The Da Vinci Code: A Review

by Ken Green
published in Biblical Insights,
Vol. 5, No. 11, Nov. 2005
Vol. 5, No. 12, Dec. 2005
Vol. 6, No. 1, Jan. 2006
Vol. 6, No. 2, Feb. 2006
Vol. 6, No. 3, Mar. 2006

A popular novelist seeks to undermine the faith of those who believe the Gospels are the Word of God.

The Da Vinci Code, a novel by Dan Brown, has been at the top of the best seller lists for over two years. I finally read it a few months ago and found it to be a 454 page thriller. It is filled with suspense, breakneck action, and unexpected twists It is quite a clean and decent work, as modern novels go, with little objectionable language or episodes. It is also a book that is deeply anti-Christian. It characterizes the New Testament Gospels as "fabrications," and the deity of Christ as a fable.

"Well, after all, itg is a novel," many have said; "just a work of fiction." Surely no one will take it as a serious historical study. The problem is that it purports to be a historical novel. In this genre we expect the characters, circumstances, and perhaps the places to be fictional. But we assume the historical context to be factual. This is precisely what Brown alleges in the foreword of his book. Herein lie the concerns of so many. Historian Paul L. Maier has likened The Da Vinci Code to a World War II novel in which Germany wins the war, and Churchill is tried in London and Roosevelt in Washington as war criminals.

Evidence abounds that non-believers have been confirmed in their unbelief, and many seekers and believers have been confused and disillusioned by this novel. Mark Twain just about had it right when he said that a lie will run around the world while the truth is getting its shoes laced up!

The Da Vinci Code begins with the murder of a Museum Curator at the Louvre in Paris. A Harvard professor who is an Indiana Jones type character, and a French code breaker who happens to be the curator's estranged granddaughter, are mistakenly implicated in the murder and set out together to unravel the mystery as they try to stay a step ahead of the authorities.

The deeper theme is that the curator had evidence to disprove the deity of Christ. He was one of a select group of pagans tht had harbored a great secret for many generations. This information had been recorded in documents buried beneath the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem. The documents had been found and since 1099 had been in the custody of a secret European society called "The Priory of Sion." They were awaiting the correct time to make this secret public.

What was this great secret? It was that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, they had a daughter named Sarah, and there are descendants of Jesus upon the earth today. Many clues to the "truth" had been planted by great artists and thinkers. These may be found in paintings by Da Vinci, operas by Wagner, the architecture of cathedrals and even in Disney cartoons. The Church (Roman Catholic) is aware of the "truth" and is making every effort to seize the evidence and destroy it.

The "truth" is, we are assured, the heretics in the early church, those who denied the deity of Christ, who were speaking the truth. The Church banned their teaching, for the "truth" would have destroyed its power base. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are unreliable. It was the Gnostic gospels, books rejected by the early church, that are historically accurate and tell the truth about Jesus.

The truth according to Dan Brown is that Jesus was just an ordinary human being with strong leanings toward goddess worship. You can forget any notion that He was resurrected from the dead or that His death has any benefit for you or me.

The Da Vinci Code is not only a runaway best seller in this country but is being translated into 40 languages and is now being made into a movie with Ron Howard directing. Brown has been lauded as a brilliant historian. Literary Journal described his work as "a compelling blend of history and page-turning suspense," a "masterpiece" that "should be mandatory reading." Publisher's Weekly called it "an exhaustively re-searched page-turner about religious societies, ancient cover-ups and savage vengeance."

Does Dan Brown really believe this nutty conspiracy theory that he proposes in his fictional work? He says he does. When asked by Charles Gibson on Good Morning America (Nov. 3, 2003) if his work would have been different were he writing a nonfiction book, he replied, "I don't think it would have. I began the research for 'The Da Vinci Code' as a skeptic. I entirely expected, as I researched the book, to disprove this theory. And after numerous trips to Europe, about two years of research, I really became a believer."

Which only goes to show that people, even highly intelli gent people, will believe whatever they want to, whether there is an iota of evidence for it or not!

It will be interesting to see how the critics deal with the movie, won't it? Of course we don't have to wait. We know. We may be sure it will not be with the same viciousness with which they took after Mel Gibson's The Passion Of Christ. The New Republic called that movie "a repulsive, masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film" that is "without any doubt an anti-Semitic movie." The New York Times accused Gibson of "courting bigotry in the name of sanctity." Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes said that Gibson was "a real nut case" whose true motive was making money. I will predict that this film will be praised to high heaven by critics and receive multiple awards.

