by Timothy Chilman
One of the most high-profile conspiracy theories of recent years was that put forward in The Da Vinci Code. Book and film, The Da Vinci Code was once everywhere. Da Vinci Code tours took in its locations. At the Church of St Sulpice in France, staff-members wearied of tourists asking where the nun was murdered, necessitating a sign delineating between fact and fiction. The sign was often stolen.
The author, Dan Brown, had arrived, and was sued just to prove it: Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh took exception to Brown’s acknowledged inspiration by their 1982 effort Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and litigated fruitlessly in Britain. Before the case, Baigent said, “It makes our work far easier to dismiss as a farrago of nonsense.” After, he said, “It was one of the worst experiences of my life.” Brown also relied heavily on The Templar Revelation, by the authors of The Mammoth Book of UFOs, but we have yet to hear from them.
Christians were incensed, a neat pun, and screamed that the book was “a poisonous fuel for anti-Christian and anti-Catholic sentiment, and should be classed alongside The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, as a work of black propaganda.” The Da Vinci Code is “a brilliantly crafted deception straight out of the pit”. “IT IS ALREADY BEING USED BY THOSE WHO WANT TO DESTROY Christ’s name and the Biblestestimony”. Opus Dei, Brown’s bad guys, issued one hundred pages of denial. Joseph de Feo of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights ululated that Brown sold 3.5 million books by preying on the Catholic Church at a time of historic weakness occasioned by sex scandals. Eleven counter-books followed, authored by such luminaries as he who gave us Harry Potter and the Bible.
Brown’s story is very attractive to a post-Christian society, but his errors are manifold, beginning on page one, ‘neath the heading “Facts.” He’s wrong about the secret society, the Priory of Sion, in reality a drinking club amounting to four Frenchmen which was founded in 1956 by a right-wing loony with a long and glorious history of petty criminality. The most active villain, Silas, is an oculocutaneous albino. Albinos always, always have problems with their vision, sometimes to the point of being legally blind, but not the red-eyed Silas.
The perpetual references to “Da Vinci” are wrong. He called himself omo sanze lettere, a man without letters, but others call him “Leonardo” – Da Vinci was his place of birth. Brown claims Leonardo’s painting of the Last Supper depicts Mary Magdalene, Jesus and the apostles, but there are thirteen figures therein, and Luke said only Jesus and his apostles were present.
The character Dan Brown says is Mary Magdalene is effeminate, but Leonardo always drew the Apostle John thusly. Brown claims the Mona Lisa is a hermaphroditic self-portrait whose name combines those of Amon and L’Isa, an Egyptian god and goddess. But the painting is now thought to be of Madonna Lisa, wife to Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo, and it wasn’t called “Mona Lisa” until after Leonardo’s death. Brown is also wrong about the size of the Madonna of the Rocks, which is 6′ 6″, not 5′ tall. His heroine would have required a lifetime of weight training and steroid abuse to lift it as she does. Hero Robert Langdon is unperturbed by her bushy moustache and rippling muscles when he kisses her.
Silas languishes in prison for twelve years where there’s no prison housing long-term guests. He travels on a non-existent railway. Dan Brown places Versailles northwest and not west-southwest of Paris.
Brown’s heroes take a train to Lille from Gare St Lazare, not Gare du Nord. They travel on a chimerical road in a Renault Smart car whose mileage is overstated by several orders of magnitude.
The curator of the Louvre is shot in the stomach, which causes death in less than five percent of cases, and then only after many hours, obviating the need for the desperate activity of the book.
Brown says the Olympic games honoured Aphrodite, when in fact they honoured Zeus.
Dan Brown repeatedly cites the burning of five million witches as evidence of bloodlust and misogyny on the part of the Church, but only between 30,000 and 60,000 were killed, and then mostly as a result of intra-village disputes – between women.
The Pyramid of the Louvre contains 673 panes of glass, not 666.
The Da Vinci Code makes frequent use of the Gnostic Gospels, mostly discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. Dan Brown calls them scrolls but they were really codices, a kind of book. Brown refers to the Gospels of Philip and Mary Magdalene. Philip assuredly post-dates the canonical Gospels, using lines from them. The Gospel of Mary wasn’t found at Nag Hammadi, gainsaying Dan Brown.
