A Dozen Rebuttals to DaVinci

Jim Davila and Chris Heard applaud yet another rebuttal to The DaVinci Code on its way, The DaVinci Deception, written by two Catholic authors. Jim notes that “it’s shooting at fish in a barrel, but unfortunately it’s still necessary, especially with the movie coming out.” I agree but wonder what the authors (Sri and Shea) plan on saying that hasn’t already been said. Here’s an amazon list I made of the many DaVinci rebuttals, to which I just added Sri and Shea’s to make a nice dozen. Note there is already a book on the list called The DaVinci Deception, a rather bad one written by an Moody evangelical. I guess it’s legal since the publication dates are separated by over a year.

A Dozen Rebuttals to The DaVinci Code

Fiction and Fact

Jim Davila mentions an article in the London Times warning that The DaVinci Code film could be delayed over the lawsuit Dan Brown is facing from the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Jim wonders:

“Let me see if I have this straight. The author of a silly novel is being sued by the authors of a bogus ‘nonfiction’ book because the author used their bogus ideas? It’s true that rubbish writing is copyrighted, but rubbish ideas? I’m not a lawyer and I know even less about British copyright law that American, but I cannot see how this case can have any merit. Arrangements of words are copyrighted, but ideas (and one of Brown’s characters even credits Baigent’s and Leigh’s book in the novel) are not. If you violate copyright when you cite someone else’s work and use their ideas (but not their words) for your own work, then all scientists and scholars would be in trouble.”

This has been the irony all along. Here’s an except from the review by Laura Miller I cited a few days ago (though I didn’t cite this part):

“This puts both Brown and the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, in a tricky position. Baigent et al. have always maintained that the ‘facts’ supporting their theories are available to any dedicated scholar and that the theories themselves, while unconventional, have been seriously entertained by other ‘experts’…

“Since Holy Blood, Holy Grail presents itself as nonfiction, it has been in its authors’ interest to downplay how much of it is invented. However, if the ‘research’ and ideas in Holy Blood, Holy Grail are not the original creations of the book’s authors, they become harder to copyright, and the possible infringement suit against Brown might be weakened. No one, after all, has a copyright on the facts surrounding Abraham Lincoln’s assassination or the Treaty of Versailles…

“For Brown’s part, it’s to his advantage to insist that the farrago of lies and misrepresentations used to prop up the conspiracy theory in The Da Vinci Code (and, originally, in Holy Blood, Holy Grail) is part of the historical record or at least in general circulation…”

So here we have it: to the scholars Dan Brown pleads fiction, and please stop bothering him for his historical inaccuracies and wild revisionist fantasies; to the litigants and attorneys he pleads non-fiction, and please understand that he can use Baigent’s ideas as legally as Anne Rice uses Tom Wright’s. In any case, the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail haven’t a leg to stand on, nor, for that matter, any shame.

UPDATE: Attorney Stephen Carlson weighs in on his blog, and in comments below.

Faithful and Faithless Scholars

Prompted by a post from Danny Zacharias, James Crossley offers some wisdom about faith-based scholarship. Readers of this blog won’t be surprised that I agree largely with what James has to say, though I would react a bit differently to Danny’s opinion that “the best biblical scholarship comes from a ‘faith-base’.” I both disagree with this statement (as James does) and agree with it, meaning that the statement is entirely useless. Some faith-based scholars have done priceless work: Dale Allison, Philip Esler, John Meier — even evangelicals like Scot McKnight and Richard Bauckham — are all good examples. Others, while having made important contributions, leave too much to be desired: Tom Wright and Ben Witherington come readily to my own mind.

I suspect that Danny is applying the term “faith-based” to relatively conservative and/or evangelical scholars. But what about liberally faith-based scholars — like Marcus Borg? Would Danny say that they have produced some of the “best biblical scholarship”? I wouldn’t (just as I doubt he would), and I’d frankly be hard pressed to choose between a Wright and a Crossan.

