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The Problem with The DaVinci Code

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Below is the text for the article that I wrote about on my last post. It should be posted soon in .pdf format on the FFBC website, as well. (Please note, there are a couple of minor differences between this version and the article that was edited to fit in the space needed for publication in the FFBC Spotlight, the .pdf version is the edited version and, when printed, fits on a regular sheet of paper and has a nice layout, etc.)

THE DAVINCI CODE by Pastor Frank Sansone

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown has become an international phenomenon. As a hardback book, it has been on the famed "Bestseller List" of The New York Times for over 160 weeks and has been declared to be the "all-time best-selling adult novel." Reports indicate that over forty million copies of the book have been sold and it has been translated into over forty languages. With the recent release of the book in paperback and a movie based on the book starring popular actor Tom Hanks, the conversation around The DaVinci Code only promises to get louder in the coming days.

The popularity of this book has earned the author a place on Time Magazine's list of "The World's 100 Most Influential People." A quick look reveals that this book has been the catalyst behind a whole range of other books, articles, web-sites, and documentaries which trumpet or expand upon many of the ideas promoted in this book. In addition, there have been a number of books and articles written which have sought to correct the "alternative history" that is presented in The DaVinci Code.

Why has The DaVinci Code warranted such attention? Aren't people - especially Christians - just overreacting to a fictional novel? Does Dan Brown actually hit on some deep, dark secrets that strike at the root of Christianity? Was Jesus really married to Mary Magdalene and did He have children that carried on His blood? Did the early church really think that Jesus was merely a mortal prophet until Constantine got them all together and made up the idea that Jesus was God? How should Christians respond to the claims of The DaVinci Code?

While the length of this article does not allow for a full treatment of all of these issues, it is the desire of this article to highlight some of the issues presented by The DaVinci Code and present some suggested responses for believers.

BOOK OVERVIEW

The plot of the book is rather straightforward. The curator of the Louvre in France is murdered by an albino monk and leaves a coded message for his estranged granddaughter, Sophie. Sophie, who is a police cryptologist joins up with Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor in religious symbology, as they seek to find out the meaning of her grandfather's coded message and escape from the police and others. During their escape, they must break a series of codes and follow secret messages throughout France and Britain. Central to these codes is the idea that the grandfather was the Grand Master of a secret society called the Priory of Sion, whose goal has been to protect the Holy Grail and keep its secrets. The twist ensues, however, when it becomes revealed that the Holy Grail, rather than being the legendary "cup of Christ" that supposedly held the blood of Christ and was sought in the Middle Ages, is instead actually Mary Magdalene, who held the blood of Christ by being the mother of His children.

As the book progresses, a wholly different world of alternative histories promotes as fact the idea that Jesus Christ was merely a mortal prophet, that Mary Magdalene was in reality the wife of Jesus Christ and the mother to His child, that Christ believed in a "sacred feminine" and that a sexual rite is needed for man to experience union with the divine, that there has been a vast cover-up by the Catholic Church and Christians about all of these things and that Constantine basically "made up" Christianity for political purposes in the 4th Century A.D.

If many of these ideas were presented in a non-fiction work, the outlandish nature of these claims would be subjected to critique and exposed as the bad and distorted history that they are. Unfortunately, the way things are presented in the book, it is not as easy to understand what is true and what is false. Mr. Brown gives his main characters an outstanding knowledge of art and history and often has those characters display that knowledge while mixing in the "alternative history" as part of the descriptions. This mixing in of the true history with the untrue "alternative history" is what leads to much of the confusion regarding this book. To add to the apparent credibility of his ideas, on the first page of the novel, Mr. Brown presents some "facts" and claims that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." In doing so, Mr. Brown makes an underlying claim of accuracy and then uses the shield of fiction to present his views, giving these radical view the air of authority by having his "enlightened" characters bring to the forefront his ideas and present those ideas as well-established fact.

For instance, consider these words from Sir Leigh Teabing, a "former British Royal Historian":
"the early Church needed to convince the world that the mortal prophet Jesus was a divine being. 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 earthly theme kept recurring in the gospels. Mary Magdalene." He paused. "More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ."
"I beg your pardon?" Sophie's eyes moved to Langdon and then back to Teabing.
"It's a matter of historical record," Teabing said. (1)

In addition to all the distortions presented as indisputable fact, he also makes a point that "history is written by the ‘winners'" and that therefore we cannot trust the history as recorded because it is biased against the truth that has been covered up and suppressed all these years.

EVALUATION

While Mr. Brown likes to claim that this book is based on fact and well-researched, in reality, Mr. Brown presents a work that is a lopsided presentation built upon faulty documents, personal bias, and inaccurate details.

Faulty documents
Much of the undergirding for the claims in this novel are based upon two sets of faulty documents. The first set is the Gnostic Gospels, in particular those found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Teabing speaks about these records highly, calling them, "the earliest Christian records" and uses them to support his claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

The reality is that these documents were not even close to being "the earliest Christian records." In fact, they were written well after the Gospel accounts and other books that make up the New Testament. They were rejected by the early church because of their lack of authenticity (e.g. written by people using fake names long after the named author was dead) and their departure from the Christian message as presented by the Apostles and those that followed them.

Another set of faulty documents at the core of this story is the Les Dossiers Secrets. This is the documents that Brown uses to support his list of the Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion - including Leonardo Da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton. This list is referred to a number of times to give a picture of importance to this secret organization. The problem, however, is that these documents which are presented as historically reliable were actually a forgery. Pierre Plantard, the man who supposedly found the documents, admitted under oath to a French judge in 1993 that the documents were forged - yet Brown used these documents and presented them as historically authenticated.