The Gnostics saw Jesus as a teacher, like Brown says, but they didn’t deny his Godhood. Some went as far as Docetism: Jesus was purely spirit and only appeared to be human. Gnosticism got a nod from Shakespeare, Philip K. Dick, maybe from Jung but more than anything else, from the Matrix films. As Morpheus said to Neo, “The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth.” Gnostic City.
Brown says there were about 80 Gospels, but the real figure is around half that. The Gospels of Philip and Mary Magdalene were never taken that seriously, but the Letters of Ignatius for one coulda bin a contender.
Again, Brown bags modest kudos for telling The Unwashed that the Gospels we know were written later than thought and that other Gospels were left out of the Bible having been ascertained as non-canonical, i.e. against the rules.
Brown claims Jesus got hitched with Mary Magdalene, named after her birthplace of Magda. She began following Jesus after he expelled seven demons from her (Luke 8:1-3). She was present at Jesus’ death and burial and in Matthew 27:55-61 she was the first to meet Jesus after he was resurrected. In John 20:17-18 Jesus told her to pass on the news of his resurrection to the Apostles.
When it comes to proving the marriage of Jesus and Mary, Brown’s killer line from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip is “And the companion of the… Mary Magdalene… her more than… the disciples… kiss her… on her…” (Philip 63:33-36). Brown decided Jesus kissed Mary’s lips, and not “ass,” “feet,” or “garment hem.” Had Jesus kissed Mary Magdalene’s cheek, is that not something that happens routinely in the Middle East? Or maybe he kissed her hand, showing humility like when he washed his disciples’ feet in John 13:5.
Brown’s historian character says the Gospel of Philip calls Mary the “companion” of Jesus which in Aramaic means “spouse.” But the Gospel of Philip found at Nag Hammadi was a Coptic, not Aramaic, translation from Greek, using a word taken from Greek – “koinonos,” meaning “partner.” The word is used in the New Testament, e.g. Luke 5:10 describes James and John as the partners of Peter. Any suggestion of multiple same-sex sexual partners amongst the disciples must await a future novel by Dan Brown. Brown appears disinterested in which Gospel of Philip he used, and there was more than one.
But Mary’s surname is Magdalene, and married women adopt their husband’s surname. Not even the Gospel of Mary Magdalene says Jesus and Mary were married. It’s true that most men then married, but exceptions included a man studying law who couldn’t support a spouse. Moses is also not believed to have been “getting any,” as weren’t the Prophet Jeremiah or John the Baptist and absolutely all of the Essenes.
In a US television programme discussing the claims of the The Da Vinci Code, the strongest indicator of romance between Jesus and Mary was quoted by Margaret Starbird, co-author of The Woman with the Alabaster Jar and The Goddess in the Gospels, sources credited by Brown. In John 20:17, Mary encounters Jesus after his resurrection and he tells her, “Touch me not.” In those times, people didn’t touch each other unless they were very close, but people won’t adhere to custom upon meeting someone newly returned from the dead. But Brown says the Resurrection never happened, so this line can’t be used to support his case. It is of course a scurrilous ad hominem attack, but Starbird’s academic background, while attaining Masters level, concentrated on German, comparative literature and medieval studies. She attended Vanderbilt Divinity School, from which she received no degree.
Dan Brown says that Jesus intended Mary, not Peter, to establish his church. The only evidence is that in the Gospel of Mary, Jesus passes insights to Mary, who appears to take them in better than any of the others.
The Church actually got off lightly in Brown’s use of wacky sources. Another Gnostic book, the Second Apocalypse of James, depicts Jesus kissing James on the mouth, and we were spared the talking cross of the Gospel of Peter. And it may not have been Gnostic, but how could Dan Brown have ignored what Columbia University‘s Morton Smith discovered in 1958, at the back of the Epistolae genuinae S. Ignatii Martyris (1646)? This purported letter from Clement of Alexandria quotes the real Gospel of Mark, a section that would appear between verses 34 and 35 of the standard Mark 10. There, a youth who idolised Jesus spent the night with him gumnos gumno (nekkid man with nekkid man). “And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God.” (Would you like to know more?)
