This is the first post in my series “The Da Vinci Code’s ignorance of…” It will include posts on art, general history, church history, and theology. I will also post on “It’s just a novel, why the big fuss.” However, the first topic I wanted to address is the way The Da Vinci Code novel, and I am presuming the movie, portrays the role of women within Christianity.
The Da Vinci Code alleges that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married and had a child together. Jesus wanted Mary and their children to be the founders of the Christian church, not Peter. The Catholic Church in a grab for power wanted Peter to be the leader of the church and to hide the sacred feminine that was rampant in Christianity and culture in general. As a result, Christianity has been one of the most patriarchal, oppressive systems with regards to women.
Through Sir Leigh Teabing, DVC character, Dan Brown says the following about women and Christianity:
The Grail is literally the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church. The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male Church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean. . . .
Jesus gives Mary Magdalene instructions on how to carry on His Church after He is gone. As a result, Peter expresses his discontent over playing second fiddle to a woman. I daresay Peter was something of a sexist.”
Sophie was trying to keep up. “This is Saint Peter. The rock on which Jesus built His Church.”
“The same, except for one catch. According to these unaltered gospels, it was not Peter to whom Christ gave directions with which to establish the Christian Church. It was Mary Magdalene.”
Sophie looked at him. “You’re saying the Christian Church was to be carried on by a woman?”
“That was the plan. Jesus was the original feminist. He intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene.
Mark Roberts, in his detailed 21-part series on The Da Vinci Code, points out two fantastic ironies about Dan Brown’s attempt at empowering females and Christianities role in “demonizing” women.
Irony #1 – The scene in which Sir Leigh Teabing reveals the secrets of Mary Magdalene and the sacred feminine seems on the surface to empower women. This is true if you note the content of Teabing’s revelation to Sophie Neveu. But if you note the rhetorical structure, a far different impression emerges. Sophie is the classic ingénue: uninformed, naïve, easily impressed by men who claim to have lots of knowledge. Though she’s a police cryptologist who should receive Teabing’s claims with due skepticism, she devours them hook, line, and sinker. Thus I would argue that the characterization of Sophie Neveu in The Da Vinci Code novel is rather classically sexist. …
Irony #2 – Secular feminism has fought a long, hard battle against stereotyping women according to their sex. In this fight, feminists have argued that women should not be looked upon as sex objects, and should be set free from the traditional roles of wife and mother. So along comes Mary Magdalene in The Da Vinci Code, the new poster child for feminism. But why is Mary special, according to this book? … In the story of The Da Vinci Code, Mary is special because she is a wife and mother. She is significant precisely because she has what secular feminists have been working so hard to say doesn’t really matter.
I will deal with the unsubstantiated marriage claims later, but I wanted to look at how Christianity, since it’s founding, has viewed and treated women. It has not elevated them to a special status, as Brown claims they should, but neither has it denigrated women, as Brown says it has.
While Christians, along with all other humans, have made mistakes in dealing with women and other minorities, the faith has vastly improved the standing of women through out the world, especially in those nations that were founded with Christian principles in mind.
In the New Testament
While women are not among the 12 disciples, they are clearly numerous women, including Mary Magdalene, who are disciples, or followers, of Jesus. This was a radical departure from established cultural norms in the first century, especially in Judaism.
Mary is listed specifically with two others (Joanna and Susanna) among a group of women that followed Jesus and helped during his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). She was with two other women (another Mary and Salome) at the cross after most of the disciples had fled (Mark 15:40). Those same three were the first to find the empty tomb (Mark 16:1-3). Mary was the first to see Jesus alive and he commissioned her as the first witness or evangelists (Mark 16:9-11, John 20:11-18).
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is called “favored one” by an angel (Luke 1:28) and “blessed … among women” (Luke 1:42).
In John 4, Jesus spoke to the women at the well. Not only did he break cultural rules by speaking to the woman, he broke the taboos by speaking to a woman of another race (John 4:9).
Luke describes a woman with a bad reputation coming to Jesus (Luke 7:37-50) and breaking a alabaster vial of perfume on him, wetting his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Jesus rebuked his disciples and commended her for her faith and said that her act would forever be recorded and mentioned.
When a women caught in adultery was brought before Jesus (John 8), he rescued her from her accusers and helped her to straighten out her life.
Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, are mentioned often in the New Testament as being followers of Jesus. They often fed and helped Him and His disciples.
Women, specifically Mary, the mother of Jesus, were mentioned as being part of the prayer meeting following Jesus’ ascension to heaven in Acts 1.
Acts 9 mentions a woman named Tabitha, who was a devout disciple and “was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did.” She made tunics and garments for people. Peter brought her back to life and many believed because of her testimony.
Acts 12 talks about the disciples meeting and praying about Peter’s arrest at the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. It also describes a girl named Rhoda being so excited to see Peter alive that she forgot to unlock the gate for him, but instead ran in to tell everyone about Peter being outside.
Luke writes about Timothy’s mother being a believer (Acts 16:1) and Lydia, who made purple cloths, being so overwhelmed by Paul’s message, begged Paul and the others to come and stay at her house. She apparently started a church in her home as a result (v.40).
Aqula and his wife Priscilla hosted Paul for an extended period of time in Corinth. Paul stayed and worked with them. They were able to help Apollos, who taught about Jesus but hadn’t heard everything. They taught him, then he became a powerful evangelist (Acts 18).
At the close of most of Paul’s letters he includes greetings to many people who have helped him in his ministry or have been loyal believers. In Romans, the first person he mentions is Phoebe. He describes her as a servant of the church and a helper of many. He asks the church in Rome to receiver her and help her however they can. He also mentions several other women in his list of greetings. You can find listings from Paul that include women in 1 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Timothy. Peter also has one in 1 Peter.
Paul singled out Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois, as faithful women who taught and trained Timothy well. (2 Timothy 1:5)
Over and over again the New Testament writings, you see women as important parts of the Christian Church. They are not hidden from view or ignored, but neither are they deified simply because of their sex. Scripture presents a balanced view of the sexes – different in terms of service, but equal in the sight of God. Galatians 3:27-28 says:
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Compare the New Testament view with the contradicting attitudes of the Gnostic writings. In the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene), Mary is presented as the best disciple and more worthy than anyone else. Women are elevated above men. In the Gospel of Thomas, women are not allowed into the kingdom of God unless they became a man. Women are placed below men. You find several examples of mixed messages from the Gnostic writings, which is understandable since they were written centuries apart and centuries after Jesus lived and taught.
The Da Vinci Code gives a mixed message to women because the sources used portray a conflicting story. If women want to find their true worth, they’d better look somewhere else because while DVC may claim it empowers women it portrays them as easily led and worthy of praise only for their sexual and reproductive uses. I’d prefer a book that says women, along with men, were “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the very image of God Himself.