The Da Vinci Code

by Dan Brown

Reviewed by John Ed Robertson


"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do with with gentleness and respect." - I Peter 3:15

How long has it been since someone asked you "to give the reason for the hope that you have"?  A soon-to-be released movie may give us more opportunities to do this that we have had in quite a while.  The Da Vinci Code has been on The New York Times best-seller list for over two years and has sold more than 40 million copies.  It has been estimated that over 100 million people have read it.  Now it has been made into a movie starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard.  Some experts predict that it will be a blockbuster on the order of Titanic.
"So what?" you may be wondering.  If you haven't read it, the characters in the story assert that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fatherd a child, making Mary Magdalene "the Holy Grail".  It also asserts that the gospels who contain this information were suppressed "to justify male domination in the church" and that Jesus was not recognized as the Son of God until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. by a vote of bishops "and a narrow vote at that".
"But it is just fiction!  Who gets their theology from fiction?"  Unfortuantely, a lot of people do, especially when it also supports what they want to believe anyway.  Therefore, this book has influenced a lot of people to believe some pretty far-fetched stuff, and the movie will probably influence far more.  But I believe that this also presents us with an opportunity to give the reason for the hope that we have "with gentleness and respect".  Many people will be talking about Jesus and the Bible because of this movie.  True, most of them will be questioning orthodox Christian beliefs, but at least they will be talking about it. 
I tend to believe that apathy is a worse enemy of the gospel than opposition.  To help believers capitalize on this opportunity, I am teaching a course on The Da Vinci Code at our church this spring to coincide with the release of the movie.  The goal of this course will be to equip believers to talk intelligently about the issues raised by the film "with gentleness and respect".  There are two traps that we need to avoid:
    a) Reacting defensively or angrily
    b) Coming across as arrogant know-it-alls.
The latter is important because the assertions made about Jesus and the Bible are based on extremely flimsy evidence.  I am reading some of the so-called "gnostic gospels" on which these assertions are based, and it is a real stretch to take them seriously as rivals to the four Gospels in the New Testament.  Secondly, they contain very little to support what the characters in The Da Vinci Code have to say about Jesus and the Bible.  Therefore, it would be relatively easy to "bash" Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code in a way that would not win many people over to Christ.  What we need to do, I believe is to be both confident and humble about the way we talk about it.  Our goal should be to win hearts, not debates.
I am attaching a review of the book that I wrote two years ago.  Many of you have already received it, but I am sending it again because it has new relevance in light of the upcoming release of the movie.  Here are some other references that may be helpful:
"The Gnostics and Jesus", by Tim Keller; The Redeemer Report; March 2004; (This website sponsored by Westminister Seminary is due to go up on April 14).
Garlow, James L. and Jones, Peter; Cracking the Da Vinci Code; Cook Communications; Colorado Springs; 2004.


By Dan Brown


Periodically, a book which purports to ?demythologize? Christianity becomes a best seller.  That is the case of The Da Vinci Code.  I decided to read it because so many people are reading and discussing it, and I wanted to be able to discuss it intelligently.  Admittedly, that may be a stretch, but I figured that I would at least have a better shot at it if I read it than if I didn?t!

Although this is a novel that requires one to really suspend disbelief, it is still somewhat of a page-turner.  The plot is interesting and intriguing, even if it is a stretch at times.  The prose is a bit overheated with lines like: ?Langdon was not about to argue with a woman wielding a gun?, which remind one of pulp fiction such as Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade.  A further example would be:

?Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest.  His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow?s peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship.  As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters.?

See what I mean?  On more than one occasion, I found myself saying ?Oh, brother!? in response to Brown?s exaggerated style.

What really makes this book controversial, however, is the revisionist Biblical and Church history on which it is based.  Because it is a novel, it is the characters in the story who assert that the New Testament cannot be trusted because it was deliberately falsified to justify male domination in the Church.  Specifically, this book denies the divine inspiration of the Bible and the deity of Christ.  The following excerpts should illustrate this adequately.

?The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven?The Bible is a product of man, my dear.  Not of God.  The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds.  Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions.  History has never had a definitive version of the book?Jesus Christ was a historical figure of staggering influence, perhaps the most enigmatic and inspirational leader the world has ever seen.  As the prophesied Messiah, Jesus toppled kings, inspired millions and founded new philosophies?.Understandably, His life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land?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 among them?The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.?

?My dear, until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet?a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless.  A mortal?.Jesus? establishment as ?the Son of God? was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea?a relatively close vote at that.  Nonetheless, establishing Christ?s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman Empire and to the new Vatican power base.  By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable?It was all about power.  Christ as Messiah was critical to the functioning of the Church and state.  Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power.?

?Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ?s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike.  The other gospels were outlawed, gathered up and burned?.The (Dead Sea and Coptic) scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications, clearly confirming that the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda-to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base.  And yet, it?s important to remember that the modern Church?s desire to suppress these documents comes from a sincere belief in their established view of Christ.  The Vatican is made up of deeply pious men who truly believe these contrary documents could only be false testimony?.What I mean is that almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.? 

Wow!  How does one respond to that?  Of course, people have been challenging the deity of Jesus Christ and the divine inspiration of the Scriptures for 2,000 years, so this is not new.  I find the claim that ?Establishing Christ?s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman Empire and to the new Vatican power base? especially far-fetched.  How could a Roman emperor need the ragtag marginalized Christian minority to unify the Empire?  I think that Brown must be telescoping 1,000 years of history and placing the Roman Empire .in the Middle Ages!

