The following was published in the May 16 edition of The Christian Century. My own additions are in [brackets].
With the expected release this month of the film version of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, we offer these reminders of some of the more prominent errors and fanciful ideas that the novel presents as true or plausible:
- Parchments discovered in Paris’s Bibliotheque Nationale contain information about the ancient Priory of Sion, a secret society that has been guarding the knowledge that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children and that their descendants were later part of the Merovingian line of French kings. [Anyone who has read about the Merovingian line of French kings can appreicate the audacity of this claim.] Actually, these documents–and the Priory of Sion–have been exposed as a 20th-century hoax. [Nicely debunked by CBS’s 60 Minutes recently.] The documents were the subject of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982), by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, a book generally regarded as without scholarly merit. (Baigent and Leigh accused Brown of plagiarizing their book. In April a judge in London rejected their claim.)
- Publication of the secret “Q” document (which is being guarded by the Priory of Sion) would overturn the church’s account of Christian origins. Actually, the existence of the Q document is a scholarly hypothesis regarding the source of Gospel materials. This hypothetical document is well known to–indeed, it is posited by–Christian scholars.
- The emperor Constantine at the fourth-century Council of Nicea upgraded Jesus’ status to divinity in order to prop up his own political power. Actually, all parites at the council agreed that Jesus was divine; the issues was the nature of that divinity. [Quickly summarized: was Jesus of the same or similiar substance of the Father? The council’s answer: the same.]
- The early church adopted Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the canonical Gospels because they omit earthly aspects of Jesus’ life; the church rejected gnostic gospels for the canon because those writings speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms. Actually, the opposite is more nearly the case. The Gospels present an at-times scandalously human Jesus, whereas the gnostic gospels assume a radical body-soul dualism and display an antagonism between God and all things material. [The gnostics were also convinced that they had secret knowledge about who Jesus really was, so one can see why Dan Brown would by sympathetic to them, he is, in effect, a modern day gnostic.]
- References to a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene “kept recurring in the gospels” and the marriage is a “matter of historical record.” No such reference or record exists.
- Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper mural depicts John, the “beloved disciple,” as a woman. Actually, Renaissance conventions called for John to be depicted with long hair.