The Da Vinci Code by Ian Ellis-JonesPRECIS OF AN ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE SYDNEY UNITARIAN CHURCH ON SUNDAY, 2 JULY 2006 Spoiler Warning: Plot and/or other details of the book and the film follow.It is not hard to debunk Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code as well as the filmpurportedly based on it. Although the book makes a good read - and I intend to focusprimarily on the book as opposed to the film - the plain truth is that the book is not all thatwell-written. Of greater concern is the fact that although the book has the appearance ofhaving been well-researched - something that fools most readers - it is, in fact, full to thebrim of half-truths, faulty logic, errors of fact and gross distortions of history.Predictably, but entirely justifiably, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then the Vatican’s head ofdoctrinal orthodoxy, and now its recently appointed secretary of state, issued an officialstatement on behalf of the Catholic Church in which he described the novel as “a sack full oflies” and urged Christians not to read it. That was all that was needed to get Catholics, bothpractising and lapsed, as well as non-Catholics, rushing to their nearest bookstore to purchasea copy of the book.Now, while it can be fun, and even illuminative, to attack orthodoxy, and to show that whatpurports to be orthodox Christianity is indeed a horrible corruption of the simple teachingsand message of Jesus, Brown’s iconoclastic novel is pseudo-history totally lacking incredibility. His depiction of the Catholic Church, and particularly Opus Dei, is grosslyinaccurate and even quite unfair to both. Although I don’t have a brief for Opus Dei, it wouldbe irresponsible to form any opinion of the order based on The Da Vinci Code, especially thefilm version.For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with the story, the protagonist is world-renownedHarvard symbologist Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks in the film). Langdon learnsthat Jacques Saunière, the elderly curator of the Louvre, has been murdered inside themuseum. A baffling cipher is found near Saunière’s body. Langdon teams up with Frenchcryptologist Sophie Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou in the film) to solve the mystery.Together, they enter a world of secret societies, secret codes, conspiracies, cover-ups andgeneral mayhem and mystery.Now, Dan Brown writes in his book: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents,and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” However, that is not the case. Brown wouldhave us believe that the beliefs and practices of the early Christians were entirely different towhat we have been taught, and that a huge patriarchal conspiracy has hidden the real truthfrom us for centuries. He would also have us believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene weremarried and even sired a royal bloodline that continues to this day. That is not the end of it.Brown also asserts that a veritable secret society of scientists and artists has seen it as theirbounden duty to preserve these ancient secrets for almost 1,000 years.Brown has a character in the novel, Sir Leigh Teabing (wonderfully played by Sir IanMcKellen in the film), assert that the Nag Hammadi texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls are “theearliest Christian records”. This is totally false, and laughably so. The Dead Sea Scrolls,which consist of copies and fragments of Old Testament books and various religious andsecular writings, say nothing about the events recorded in the Gospels or for that matteranything in the New Testament. They don’t contain any gospels or anything even mentioningJesus. The Dead Sea Scrolls are antecedent to them. The Scrolls ended very close in time to
when the first Gospels or New Testament works began to appear. Brown even asserts that theDead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1950s. He can’t even get that right. They werediscovered in 1947. As for the 52 Nag Hammadi texts (which were discovered in 1945), thegeneral preponderance of academic authority is that they were written during the 4th centuryCE, obviously not by eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus. In short, Brown has gotall of this hopelessly wrong.Now, do you want to know what really are the earliest surviving Christian texts? They’re inthe New Testament. St Paul’s epistle, 1 Thessalonians, was written about the year 51 CE.That would almost certainly make it the oldest of all surviving Christian documents. (Somesay the book of James is the oldest.) Galatians was probably written around 54-58 CE. TheBook of Acts appears to have been completed by 61 CE, although some portions of it mayhave been written even earlier. The Gospel of Mark is unquestionably the oldest survivinggospel. It is usually dated around 