Also See Section Apocrypha, Lost Books, Gnostic Gospels
Quotations in this review are from The Da Vinci Code, Copyright © 2003 by Dan Brown, published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., unless otherwise noted.
The Da Vinci Code, which has been a best-selling novel in the USA for months, is a work of fiction. It says so on the reference-page at the beginning of the book: “All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”
Many readers, however, have paid more attention to the book’s opening page, which begins with the word “FACT,” followed by a description of a secret society called the Priory of Sion, a description of the Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei, and the following sentence:
“All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”
I will prove here that that statement is false. But first, let me tell you a little more about the book’s plot. It begins as a murder mystery, becomes a quest for the Holy Grail, and ends as a conspiracy theory. In the opening chapters, Jacques Sauniere, curator of the Louvre art museum in Paris, is shot to death in the museum by an albino monk, but before dying, he arranges various symbolic clues about why he was killed. He also leaves behind a message to “find Robert Langdon” – the book’s main character, whose academic specialty is religious symbolism.
Dr. Langton arrives and deduces the meaning of many of the clues, assisted by Sophie Neveu, a police code-breaker who is Jacques Sauniere’s grand-daughter. The French police initially suspect that Dr. Langdon is the murderer, but Sophie, confident that he is innocent, helps him escape arrest. And then they’re off to find the Holy Grail. The murderer of Jacques Sauniere is on their trail, and so are the police.
About halfway through the book, the big controversial idea is revealed: the Holy Grail is not a literal chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper. It’s a code-term for a collection of documents which prove that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, and gave birth to His daughter, named Sarah, from whom is descended a family still alive today! Holy Grail legends are symbolic narratives that are really about Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene.
The code in The Da Vinci Code is the symbolism used to non-verbally communicate that idea. All this information (along with information about the identity of the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene) has been carefully guarded for centuries by a secret society called the Priory of Sion – until the murder of Jacques Sauniere.
And that’s about all the plot-line you’re going to get from this review, because now I’m focusing on that big controversial idea.
Dan Brown did not think up this idea on his own. The same idea was offered in the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail in 1983 by Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard Leigh. In The Da Vinci Code, the character who explains the nature of the Holy Grail is named Leigh Teabing. Holy Blood, Holy Grail is even mentioned by name on page 253.
The book has a few other unusual features which connect the fictitious story with real-life individuals. For instance, the fictitious Andre Vernet runs a Swiss bank in the story; in real life he has been a French teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy, where Dan Brown went to school. Quite a few other under-the-radar features could be listed (such as the significance of the bold-print letters scattered throughout the book’s blurb), but in the interest of brevity I will move along.
If you suspected that I was going to tell you that the big controversial idea in The Da Vinci Code is not true, well, you were exactly right! Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus, and she was the first to see Him after He rose from the dead. According to Luke 8:2-3 and Mark 16:9, Jesus cast seven demons out of her. Then she, along with Joanna and Susanna and others, supported Jesus’ ministry. But the Bible does not support the idea that Jesus had a wife; on the contrary the New Testament writers consistently speak of the church as the Bride of Christ. Also, in John 20:16, Mary Magdalene addressed Jesus, after His resurrection, as “Rabboni,” which means “Teacher.” A teacher-and-disciple relationship is implied – quite a progressive scenario for the first century – not a husband-and-wife relationship.
Also See Women in The Heart of God and The Impossible Faith
What about the evidence mentioned in The Da Vinci Code? A lot of that evidence is inaccurate, contrary to Dan Brown’s explicit statement at the beginning of the book.
Here is my view of 30 statements in the book.
(1) p. 21 ~ The big glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris “at President Mitterand’s explicit demand, had been constructed of exactly 666 panes of glass.”
Is that accurate? Someone should tell the people at the Louvre, because their website says that the Louvre’s Pyramid, designed by I.M. Pei, has 673 diamond-shaped panes of glass.
(2) p. 113 ~ Langton, referring to the Priory of Sion, states, “In fact, they are one of the oldest surviving secret societies on earth.”
An inordinate amount of research about the Priory of Sion seems to have been done by Mr. Paul Smith, whose website goes into meticulous detail to document a case for the spurious nature of the claims of the existence of the Priory of Sion before the mid-1900’s.
(3) p. 121 ~ Langdon says, “not only does the face of Mona Lisa look androgynous, but her name is an anagram of the divine union of male and female. And that, my friends, is … the reason for Mona Lisa’s knowing smile.”
Is that accurate? The name “Mona” does has the same letters as the Egyptian deity Amon, and I’ll graciously take Brown’s word for it that “Lisa” is equivalent to “L’Isa,” a symbol for the Egyptian goddess Isis. That’s not persuasive evidence, though, ince the letters in “Mona Lisa” can also be rearranged to spell “A man’s oil” and “No salami.” The name “Mona Lisa” is most likely the name of the woman thought to be the painting’s subject: Mona Lisa Gherardini, third wife of a silk merchant.
