Editor's Reflections | Winter 2006 (21.1) | CBE International

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Editor's Reflections | Winter 2006 (21.1)

Reporting a conversation he had with Martin Luther between April 7 and May 1, 1532, John Schlaginhaufen quoted the great reformer as contending:

Christ was an adulterer for the first time with the woman at the well, for it was said, “Nobody knows what he’s doing with her” (John 4:27). Again with Magdalene, and still again with the adulterous woman in John 8, whom he let off so easily.1

Editor and translator Theodore G. Tappert has sought to explain this startling statement by paralleling it with remarks Luther made in a sermon from 1536 when he observed, “Christ was reproached by the world as a glutton, a winebibber, and even an adulterer.”2 That interpretation makes sense, since it uses Luther’s own words to interpret these few thoughts delivered without a context. But Professor Tappert admits that others, like Arnold Lunn in The Revolt Against Reason,3 take the statement at face value and attack Luther as contending Jesus was sexually promiscuous. What sort of evidence could possibly lead a reader to suppose Luther meant such an outrageous conclusion? The final words that Luther added: “So the good Christ had to become an adulterer before he died.”4 Luther’s reasoning might involve an extreme interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (TNIV) to coincide with his dependence on grace. If Luther is actually positing Jesus had to do all the sins of humanity in order to bear them on the cross, then Galilee must have been a dangerous place to live during the years Jesus ran around loose, since he would have been a serial killer as well!

Mormon president Orson Hyde, preaching on Isaiah 53:10, “He shall see his offspring,” made an honest man of Jesus, speculating the marriage at Cana was actually our Lord’s. In 1876, one of the wives of Brigham Young explained that Young agreed and identified Jesus’ harem as including Mary, Martha, and Mary Magdalene.

In a 1970 book, Was Jesus Married?, Davis and Elkins College Professor William Phipps gathered up these ideas and concluded, “Jesus most probably was married to a Galilean woman in the second decade of life.”5

As so often happens, the idea morphed over to fiction writing and, in a 1928 short story, D.H. Lawrence with his usual psycho-sexual romanticism recreated a Jesus surviving the crucifixion.6 This survivor Jesus, however, proceeds to embrace paganism, hooking up with a priestess of Isis, while acknowledging respectfully, “All men praise thee, Isis, thou greater than the mother unto man.”7 Seeking recovery from the emotional depths of his wounds, like an ancient Marvin Gaye, Jesus discovers sexual healing, reinterprets all his sayings in its light, impregnates the priestess, then rows off in a boat he steals. Enter the “divine feminine” at the lips and hips of the sexually active Jesus.

Of course, if Jesus were truly sexually active, the disciples would have certainly told us. How could such an important piece of information as our Savior being one flesh with another human being be ignored, while so many less significant details are added into the four gospel accounts?

A few decades later, Holy Blood, Holy Grail8 reshook and restirred all these elements, trading the Isis priestess for Mary Magdalene, putting Mary with child on the boat, and leaving Jesus back in the tomb. What proof did they offer for such assumptions? These authors were spurred on by a bizarre set of documents alleging to trace the lineage of Jesus, which, while appearing to be yellowed with age, were typed and printed and replete with modern names like “Jean Cocteau 1918-1963,” so hardly ancient. Admittedly initially skeptical of these documents, the authors chose to publish their theories anyway and apparently only discovered afterward that these documents had been planted in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris by one Pierre Plantard, a lower level government clerk previously convicted of fraud and embezzlement, who concocted a lineage of Christ from which to trace his descent. And then the whole ridiculous legacy of outrageous speculation passed to Dan Brown.

With a breathtaking pseudo-scholarship that could only have been perpetrated on a reading public so ignorant in biblical, artistic, and literary knowledge that it would swallow it whole as true information, Brown’s characters distort historical facts, contending, for example, that Constantine in the fourth century invented the divinity of Christ, despite the witness of the entire first-century New Testament.9They pour into their conspiracy theories all the previous burgeoning blob-like mythology, including the Isis connection, positing a reference to the goddess in the name “Mona Lisa” and supposing Leonardo Da Vinci bestowed that on his famous painting—this in the face of the fact that “Leonardo never knew his painting by the title of ‘Mona Lisa,’ having himself called it ‘Courtisane au voile de gaze’ or ‘Courtesan of the gauze veil.’”10 Some thirty-plus books have since chronicled Brown’s characters’ soiled scholarship, but what concerns us most is his reintroduction of the Jesus/Isis connection and the so-called “divine feminine.”

In our long overdue era of wishing to affirm women, The Da Vinci Code presents itself as some sort of feminist tract (it really does get excessively preachy as it progresses) intent on evening the balance between male and female in both cosmic and human dimensions. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The book is simply a safe restatement of the traditionalist Mars/Venus mythology wrapped up in a neo-pagan feminist overlay.