70 CE. Despite what Brown has written, the Third Councilof Carthage ratified the New Testament in 397 CE, there being no compulsion or coercion inthat regard, and almost no credible competition from so-called “alternative gospels” (despiteBrown’s erroneous assertion, through the character Leigh Teabing, that more than 80 [sic]gospels were considered for the New Testament canon).Brown also asserts that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and sired a royal bloodline(Sang Réal) that survives in secret to this day. He also asserts that the early church enjoyedsexual ceremonies in celebration of Mary Magdalene, and that Jesus wanted his supposedwife to lead the Church after his death, but Peter (who supposedly became the first Pope) hadother plans and took over instead. Brown also claims that the “real” Holy Grail is the earthlyremains of Mary Magdalene. In Browns novel, it is hinted that those remains were longburied beneath Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh but in recent decades were relocated to asecret chamber embedded in the floor beneath the Inverted Pyramid near the Louvre Museum.This supposed “secret” is supposedly the “real” Holy Grail. Not the cup supposedly used byJesus at the Last Supper. Not the cup supposedly used to catch Jesus’ blood whilst he wasdying on the Cross. Brown goes further and asserts that the Jesus-Mary royal bloodline hasbeen protected by such esoteric societies as the Knights Templar and the so-called Priory ofSion, one of whose “Grand Masters” was supposedly none other than Leonardo da Vincihimself.These assertions are nothing new: see, for example, the 1982 best-seller, The Holy Blood andthe Holy Grail (by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln). Those writersunsuccessfully sued Brown for plagiarism. Such is the law. The Holy Blood authors pointedout, among other things, that the name of Brown’s character Leigh Teabing is made up fromthe name of one of the three authors, plus an anagram of another.Now, there is absolutely no historical evidence to support any of this. Indeed, the facts arealtogether to the contrary. As for Jesus having been married (whether to Mary Magdalene orotherwise), the New Testament makes no mention of a wife and there is no extra-Biblical text- not even the "Gnostic gospels" that Brown makes much of in his novel - that suggests thatJesus was ever married. Brown cites the Gnostic gospel of Philip to support this claim. Weonly have fragments of the text he uses as his flimsy support. “And the companion ofthe…Mary Magdalene…her more than…the disciples…kiss her…on her…” (Philip 63:33-36). Verses 58 and 59 tend to suggest that the kiss would have been on the lips. In 1 Cor16:20 St Paul makes mention of this kind of chaste kiss of fellowship (“Greet one anotherwith a holy kiss” [RSV]), and this is likely what is meant here. However, the protagonist inThe Da Vinci Code claims that the word “companion” in this verse actually means spousebecause, supposedly, that’s what the Aramaic word really means. Brown stuffs up again.The Gospel of Philip was written in Coptic, not Aramaic. The word used for companion iskoinonos (meaning companion, not spouse).
Brown even makes the incredible claim that the individual seated at the right hand of Jesus inda Vincis painting "The Last Supper" is not, as commonly understood, the Apostle John (the"disciple Jesus loved") but rather Mary Magdalene, Jesus supposed wife. Art experts havedone their utmost to lay that one to rest. As for the Priory of Sion, Brown asserts that it is aEuropean secret society founded in 1099, and a “real organization”. However, the so-called“order” was in fact founded in 1956 by Frenchman Pierre Plantard (1920-2000) – an anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic con artist who had been convicted of crimes involvingembezzlement and fraud - and has nothing whatsoever to do with a medieval crusaders’organization. During his lifetime Plantard formed many “phantom associations”, trying,among other things, to demonstrate that he was the uncrowned king of France. Anyway, notlong before his death Plantard was compelled to admit under oath that he had fabricatedeverything; the alternative was further time in prison. That still didn’t stop Dan Brown in thepreface to his book from asserting that the Priory of Sion is an actual secret society that reallywas founded many centuries ago.Freemasonry, the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world, is stereotypicallydepicted in the novel as a “secret society”, again unfairly so. I read this on the officialwebsite of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “[P]ublic knowledge about theorganization [Freemasonry] is so extensive that it raises doubts about how secretive [theMasons] really are.” Indeed. A secret society has secret meeting places and may even keepsecret its aims and objectives. Its