Personal Bias

While it is not my intention to belabor this point, Dan Brown has explained in interviews that he actually believes the underlying views that are expressed in his book. The book therefore becomes a way in which he is able to get his bias towards this view into the mainstream.

Consider these statements from an article in The Washington Post.

"I was skeptical, but after a year and a half of research, I became a believer, " says Brown.
"Do you believe that Jesus was actually married to Magdalene?" "I do," he says. (2)

When Sophie declares that she does not know much about the Bible because she was raised by a man who worshiped Leonardo Da Vinci, Teabing responds, "An enlightened soul. Superb!" (3)

Inaccurate Details

Throughout the book, Robert Langdon and Leigh Teabing are presented as "experts", yet, in a number of cases, the information that they declare to the reader is actually inaccurate information - sometimes completely wrong and other times a distortion of the truth.

Robert Langdon describes the etymology of YHWH (the personal name of God) by explaining it being derived from Jehovah, when in fact Jehovah comes from a mixing of the Hebrew consonants YHWH with the Hebrew vowels for the word Adonai (another word for God or Lord).

Teabing mentions over 80 gospels, when, even with counting the very late ones written centuries after Christ, there were not anywhere close to that many.

Langdon describes Shekinah as God's "powerful female equal" rather than the cloud that represented God's glory.

Teabing claims that the idea of Christ being God came about at the Council of Nicea and was the result of a vote that was "a close vote." The reality is that the earliest Christian documents - including the books that make up our New Testament, clearly declared the deity of Jesus Christ more than two hundred years before the Council of Nicea. While it is true that the Council of Nicea affirmed the deity of Christ and stood against the heretic Arius, even that was not a "close vote" as only three of the over 300 bishops refused to sign the document affirming the deity of Christ that came out of the Council.

Many other instances like these could be pointed out in the writings.

CONCLUSION

There is much that The Da Vinci Code claims that makes for a great conspiracy theory. But, like most conspiracy theories, when confronted with the light of the truth and the facts of history, this great "alternative history" that Dan Brown espouses in the book does not stand up to scrutiny. His personal bias allows him to elevate unreliable documents to a place of primary importance and he weaves many inaccurate details into his writing to try to make his case look much stronger than it is.

As believers, we should be prepared to give an answer of the hope that lies within (I Peter 3:15). The nature of the size of this article does not allow for a full presentation of all the issues contained in The Da Vinci Code to be addressed. For a fuller discussion on these issues and other issues related to The Da Vinci Code, some valuable resources would be the book, Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell L. Bock, a series of articles in the publication Nick of Time written by Dr. Kevin Bauder of Central Baptist Theological Seminary and found online at http://www.centralseminary.edu/index.asp?m=701 and a section devoted to this book on the Radio Bible Class web- site at http://www.rbcdavincicode.org.



(1) Brown, Dan, The Da Vinci Code, p. 244.
(2) Roberts, Roxanne, "The Da Vinci Code", The Washington Post, Aug. 2, 2003.
(3) Brown, Dan, The Da Vinci Code, p. 230.


File under Culture_War, Christianity_, Book_Reviews

3 comments:

Chris said...

The main problem (the real problem) with Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code is the readers. Just what is it about the word 'fiction' that they don't understand?

The problem with Dan Brown's critics is that they don't know when to stop. His inaccuracies are well known by now, thanks to numerous tv programmes and blog entries. So why do people continue to write about this, when all they are doing is giving the film and the book that they claim to despise even more publicity? Do they have shares in the movie? Or are they ruthlessly exploiting the fact that all the fuss about the Da Vinci code can work to their advantage too, by increasing their blog readership?
Like the Da Vinci code itself, it just doesn't make sense, does it?

Frank Sansone said...

Chris,

I agree with you that there is indeed a problem with the readership not understanding the concept of "fiction", however, I think that you need to read the article again to understand my comments about why we just can't blow the book away as a work of fiction and forget it.

Mr. Brown (probably shrewdly in order to stir controversy and raise sells, etc.) caused this controversy by trying to pass off the settings and background as FACT, with just the story line being fiction. The very first page of the novel sets that tone.

As far as giving the book more publicity, I doubt that there is much more publicity that can be given to the book and film. Over here on this side of the pond, the movie is being promoted in a major way. Tom Hanks and Ron Howard have been all over the place giving interviews and promoting the film. The news (in our area) is full of little articles about the movie. I doubt that a blog article by little o' me is going to make a bunch of people aware of the movie who were not already aware of the movie or book. If this were a relatively obscure thing being given sudden publicity, I might agree with your position that we are only helping promote the book and movie. In reality, this book is claimed by some to have sold more copies than any book other than the Bible, so I doubt there is much that most of us can do to promote this book any further (even if we wanted to do so).

Regarding the "ruthless exploitation" to increase blog readership, wow. I was asked to write this article for a small publication called the FFBC Spotlight. While there is already a lot of information out there (including some of the things I referenced in the article), the people who asked me to do the article wanted it to do a couple of specific things that the other articles did not do. Namely, 1. They wanted it written from the perspective of someone in the FFBC for distribution to churches in the FFBC. 2. They wanted it to be kept to a small enough size that it could be used as bulletin inserts on Sunday morning. The posting of this on blog is because of the fact that I thought my blog readership may be interested in it and I thought it may be a help to others who have come in contact with the book and wanting a short response. For those wanting a more thorough response, I recommend checking out Dr. Bauder's articles/book.

Anonymous said...

This is my response to the book: As a librarian I think it is an interesting bit of fiction, I love twists and turns and puzzles in my books. As a Christian that believes the Bible is God's word, I know that it is fiction. I don't want to debate whether DaVinci really believed these things or if this was a plot developed in 1950's, it doesn't matter to me. Leonardo DaVinci may have believed these things, but that doesn't mean it's true. The Bible is true.