The critics thought it murky, and the acting reactive - with no chemistry between the leads. (How could there be, when it turns out that one of them has the Blood Royal - the bloodline of Christ? A bit calming of ardor, meditating on that legacy.) The movie has done well so far, despite the critics - with a better opening than The Passion. $225m worldwide in the first weekend. Yet it is a mediocrity, and may lack legs.
We enjoyed the movie, and also enjoyed rapping with the protesters out front, who asserted that the Catholic Church had a monopoly on truth, and the movie was blasphemous. The alternative 'truth' of the movie is a bit much, based on a known fraud. Also, knowing he was going to be crucified, would the Son of God have left a pregnant wife behind?
Yet the incredible interest in the book is based on a widespread feeling in Christendom is that the message may have been hijacked by the early Catholic Church, especially when it became the State Religion of the Roman Empire. Is there a great conspiracy, just not the one of the book & movie?
Elaine Pagels, a Princeton Scholar, sets forth an alternative conspiracy. In the early days after the crucifixion, many versions of 'truth' floated in the burgeoning Christian community in the form of Gospels well beyond the four now canonized in the Bible. In the 2nd Century, Bishop Irenaeus railed against many of the purported Gospels and insisted that only four were legitimate. At the great Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the four were canonized, but the others still floated around. In 367, the Archbishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, ordered monks to reject the illegitimate texts. (Later, in 391, a successor to Athanasius, the patriarch of Alexandria, committed one of the great crimes against humanity. The Emperor Theodosius had ordered the destruction of all pagan temples, and the patriarch interpreted this to include burning the pagan texts in the Library of Alexandria.) Despite the order, a group of monks in Egypt carefully buried the illegitimate texts, and almost as if this story belongs in an Indiana Jones movie, they turned up 1600 years later, in 1945, and became known to us as the Gnostic Gospels.
The Gnostic Gospels present a kinder, gentler version of Christianity, one in which each individual is charged to seek the truth within - and not to slavishly follow the teachings of authority, which the monks took to heart as they secretly defied the authority of the Catholic Church, then the official religion of the Roman Empire. Many of the Gnostic Gospels are downright flaky, but others have a similar ring of truth as the canonical Gospels. "What is truth?" asked Pontius Pilate.
Sometimes history is stranger than fiction. The Da Vinci Code has sent millions on an investigation of early Christianity. The Gnostic Gospels were hidden for almost two millennia. They now re-emerge at a time of vast literacy and rapid flow of ideas, accelerated by the Internet. Perhaps the Second Coming of Christ is not going to be physical reappearance, but a second rebirth of thought as to God's message.