Secular scholars can’t be lumped under an umbrella anymore than the faithful. I consider Bart Ehrman to be one of the very best secular critics; Bill Arnal is quite sharp, but he either hits or misses with me altogether; and I almost never agree with what Burton Mack has to say. So what can I possibly say about secular scholars, who like me find the bible engaging without a faith-perspective? Not much meaningful.

One should be exceedingly distrustful of anyone who claims that biblical scholarship is best served by any group of people, whether traditionally faith-based, liberally faith-based, or secular. Each has its stars and lemons. Neither a Christian world-view nor an Enlightened one can possibly guarantee better results in the field of historical criticism. Come to think of it, that just strikes me as plain common sense.

UPDATE: See further posts by Alan Bandy, Tyler Williams, and the Blogger Cooler roundup at Deinde.

UPDATE (II): Stephen Carlson doesn’t care for the vague and inconsistently interpreted term “faith-based”. Some good points here.

The War of the Ring as a Chess Game

Tolkien fans may enjoy this exercise. Think how a game of chess would look if you used figures from The Lord of the Rings. It’s not that easy. Is Frodo the white king, or is Aragorn? Besides Orthanc, is Barad-dur or Minas Morgul a better black rook? Who are the pawns as opposed to the big players?

I came up with four chess sets. Three reflect the view of someone related to a major player in the war: Frodo Gardner, son of Sam and Elanor; Eldarion, son of Aragorn and Arwen; and Erestor, advisor to Elrond. The fourth set reflects my own outsider perspective as a reader of the books. Interestingly, this is the one I like least. Perhaps because it seeks to be the most objective, it comes across as the most superficial and least distinct. Maybe there’s something to be said after all for an insular bias: I very much like the other three.

1. The War of the Ring according to Frodo Gardner, son of Samwise and Elanor

White: Black:
Q Rooks: Bag End Mount Doom
Q Knights: Pippin (on horse) Cave Troll
Q Bishops: Gandalf Sharky
Queens: Sam Shelob
Kings: Frodo Sauron
K Bishops: Smeagol Gollum
K Knights: Merry (on horse) Witch-King (on fell beast)
K Rooks: Grey Havens Barad-dur

Pawns (White): 8 hobbits
Pawns (Black): 8 orcs

This is the war in completely hobbit-centric terms.

For white, Frodo is the obvious king who can’t be captured lest the world fall; Sam the all-powerful queen for doing (literally) everything during the quest — killing Shelob, invading Cirith Ungol and rescuing Frodo, carrying him up the slopes of Mount Doom; Gandalf the bishop assisting unexpectedly at times, Smeagol (Gollum’s better half) doing likewise; Merry and Pippin the knights/esquires of Rohan and Gondor; Bag End and the Grey Havens the natural rooks.

For black, Sauron is the king, Shelob his queen who faces off Sam appropriately; Sharky (rather than Saruman) and Gollum are the insidious bishops, one wreaking war on the Shire through other hobbits, the other scheming against the Ringbearer even while assisting him; the Witch-King and Cave Troll face off the hobbit knights — and again, love the hobbit’s perspective: Merry (rather than Eowyn) is the true slayer of the Witch-King; Mount Doom and Barad-dur serve as the rooks of darkness.

The fact that the hobbit pawns are mismatched against the orc pawns (hobbits fought in the Shire against Sharky’s men, not against orcs, just as orcs fought against men in the south rather than hobbits) poses no problem at all. Hobbits are cheerfully illogical about these things.

2. The War of the Ring according to Eldarion, son of Aragorn and Arwen

White: Black:
Q Rooks: Helm’s Deep Orthanc
Q Knights: Theoden (on Snowmane) Ugluk (on a warg)
Q Bishops: Treebeard Saruman
Queens: Arwen The Mouth
Kings: Aragorn Sauron
K Bishops: King of the Dead Witch-King
K Knights: Imrahil (on a swanship) Gothmog (on a warg)
K Rooks: Minas Tirith Minas Morgul

Pawns (White): Eomer, Eowyn, Theodred, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Ghan-buri-Ghan, Faramir

Pawns (Black): 2 Uruk-hai captains, 2 Dunlending captains, 2 Haradrim captains, 2 Mordor-orc captains

The war from a human and thoroughly military perspective.