Brown does try to give the female protagonist Sophia Neveu (presumably the “new knowledge” female principle) full rein to engineer a hostage break, figure out some tough codes, and even wield a Medusa revolver. But when the pagan theology crowds in, she is reduced to a “divine receptacle.” As Brown summarizes male protagonist Robert Langdon’s explanation to her, “Since the days of Isis, sex rites had been considered man’s only bridge from earth to heaven.”11 Langdon’s is an apt metaphor: man stepping on woman in one more way, this time to meet God. “The ancients believed that the male was spiritually incomplete until he had carnal knowledge of the sacred feminine. . . . ‘By communing with woman,’ Langdon said, ‘man could achieve a climactic instant when his mind went totally blank and he could see God.’”12 If one is graphing this pathway to enlightenment, one could sketch it as follows: (1) “Hi, Babe!” (2) Duh! (3) “Hi, God!”

Not much room for intellectual free-throw here. Even the long list of protectors of the line of Jesus that author Brown adopts from the French fraud’s “secret documents” and aptly terms “the brotherhood”13 comes freighted down with male hierarchy. Langdon reflects, “The sénéchaux were traditionally men—the guardians—and yet women held far more honored status within the Priory and could ascend to the highest post from virtually any rank.”14 But, as a rule, they obviously do not, since only “four Grand Masters had been women”15 out of a list of twenty-eight names (twenty-six listed plus the grandparents’).16Sexism appears endemic to Brown’s goddess-worshipping adaptation of Plantard’s Priory.

As is so manifestly depicted in the novel, jettisoning biblical revelation in favor of paganism clearly sacrifices the full equality of women. Genesis shows the command to rule nature is given collectively to female as well as male. Genesis 3 reveals the inequity between the sexes is a result of the fall: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (v. 16 TNIV). The subsequent history of male dominance is a result of, and a testimony to, the Fall, and believers in the God of Judeo-Christianity should strive to live their redemption beyond that curse (as my wife entitled her compelling book).17

While Deuteronomy 4:15, among other passages, clearly teaches that God has no gender, God does speak powerfully through both women and men throughout history. Thus, we have selected the true “feminine” voice of God—that is, God speaking through females—as the theme of this issue. Our cover is graced by a detail of “Annunication” by master artist Bruce Herman, Lothlórien Distinguished Chair in Fine Arts at Gordon College, who has graciously allowed us to debut it in print. The detail focuses on Mary’s face as she treasures in her heart the words she has just received. I believe Mary’s voice echoes throughout all four gospels, since she was closely acquainted with their authors. In drawing this conclusion, I caution those who might have unthinkingly accepted the idea that the four gospels were written by pseudonymous authors far more than one hundred years after the death of Jesus. Since these creaky nineteenth-century theories were spun out, some experts in ancient handwriting now date several papyrus fragments of Matthew and Luke possibly before a.d. 70., and thus within the apostles’ lifetimes.18 We first turn to Professor Ron Pierce of Talbot Theological Seminary at Biola University, who traces God’s voice through female prophets throughout the Bible. Professor Clayton Croy of Trinity Lutheran Seminary then highlights Sarah’s full partnership in the promise of blessing through procreation given by God. Next, CBE’s own Mutuality editor Chelsea DeArmond assesses how difficult it was to hear women in biblical times—a difficulty, I might add, that is still extant today. Regent University Professor Lyle Story follows with an examination of the ministry of women to Jesus, while missionary Lucy Lincoln focuses on the witness of Mary Magdalene to the risen Christ. Book reviews by Grenadian scholar Kelvin Belfon and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Professor Aída Besançon Spencer, and an engaging poem by the Cherokee poet Teresa Two Feathers Flowers, round out the issue.

Does God speak through women? Absolutely. But, as in Bible times, one has to discern today in which women (as in which men) the divine voice clearly echoes.

Blessings,

Notes

  1. Theodore G. Tappert, ed. and trans., Table Talk in Luther’s Works, vol. 54 (Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress, 1967).
  2. Tappert, Table Talk, n. 100.
  3. Arnold Lunn, The Revolt Against Reason (New York, N.Y.: Sheed & Ward, 1951), 45, 287, 258.
  4. Tappert, Table Talk, 154.
  5. William Phipps, Was Jesus Married? (New York, N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1970), 12, 9-10, 70.
  6. D. H. Lawrence, “The Man Who Died,” in St. Mawr and the Man Who Died (New York, N.Y.: Vintage, 1953), 165.
  7. Lawrence, “The Man Who Died,” 195.
  8. Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail (New York, N.Y.: Delacorte, 1982), 304-10, 285, 101-09).
  9. Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York, N.Y,: Doubleday, 2003), 233.
  10. See art critic Laurence Gardner, “Leonardo Da Vinci: Mona Lisa,” Earth Star (June/July 2005), 13.
  11. Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 308.
  12. Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 308-09.
  13. Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 257.
  14. Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 444.
  15. Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 444.
  16. Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 326-27.
  17. Aída Besançon Spencer, Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1985).
  18. See Carsten Peter Thiede, “Papyrus Magdalen Greek 17 (Gregory-Aland P64): A Reappraisal,” Tyndale Bulletin 46.1 (1995), 38.

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