In the following we shall review some of the major claims of The Da Vini Code. I make little claim to originality in these. I have drawn upon a number of good rebuttals that have been published.

Was Jesus Married To Mary Magdalene?

The idea that Jesus was married, much less to Mary Magdalene, is a story made up from the lurid imaginations of the minds of men.

Any far-fetched theory regarding Jesus that a scholar, writer, or producer can conjure up is sure to reap wide coverage in the print and broadcast media. These folks just love any sensational attack on traditional Christianity.

In my lifetime Jesus has been described as a madman who schemed His own crucifixion and orchestrated His alleged resurrection (The Passover Plot by Hugh Schonfield, 1966); a radical revolutionary (Jesus and the Zealots by S.G.F. Brandon, 1967); a mushroom cultist (The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross by John M. Allegro, 1970); a master magician (The Secret Gospel 1973; Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God?, 1978, both by Morton Smith) and on and on.

One of the more popular motifs has been to paint Jesus as a happy husband who either escaped or survived the crucifixion and lived in seclusion and marital bliss to a ripe old age. Several books have presented this hypothesis, the most influential being Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh in the 1980's. According to the scenario presented in this work, Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child and the bloodline of Jesus is traced in the Merovingian dynasty of medieval France.

This tale serves as the basis for the current bestseller, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. In recent weeks I have seen newspaper columns and television specials devoted to this theory.

The character in The Da Vinci Code that is presented as being in the absolute know regarding these matters is Leigh Teabing. It is he who explained: "The early church needed to convince the world that the mortal prophet Jesus was a divine being. Therefore, any gospels that described earthly aspects of Jesus' life had to be omitted from the Bible. Unfortunately for the early editors, one particularly troubling earthly theme kept recurring in the gospels. Mary Magdalene ... More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ ... It's a matter of historical record" (p. 244).

Now so far as I can figure out, there would have been no transgression of God's law if Jesus had married. Marriage is fully within the boundaries of His will for mankind. But it would certainly raise some perplexing questions about any offspring from such a union. Do they share in the Deity of Christ in any way?

The question is, was He married? Is there anything to this allegation? the answer is a resounding 'no.' There is absolutely no evidence in either the Scriptures or the writings of the early Christians that Jesus was married to anyone. Not even in the Gnostic gospels and other apocryphal writings of the second and third centuries is it ever suggested that Jesus was married! In fact the notion that Jesus had a physical relationship with a woman would have been repulsive to the Gnostics. Also, the Gnostics were not interested in what actually happened. They took everything symbolically. This is why they felt free to write their own Gospels.

"But there must be something!" one may insist. Surely such a claim would not just be made up! We do so want to believe the best about people, don't we? Well, okay. Here is the argument that undergirds this whole thesis. According to rabbinical tradition, Jewish men were expected to marry!

That is! There was a general expectation of marriage. Therefore Jesus was married. And Mary Magdalene seems to be the logical bride. Never mind that there were obvious exceptions to this general expectation. Jeremiah was unmarried. John the Baptist was apparently unmarried. Celibacy was practiced by the Essenes, a sect of the Jews that are connected with the Quram community around the Dead Sea and connected with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Paul was unmarried.

The expert character, Leigh Teabing, further states: "Jesus was the original feminist. He intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene ... She was of the House of Benjamin ... of royal descent" (p. 248).

Of course, there is no evidence for any of this. Nothing reveals to us the tribal affiliation of Mary Magdalene and there is no suggestion that she was commissioned by the Lord to be a leader in the church.

There are two apocryphal gospels that are brought in to witness. The Gospel of Philip refers to Mary as Jesus' "companion" which Brown's character Teabing says translates as "spouse or wife in Aramaic." The problem here is that this work was not written in Aramaic, but in Greek. It is a third century work. Historian Paul Maier says, "Scholars dismiss the work as having no genuine historical recollections that are not drawn form the canonical Gospels."

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is the other work that allegedly supports this theory. It also is a late work and is given no credibility by scholars. But even if these works were credible, neither of them furnishes any evidence that Jesus was married. But the fictional character Teabing says, "I shan't bore you with the countless references to Jesus and Magdalene's union" (p. 247). There are two late, unreliable references, neither of which even says that they were married.