Before responding further, however, one should consider Brown?s thesis as to why the Church would deliberately suppress authentic historical documents.  According to the protagonists in The Da Vinci Code, it was to suppress the fact that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had one or more children.  One of the characters cites The Gospel of Phillip, which suggested that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a romantic relationship.  From this and other ?Gnostic Gospels?, the protagonists conclude:

?Magdalene was no such thing (i.e. a prostitute).  That unfortunate misconception is the legacy of a smear campaign launched by the early Church.  The Church needed to defame Mary Magdalene in order to cover up her dangerous secret ? her role as the Holy Grail?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 theme kept recurring in the gospels: Mary Magdalene?More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ.   That was the plan.  Jesus was the original feminist.  He intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene?.Behold the greatest cover-up in human history.    Not only was Jesus Christ married, but He was a father.  My dear, Mary Magdalene was the Holy Vessel.  She was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ.  She was the womb that bore the lineage, and the vine from which the sacred fruit sprang.?

Actually, the character who speaks these lines is pretty close to being right about one thing.  Though it might be a stretch to call Him a feminist, Jesus did, in fact, liberate women.  Mary Magdalene was one of His followers, along with several other women who ?were helping to support Him out of their own means?.  (Luke 8:3).  According to Rodney Stark?s excellent study of the history of the early Church, The Rise of Christianity, the Roman Empire was 60% male, in large part due to female infanticide, yet the early Church was 60% female.  Stark concludes: ?Christian women enjoyed substantially higher status within the Christian subcultures than pagan women did in the world at large.?  It is not a stretch to say that Christianity was the first women?s liberation movement, because the status of women in the early Church was so radically better than their status in society at large.  Female infanticide is a symptom of a society that believes that girls aren?t worth the trouble of raising.  The early Church went squarely against the grain in this area.

The Da Vinci Code, on the other hand, suggests a sinister conspiracy by the early Church fathers to suppress women and the ?sacred feminine?.  The book begins with the murder of the curator of the Louvre, who turns out to be the grand master of the Priory of Sion, a secret society dedicated to protecting the documents that tell ?the true story? about Jesus and Mary Magdalene (if one believes the story woven by .The Da Vinci Code.)  Again speaking through one of his characters, Brown writes:

?Sophie, the Priory?s tradition of perpetuating goddess worship is based on a belief that powerful men in the early Christian Church ?conned? the world by propagating lies that devalued the female and tipped the scales in favor of the masculine?.The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever.?

This resulted in ?a Church that had subjugated women, banished the Goddess, burned nonbelievers, and forbidden the pagan reverence for the sacred feminine.?  Although the protagonist has a patronizing attitude toward the Church (?Nobody could deny the enormous good the modern Church did in today?s troubled world?), the overall thrust of the book is to make it the culprit in a vast and sinister conspiracy theory.  Among the more serious allegations against the Church are the following:

?And yet the Church had a deceitful and violent history.  Their brutal crusade to ?reeducate? the pagan and feminine-worshipping religions spanned three centuries, employing methods as inspired as they were horrific.

?During three hundred years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astonishing five million women.?

?It would not be the first time in history the Church has killed to protect itself.  The documents that accompany the Holy Grail are explosive, and the Church has wanted to destroy them for years.?

?My dear, the Church has two thousand years of experience pressuring those who threaten to unveil its lies.  Since the days of Constantine, the Church has successfully hidden the truth about Mary Magdalene and Jesus.  We should not be surprised that now, once again, they have found a way to keep the world in the dark.  The Church may no longer employ crusaders to slaughter non-believers, but their influence is no less persuasive.  No less insidious.?

So what is one to make of this book, which makes the following assertions?

1.      Jesus was not divine, but an outstanding human being nonetheless.

2.      He was married to Mary Magdalene and produced a bloodline which persists to this very day.

3.      The New Testament documents are not reliable, but were chosen and/or falsified by the early Church to suppress the ?sacred feminine? and justify male domination in the Church.

4.      The Church has conspired to suppress this ?truth? and has even murdered people to keep it from being known.

Rather than tackling these things head-on like a bull attacking a red flag, perhaps we should ask, ?What has made this book a best-seller?  How could anyone believe something so far-fetched??  It reminds one of Chesterton?s observation that when people stop believing in God, the problem is not that they believe nothing, it is that they will believe anything.  Countless volumes based on solid scholarship have been written on the reliability of the New Testament documents, the deity of Christ and the history of the early Church.  Why would anyone take seriously a book filled with outlandish and unsubstantiated assertions?  Two reasons come to mind:

1.      Political correctness:  According to The Da Vinci Code, Jesus was not only a feminist; He was a 21st century feminist, who intended that Mary Magdalene be His successor as head of the Church, before she was displaced by Peter!

2.      ?Sexual? correctness:  Although the book is fortunately devoid of any sexual content, one of the underlying ideas espoused by the book is that non-marital sex can be an act of worship.  According to Brown, the Priory of Sion practices ritual sex as part of its ?religion?, much like the pagan worshippers of Baal in the Old Testament or the worshippers of female deities in the New Testament.

Of course, Brown does tell an engrossing story that keeps one reading to find out what happens next.  Although I found the basic plot to be pretty far-fetched, I did keep reading, because I did want to see how the story ended.  In fact, the ideas discussed above are only a tiny fraction of the subject matter of the book, but the entire plot is based on them.

In conclusion, this book (and the fact that it is a best-seller) tells us a lot more about our culture than it does about Jesus, the New Testament or the Church.  It was worth reading in order to better understand something that many of the people of our time are reading and thinking.

John Ed Robertson
February 10 , 2004

Brown, Dan; The Da Vinci Code; Doubleday, 2003; ISBN 0-385-50420-9