The Da Vinci Code Asks an Important Question: Who Was Jesus?
CINCINNATI—With the film version of Dan Brown’s wildly successful novel The Da Vinci
Code opening nationwide on May 19, the quintessential theme of the story is: Who was Jesus?
The four Gospels are the major sources for what we know about him. Nevertheless, they do not allow
us to write a full biography of Jesus. So who was he?
That question is the basis of Jesuit Father Daniel Harrington’s article in the June issue
of St. Anthony Messenger, entitled “Jesus: What’s Fact? What’s Fiction?” In
it, Harrington delves into the mysteries of Jesus: his life, his ministry and his impact on the world.
After May 22, the article will be posted at: AmericanCatholic.org.
The early Christians were more concerned with experiencing the risen Jesus and the Holy Spirit than
with writing books about him. Jesus died around 30 A.D., and the first complete Gospel (Mark’s)
appeared 40 years later. In those intervening decades there was a lively process in which traditions
from and about Jesus, whether in oral or written form, were handed on among Christians.
Study of the Gospels makes it possible to develop at least an outline of Jesus’ public career.
When Jesus went out on his own, he gathered disciples near the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum. He spent
much of his public life preaching about the Kingdom of God and healing the sick.
Before Passover in the spring of 30 A.D., Jesus and his followers journeyed to Jerusalem. There
he continued his ministry, but ran into intense opposition from other Jews and from the Roman authorities.
Under Pontius Pilate, Jesus was executed by crucifixion. And he was said to have appeared alive again
to some of his followers.
The quest for the historical Jesus involves separating the earthly Jesus from the Christ of faith.
It began among liberal German Protestants in the late 18th century in an effort to peel away the
wrappings given to Jesus in Church tradition and to recover the simple figure of the “real” Jesus.
Many of the early seekers discarded the miracles of Jesus and rejected his conception and resurrection
as “unhistorical.” One positive development was the recognition of the Kingdom of God
as the focus of Jesus’ teaching and its roots in Jewish hopes about God’s future actions
on behalf of his people.
The quest in the 20th century focused on the parables of Jesus as a way of recovering the “voice” of
Jesus about the Kingdom, developing criteria for identifying material from Jesus and situating Jesus
The article includes two sidebars. One is by Assistant Editor Carol Ann Morrow, who believes that The
Da Vinci Code makes four interesting and controversial assertions: Jesus was not the Son of
God, Emperor Constantine outlawed any Gospels emphasizing Jesus’ humanity, Jesus was married
to Mary Magdalene and they had a daughter named Sarah. Morrow counters these claims.
A second sidebar called “The ‘Other’ Gospels,” by Diane Houdek, editor of
St. Anthony Messenger Press’s Bringing Home the Word and Weekday Homily Helps, addresses
the non-canonical Gospels, or ones that are not included in the New Testament.
granted to reprint this release.