The Ebionites best matched Dan Brown’s description of early Christians. Properly called Ebionæans, they take their name from the Aramean for “poor men,” harking back to the teachings of Jesus: “Blessed are you Poor Ones, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). The Ebionites believed Jesus was human, hence their Bible consisted only of the Old Testament and the majority of the Gospel of Matthew, which accentuated Jesus’ Jewish character.
The O.T. Messiah was going to lead the Jews to military victory. The Ebionites were closer to Judaism than the Christians in this respect, although they thought Messianic triumph would come through a miracle, not militarily. Dan Brown’s Christology would have been less wrong if he’d used this group and not the Gnostics. True, the Ebionites didn’t believe Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and their Jesus, working miracles, still requires supernatural belief, but these would have posed little obstacle to Mr Brown’s ability to dissemble.
Other Christian variants included adherents of the Gospel of Thomas and the Marcionites. Marcion, son of the Bishop of the port of Sinope on the Black Sea, became a ship-owner. He courted the Church in Rome, until they read his two books of theology and realised exactly what he believed. His 200,000 sesterce donation was returned and he was ex-communicated.
Marcion saw God in the Old Testament as vile and punitive, but God in the New Testament offered unconditional love. He decided these disparate portrayals must be separate entities, and he worshipped #2. His movement was a serious threat to the conventional Christian church by the end of the second century. Marcion rejected the Gospels of Matthew and John, and those parts of the other New Testament books he decreed were Jewish interpolations.
These were the principal divergences from mainstream Christianity. Perhaps some thought of Jesus as a man requiring no suspension of disbelief, but that wasn’t the dominant or even a major view. Four Gospels kept the main sects happy. Saint Irenaeus, a church father, said Matthew was for the benefit of the Ebionites, Luke, the Marcionites and John, the Valentinians – more Gnostics.
According to Dan Brown, the Bible didn’t solidify until the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. He says it was here that the prevailing view of Jesus as a great man was dispensed with, substituted by Jesus, Son of God. The Bible was then populated only with books that toed this line. But as we’ve seen, no significant branch of Christianity considered Jesus as Dan Brown put it, “a mortal prophet… a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless.”
While the Bible wasn’t completely stable until the Westminster Assembly of 1647, its component books had been mostly decided at least a century before Nicea. The Muratorian Canon is an eighth century document believed to be copied from a commentary of most of the books of the New Testament, written around 170-210 CE, a date inferred from a reference to Pope Pius. What argument transpired at Nicea was much more esoteric – what Constantine I, the first Christian emperor of Rome, called “cobwebs of contention, spun by curious wits.”
Nobody doubted Jesus was a god, but Bishop Arius said if a father comes before a son, God created Jesus. This arcane religious datum was distilled into a soundbite: “There was once when the Son was not.” Jesus wasn’t made of the same stuff (homo-ousios) as God, but similar stuff (homoi-ousios) – he was still godly.
The Church was cloven, and Constantine became involved when civil disturbance prompted dozens of petitions from aggrieved subjects. The Council of Nicea intended to put an end to this. Of 1,800 bishops invited, a little less than 400 made it, with state assistance.
The Council of Nicea lasted for seven weeks and covered 84 subjects, including Easter’s date and whether priests could marry. It was decided that Jesus was equal to God. Dan Brown’s “narrow vote” was 300 votes to 2 against Arius, despite Constantine’s support.
But while Constantine adopted Christianity for himself and legalised it throughout the Roman Empire with the Treaty of Milan in 312 CE, he didn’t make it the “official religion.” That was left to Theodosius I.
Although the word “heretic” had only recently come into fashion, it wasn’t, as Dan Brown would have us believe, a creation of Constantine’s, having already been used by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen.
Of the tale he excreted, Dan Brown says: “I became a believer.” Uh-huh. But despite his errors at every stage, Dan Brown has done well in drawing attention to Christianity’s genesis.
