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Apocrypha... Gnostic Gospels/The DaVinci Code


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The Top Ten Da Vinci Code Distortions

By Robert Knight

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Also See Section   Apocrypha, Lost Books, Gnostic Gospels


Dan Brown's murder mystery novel presents a problem for Christians. A 2005 Canadian survey showed that one-third of those who have read the book believe that it is factual. [1] The Da Vinci Code has sold more than 42 million copies. The film version starring Tom Hanks is opening on May 19 in the United States.

Serious Christians will see through the many lies and historical fictions that Brown plants throughout the book, but millions will believe that this profoundly dishonest book contains at least some "truth" about Jesus and the church.

The truth is that Brown is peddling one of the oldest known and easily discredited heresies - Gnosticism - and that his claims are refuted by the rich history of Christian writing, beginning with the Gospels themselves and extending to early church figures, such as Ignatius (105 A.D.) and Tertullian (200 A.D.). Brown's claims about alleged clues planted in Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings are also easily refuted by art historians.

Several books have been written about the many factual errors and ludicrous assertions in The Da Vinci Code, and the brief list of problems with Brown's book here is the tip of the iceberg. But we hope this proves useful in any discussion with people who are curious and wondering how much of the book and film is true.

Brown often speaks through his fictional hero, religious symbologist Robert Langdon, and a fictional historian, Leigh Teabing ("The Bible is a product of man, my dear, not God," Leabing declares. [p. 231]), as well as through allegedly secret documents hidden for centuries from church zealots.

Brown notes that the Wiccan symbol (also adopted by Satanists), a five-pointed star, is a "pentacle," a sign of the divine feminine nature as embodied by the goddess, whose spirit rules the universe. Virtually any representation of the star is a sign of the goddess cult, even iambic pentameter meter in poetry, Brown asserts. Also, "Early Jewish tradition involved ritualistic sex. In the Temple, no less … men seeking spiritual wholeness came to the Temple to visit priestesses - or hierodules - with whom they made love and experienced the divine through physical union" (309). No reputable rabbi would validate this ludicrous assertion, which defies God's law as set forth in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

The Holy Grail itself turns out to be the bones of Mary Magdalene, supposedly buried under the glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris. On the very last page of the book, Langdon, upon realizing he is near the bones of the "goddess," falls to his knees in reverence.

If the litany of historic "facts" in The Da Vinci Code were regarded as fictitious, we could ignore them. But Brown himself in several interviews, including on NBC's The Today Show, [2] has claimed that the book is factual, and many people without Biblical moorings are being fooled into thinking that they have been given "secret knowledge" suppressed by a corrupt church.

By including so many falsehoods, including the underlying premise, Brown breaks the first rule of historical fiction, according to Paul Maier, the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University. Maier notes that in a historical novel, readers expect fictional characters in the foreground, but "the reader expects the background to be credible and accurate…. It isn't there." [3]

For example, World War II novels do not have the Allies losing and the Nazis winning. And Civil War novels do not date the Battle of Gettysburg in 1812. Brown's historical errors make these look like trifles. Here are just a few.

1) CLAIM: Jesus was merely a man, not God. Brown says that the "pagan" Roman emperor Constantine created the "myth" that Jesus was resurrected after being crucified only to help consolidate Constantine's power in his empire, and that the church previously regarded Jesus as a mere mortal (231-234).

Also See Was Jesus God ... on THIS Page

ANSWER: Constantine, who converted to Christianity and ended Roman persecution of Christians, convened the Council of Nicea in 325, but only to sort out some differences among church leaders, all of whom believed that Jesus was divine. Constantine is also considered a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church. All early church historians referred routinely to Christ's divinity, death and resurrection, including Ignatius (105 A.D.), Clement (150 A.D.), Justin Martyr (160 A.D.), Irenaeus (180 A.D.), and Tertullian (200 A.D.). [4] Even secular writers such as Pliny the Younger, corresponding with the Roman Emperor Trajan, described Christians worshipping Jesus as God Incarnate. [5]

Furthermore, the Apostle Paul, who wrote during the 50s A.D., provided the first Christian creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

    "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve." See Section on The Resurrection

2) CLAIM: The Council of Nicea defined Jesus as God in "a close vote at that." Furthermore, Constantine chose all the books for inclusion in the Bible as we know it (231).

