The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is more than just a book. It is more than the movie that will be released May 18. The Da Vinci Code is a phenomenon, a tale of our times. Forty million copies, and counting, have been sold since publication in the spring of 2003. The paperback version has just been released. The movie with Tom Hanks, directed by Ron Howard, will be seen by millions around the world. TIME magazine voted Dan Brown one of the 100 most influential people, and the novel is already one of the most read of all time. If you are one of the few who hasn’t read the book (and I don’t recommend that you do), here is the plot in a nutshell.
The curator of the famous French museum, the Louvre, is discovered dead, the apparent victim of a bizarre, ritualistic crime. Robert Langdon, a Harvard expert in religious and other symbols, is called to decipher the mysterious codes left at the scene. He teams up with the dead man’s niece, Sophie Neveu, in order to help the authorities to solve the crime. After a series of breathtaking adventures, the duo discovers that the crime was commissioned by a Roman Catholic elite troupe, called Opus Dei. This group, which is extremely loyal and reports directly to the pope, was seeking to wrest a carefully guarded “secret” from another clandestine society, the Priory of Sion, which counts among its members famous people such as Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Victor Hugo.
What is the secret at the heart of the plot of The Da Vinci Code? It is Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene, and the couple’s production of an offspring, a daughter named Sarah, who was to continue Jesus’ legacy through his bloodline, issuing in the French dynasty of the Merovingian kings. Jesus was not divine (he was only declared to be such in the fourth century for political reasons) but thoroughly human. He was married, had a child, and his career was tragically cut short by death. Christianity is thus based on a lie, and Jesus turns out to be rather different from who he was believed to be throughout church history. There are many more twists and turns in the plot, but this, in essence, is the basic premise of the story.
I am not an art critic, nor am I a medieval historian (though I am told that there are plenty of inaccuracies in the novel in these areas as well). But I am a Christian, and a New Testament scholar, and as such am deeply concerned about the falsehoods perpetrated by The Da Vinci Code. The author has the nerve to claim on page 1 of his book that “[a]ll descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” However, this statement itself is demonstrably false. But more important than inaccuracies in the depiction of artwork or other documents is the larger agenda pursued by Dan Brown in his novel, an agenda bent on discrediting the Bible and on blackening the reputation of Jesus and Christianity.
Brown calls Christianity, not the best story ever told, but “the best story ever sold” (that is, invented and presented as fact). He alleges that “the New Testament is based on fabrications” and that “almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.” To undermine Christianity, Brown first discredits the four canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as hopelessly biased, and puts in their place sources he claims are more authentic, the Gnostic gospels. These gospels, rather than the canonical ones, says Brown, tell the true story of Jesus. However, when checked out, Mary Magdalene is not called Jesus’ “wife” in these Gospels but merely his close follower, and there is no hint of a marriage or a secret child in any ancient documents, biblical or otherwise.
Brown’s charge that Jesus’ deity is a fourth-century invention, likewise, evaporates when one considers passages from first-century writings such as the following. In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul wrote that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” The apostle John affirmed that Jesus “is the true God and eternal life.” The author of the book of Hebrews noted that Jesus is “the exact representation” of God’s being and said about Jesus, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever.” Early Church Fathers, and even opponents of Christianity, likewise acknowledged from earliest times that Christians worshiped Jesus as God.
Both central claims of The Da Vinci Code, that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that he was not considered divine until late in church history, are therefore demonstrably false and contradicted by all the reliable historical evidence that we have. This did not keep the novel from becoming a bestseller, nor will it discourage many who know little about the Bible or Jesus from making the movie a major commercial success, and from earning Tom Hanks yet another Academy award. For Christians, on the other hand, the upcoming release of the movie presents a golden opportunity for witness: witness to the one who was God and who deserves to be worshiped, not blasphemed.