There is no evidence at all that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were wed. But there is some good evidence to the contrary. Paul, though unmarried, argued that he had the right to marry and support a wife (I Corinthians 9:5). He names as precedents for this, "the other apostles, and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas" (Peter). If Jesus had been married, it would certainly seem that He would have been named as the primary example.

Eighty Gospels

Unbelievers seek to cast doubt on the New Testament by affirming the legitimacy of the apocryphal gospels of the Gnostics.

According to "Leigh Teabing," a fictional scholar in Dan Brown's "historical novel," The DaVinci Code, "More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion" (p. 231).

One reading this book with the assumption that the background and environment of the story are historically accurate would naturally assume that a conspiracy was formed to keep certain writings from the public eye. This is precisely what Brown claims in this volume.

The fact is that the number "eighty" is a wild exaggeration by any count. These books which are called the "New Testament apocrypha" (which means of doubtful origin) were second and third century writings by the Gnostics. This was a label given to several sects that differed on various details but agreed that matter is essentially evil and spirit good. Conclusions they reached relative to the Gospel of Christ included the denial that God could not have been God and Christ, the Spirit (if He was God) could not have been man.

Ben Witherington III, author of The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci, writes: "The novel expresses in popular form what some scholars have been arguing or implying for years. Twenty years ago, Elaine Pagels wrote The Gnostic Gospels, a book that introduced the larger public to the other 'Christian' writings that arose in the early centuries of the church. Regarding the books of the New Testament, Pagels asked, "Who made that selection, and for what reasons? Why were these other writings excluded and banned as 'heresy'?"

One must understand that scholars are under a great deal of pressure to publish and make a name for themselves and the institutions they represent. This is true whether one is a scientist, historian, theologian, or whatever. The majority of scholars are people of integrity, hopefully, who do not go out on a limb to publish fanciful theories that really have little or no basis in truth. Human nature being what it is though, we may be sure that getting attention is more important than truth for some.

Pagels claimed (as does The Da Vinci Code) that there was no such thing as orthodoxy or heresy prior to the period of the great councils (325 A.D. and after). The novel puts it this way: "Anyone who chose the forbidden gospels over Constantine's version was deemed a heretic. The word heretic derives from that moment in history." Now, is that an accurate assessment?

To argue that there was no orthodoxy is to say there was no recognized belief system in the church of the first century. Any Bible student will immediately think of a number of New Testament references. Jude said he wrote to exhort brethren "to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). John told his readers to "not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). John's epistles are a defense against the early stages of Gnostic teaching. Paul in his pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus refers often to "sound doctrine." He declared to the Ephesians, "There is one body and one spirit,
just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father
" (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Also, the Gnostics rejected the Old Testament Scriptures which affirm that God created matter and that He saw His creation as good. The New Testament, however, affirms the inspiration of the Jewish Scriptures (II Timothy 3:16; II Peter 1:21) and constantly quotes from them. New Testament scholar Pheme Perkins notes how rarely the Gnostics literature refers to the Old Testament: "Gnostic exegetes were only interested in elaborating their mystic and theological speculations concerning the origins of the universe, not in appropriating a received canonical tradition...(by contrast) the Christian Bible originates in a hermeneutical framing of Jewish Scriptures, so that they retain their canonical authority and yet serve as
witnesses to the Christ-centered experience of salvation."

The fact is, there is no evidence that the Gnostic writings were ever accepted by early Christians as legitimate scriptures. The earliest of these writings is supposed to be the Gospel of Thomas and all the data indicate that it was written after the New Testament books were widely circulated and recognized as authoritative. Other Gnostic writings such as the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of the
Hebrews, the Gospel of Mary, and etc. were published much later.

Christians of trhe second century like Irenaeus and Tertullian (commonly called ante-Nicean fathers) were opponents of Gnosticism and opposed such in their works: Against Heretics and The Prescription Against Heretics. Such were obviously published long before the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.). In about
180, Irenaeus, who was a bishop of the church in Lyons, wrote in the above mentioned work of the New Testament Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and called them the Four-fold Gospel.