ANSWER: The Council of Nicea, which took no votes, was convened by Constantine with Christian leaders across the empire mainly to reiterate support for the extant four Gospels and the Epistles. The Council dispensed with the theories of Arius (father of Arianism), who claimed that Jesus, while divine, was a created being who then co-created the universe with God the Father. The main question was whether Jesus was begotten or made. Jesus' divinity, death and resurrection were not in question. Only two of 318 clerics at the Council did not sign the Nicene Creed.

    "The Nicene Creed put in precise philosophical and theological language what had been expressed in more general terms for years," comments Dr. Darrell L. Bock, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. "It also affirmed which texts taught such views. What is more, the four Gospels highlighted at this council had been solidly established and recognized in these communities for more than a century before Nicea." [6] See Jesus... Lord, Liar or Lunatic

3) CLAIM: The four New Testament Gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) comprise a false account that excludes numerous ancient writings that tell a different and more truthful story.

ANSWER: Brown bases his challenge of Biblical authority on a group of 52 books collectively called the Gnostic Gospels, discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. All were written more than a century after the Biblical Gospels were written. None of these books has any tie to witnesses in Christ's time, unlike the Gospels themselves, which are eyewitness accounts. "There are no written Gospels from the same time frame (the first century A.D.) that are even in the picture," says Gary Habermas, professor of New Testament Studies at Liberty University. "In the Gnostic canon, we don't have 'gospels,' we don't have stories of Jesus that are even competing." [7]

See The Reliability of The New Testament... Applying the same standards to the Bible as we do to other ancient literary works. And Section The Apocrypha

4) CLAIM: The Da Vinci Code is based on fact.
Here's the actual beginning of the book:


The Priory of Scion - a European secret society founded in 1099 - is a real organization. In 1975 Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous Members of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Leonardo Da Vinci." [8]

ANSWER: Pierre Plantard, a French anti-Semite fraud, created the "Priory of Sion" in 1956, not 1099, and the documents were found to be counterfeits. There is no evidence that any of these famous men he cites were involved in any secret society. Sir Isaac Newton, in fact, was a devout Christian, not a member of a goddess-based cult as Brown spins it. Plantard, who did prison time for fraud, confessed to the document hoax in a French court in 1993. He also claimed that he was the rightful king of France because he was a direct descendant of Mary Magdalene. He died in disgrace in 2000. [9]

5) CLAIM: Jesus did not die on the cross but fled Jerusalem, married Mary Magdalene and fathered children with her. Brown alleges that their descendants constituted a royal bloodline that fathered the kings of France. Not only that, Brown claims the church was led not by Peter or Paul but by Mary Magdalene, whose role allegedly was covered up by a ruthless and murderous Catholic Church.

ANSWER: Jesus' crucifixion and reappearance after the resurrection are perhaps the best-documented theological events in history, with literally hundreds of eyewitnesses. The Roman pagan historian Flavius Josephus recorded the event this way:

    He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.10

The nonsense about Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and having children with her came from the Plantard forgeries and the Gnostic gospels of Phillip and "Mary Magdala." Brown has Robert Langdon say, "Sophie, the historical evidence supporting this is substantial" (254).

    Teabing adds, "Yes, Mary Magdalene was the womb that carried His royal lineage. The Priory of Sion, to this day, still worships Mary Magdalene as the Goddess, the Holy Grail, the Rose, and the Divine Mother" (255).