Aragorn and Arwen are the royal pieces (though chess-wise, Arwen actually had a more kingly and Aragorn a more queenly role). Treebeard and the King of the Dead are the bishops, last-minute “secret” weapons who helped turned the tide against the forces of Isengard and Mordor, respectively. The king of Rohan and prince of Dol Amroth assist King Aragorn as knights from abroad, while Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith are the castles of refuge.

Sauron is the black king (as in all these scenarios), the Mouth his closest confidant and “queen”. Saruman and the Witch-King are the bishops, his prime tools who carry out the war against Rohan and Gondor. Ugluk and Gothmog are the orc captains under their respective commands, from Orthanc and Minas Morgul.

Note all of the important figures who, from Eldarion’s snooty perspective, serve as mere pawns — even Gandalf.

3. The War of the Ring according to Erestor, chief counselor to Elrond

White: Black:
Q Rooks: Caras Galadhon Dol Guldur
Q Knights: Gwaihir Fell Beast
Q Bishops: Radagast Khamul
Queens: Galadriel Balrog
Kings: Elrond Sauron
K Bishops: Gandalf Saruman
K Knights: Shadowfax Fell Beast
K Rooks: Rivendell Orthanc

Pawns (White): The 8 Fellowship members besides Gandalf: Boromir, Gimli, Pippin, Sam, Frodo, Merry, Legolas, Aragorn

Pawns (Black): The 8 Nazgul besides Khamul: Uvatha, Adunaphael, Dwar, Akhorahil, Murazor (Witch-King), Indur, Hoarmurath, Ren

Erestor, like most elves, sees everyone subservient to the immortals.

For white, Elrond and Galadriel are king and queen, Gandalf and Radagast the Istari bishops. Shadowfax and Gwaihir serve as the knights (rather than the riders they may happen to bear). Rivendell and Caras Galadhon are the obvious rooks.

For black, Sauron is king, the Balrog his demonic “queen” reigning by terror between the two elven paradises. Saruman and Khamul threaten Rivendell and Lothlorien from their rooks of Orthanc and Dol Guldur. Countering the graceful Shadowfax and Gwaihir are a couple of fell beasts, and as with white, the steed itself is the knight.

The white pawns fall into place as the eight members of the Fellowship — commissioned by Elrond, advised by Galadriel, led by Gandalf. Correspondingly, the black pawns are the eight Nazgul who, along with Khamul, hound the Fellowship.

4. The War of the Ring according to Loren Rosson

White: Black:
Q Rooks: Helm’s Deep Orthanc
Q Knights: Theoden (on horse) Wormtongue
Q Bishops: Gandalf Saruman
Queens: Aragorn Witch-King
Kings: Frodo Sauron
K Bishops: Sam Shelob
K Knights: Faramir (on horse) Gollum
K Rooks: Henneth Annun Tower of Cirith Ungol

Pawns (White): Eomer, Eowyn, Merry, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, Beregond, Boromir

Pawns (Black): Uruk-hai, Warg, Dunlending, Nazgul on Fell Beast, Cave Troll, Haradrim, Oliphant, Mordor-orc

This is the war from my own reader-omniscient perspective.

For white: The king can only be Frodo, unable to move much or fast, once captured game over. The queen must be the literal king, Aragorn, who reaches everywhere during the war — to Edoras, Helm’s Deep, Orthanc, Pelargir, Minas Tirith — turning tides of battle, then finally arriving in desperate gambit at the Black Gate to buy the king (Frodo) some time. Sam is Frodo’s bishop, just as Gandalf is Aragorn’s; without them the Ringbearer and heir to Gondor wouldn’t stand a chance. Theoden is the knight on Aragorn’s side, sacrificing himself on the Pelennor Fields, while Faramir is Frodo’s knight, sacrificing the Ring to the hobbit’s quest, knowing he will incur the wrath of Denethor. The refuges, correspondingly, must be Helm’s Deep and Henneth Annun. (Frodo castled at the latter.)