Furthermore, the Muratorian Canon of the late second century gave a near complete list of New Testament Scriptures that were generally accepted. The Gnostic documents are not among them. They were never considered for inclusion into the New Testament. They were recognized from the beginning as forgeries and works of heresy having no connection with the apostles of Jesus Christ. The Muratorian Canon mentions that several books "can not be received into the catholic (universal) church, for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey."

The Sacred Feminine

No movement or system of thought has enobled and exalted women as has the Bible.

The theme of "the Sacred Feminine" is interwoven throughout Dan Brown's best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code. This motif is joined with that of the quest of the Holy Grail. All who have read the exploits of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are familiar with that legend. But according to Brown's novel, those guys got it all wrong. The Holy Grail was not the chalice that Jesus used at the last supper. Not at all. It was the womb of Mary Magdalene in which the offspring, the royal blood of Jesus Christ was borne.

The Internet has numerous sites devoted to the Sacred Feminine. Radical feminists and new-agers are enamored with this fantasy. Without belaboring the story line of the novel (anyone interested can get the book from the library or borrow the copy that I bought at a yard sale), this theory has it that goddess worship was very much a part of Judaism and primitive Christianity. The goddess took the forms of Isis in Egypt, Ishtar in Babylon, Asherah in Canaan, Aphrodite in Greece, and Venus in Rome. In the early church it was manifested in Mary Magdalene.

Leigh Teabing, the fictional scholar of the novel, asserts: "The early Jewish tradition involved ritualistic sex. In the Temple, no less. Early Jews belived that the Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple housed not only God but also His powerful female equal, Shekinah" (pg. 309).

The most sophomoric Bible student would surely shake his head in amazement at the ignorance manifested in this statement! The term "Shekinah" in the Hebrew Old Testament describes the glory of God, not a divine consort. Furthermore, monotheism, the belief in and worship of the one God, was the most fundamental tenet of Jewish theology. The sexual practices of pagan idolatry were constantly forbidden and renounced by the law and the prophets.

The Da Vinci Code claims that the church "demonized sex" while the pagan religions exalted it as a sacrament. The estrangement between the caracter, Sofie Neveu, a French police officer and code breaker, and her grandfather, a curator of the Louvre in Paris, was occasioned by a lurid ritual of pagan sex that Sofie chanced to witness, which involved her beloved grandfather and guardian. This was later explained to her and to readers of the novel as a good thing for it was simply the hieros gamos orgy, the ritualistic sex between priests and priestesses to promote fertility.

While there may be some truth in the charge that sex was"demonized" by the church following the first century, the Bible regards it as a wonderful gift from God. But God has clearly defined the boundaries of sexual relations: "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral" (Hebrews 13:4, NIV). Pagan orgies will only multiply the problems that our world is already suffering from the Sexual Revolution including AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

It is really ironic that an important part of the novel's plot is the claim that the Roman Catholic Church did all it could to suppress the Sacred Feminine. In fact, they have done the very opposite. No, they have not deified Mary Magdalene, but for all practical purposes they have done so in the theology of Mary the Mother of Jesus, also called Mary the Mother of God and Mary, Co-Redeemer. The Catholic Church practices a form of idolatry as they display the statues of Mary and others and teach people to kneel before them.

The cult of the Sacred Feminine claims, however, that Mary the Mother of our Lord was exalted to take attention away from Mary Magdalene. We are told that many of the classic paintings of Madonna and Child are actually Mary Magdalene holding the child of Jesus. The evidence? There is none.

The fact is that in the deepest sense, the Bible is the advocate of the sacred feminine. While God is always spoken of in the masculine gender, both the man and the woman were created in His image (Genesis 1:27). Without the woman, man was incomplete. Furthermore, God is described through forms both masculine and feminine, though the male images are predominant: "As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you" (Isaiah 66:13).

In those lands where many gods, male and female, are worshipped, women are brutally dealt with. Such was the situation in the traditions of India, Japan, Africa, and pre-Christian Europe. In India, women were traditionally burned alive by their husbands in a ritual known as sati. These customs were outlawed in 1829, but had to be banned again in 1956 and again in 1984. We still hear of them occurring.

The truth is, no system of thought or religion has exalted and ennobled women as have the Bible and Christianity.

Virtual Reality

Here are a few, final lies and inaccuracies that accompany this popular novel.