There is no evidence to suggest that Mary Magdalene was anything more than she is portrayed in the Gospels - a woman whom Jesus delivered from demonic possession and who went on to become one of His most faithful followers. She was the first witness to the empty tomb (John 20: 1-2) and Jesus' resurrection (John 20: 11-18). The main "evidence" that she was somehow romantically involved with Jesus is a passage from the fraudulent Gnostic Gospel of Phillip (written in 205 A.D., long after Phillip was martyred), which says that Jesus "often" kissed her. Though Brown adds that it was "on the mouth," (51) the text is unclear in the original. There is no suggestion of a sexual relationship in this or any of the other Gnostic texts. However, in contrast, the Apostle Paul advised early Christians to greet each other with a holy kiss - a mark of affection and spiritual bonding, not a sexual or sensual act.

    "Even these [Gnostic] documents don't come out and say that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. You still have to read between the lines, and the way that Dan Brown does that still does not hold up to scrutiny," says Lee Strobel, co-author of Exploring the Da Vinci Code. [11]

Dallas Theological Seminary's Bock puts it this way:

    Mary was not married to Jesus. In my office there are thirty-eight volumes of early church documents, each of several hundred pages, double columns, in small print. The fact that out of all this material, only two texts can be brought forward as even ancient candidates for the theory shows how utterly unlikely it is. [12]

6) CLAIM: Mary Magdalene is pictured in The Last Supper. Leonardo allegedly planted clues in his works concerning the "goddess" Mary Magdalene, including his second most famous work (after the Mona Lisa). Brown says the figure to Jesus' right in The Last Supper is not the apostle John but is really Mary Magdalene. He says the feminine appearance of the figure is unmistakably that of a woman.

ANSWER: If that figure is Mary Magdalene, then Leonardo inexplicably left out the apostle John. The youngest disciple, John was often portrayed in a feminine manner to convey youth, as is seen in many stained glass portraits in European cathedrals. Amy Welborn, author of De-coding Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legend, and Lies, says no credible art historian has asserted that the John figure in The Last Supper is really Mary Magdalene, and there is no evidence in Leonardo's own journals that he intended the figure to be that of Mary, not John. [13]

7) CLAIM: The Catholic organization Opus Dei (The Work of God) has an inner network of zealous members who would do anything to keep people from discovering that Christianity's central claims are fraudulent. The chief murderer in The Da Vinci Code is a self-flagellating Opus Dei "monk."

ANSWER: Opus Dei, which Brown correctly notes was founded in 1928, has no monks, although it does have "numeraries" of both sexes who pledge celibacy and live in single-sex centers. Opus Dei was created by Catholic priest Josemaria Escriva, who was beatified in 1992, 17 years after his death. Escriva's stated purpose was to energize lay Catholics into taking their faith more seriously. There is no evidence that Opus Dei members have committed illegal acts to further any secret agenda or that self-flagellation is practiced by more than a minuscule portion of its members. Although Brown appears to exculpate the organization at the end of the book (428), the overall impression he leaves is that of a dangerously powerful organization which should be watched. Even liberal TIME magazine did a cover story in its April 26, 2006, edition [14] that absolves Opus Dei, exposing Brown's Da Vinci Code portrayal of the group as a hatchet job.

8) CLAIM: The "sacred feminine" was at the heart of the early church, but was ruthlessly suppressed. Subsequently, the church has been at war with women and has oppressed them at every turn. Langdon says, "It was man, not God, who created the concept of 'original sin,' whereby Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race. Woman, once the sacred giver of life, was now the enemy" (238).

ANSWER: Once again (and throughout the book), Brown is calling Scripture a colossal lie. Far from oppressing women, the church has proved to be a liberating force. Women have achieved unprecedented status as equals in nations where Christianity has had an impact. Jesus made a point of honoring women among his followers, and the women were the first to discover the empty tomb and to tell the other believers. The Apostle Paul instructs women to "submit" to their husbands as leaders of the family, but he also instructs husbands to "love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Ephesians 5:25 NKJV). In other words, men are to be self-sacrificing and even to lay down their lives, if necessary, for their wives. See Feminism and The Bible

Paul also declared spiritual equality for women in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." As for worldly markers, women have achieved rights, wealth, education and power in the nations of Christendom (and Israel) as in no other cultures.

