Contentious Notions: Are They True?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Here are some statements made in "The Da Vinci Code" and what scholars have said about them.

What the Novel Says Jesus's followers viewed him as mortal, not divine, until the year 325, when Roman Emperor Constantine convened a meeting of bishops called the Council of Nicaea. Constantine was concerned that religious divisions were threatening his power base, and he endorsed the idea that Jesus was divine as a way to unify the empire.

What Scholars Say Constantine did convene the Council of Nicaea in 325. But the New Testament includes references to Jesus as divine, including in the Gospel of John, which historians say was written toward the end of the 1st century. The dispute at Nicaea was primarily not over whether Jesus was divine but over how he could be both human and divine -- a debate that led to the doctrine of the Trinity.

What the Novel Says The Bible as we know it was put together by Constantine as part of the effort to unify his empire, and he suppressed other gospels that portrayed Jesus as earthly. "More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament," the book says.

What Scholars Say It's not known how many other gospels were written, though there are "at least a couple dozen," according to Bart Ehrman, religious studies chairman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Most of the other gospels portray Jesus "in even more divine terms than do the four in the canon," Ehrman writes.

What the Novel Says Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and they had a daughter named Sarah. This makes sense because he was a Jew and celibacy was condemned under Jewish law.

What Scholars Say No early Christian sources include any reference to a marriage or a wife. On the issue of Jewish celibacy, Ehrman notes that the Jews who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1st century were celibate.

What the Novel Says Members of the Catholic movement Opus Dei engage in violent forms of self-flagellation.

What Scholars Say Opus Dei encourages adherents to practice limited "corporal mortification," which means denial of something one desires. That could mean fasting or waiting to drink when thirsty. Some Opus Dei members are celibate laypeople and priests who practice types of mortification that produce discomfort.

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