members keep secret their membership of the society.There is nothing “secret” about Freemasonry in any of those senses, the aims of which arewell-known (“brotherly love, relief and truth”). The only true “secrets” of modernFreemasonry are the ceremonial means of demonstrating that one is a Mason. These signs(which are “private” to members) are of ancient provenance - medieval stonemasonsdeveloped secret signs and passwords as an early form of unionism - and have greatsymbolical value as a symbol of the importance of fidelity and the need to preserveconfidences in human relationships. Masons use these so-called “secrets” to test and provethe good character of those who choose to join the fraternity. It’s as simple as that.Brown also asserts in The Da Vinci Code that the Bible, as we know it today, was collated bythe Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Brown’s character Robert Langdon states: “ThePriory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the worldfrom matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propagandathat demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever”.This wrongly implies that the Greco-Roman polytheistic religions were matriarchal untilnasty Constantine conspired to change all that. This is utter rubbish. Jupiter/Zeus was King ofthe Gods and the supreme ruler of the world. Sure, other gods were worshipped as well butthere was certainly no matriarchy.But Brown goes even further and asserts (as did the authors of The Holy Blood and the HolyGrail) that Constantine conspired for an altogether ulterior purpose to commission “newversions” of the Christian writings documents (the original documents having beensupposedly destroyed at the direction or behest of the pagan emperor Diocletian around 303CE), with the supposed result that the accounts and writings of early Christianity wereradically rewritten. This supposedly resulted in divinity being bestowed upon Jesus for thefirst time. However, there is absolutely no evidence for any of this, and quite a bit to thecontrary. Now, whilst Constantine did indeed order that new copies of the Bible be made,that was only for the purpose of their being used in the new churches that were planned, andthey were identical to the Bible texts already in existence. Remember, in those days therewere no printers or photocopiers. All texts had to be manually produced. Many NewTestament manuscripts and fragments pre-dating the Council of Nicaea exist to the presentday, and their text is identical to the versions we have today. So, there is absolutely noevidence of there having been any radical rewriting of the sacred texts.
Brown portrays Jesus as a mere man, which may not be that shocking to Unitarians, but itcertainly has given offence to most Bible-believing Christians. He goes on to claim thatJesus’ mission was not salvation, but, in effect, procreation. That’s not all. Then Brownasserts that the purpose of the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE (which had indeed been called byConstantine on behalf of the Church’s leaders) was to specifically bestow divinity upon Jesus.However, whilst the Council was convened to resolve a number of theological disputes, thedivinity of Jesus was not in dispute; Jesus had been regarded as the Son of God from earliesttimes. Indeed, the main issue debated at the Nicene Council pertained to whether or not Jesuswas of “one substance” with God the Father (and, in particular, to the Arian controversy, thatis, whether Jesus as the Son of God was nevertheless “less” than the Father). Thus, theNicene Creed refers to “one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of theFather before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, notmade, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made” [emphasisadded].Brown also asserts that Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday until Constantinechanged the day to coincide with the pagan veneration day of the sun. However, Christianswere honoring Sunday as the Sabbath long before Constantine. But Brown really gets sillywhen he has his character Leigh Teabing assert that “establishing Christ’s divinity was criticalto the further unification of the Roman Empire”. This is utter rubbish. The historical factsmake it clear that by the early 2nd century CE Christians, as a whole, were worshipping Jesusas God. Sure, there were a variety of cults, some of which rejected the divinity of Jesus, withsome (like latter day Unitarians) asserting that Jesus himself repudiated such a belief (see, eg,Mt 19:17), but the adoption of the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus had nothing to do with thefurtherance and betterment of the Roman Empire.There are many other errors and misstatements of fact in The Da Vinci Code - the book andthe film - but I dare say few, including the very wealthy Dan Brown, care. -oo0oo-