For black: The king is Sauron, remaining forever hidden at a distance. The queen is his mighty Witch, who extends himself everywhere during the war. Saruman and Shelob are bishops facing off Gandalf and Sam, based at the rooks of Orthanc and Cirith Ungol (Tolkien’s “Two Towers”), and who are served upon in turn by Wormtongue and Gollum. Note how unknightly the black knights are: Wormtongue and Gollum are almost anti-knights, once decent, having sacrificed their souls to serve the wizard and spider, and ultimately (in both cases) Sauron.

The white pawns are individualized, while the black pawns are representative of the entire mess of evil thrown against the free peoples during the war.

The DaVinci Crock

Here’s another superb review by Laura Miller of Salon, which I mentioned recently on the Crosstalk mailing list. I hope she reviews the film when it hits theaters in May.

Excerpts from the review:

The Da Vinci Code is… a cheesy thriller, with all the familiar qualities of the genre at its worst: characters so thin they’re practically transparent, ludicrous dialogue, and prose that’s 100 percent cliché. Even by conventional thriller standards, the book isn’t particularly good; the plot is simply one long chase sequence, and the ‘good guy who turns out to be evil’ is obviously a ringer from the moment he’s introduced. Dan Brown is no Robert Ludlum, so why has his thriller so outdistanced the work of his betters?

“The answer is that what readers love about the novel has nothing to do with story, or character, or mood, or any of the qualities we admire in good fiction. They love it because of the nonfiction material the book supposedly contains, a complicated, centuries-spanning conspiracy theory… Virtually all the bogus history in The Da Vinci Code…is lifted from Holy Blood, Holy Grail

“As enormous crocks of nonsense go, Holy Blood, Holy Grail is a kind of masterpiece…[but] its theories…have a certain invincible panache. They are proof of the adage that the hardest lie to refute is the Big Lie. Unlike, say, speculation about the ‘real’ author of Shakespeare’s plays, these theories span so many historical specialties — ancient Hebrew customs, early Christian texts, regional French folklore, ancient and contemporary church history, medieval dynastic minutiae, Renaissance and neoclassical art, esoteric movements of the early modern age, and so on — that no one person has the expertise to refute all of the fabrications…

“Numerous books have been published refuting the novel’s depiction of Jesus’ life and Christianity’s early years, but most of these have been written by defensive evangelicals. They aren’t particularly interesting to a secular reader — or reliable, since their authors are deeply invested in a particular view of Jesus. They don’t apply standards of proof (or, to be precise, plausibility) of much use to nonbelievers. Fortunately, Bart D. Ehrman, who chairs the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has just published Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code

“Ehrman methodically demolishes a sizable chunk of the conspiratorial claims in The Da Vinci Code, which are mostly cribbed from Holy Blood, Holy Grail. To hit some of the high spots: Early Christian texts excluded from the New Testament did not depict Jesus as human rather than divine; in fact, quite the opposite…It was not unheard-of for a Jewish man of Jesus’ time to be either single or celibate, particularly if he was part of the apocalyptic prophetic movement of the day, as Jesus most likely was…

“A significant portion of the fan base for The Da Vinci Code consists of women who are uncomfortable with the male-dominated, slightly to very misogynistic nature of the Christianities they were raised in and who see Brown’s version of early Christian history as a corrective. As Ehrman points out, it does appear that women had a more prominent role in Jesus’ ministry than might be expected of a religious movement at that time and place. Some of that status is apparent in the canonical texts…

“The early Christian scriptures…were written by people who were the product of a patriarchal culture that subscribed to many values we abhor today — slavery, for one. Most of Jesus’ followers assumed the world as they knew it was about to end very soon, to be replaced by an earthly kingdom of heaven. They were wrong about that and a lot of other things. To try to recast them as people with egalitarian attitudes about the sexes is to imply that we can’t improve our own society without some kind of precedent from them. This idea could be even sillier than anything in The Da Vinci Code.”

