The Da Vinci Code: A Review


            Dan Brown?s book, The Da Vinci Code, has been the best selling book
in the past few years. Its only recent rival has been the Harry Potter series.
This summera blockbuster movie based on the book, promises to be the biggest
movie of the year. What is the attraction of the book, and why has it raised so
much religious controversy? This review of the book is intended to answer these

            Let me start with an extremely brief summary of my take on this


1. Great book to read.


2. Fairly good research behind the book.


3. Very bad scholarship underlying the premises of the book.


            Bottom line, this is a very entertaining fictional book.  It is
one of the more enjoyable books I have read in the past few years.  I believe
the attraction of the book comes from its combination of excellent writing,
gripping suspense, a smart premise and an intelligent writing style that does not
go over the head of the average reader.  The book has all the ingredients for
a good read:  a love interest, a titillating controversy, and a not-very subtle
slap at some established authorities we sometimes love to hate.  The book is
loaded with interesting historical background, giving the reader the sense that
he or she is learning something while being entertained. Add to this the fact
that the book appeals to our sense of pride that we know things better than the
religious establishment and you have a very popular book.

            Underlying all this is the controversial premise of the book.  Dan
Brown begins his book by the usual disclaimer, ?All characters and events in
this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.?  This is a book of fiction, but one gets the distinct impression
when reading it that several of the characters are speaking for Brown, and that
he has a definite religious agenda lying unsubtly in the background of the novel. 
Let me summarize the basic premise of the book?ideas which the author expects
the reader to take at least with some seriousness.


1. Jesus Christ was secretly married to Mary Magdalene and had children by her.
 Jesus? and Mary?s descendants are still alive today.  The ?Holy Grail? is the
hidden, metaphorical truth that Jesus has living descendants through his sexual
union with Mary.


2. There exists a secret society known as the Priory of Sion which has guarded
and protected this secret for one thousand years.


3. There is also a conservative Roman Catholic brotherhood known as the Opus
Dei which conspires to suppress and cover up the scandalous truth that Jesus
Christ was married to Mary Magdalene.


            There is no escaping the fact that Brown is trying to convince the
audience of the legitimacy of these premises.  In the book he stages a one-way
debate with Bible believers.  In this debate, the believer is assumed to be
wrong by their silence, even though Brown does not let them speak.  This manipulative
way to make a point can be very deceiving to the average reader.

           Let us look at the premises of the book in the light of historical
fact and the evidence Brown uses.  First of all, Brown makes the bold claim
that the early church did not believe that Jesus Christ was God.  According
to Brown, it was the first Christian emperor, Constantine, who in the fourth century
AD created the myth of the deity of Christ.  Brown claims that under the sway
of Constantine, the bishops assembled at the council of Nicea (AD 325) radically
altered the New Testament so that they could claim godhood for Jesus Christ. 

            This charge is absolutely unsubstantiated by the evidence.  The
fact is that the council of Nicea did not even consider changing the contents
of the New Testament canon.  Although this council of bishops did confirm the
canon, the reality is that they were only agreeing with a list of books which
had been accepted by virtually all Christians for over one hundred years.  Even
if they had wanted to change the New Testament, they could not have done so,
as there were thousands of manuscripts already in circulation.  It has been
estimated that over ninety percent of the New Testament can be reproduced from
?quotations of the church fathers in the first two centuries of the church;
long before the reign of Constantine.  The charge that Constantinesomehow altered
the New Testament is completely without support.  Anyone who makes this charge is either
ignorant of the evidence or is purposefully ignoring the facts in order to deceive
his or her audience.  I assume that the latter is the case with Dan Brown.

            As already stated, Brown claims that before Nicea, most Christians
did not believe in the deity of Christ.  He implies that the deity of Christ
was debated at the council and it was the interference of Constantinewhich won
the day for the deity of Christ.  This, too, is a gross distortion of the facts. 
All the parties at this council believed in the deity of Christ.  The council
was called to settle the question of Arianism.  Arius had argued that Jesus
was divine, but that his deity was imparted to him by the Father.  This heretical
teaching was denounced by the bishops who assembled at Nicea.  

            Brown repeatedly mentions that there were many competing gospels
other than the four accepted ones: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  To quote p.
231, ?More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament and yet
only a relative few were chosen for inclusion?Matthew, Mark, Luke and John." For
an author who claims his book is based on facts, this statement is downright
irresponsible.  First of all, it is true that there were a number of apocryphal books composed
in the second and third centuries.  These books were written by heretical groups,
especially the Gnostics.  The most famous of these is the Gospel of Thomas. 
Where Brown gets the number eighty is not clear.  There may very well have been eighty
Gnostic apocryphal letters produced, but only a few of them could rightly be
considered as gospels (stories of Jesus? life).  There is absolutely no credible
evidence that the Christian church considered any of these for inclusion in
the biblical canon.

          Brown makes a statement concerning the Nag Hammadi, a collection of
apocryphal books found in the desert in Egypt(p 245 of his book).  He says they
?are a more accurate reflection of the original gospels than the canonically
received gospels.?  It is hard to know how to respond to such an outrageou
claim.  What Brown fails to do is give any evidence that any of these books were
ever considered by the early church for inclusion in the New Testament.  The
early church fathers quoted the canonical gospels freely, but never quoted authoritatively
from any of the apocryphal writings Brown prefers.  The Gnostics had an incorrect,
?heretical view of Jesus, but even they considered him deity! What they questioned
was whether he had occupied a physical body.  Given that Brown proposes that
Jesus had children, he would not agree with the Gnostics on this claim!  Yet
he has the nerve to imply that these ?gospels? support his thesis.

