Taken from Geogroy Koukl Tactics, pages 180-183.
Cracking the Code
I followed my two-step plan when evaluating the historical claims of the blockbuster novel, The Da Vinci Code, whose broadside on Christianity and the Bible created a public sensation, along with termendous turmoil for Christians. First, I isolated the claims. The author, Dan Brown, made it simple in most cases by stating his contentions clearly. Here are some of them:
-In the first three centuries, the warring between Christians and pagans threatened to rend Rome in two.
-The doctine that Jesus was the Son of God was fabricated for political reasons at the Council of Nicaea in AD 235 and affirmed by a close vote.
-Constantine arranged for all gospels depicting Jesus as a mere mortal to be gathered up and destroyed.
-The Dead Sea Scrolls found in a cave near Qumran in the 1950s confirm that the modern Bible is a fabrication.
-Thousands of Christ’s followers wrote accounts of Jesus’ life. These evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version.
Because I now had specific items to assess, my job was much easier. The first challenge was simple. Even a cursory analysis of this period of history reveals there were no wars between pagans and Christians, and for a very good reason. Jesus’ followers had neither armies nor the will to resist. Instead, they considered it a previlege to be martyred for Christ. They wouldn’t even fight tormentors like Diocletian, who executed Christians by the thousands just twenty years before Constantine.
The Council of Nicaea was not an obscure event in history. We have extensive records of the proceedings written by those who were actually there: Eusebius of Caesarea and Athanasius, deacon of Alexandria. Two things stand out in those accounts that pertain to Brown’s claim. First, no one at Nicaea considered Jesus to be a “mere mortal,” not even Arius, whose errant views made the council necessary. Second, Christ’s deity was the reason for the council, not merely the result of it.
After a pitched debate, the orthodox party prevailed. The vote wasn’t close at all; it was a landslide. O 318 bishops, only the Egyptians Theonas and Secundus refused to concur. The council affirmed what had been taught since the beginning. Jesus was not a mere man; he was God the Son.
Regarding the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, Brown might be forgiven for not getting the date right (the first scrolls were discovered in the 1940s, not the 1950s). There is no excuse, however, for another misstep: The Dead Sea Scrolls say nothing of Jesus. There were no Gospels in Qumran. Not one shred or shard mentions his name. This is a complete fabrication.
As for the rest of the claims, I want to let you in on a little secret. Answering the second question–Is the claim factually accurate?–does not always require investigation. I mentioned earlier that sometimes it is possible to spot a wrong answer even when you do not know the right one.
Before beginning any research, first ask “Does anything about the assertion seem suspicious or unlikely on its face?” For example, early in The Da Vinci Code, Brown claims that over a period of t hree hundred year the Catholic Church burned five million witches at the stake in Europe around the fifteenth century. I was immediately suspicious of this “fact,” so I quickly took out my calculator and did the math. Rome would have to burn forty-five women a day, every single day, non-stop for three hundred years. That’s a lot of firewood.
Furthermore, a quick Internet search revealed that the population for Europe at the time was about 50 million. If half were female (25 million) and half of those were adults (12.5 million), then something like 40 percent of the entire adult female population perished at the hand of the Vatican. That’s more carnage than the Black Plague of 1347, which killed only one-third. Let’s just say this seems highly unlikely.
Many of Dan Brown’s other claims can be quickly dispatched using the same technique:
-If the deity of Christ was an idea invented by Constantine and completely foreign to Christ’s followers who viewed him as a mere mortal, what explains the “relatively close vote” at Nicaea?
-If the early records of Jesus’ life are so corrupted and compromised with “countless translations, additions, and revisions,” and if “history has never had a definitive version of the book,” from where does Brown derive his reliable, authentic, unimpeachable biographical information about Jesus?
-How does Brown know that thousands of Jesus’ followers wrote account of his life if the great bulk of these records were destroyed? This is the classic problem for conspiracy theorists. If all evidence was eradicated, how do they know it was there in the first place?
-How is it physically possible for Constantine to gather up all of the handwritten copies from every nook and cranny of the Roman empire by the fourth century and destroy the vast majority of them?
Each of these difficulties becomes obvious when you take a moment to ask if anything about the claim seems suspicious or implausible on its face. Granted, sometimes unlikely things turn out to be true, but when that’s the case, the evidence has to be very precise and convincing. Usually, this question can save you some sleuthing.