The church is of course outraged – poisonous fuel, Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, brilliantly crafted deception, blah blah blah. Why, The Da Vinci Code is riven with errors demonstrating the author’s unfamiliarity with that of which he spoke. It’s deliberate, sensationalistic falsehood. Let’s wheel on Michael Baigent to say it isn’t even original.
Little bit of irony, if you like that sort of thing.
“Da Vinci Code is ‘lousy history’.” BBC. 24 Dec 2004. 19 Dec 2006. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4123495.stm.>
“The Old Testament Canon.” 1 Nov 2002. 20 Dec 2006. <www.catholic.com/library/Old_Testament_Canon.asp.>
“TV special on Da Vinci Code asks: Was Jesus married?” Let Us Reason Ministries. 23 Jun 2006. 13 Dec 2006. <http://www.letusreason.org/Current39.htm.>
“What is Albinism?” National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation. 10 Apr 2002. 13 Dec 2006. <http://www.albinism.org/publications/what_is_albinism.html.>
Abanes, Richard. “The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code: A Challenging Response to the Bestselling Novel.” Harvest House Publishers. 21 Apr 2004. 15 Dec 2006. <http://www.harvesthousepublishers.com/book.cfm?ProductID=6914390.>
Bock, Darrell L. “Fact, Fiction, and The Da Vinci Code.” Online Human Events. 9 Jun 2004. 14 Dec 2006. <http://www.humaneventsonline.com/article.php?id=4119.>
Brady, John. “The Da Vinci Code.” 23 Apr 2004. 14 Dec 2006. <http://bad.eserver.org/reviews/2004/2004-4-23-3.42PM.html.>
Bumbulis , Michael J. “Is the Gospel of Thomas Reliable?” 1 Mar 1995. 16 Dec 2006. <http://www.answers.org/bible/gospelofthomas.html.>
Falwell, Jerry. “Exposing the lies of ‘The Da Vinci Code’.” WorldNetDaily. 14 Feb 2004. 19 Dec 2006. <http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=37114.>
Gleghorn, Michael. “Redeeming the Da Vinci Code.” Probe Ministries. 21 Apr 2006. 12 Dec 2006. <http://www.probe.org/docs/davinci.html.>
Holding, J. P. “Not InDavincible: A Review and Critique of The DaVinci Code.” 30 Sep 2005. 14 Dec 2006. <http://www.tektonics.org/davincicrude.htm.>
Knight, Kevin. “Acts of the Apostles.” New Advent. 19 Oct 2005. 14 Dec 2006. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01117a.htm.>
Konig, George. “The Da Vinci Code – the hoax behind the code.” 15 May 2005. 15 Dec 2006. <http://www.aboutbibleprophecy.com/davinci.htm.>
Lovgren, Stephan. “No Gospel in Da Vinci Code Claims, Scholars Say.” National Geographic Channel. 17 May 2006. 18 Dec 2006. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/12/1217_041217_tv_davinci_code.html.>
Lyons, William. “Da Vinci is pulling in da crowds in Roslin.” The Scotsman. 15 Jun 2004. 13 Dec 2006. <http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=542&id=680542004.>
McGinty, Stephen. “Secretive sect dubbed ‘Mafia shrouded in white’.” The Scotsman. 21 Jan 2005. 12 Dec 2006. <http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=74352005.>
Miesel, Sandra. “Dismantling The Da Vinci Code.” Crisis Magazine. 1 Sep 2003. 21 Dec 2006. <http://www.crisismagazine.com/september2003/feature1.htm.>
Miller, Laura. “The Da Vinci Crock.” Salon. 29 Dec 2004. 19 Dec 2006. <http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2004/12/29/da_vinci_code/index.html.>
Tunnah, Helen. “NZ author suing over Da Vinci bestseller.” New Zealand Herald. 18 Dec 2004. 19 Dec 2006. <*.>
Vanderbilt, Tom. “The Real da Vinci Code.” 1 Nov 2004. 22 Dec 2006. <http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.11/davinci.html.>
Wyatt, Caroline. “French fatigue over Da Vinci Code.” BBC. 4 Dec 2004. 17 Dec 2006. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/4065895.stm.>