Tell us what really happened.

We know of between a dozen and a dozen and half gospels that are alluded to in the early church writings--and we have in existence maybe a dozen of them. Four of those are the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), so we’re down to at most a dozen other candidates. So that’s the first part of the answer, that we’re only dealing with maybe 12 other gospels that we know about.

Even more important, however, is that by the end of the second century it was pretty clear that these four gospels had surfaced to the top. The others had fallen to secondary use, if they were ever used at all. And that’s a good 125 years before the Council of Nicea which is when the novel claims the decision was made.

The other one is the idea that Jesus’ divinity was voted on in the 4th century. Jesus’ divinity was something that was central to the Christian faith, virtually from any document we can get our hands on. All the key canonical documents contain it. We have extra-biblical testimony from Roman historians who talk about going into Christian groups that worship Jesus like a God and sing hymns to him. So the idea that this is some type of subsequent development of the Christian faith is one of the worst claims of the book.

Clarify for us, then, what actually happened at the Council of Nicea regarding Jesus’ divinity?

The Council of Nicea was an attempt to articulate in precise theological and philosophical language what the church already believed about Jesus. One of the issues that comes up is debate over the view of Arianism. This is the idea that Jesus was the greatest created being, as opposed to being divine. The novel suggests there was a close vote on it. The best that I can tell, the only vote taken at the Council of Nicea was on this, and it wasn’t a 52 to 48 percent deal--it was 300 to 2, which only goes to underscore the fact that the belief in Jesus’ divinity was something that was fundamentally in place by the time the council met.

We talked a bit about the idea of Mary Magdalene becoming more popular because people want to tap into the feminine divine. It’s true that Catholics, in some sense, have a feminine figure in the Virgin Mary. Protestants don’t have that and will sometimes express feelings of loss at not having that. So what do you say to Protestants, and especially maybe to Protestant women? It seems to me that the novel’s popularity has to do with an unfulfilled longing. You can say there needs to be balance between the idea of God as father and something on the other side, and in fact we do have elements of that in the Bible--even though the Bible is very clear that its portrayal of divinity has nothing to do with gender. Men and women are both made in the image of God. But we also get the picture of wisdom as female. We get pictures of God gathering his people like a mother hen would gather [her] chicks.

 

So it isn’t like there isn’t feminine imagery associated with the nurturing care of God in scripture. It’s there. The reason this is a problem is because it suggests a need to place God in gender categories, when the point theologically is that God transcends gender.

How dangerous do you believe the agenda you describe in your book could be? Could it rise up to duel with orthodox Christianity, or will it wither away?

I don’t think it’s necessarily anything new. What’s important is for people to be aware of it. The novel does this in an innocent-looking form. But it’s not as innocent as it seems on the surface. There really is something very fundamental going on. At one level I’m not worried about the threat that this represents, as much as the misinformation that it represents. Because this is an area where people don’t have much background and expertise, I think it’s important to give them some, and to fill in the information gap.