           Anyone who would like to can read the Gospel of Thomas.  This document
contains fantastic stories of Jesus working miracles as a baby.  This book was
written, probably in Egypt, in around AD 150.  Anyone reading this book can
discover the difference in quality when compared to the four canonical gospels.

                     Brown makes a number of other equally unsubstantiated claims,
but probably the most outrageous is that Jesus had sexual relations with Mary
Magdalene which led to her giving birth to a son.  He claims the ?Holy Grail?
which Christian mystics searched for the past two thousand years was actually
the secret that Mary Magdalene had a son.  Brown quotes from the ?Gospel of
Phillip? on page 246 of his book:  ?And the companion of the Savior is Mary
Magdalene.  Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her
often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed
disapproval. They said to him, ?why do you love her more than all of us.?  Th
e gospel of Phillip is not really a gospel (life of Jesus) at all.  It is also
an obvious Gnostic writing with no connection to the gospel story.  In addition,
only the first part of this quote actually comes from the book.  The best I
can tell, Brown made up the rest of the quote.           

In order for us to accept that Jesus secretly married Mary Magdalene, we will
be required to believe that the apostles were responsible for a massive cover-up
of this scandal.  According to Brown, the early church worshipped the mother
goddess.  It was only the later Catholic Church which suppressed the worship of
the ?holy feminine? and removed all reference to this from the New Testament. 
To quote Brown (p 238), ?The Grail (ie the secret about Mary Magdalene) is literally
the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine
and the goddess, which has never been lost, but was virtually eliminated by
the Church.?  Another quote from Brown, (p. 407) ?My dear, the Church has two
thousand years of experience pressuring those who threaten to unveil its lies.  Si
nce the days of Constantine, the Church has successfully hidden the truth about
Mary Magdalene and Jesus.?  Again, what Brown fails to do is produce even a
single shred of evidence of this change in teaching at the time of Constant
ine.  In fact, he does not produce a single piece of evidence that this liaison
between Jesus and Mary happened at all.

            One of Brown?s techniques by which he tries to lend credence to
his outrageous claims is to supply just enough truth to make his conclusions
sound credible.  For example, Brown makes the truthful charge that the Roman
Catholic cast very unfair aspersions against the character of Mary Magdalene.   The
Roman church from the time of Pope Gregory in the 500?s AD charged Mary with
being a prostitute.  They claimed that she was the sinful woman in Luke 7 who
wiped Jesus? feet with her tears and her hair.  The problem with this claim is
that it is not supported biblically.  It appears that Mary of Magdala was a
well-to-do supporter of Jesus? ministry.  She certainly was not a former woman
of the streets.  What motivated Gregory?s false charge against Mary is not clear. 
What we can be sure is that it was not done in order to cover up for the truth
that she had a secret relationship with Jesus, as Brown implies.

            Similarly, Brown sprinkles factual information about the Knights Templa
r, a militant order of monks who served the Roman church from the 11th century
?onward, as well as some factual data about Opus Dei.  This group is a semi-underground
conservative lay movement within Catholicism founded in the 1930?s.  He also
provides some factual information about the Priory of Sion, a shadowy and secretive
sect of Catholic Christianity founded in 1956.  Brown implies that the group
has existed in secret since AD 1099.  He also claims that Leonardo DaVinci,
?Boticelli, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and other very influential people were
involved in the cover-up of the ?truth? about Mary Magdalene as former heads
of the Priory of Sion.  What he fails to do, of course, is provide any evidence
at all that these groups played the roles he assigns to them.  In his interesting
plot, the Templars hid the evidence of Mary having an illicit relationship with
Jesus, the Priory of Sion hid the actual descendants of Mary and Jesus as well
as the truth about the Holy Grail.  Brown has Opus Dei involved in a murderous
plot to steal the secret of the Grail.  If there is any actual data supporting
these contentions, this author is not aware of the evidence.

            What should be the Christian response to the book or to the movie? 
Some will surely protest the opening of the movie.  Others will suggest boycotting
the movie or even attempt to have it banned by local governments.  Experience
tells us that such attempts tend to have the opposite effect of what is intended.  
When Christian groups protested the controversial movie The Last Temptation
of the Christ, their efforts gave a huge boost to the movie.  The DaVinci Code is
going to be such a hit on its own, probably protests will not have much effect
on the attendance.  My suggestion is to go see the movie.  You will probably
enjoy it.  Believers should use the movie as an opportunity to share the gospel
with their friends.  What a great opportunity.  Almost everyone we know will be talking
about the movie and the underlying implications.  It is probably true that some
people will be given a distorted view of Jesus and the Bible from the movie. 
This, of course, is tragic.  However, what we can do is be an antidote to the
lies.  How often do our friends talk about Jesus at the office or the work site? 
If we will do our homework, we will have a great opportunity to share about
the volume of evidence supporting the accuracy of the New Testament text. Maybe
the interest sparked in the movie can motivate a friend to go to church.  Believers
who have a reactionary response will come across as holier-than-thou, and are
not likely to engage non-believers in fruitful conversation.  Perhaps some of
them will.  It is not m
y place to say what God can or will do.  However, I suggest
we take the whole business in stride and use the great opportunity afforded
us to share our faith in the real Jesus?the one found in the canonical gospels.


John Oakes


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