Darrell L. Bock said he found it appropriate that he was delivering the 8th Annual Real Jesus Lecture on April Fools Day — he was discussing something that is, on one hand, fiction but claims to be fact.
Bock, a research professor of New Testament Studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary, spoke to an audience of about 200 students and professors about the historical credibility, or lack thereof, of Dan Brown’s controversial bestselling novel “The Da Vinci Code.”
“I enjoyed the story part of the novel immensely,” Bock said, “But let’s just put it this way: the history is as bad as the book is good.”
Bock did not think much of the novel when he first read it, he said. But then Brown, in a television interview, claimed that if he were writing a nonfiction book, he would change none of the facts in the Da Vinci code.
“I realized that this is not just a novel, but a cultural controversy in which the author is making huge claims about Christianity,” Bock said. “What the public is getting is a misleading and selective reading of theological material.”
Bock prepared a PowerPoint presentation that outlined the premise of “The Da Vinci Code,” the key controversial claims of the book, and various biblical and extra-biblical texts that provided historical background about the conflict between the competing Orthodox and alternative Gnostic Christian views, where Brown derives most of his ideas, of the second and third centuries. He said the portrait of Christianity that is being sold in our culture today is not a historical version of the controversy.
“You can talk to conservative or non-conservative theologians, and they will all tell you that Brown got the history wrong,” Bock said. “Now when you have conservatives and non-conservatives agreeing, you know you have a problem.”
By a show of hands, more than half the audience had read “The Da Vinci Code,” and both students and professors alike were eager to ask questions regarding the specifics of Brown’s novel at the close of Bock’s lecture.
“The thing about ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is that it’s really hard to distinguish between what’s true and what’s not,” Nathaniel Loewentheil ’07 said. “I think what made the book so popular is the mystery that surrounded it, and any light that could be shed on it would be great.”
Many students agreed that while Bock’s lecture did not fundamentally change their views of “The Da Vinci Code,” they were excited to hear a contrary point of view from a credible source.
“When I first read the book, I suspended all belief of how all the facts worked,” Amy Broadbent ’07 said. “Bock’s speech helped me refresh my memory and re-examine the parts I had doubt about.”
The Real Jesus Lecture series was established by professors and graduate students in various academic disciplines to contribute to a thoughtful exploration of the concept of Jesus.
Philosophy professor Gregory Ganssle, a research faculty member of the Rivendell Institute, which sponsored the lecture along with Yale Students for Christ, said he thought Bock pointed to the most important part of the story of Christianity that is not revealed in Brown’s novel.
“The widespread assumption in our culture today is that the traditional Christian theological view of Jesus has no historical base, but we know that is not the case because of scholars like Bock who argue the opposite,” Ganssle said.
Since the release of the book last year, Bock has appeared on an ABC network documentary on the subject and written a book called “Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everybody’s Asking.” Brown’s publisher threatened to sue Bock for misappropriation of Brown’s trademark but soon dropped the charges.
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