Note: Although I don’t hear as much about “The Da Vinci Code” since its release several years ago, I do hear assertions derived from the gnostic gospels… this critique addresses both the book and gnostic sources, so I believe it is still relevant.
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code begins with the murder of the curator of the Louvre museum in Paris, Jacques Sauniere. As he is dying, Saniere determines that he is the sole holder of a secret that must be passed on. Robert Langdon, the protagonist, is a Harvard University professor who studies symbology and is visiting Paris at the time. Sauniere is found naked with his arms and legs outstretched and Langdon ascertains that he is positioned like “The Vitruvian Man,” Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous sketch. More clues lead Langdon to uncover hidden messages in da Vinci’s works, such as “Mona Lisa,” “Madonna of the Rocks,” and “The Last Supper.” Langdon recalls that da Vinci was leader of a brotherhood that guarded an ancient secret regarding the quest for the Holy Grail and the story of Jesus Christ. Later, Langdon discovers that Sauniere was da Vinci’s modern-day counterpart in this organization.
The plot thickens as the reader is given a crash course in the “real” story of Christianity’s beginnings. Brown (through his fictional expert) writes that “almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false” [i]. Christianity was started by Jesus Christ, who was a prophet but made no claims to divinity. Jesus was also married to Mary Magdalene, who was supposed to lead the church; Jesus was the original feminist. After the crucifixion, Mary (in fear of her life) was forced to flee Jerusalem from Peter, who was upset that Jesus had chosen Mary to lead instead of him [ii]. Mary gave birth to Jesus’ daughter in France with the support of Jewish protectors. Mary was forced to remain in hiding due to the patriarchal church that changed the original goddess-worshiping church into a Jesus-worshipping church by perverting his teachings for their political agenda [iii].
Mary’s line grew quietly in France until they intermarried with the French royal dynasty called the Merovingian bloodline. In the 5th century, the Roman Catholic Church tried to destroy the records that imparted this true story and hid these documents in the ruins of Herod’s temple. Searching for these documents was “part of what the Crusades were about. Gathering and destroying information” [iv]. The Church failed in this mission, due to truth-honoring knights called Knights Templar who were created by the brotherhood Priory of Sion. French King Godfrey of Bouillon, who was a descendent of Jesus and Mary, established this secret brotherhood in 1099 [v]. The knights discovered these documents and, because of their leverage against the Roman Catholic Church, they amassed much land, wealth, and power over two centuries. Pope Clement V conspired with King Philip IV of France to have all the knights gathered and killed. A few knights survived and guarded this secret bloodline through the Priory of Sion using secret codes. The Holy Grail is one of these codes, not the familiar cup Jesus used during the last supper, but rather a metaphor for Jesus’ bloodline preserved through Mary Magdalene.
Where does Leonardo da Vinci fit into this picture? Da Vinci, Isaac Newton and other historical figures were grandmasters of this secret brotherhood. Brown insists one need only examine da Vinci’s classic masterpieces to clearly see that he hid numerous symbols and codes to show his disdain for the Church, the truth of Jesus’ bloodline, and his own worship of the sacred feminine.
Who does not like a good mystery story with a conspiracy twist? Brown engages the reader from the first page with murder and clues that lead to the early Christian roots and continue through the Knights Templar, da Vinci, and the present. Since its publication in 2003, The Da Vinci Code has sold over twenty-five million books in forty-four languages worldwide. Doubleday has set no date for a paperback as they expect it to continue to be a top seller. A film by Columbia Pictures is expected by Ron Howard in 2006 starring Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon [vi]. Part of the appeal may be its controversial historic claims which have been dismissed by Roman Catholics, as well as conservative Protestants. I suspect that this sort of book attracts many who have a “beef” with the Catholic Church or those who have bought into post modern thought and consider it arrogant of Christians to suggest they have the “truth”. Unfortunately, television and film media are quick to jump on any sensationalist attacks on traditional Christianity and have contributed to the book’s renown as well.
One typical response to those that protest the book is to suggest this story is only fiction – “Why should your faith be threatened in any way?” I believe there is more to the book than a fictional “what if” story. For one, Brown actually believes the historical accounts that his “experts” portray in the book [vii]. The Da Vinci Code begins with a FACT page with the first misinformation regarding the Priory of Sion’s origins and past members. If Brown had researched even a little (and he may have), he would know this organization started in 1956 and its history was a hoax orchestrated by one of the founders, Pierre Plantard, who planted forged documents in the National Library (Paris) in 1967 [viii]. Secondly, his publishers and the media have been presenting the work as a fact or historic based work. For instance, USA Today called the novel, “historic fact with a contemporary storyline” [ix]. Lastly, although the reader may realize the story is fiction, Brown has “experts” in the book relay information that is meant to be historic background for the murder. A reader who has not investigated or read sources such as the Bible, 2nd century church fathers (e.g. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus), or does not understand how textual criticism works unwittingly accepts his “facts” as truth.