Granting that she has no jewelry and no ostentatious cosmetics, I don’t seem how anyone could come to the conclusion that the person in the painting appears androgynous (especially since she’s wearing a head-covering and, it seems, had shaved her eyebrows). Read Article on The Mona Lisa
(4) p. 125 ~ “During three hundred years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women.” Also See The Real Murderers.. Atheism or Christianity
That’s pretty astounding, all right. Dr. Brian A. Pavlac of King’s College states that a more accurate figure is in the neighborhood of 50,000 – 200,000, and that most victims were hanged rather than burned, and they weren’t all women.
(5) p. 138 ~ in a description of the painting “Madonna of the Rocks” by Leonardo Da Vinci, Brown states, “Oddly, though, rather than the usual Jesus-blessing-John scenario, it was baby John who was blessing Jesus . . . and Jesus was submitting to his authority!”
Is that accurate? Use the link at the right to visit “Lodestar’s Lair” and view the “Madonna of the Rocks” in London. In that painting, the baby who receives the blessing bears a cross of thin reeds – a symbol identifying him as John the Baptist. Read the description of the picture carefully – it states that the reed-cross was added by a later artist. The article also notes the dull contract-related reasons why there are two versions of this picture (in contrast to Brown’s claim that the people who hired Leonardo “reacted with horror” to the first one).
(6) p. 139 ~ Continuing the description of “Madonna of the Rocks,” Brown states that in the Louvre’s picture, Mary “was holding one hand high above the head of infant John and making a decidedly threatening gesture.”
Her hand is over the infant Jesus. Use the link and take a good look at Mary. Does the position of her hand seem particularly menacing?
Compare the Two Versions of Madonna Of The Rocks
(7) p. 139 ~ Brown states that the “most obvious and frightening image” consists of the angel Uriel “making a cutting gesture with his hand – as if slicing the neck of the invisible head gripped by Mary’s claw-like hand.”
I don’t think Leonardo would appreciate having his rendition of Mary’s hand described as ”claw-like.” The angel is simply pointing Jesus toward John the Baptist, so as to foreshadow the time when Jesus would go to John to be baptized. Motifs like this (in which a future event is “pre-figured”) are not particularly rare in Renaissance art.
(8) p. 139 ~ Brown states that Leonardo painted a second version of the picture “in which everyone was arranged in a more orthodox manner.”
Compare the pictures. About the only difference is the introduction of John’s reed-cross, and the position of the angel’s hand, and the removal of the angel’s robe, so as to show wings. The arrangement is basically the same.
See Footnote on the Paintings
(9) p. 206 ~ “After all, previous Priory Grand Masters had also been distinguished public figures with artistic souls. Proof of that fact had been uncovered years ago in Paris’ Bibliotheque Nationale in papers that became known as Les Dossiers Secrets.”
In an interview with ABC News, Dan Brown was asked: “Is there any documented proof outside the secret documents discovered in France in 1966 that a society known as the Priory of Sion exists or had existed at some point during history?” Brown’s response: “Even the Dossiers Secrets are not proof the order existed (although they do offer an intriguing glimpse at possible lines of investigation).” How can both statements be true?
Are the Dossier’s Secrets genuine or are they a hoax produced in the mid 1900’s by a group of Frenchmen. See The Priory of Sion site for details.
(10) p. 208 ~ The Dossiers Secrets “incontrovertibly confirmed” that “Priory Grand Masters included Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, and, more recently, Jean Cocteau, the famous Parisian artist.”
Dan Brown has assured us that all descriptions of documents in this book are accurate. Can that statement withstand the online material about Pierre Plantard and the Priory of Sion? It seems that Pierre Plantard claimed that he was descended from Dagobert II. That seems to be echoed in The Da Vinci Code on p. 260, where th e main character says, “Only two direct lines of Merovingians remain. Their family names are Plantard and Saint-Clair.” To me, this raises the question of whether or not Pierre Plantard oversaw the creation of the Dossiers Secrets as part of an eccentric ambition (how serious, who knows?) to claim the right to be king of France, using the documents to back up his claim to the throne.
(11) p. 231 ~ Teabing states that the Bible “has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions.”
In the past century, the Bible has indeed been translated into many languages. But the average American’s Bible has probably been translated directly from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts.
(12) p. 231 ~ Teabing states, “His life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land.”
In a very general sense that is true, inasmuch as thousands of people talked about Jesus during His ministry. But as far as written records of His life are concerned, there are not very many extant first-century works about Jesus.
(13) p. 231 ~ Teabing states, “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament.”