As I have prepared this review over the past few weeks, The DaVinci Code has continued at the number one spot on theNew York Times' bestseller list. There are a number of errors and myths in the book that we shall not attempt to explore in any detail.  But as we bring to a close this article, we shall briefly note some further misrepresentations.

One of several books that have been published debunking the alleged facts of this historical novel is Darrell Bock's Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everyone's Asking.  Professor Bock refers to the book as "virtual reality."  By this he means that Dan Brown, the author, while claiming to represent historical fact within the context of a fictional novel, has actually created a separate universe using a concoction of wacky conspiracy theories, weird twists on old legends, historical half-truths and some pure lies.

That such has caught the rapt attention of the public is a startling reflection of our age.  Most people have no understanding of history.  They are ready to swallow anything but truth.  They are well represented by Sophie in the novel whose name means wisdom, but whose mind is a blank slate when it comes to church history.  The novel's eccentric British scholar, Leigh Teabing, responds to her shocked incredulity at some of the things she is being told with an alleged quote from Napoleon, "The winners in history are usually the
ones who write the history we read."

People who have done no study or investigation into church history will quickly chirp, "I don't believe the Bible. There have been so many changes and interpretations and translations over the years."  Yet they will grab a popular book filled with historical errors, devour it, and recommend it to their friends.  Go figure.

Here are some brief comments on a few of the matters we have not discussed:

The Priory of Sion: Brown states in the preface that this organization does exist and that its history as represented in the novel is factual.  The claim is that it is a secret European society founded in Jerusalem in 1099 with the purpose of preserving information that was discovered in documents hidden beneath the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem.  The information?  That Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had a daughter whose bloodline continued in a dynasty of French kings.  The fact is that The Priory of Sion does indeed exist, but it is a product of a hoax that began in France in 1956.

The Knights Templar: This was a group of knights founded in 1118 during the Crusades to protect pilgrims in their travels to the Holy Land.  Brown's version has it that they were guardians of the great secret regarding Jesus' marriage and bloodline.  There is no historical evidence to support this
theory.

Leonardo da Vinci: The book claims that Leonardo's key paintings, including The Last Supper, The Mona Lisa, andThe Virgin of the Rocks, hold clues to the "truth" according to Dan Brown.  He claims that the figure to the right of Jesus in The Last Supper is not the apostle, John, but Magdalene. What is the evidence for this?  There is none.

Historian Paul L. Maier says, "Admittedly, the apostle John at Jesus' right hand, does have a feminine look to him in Da Vinci's masterpiece, but that was the master's habit in painting younger men, as witness his portrayals also of John the Baptist and others.  Moreover, the great artist could not possibly have had Mary Magdalene in mind or there would have been fourteen figures in his fresco, rather than Jesus and the
twelve.  If the figure at Jesus' right hand is the Magdalene, where is the missing John?"

Noah: "Noah was himself an albino" (page 166).  Brown pulled this out of thin air.  There is nothing in historical data to substantiate such.

The Jewish Tetragrammaton: The novel claims that the Hebrew sacred name YHWH is "in fact derived from Jehovah, an androgynous physical union between the masculine Jah and the pre-Hebraic name for Eve, Harvah" (309).  There is no truth at all in this.  YHWH is a form of the Hebrew verb "to be" Since it was not pronounced by the ancient Jews, the pronounciation has been lost.  It is variously represented in English by "Jehovah" or "Yahweh."

Dead Sea Scrolls: The assertion is made, "Fortunately for historians...some of the gospels that Constantine attempted  to eradicate managed to survive.  The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950's hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert" (page 234).  It would seem that Brown could have
checked his dates at least.  "Here we have three serious errors in less than three lines.  Constantine, of course, was not in the business of eradicating any gospels.  The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, not the 1950's.  And they did not contain any gospels or any references to Jesus" (Maier). These scrolls contained Old Testament Scriptures and other documents of that era before Christ.

Witch Hunts: The novel says, "During 300 years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astonishing fivemillion women" (page 125).  It is still terrible, but the number, according to historians was between 30,000 and 50,000.  If the larger number is accurate, this is stillbut one hundreth of five million.  Something of an exaggeration, italicized for emphasis.  

While there is much more I'm tempted to say on this, I have written enough to show the utter falsity of the claims of The Da Vinci Code.  We may be sure that Brown has an agenda even beyond making money in the writing of this novel.