It’s true that Ehrman’s book is the best available corrective, though he gives the novel credit for at least being a good thriller. (Like Miller, I think it fails miserably even on that score.) Most other rebuttals are too defensively apologetic, though I suppose Ben Witherington’s Gospel Code is decent enough if you can wade through his hallelujahs.

Witch Craze

Anyone interested in the witch hunts of the 16th-17th centuries will want to read Lyndal Roper’s Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany. Laura Miller, one of my favorite reviewers, reviews the book here. Roper dispenses with certain myths about church crusades, especially theories involving a centralized campaign to get rid of (supposed) goddess-worshiping pagans. The witch hunts were more the outcome of petty and vindictive village quarrels. Scapegoating usually started at the common level, born of simple spite and envy, to be joined by equally petty (and perhaps psychosexually fixated) local magistrates. The church itself was infrequently involved with witch-hunting.

Excerpts from Miller’s review:

“The Inquisition was not greatly involved in witch burnings; it had its hands full with Protestants and other heretics, whom the church shrewdly perceived to be a far more serious threat to its power. In fact, while the justification for condemning witches was religious, and some religious figures joined in witch hunting campaigns, the trials were not run by churches of any denomination. They were largely held in civil courts and prosecuted by local authorities as criminal cases.

“A witch panic… was less the act of a ruthless authority stamping out all dissenters than a sign of a power vacuum: ‘The very fragmentation of political and legal authority in Germany made it possible for panics to get out of hand, while the intensity of religious struggle, with the forces of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation confronting each other directly, nourished a kind of moral fundamentalism that saw the Devil’s hand at work in all opponents.’…

“Current popular history holds that the witch hunts were concerted campaigns by a male-dominated church that felt its sway diminished by stubborn pagan and folk traditions that gave too much respect to wise old women… However, when you look at actual cases, the picture is quite the opposite… In most cases, the community itself started it. The church used trials and demonology texts to impose order on the chaotic paranoia of villagers looking for scapegoats for their own misfortunes… There’s every reason to believe that — far from seeking to eradicate folk beliefs in black magic — Christian churches took advantage of ancient superstitions by stepping in to offer themselves as a solution to the mischief done by evil sorcerers…

“None of this excuses the Catholic and Protestant churches for the many atrocities they’ve perpetrated over the centuries, against ‘witches’ or anyone else who earned their disfavor. But it’s also a caution against idealizing a pagan past about which we know next to nothing. The pagan cultures that have left records have proven themselves every bit as capable of misogyny and of senselessly brutalizing outsiders and misfits. As human beings, pagans were just as capable of barbarity as monotheists; and as human beings, women can be just as wicked as men, given half a chance…

“A gift of baked goods that comes with a barbed remark about the recipient’s own culinary skills, a quarrel over the price of apples, irritation at someone who doesn’t come promptly to dinner when called — these are the sorts of incidents that precipitated the hideous cruelty of Europe’s witch hunts. ‘It is difficult to comprehend the sheer viciousness of the way villagers and townsfolk attacked those they held to be witches,’ Roper writes. Then again, if you’ve ever lived in a small community, is it really that difficult to see how they got started in that direction, if not how they managed to get so far? It may take a village to raise a child, but history also keeps telling us that it takes a village to burn a witch.”

The Guardian also has a review here. Roper’s book goes well alongside Edward Peter’s Inquisition, which similarly refutes theories about a sinister centralized church whose agents worked everywhere to thwart the masses. No one likes apologists for the church, but those who demonize the church are just as bad, and historically wrong.