It would be one thing if someone stated that 80 documents claiming to record the deeds and sayings of Jesus were written by some writers, somewhere, sometime. But the claim that the church considered 80 gospel-accounts for inclusion in the New Testament is not just unsubstantiated; it is false. In the late 100’s, long before the canon of the entire New Testament was officially pronounced, Christian bishop Irenaeus asserted that the number of authentic Gospels is four. See Lost Books of The Bible and Why Isn’t The Apocrypha In The Protestant Bible
(14) p. 231 ~ Teabing states, “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.”
Is that accurate? Constantine did instruct Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, to produce 50 Bibles for use in his new capital, Constantinople. But there is no evidence that Constantine took an active role in the selection of books or of manuscripts.
(15) p. 232 ~ Teabing states that Constantine “was a lifelong pagan who was baptized on his deathbed, too weak to protest.”
For information about Constantine, we must depend on the ancient church historian and bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, who was not always neutral in his description of events. But it seems fairly well-grounded to say that Constantine was sympathetic toward the Christian church from 312 onward, and was baptized (or, more precisely, sprinkled) willingly, after promoting one form of Christianity or another for many years.
(16) p. 232 ~ Teabing states, “The pre-Christian God Mithras – called the Son of God and the Light of the World – was born on Dec. 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days.”
(See Was The New Testament Influenced by Pagan Religions or Philosophy.
Two Articles on THIS Page)
Teabing, or rather, Brown, has apparently taken the books The Christ Conspiracy and Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled by Acharya S at face value.
(17) p. 232-233 ~ “Originally,” Langdon states, “Christians honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan’s veneration of the sun.”
Did Constantine shift Christians’ day of worship? Adherents of groups which profess to keep the Sabbath (such as Seventh-Day Adventists) make this claim; however Christians were meeting to break bread on the first day of the week in Acts 20:7.
See The Lord’s Day.. History and Significance
(18) p. 233 ~ Teabing states, “Jesus’ establishment as the ‘Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea.”
See Irrefutable Evidence For The Deity Of Christ From Scripture
The major theological dispute at the Council of Nicea, in 325, was more like, “How divine is Jesus?” rather than if Jesus is divine. Most bishops affirmed that Jesus was eternal and uncreated; however the Egyptian bishop Arius insisted that Jesus was the first created thing. Neither side viewed Jesus as merely “a mortal prophet.” The term “Son of God” was ubiquitously used, as anyone can see by reading the New Testament (Matthew 11:27, Mark 14:61-62, John 3:16, and so on).
(19) p. 233 ~ Teabing states that the decision at Nicea was “A relatively close vote.”
(20) p. 233 ~ Teabing states, “Christ as Messiah was critical to the functioning of Church and state.”
Dan Brown spent a lot of time doing research for his book; yet he has apparently not grasped that the words “Christ” and “Messiah” mean the same thing (“Anointed One”).
(21) p. 234 ~ Teabing states “The word heretic derives from that moment in history” (in the time of Constantine, in the early fourth century).
It’s pretty amazing, then, that New Testament authors, in the first century, were able to refer to “heresies” (Second Peter 2:1) and “a man that is a heretic” (Titus 3:10), and that the second-century bishop Irenaeus was able to write a thick book entitled “Against Heresies.”
(22) p. 234 ~ Teabing states that “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.”
None of the Dead Sea Scrolls are Christian documents at all, let alone Christian gospel- accounts. They are Judaic writings – many are copies of books of the Old Testament; others are commentaries; others are writings which appealed to a particular sect of Judaism in about 130 B.C. – A.D. 68. A theory has been proposed that a tiny scrap is a portion of the Gospel of Mark, but the evidence for that claim is extremely tenuous. Also, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in more than one location, beginning in the 1940’s.
I suspect that Dan Brown was influenced by the 1991 book Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh (yes, two of the same authors who wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail). The Dead Sea Scrolls have been available to study for years now, and it is clear that the main reasons for the long delay of their publication were scholarly ambition and the sheer difficulty of re-assembling and evaluating the Cave 4 fragments.
(23) p. 234 ~ Teabing states that the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that “the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda – to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ ….”
When quoting from the Old Testament, early Christians tended to use the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament made by Jews in the intertestamental period. Needless to say, the translators of the Septuagint did not have an agenda to promote Jesus’ divinity.
(24) p. 243 ~ The three major characters in the book concur that in Leonardo da Vinci’s picture The Last Supper, the person seated by Jesus’ right hand is Mary Magdalene.
Using the links below, you can view close-up pictures of the face of John the son of Zebedee. You can plainly see that Saint Peter is whispering into the ear of this individual. This represents the events described in the Gospel of John 13:21-24. This is St. John, part of Jesus’ “inner circle” of disciples (composed of Peter, James, and John).
(25) p. 236 ~ Teabing says, “Oddly, Da Vinci appears to have forgotten to paint the Cup of Christ.” This is strange, because on the same page Brown mentions that in The Last Supper, “everyone at the table had a glass of wine, including Christ.”