This ultimately should disturb Christians as it calls into the question the very roots of Christianity at its source (Jesus). This should also be of concern to those who wish to know historical truth as this culture becomes more and more post literate. This paper will critique many of Brown’s claims and sources, while at the same time providing a polemic for orthodox conclusions. Although Brown makes many assertions and conclusions which are incorrect to support his claims, I will focus on his sources (Gnostic and other current writers) and his main claims: Jesus’ supposed marriage, his lack of divinity and Christianity’s origins. I will invite the reader to acquire a more comprehensive critique (listed in the notes) to address every one of Brown’s mistaken assertions. Even if these others errors are not as damaging to Christianity, it does illustrate the author’s willingness to grab any conspiracy claim to make his story work. Sandra Miesel writes, “So error-laden is The Da Vinci Code that the educated reader actually applauds those rare occasions where Brown stumbles (despite himself) into the truth” [x].
Brown’s primary source is the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, published in the 1980’s by Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh. These authors stipulate most of the history that Brown regurgitates; Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene establishing a bloodline through the French Merovingian dynasty that later Knights Templar discover and leverage against the Church. Brown’s expert character Leigh Teabing actually references two of the authors (Leigh plus Teabing is an anagram of Baigent). This book was inspired by the popular myth about a priest named Sauniere from the French town of Rennes-Le-Chateau. The murder victim and current grandmaster of Priory of Sion in The Da Vinci Code is named after this priest and his story briefly follows:
Berenger Sauniere (1852-1917) became a priest of Rennes-le-Chateau in 1885 and had a normal existence until he found four parchments in 1891. Two of them were genealogies confirming the Merovingian bloodline had survived and continued until at least 1644. One of the remaining two parchments had a complex set of codes imbedded in Latin portions of the Gospels. After showing these parchments to his superior, he was dispatched to Paris to certain ecclesiastical authorities. No one knows what was said at these meetings, but when Sauniere returned, he began erasing messages on tombstones, going on long journeys and writing many letters. He also became suddenly wealthy by 1917. Sauniere then suffered a suspicious stroke [xi]. The only problem with this story is that it was fabricated by Noel Corbu, who had purchased Sauniere’s estate and turned the guest house into a hotel. He needed a gimmick in order to attract customers to his new venture. Pierre Plantard (previously mentioned as the founder of Priory of Sion) developed an interest in Corbu’s story and decided to embellish it. In hopes of spreading his hoax, Plantard began planting numerous forged documents throughout France [xii]. Plantard’s story changed multiple times and is well documented. His career consisted of fraud, embezzlement and deceit ending in 1993, when he found himself involved with the death of Roger-Patrice Pelat, a friend of the French President. Plantard had named Pelat as the grandmaster of the Priory of Sion, which made the authorities suspicious of him. When brought in for questioning, authorities found more forged documents in his house (one document claimed he was the true King of France) and he admitted that he had made it all up [xiii].
In an interview with Henry Lincoln (one author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail), he admitted their reasons for pursuing this story came out of a discussion where they weighed the probability of Jesus rising from the dead versus Jesus being a man like us who married and had children. Since the latter was more probable, they pursued that thesis. He candidly disclosed that none of his books have any validity as they were all based upon hearsay. Lincoln also confirmed that the Priory of Sion did not exist before 1956 and its founder Plantard has been discredited as his documents were forged [xiv]. Even with this admission, Lincoln did not rush to take the book off the stands as a discredited piece of work (over 4 million copies have sold). Dan Brown has helped perpetuate these untruths by adopting the storyline into his mystery.
[i] Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 235.
[ii] Ibid 248.
[iii] Ibid 233-4.
[iv] Ibid 254.
[v] Ibid 158.
[vi] Associated Press, “Two Years Later, ‘Da Vinci Code’ Still Going Strong” available from www.msnbc.com; accessed July 27, 2005.
[vii] Dan Brown in an interview on Good Morning America, ABC, November 3, 2003 stated, “I began the research for The Da Vinci Code as a skeptic. I entirely expected, as I researched the book, to disprove this theory. And after numerous trips to Europe, about two years of research, I really became a believer.”
[viii] Richard Abanes, The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2004), 49.
[ix] Bob Minzesheimer, “’Code’ Deciphers Interest In Religious History,” USA Today, 11 December 2003.
[x] Sandra Miesel, “Dismantling The Da Vinci Code” available from www.crisismagazine.com/september2003 accessed July 31, 2005.
[xi] Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail (New York: Delacorte Press, 1982), 32-36.
[xii] Richard Abanes, The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code, 50-52.
[xiii] Paul Smith, “Priory of Sion Debunked” available from www. priory-of-sion.com/posd/posdebunking.html accessed July 31, 2005.
[xiv] Henry Lincoln, Da Vinci Decoded (New York: The Disinformation Company, 2004)