9) Claim: The Bible is an ever-changing living document. The Bible "has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book," Brown writes through Teabing (231).

ANSWER: No other book in antiquity has as many manuscripts that are consistently accurate, even after 2,000 years. The New Testament, of which 5,000 early copies exist, [15] also has the shortest gap between time of authorship (55-95 A.D.) and the earliest copies (around 200 A.D.). By contrast, other ancient books have enormous gaps. The histories by Herodotus (488-428 B.C.) and Thucydides (460-400 B.C.), for example, have a 1,300-year gap to the earliest manuscripts (900 A.D.). [16] The central claims of Christianity are identical in all New Testament manuscripts, with variations in minor points consisting of 3 to 4 percent of Scripture. [17]

    The Bible... Then And Now.
    Not only do the number of manuscript copies of the New Testament far surpass the number of copies of any other ancient document, but the New Testaments 6,000 full, or partial, Greek manuscripts, the roughly 8,000 Latin translations, the copies and fragments in various other languages, and the copious quotes by early church writers, make the New Testament the best authenticated ancient document... miles ahead of any of the others. Additionally, the length of time between the original Biblical document and the earliest copies is the shortest, by far, of any ancient writing

Dr. Darryl DelHousaye, president of the Phoenix (Arizona) Seminary, writes, "In 170 A.D., Tatian published his Diatessaron. Dia 'through' and tessaron 'four' which were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John woven into one long narrative. The church at that time believed these were the four authentic gospels and all others were unreliable and not part of Scripture." [19]

The Old Testament is also remarkably consistent. The finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a cave in 1947 showed that very early fragments of the Book of Isaiah are identical to later copies. Brown, by the way, erroneously states that the Scrolls were found "in the 1950s" and he implies that they contained portions of the Gnostic gospels (234). But the Dead Sea Scrolls are solely Jewish writings, with two complete copies of the Book of Isaiah, and all the books of the Old Testament except Esther. See The Dead Sea Scrolls

10) CLAIM: Even Walt Disney was a devotee of the Mary Magdalene cult.

ANSWER: Unless he really has gone over the edge, Brown might be revealing a sense of humor here, as he portrays the hero, Robert Langdon, explaining to the naïve Sophie the astonishing breadth of the conspiracy throughout the ages to preserve the secret knowledge of the Gnostic goddess cult:

    "'Once you open your eyes to the Holy Grail,' Langdon said, 'you see her everywhere. Paintings. Music. Books. Even in cartoons, theme parks, and popular movies.'

Langdon held up his Mickey Mouse watch and told her that Walt Disney had made it his quiet life's work to pass on the Grail story to future generations" (261).

Mark Pinsky, religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel and author of the 2004 book The Gospel According to Disney, told the Culture & Family Institute: "I'd give it no credence whatever." The mention of Disney as a devotee of the Grail in The Da Vinci Code "is the first that I'd read about it." [20]

Pinsky notes in his book that Dan Brown mentions as proof of Disney's involvement that Ariel, in the animated 1989 film The Little Mermaid, has a copy of George de la Tour's The Penitent Magdalene on the wall of her hiding place. [21] But that's it. Pinsky said he sees no secretive Gnostic messages in the Disney canon. Pinsky's main theme is that Disney borrowed heavily from Judeo-Christian morality but largely ignored their source - God - out of a desire to attract as broad an audience as possible. Instead of God's redeeming power, Disney used magic as a plot device and transformative agent. Disney's stories were about virtues such as bravery, humility, hard work, sacrifice, charity, and truth-telling, with good triumphing over evil, but they carefully avoided giving credit to God as the Source of morality, Pinsky said.

