages, reasoning that his death had been an expiation for the sins of Israel. Furthermore, they probably expected his imminent return with the coming Kingdom of God and the resurrection of the dead, at which point he would fulfill the duties of the Jewish Messiah. To them, it was just around the corner.

TEABING:
Ah, but time would tell another story. The Kingdom of God that Christ had so feverishly heralded did not come quite so soon as expected.

LANGDON:
And this delay opened the movement up to further interpretations and outside influences. Once it hit Hellenistic soil and arrived in the hands of someone like Paul, it was bound to take the form of a Gentile religion. As a Jewish man with a Greek background, Paul knew how to present Christianity in such a way that had vast appeal to Gentiles, as well as Hellenized Jews.

TEABING:
Jesus became the ubiquitous dying and rising god of the Hellenistic mystery religions.

LANGDON:
It would have been all too easy for Hellenists to make the association. As someone expected to return from the dead–perhaps already believed to have done so at this point–Jesus would have instantly struck a chord with anyone familiar with the dying and rising gods of the mystery cults.

SOPHIE:
Mystery cults? I’m not familiar with any of this.

LANGDON:
Salvation religions that were particularly popular around that time. Originally agricultural faiths, most of them centered upon a dying and rising god who symbolized the death and rebirth of croplife: Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, et cetera–all of whom had been imported from foreign lands into the Greek world via Hellenism. The overriding belief in these cults was that one could, through certain rituals, mystically reenact the experience of the god’s death and resurrection in order to bring about a spiritual death and rebirth in themselves.

TEABING:
And, as a result, realize the promise of a blissful life after death.

LANGDON GRABS A BIBLE FROM A NEARBY SHELF, PROCEEDING TO LOCATE A PRECISE CHAPTER AND VERSE.

LANGDON:
Notice the way that Paul speaks of baptism in Romans 6:3-5: “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death … buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too may live a new life;” and, having “been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

TEABING:
The homologic principle, or imitatio dei. As above, so below. As within, so without. As is done by the god, so is manifest in the believer.

LANGDON LOCATES A PARALLEL EXPRESSION FROM AN ANCIENT NOVEL, METAMORPHOSES, WHICH HE SITS ATOP AN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN REFERENCE BOOK, ALREADY IN HIS LAP.

LANGDON:
Likewise, the initiate into the cult of Isis had “approached the frontiers of death” in unison with Osiris, and, by “a kind of voluntary death and salvation through divine grace,” they “returned … in a manner reborn … set once more upon the course of renewed life.”

SOPHIE:
I am familiar with that work, yes. But, there’s a hitch. Metamorphoses stems from the late 2nd century, after the birth of Christianity.

LANGDON:
True, but it depicts a religious expression which is undoubtedly far older. Its conceptual roots date to the 2nd millennium BC according to ancient Egyptian burial inscriptions, wherein the devotee is identified with the dead and risen Osiris: “As Osiris died, so has the believer died; and as Osiris rose, so shall the believer rise.” Already, hundreds of years in advance, we have an expression of parallel death and revival between devotee and deity.

TEABING:
Similarly, the Orphic worshipers of Dionysus left gold leaves behind in graves from the 4th century BC, which state, “Now you are dead, and now you are born on this very day, thrice blessed. Tell Persephone that Dionysus has redeemed you.”

LANGDON:
Like Osiris, Dionysus had been violently killed and regenerated, and his devotees likewise shared in his rebirth, just as Christians are reborn through the death and resurrection of Christ.

TEABING:
Really, you mustn’t get a symbologist started on pre-Christian icons. Perseus was fathered by a High God and a mortal woman, Danae, who’d previously been a virgin. Caesar Augustus was deemed “Savior” and “Son of God.” Asclepius healed the sick and raised the dead. Zalmoxis conquered death and extended immortality to his devotees. Romulus made a post-mortem appearance, upon which he delivered a Great Commission to Rome and subsequently ascended to heaven.

SOPHIE:
So, is anything in Christianity original?

LANGDON:
Plenty in Christianity is original. Just because a religion absorbs outside elements, that doesn’t make it a mere recapitulation. The Christian religion was, and still is, an extremely unique blend of Judaism with these Hellenistic and pre-Christian concepts. It produced something unprecedented in the ancient world, and it’s no wonder it rose to such success. It offered the whole Jewish panorama of sacred narratives along with mystery religion salvationism. It was entirely unique in that sense.

SOPHIE:
So, do you think Jesus ever parted Mary Magdalene’s “Red Sea”?

LANGDON:
There’s no good, historical evidence for that. But, I sure hope so. Everybody’s gotta knock one off from time to time. Which reminds me, Sophie…

AND SCENE.

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