A wine-glass is plainly in view on the table in front of Christ. This may seem odd to people who are used to thinking of the Holy Grail as a chalice, but the New Testament uses the everyday word for “cup” when describing the cup Christ used at the Last Supper; there is no Bible-based reason to expect it to be a chalice.
(26) p. 245 ~ “Glaring in the center of the painting was the unquestionable outline of an enormous, flawlessly formed letter M.”
I’ve stared and squinted at The Last Supper online, and I still don’t see this “flawlessly formed letter M.”
Picture of The Last Supper
See Close ups of the Faces of Jesus and John in The Last Supper
(27) p. 245 ~ Teabing refers to the Nag Hammadi documents and the Dead Sea scrolls as ”The earliest Christian records.”
Is that accurate? The Nag Hammadi documents are primarily Gnostic, and the Dead Sea Scrolls are Judaic.
(28) p. 246 ~ Teabing quotes from the Nag Hammadi text “The Gospel of Philip” which says, ”And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth.” Teabing then says, “As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.”
The “Gospel of Philip” was composed in about A.D. 200, and its author was influenced by the early Valentinian heresy (no relation to Saint Valentine!). Also, the text of the Gospel of Philip which exists today is a Coptic translation, not the text of the Gospel of Philip in its original language (Greek). Aramaic is not in the picture.
(29) p. 247 ~ Teabing quotes from the Gnostic composition called “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene.” Specifically, he quotes from chapter nine of the book. He then states, “At this point in the gospels, Jesus suspects He will soon be captured and crucified.”
Is that accurate? Those who access the text and look will see that at the end of chapter 4, Christ leaves, and at the beginning of chapter 5, the disciples are wondering how to go to the Gentiles (non-Jews) and preach the gospel. This establishes a setting after the crucifixion of Christ (and after the Great Commission), not prior to it, for the material that follows. Also, in the text, Mary Magdalene explicitly claims to have gotten her teachings from a vision of Christ, not from training during His earthly ministry.
(30) p. 248 ~ Teabing describes the “hand wielding a dagger” in The Last Supper: “If you count the arms, you’ll see that this hand belongs to . . . no one at all. It’s disembodied. Anonymous.”
The hand, which is positioned at an unusual angle, belongs to Saint Peter. You can view Leonardo’s sketch of a similarly-positioned arm by clicking the red link to the right.
(31) p. 258 ~ Langdon states that a medieval knight “ordered the Knights Templar to recover the Sangreal documents from beneath Solomon’s Temple.”
That would be a neat trick, considering that Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C.
(32) p. 309 ~ “The Jewish tetragrammaton YHWH – the sacred name of God – in fact derived from Jehovah ….”
Brown has it backwards. YHWH is the older word (from the time when Hebrew was written without vowels). “Jehovah” is a Latinized word.
In closing: if the contents of The Da Vinci Code are examples of Dan Brown’s idea of accurate statements, I sure wouldn’t want to see what his inaccurate statements are like. The book is not all bad, as an imaginative work of fiction (except for the pointless swearing, the depiction of handicapped people as the villains, a description of a sex rite, and thesomewhat thin character development). Still, the statements on page 1 are egregiously deceptive; there seems to be no reason for page 1 to exist except to mislead readers.
On page 267, Teabing asks what would happen if people found out that the greatest story ever told (a reference to the Biblical story of Christ) “is, in fact, the greatest story every sold.” I think these 30 points demonstrate who’s using misinformation to sell a story.
Footnote “In the popular novel The Da Vinci Code, written by the American novelist Dan Brown, it is claimed that the earlier Louvre version contained hidden symbolism which contradicted orthodox Christian belief, notably the fact that Jesus is shown praying to John rather than the other way round (the novel implies that the baby at the left must be Jesus rather than John, because he is with the Madonna). It is also claimed that the Virgin appears to be holding an invisible head and that Uriel appears to be "slicing the neck" with his finger. Allegedly, for this reason the painting was rejected by the Church, and a second, more orthodox, version was painted.
There is no historical evidence to support any of these contentions. The only significant compositional difference between the two versions (excluding the later addition of attributes) is the fact that Uriel no longer points. However this difference may well be explained by the possibility that the distinction between Jesus and John was thought to be insufficiently clear in the earlier picture because John is with the Madonna, and that the pointing gesture directed too much attention to John.
Indeed far from the painting being "too scandalous" to show in a church, Leonardo and de Predises actually wanted more money from the church than had been originally agreed. The church agreed to pay a substantial bonus but not as much as Leonardo and de Predises wanted. So Leonardo and de Predises sold it to a private collector and then made a second copy (arguably a superior one as it turned out). So popular (not scandalous) did these paintings prove that it is believed that they painted a third version which is now lost” en.wikipedia.org. [PLACE IN TEXT]