Sunday, March 28, 2010

"The Lost Symbol" and "The Seven Day Circle" - not a review

I just finished reading Dan Brown's latest book - an abandoned copy. Following "The Da Vinci Code", Brown had been a bit of a bogeyman for Christians, having shown a gift for quoting the Bible out of context and distorting the text, as well as changing history to suit the purposes of his plot. I'd not read "The Da Vinci Code", though perhaps I will now.

One of the things that struck me about "The Lost Symbol" was that Brown does have a good grasp of a lot of Christian theology, and accords Christianity a deal of respect. He is correct when he talks about religions largely being built upon the idea of sacrifice, and he is correct when he says that Christianity is a religion in which a human sacrifice is at its heart. He doesn't take seriously the idea of incarnation - that a sacrifice that was simply human would not be adequate. His character Mal'akh doesn't recognise the Christian idea that the sacrifice is now complete - that what was foreshadowed in Abraham nearly killing Isaac is actually completed in the death of Jesus. But basically, Brown has a good grasp of the content of the Bible and Christian theology - perhaps only from a comparative religious perspective, but that's still more than most people have - including many people with traditional Christian backgrounds.

He obviously continues to be strongly influenced by the gnostic writings - he takes seriously their provenance, despite the fact that proper Bible scholars are more sceptical about them. The net overall result is that his text effectively critiques parts of Christianity for taking some parts of Christian writings as literal and some as metaphorical/allegorical, when he does exactly the same himself. What is needed is a basis for interpretation that works, and that isn't founded on the presuppositions of the interpreter, but on some absolute external standard. Authorial intent would be one such, of course ....

Brown has things in common with the book "The Seven Day Circle" by Eviatar Zerubavel, which I'm also reading at the moment. This looks at how the week has developed through history, from a sociological perspective. Starting from here, he remarks that Christians adopted Sunday as their day of rest primarily to differentiate themselves from the Jews, and in much the same way, the Muslims adopted Friday. Given that this is a sociological analysis, it is unsurprising that the social dimension should take primacy. What Zerubavel seems not to have done, though, is taken seriously the Bible's own account - that in the opening days of the church, Christians met every day of the week, and meeting on Sunday "Resurrection Day" seems to have developed amongst non-Jewish believers, as this was the most appropriate single day. It was not a day of rest - believers would likely have met early in the morning or late in the evening, so as not to clash with work. It wasn't the case that Paul particularly thought that observing the Sabbath was "wrong" - a conclusion reached by taking a text out of context - just that people who didn't feel the need to observe the Sabbath (as Christians from a Gentile background wouldn't) should not have the burden of Jewish law placed upon them.

More interesting books ....

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