The Da Vinci Code is a clever and dangerous book suffused with lies, distortions, Satanic imagery and historical inaccuracies, all designed to cast doubt in readers' minds about the deity of Jesus Christ. The purpose is to give people an excuse to stay away from Bible-centered churches and to embrace gods of their own making to validate their own appetites, particularly sexual libertinism. This New Age vision includes turning Jesus Himself into an all-purpose "good-time god," who approves of anything that anyone wants to do. Instead of a life-saving Savior who died, was buried and resurrected, Brown gives us the sexual union of a temple prostitute with the head of the secret order of The Priory as the highest spiritual expression (311). In this way, Brown is trying to resurrect the old sex-based pagan fertility cults that Judaism and Christianity replaced while civilizing the world. Nowhere does Brown allude to human sacrifices and other excesses that characterized many of these cults that God clearly calls an "abomination" and whose practices are condemned throughout the Old Testament.

By saying that man, not God, created the Bible, and that man can achieve spiritual power through his own efforts, Brown is appealing to the same pride and fallen human nature that Satan did in the Book of Genesis, when he promised Eve that "ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." The good news is that the solution for such dangerous error is the same as it has always been, which is to exchange error for truth.

    Jesus promised: "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).

Robert Knight is director of the Culture & Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America.


End Notes

  1. Decima Research poll of 1,005 Canadian adults over 18, conducted June 9-12, 2005, commissioned by National Geographic Channel, at http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/June2005/23/c5136.html?view=print.
  2. From transcript of The Today Show, June 9, 2003, with host Matt Lauer: at http://www.danbrown.com/media/todayshow.htm.
  3. LAUER: "How much of this is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred? I know you did a lot of research for the book."
  4. BROWN: "Absolutely all of it. Obviously, there are-Robert Langdon is fictional, but all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies, all of that is historical fact."
  5. Paul Maier, in The Da Vinci Delusion (Fort Lauderdale: Coral Ridge Ministries, DVD, 2006).
  6. Jim Garlow and Peter Jones, Cracking Da Vinci's Code (Colorado Springs: Victor, an imprint of Cook Communications, 2004), p. 94, and cited in D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcomb, The Da Vinci Myth Versus the Gospel Truth (Fort Lauderdale: Coral Ridge Ministries, 2006), p. 43.
  7. Dr. Darrell L. Bock, in The Da Vinci Delusion, op. cit. Dr. Bock is author of Breaking the Da Vinci Code (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2004).
  8. Darrell L. Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code, p. 102.
  9. Gary Habermas, in The Da Vinci Delusion, op. cit.
  10. Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday, 2003), p. 1.
  11. Sandra Miesel, co-author, The Da Vinci Hoax, in The Da Vinci Delusion, op. cit.
  12. Flavius Josephus, translated by William Whiston, The Works of Josephus (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), p. 480.
  13. Lee Strobel in The Da Vinci Delusion, op. cit.
  14. Bock, p. 27.
  15. Amy Welborn, author, De-coding Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legend, and Lies (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2004), commenting in The Da Vinci Delusion, op. cit.
  16. David Van Biema, "The Ways of Opus Dei," TIME magazine, cover story, April 24, 2006, at http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,1184078,00.html., 4th ed., 1971, pp.335-36.
  17. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, The Da Vinci Myth Versus the Gospel Truth (Fort Lauderdale: Coral Ridge Ministries, 2006), p. 46.
  18. Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith (San Bernardino, California: Here's Life Publishers, 1979), p. 41.
  19. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcomb, op. cit., pp 38-47.
  20. Robert A. Spivey, D. Moody Smith, Anatomy of the New Testament: A Guide to Its Structure and Meaning (London: Macmillan Company, 1969), p. 51.
  21. Dr. Darryl DelHousaye, "The Da Vinci Code and the Scriptures," at http://www.thelife.com/movie/churchscriptures.html.
  22. Telephone interview with Robert Knight, May 4, 2006.
  23. Mark I. Pinsky, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. 139

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