The Truth about the Da Vinci Code

I read “The Da Vinci Code”[1] in a 24-hour period and found it quite exciting. It is a series of cliff-hangers. By comparison the film isn’t particularly good.  In fact I found it quite annoying. What are we to make of the Da Vinci phenomenon?

People today love a good conspiracy theory, especially if it is anti-establishment. New spirituality also fascinates many. Throw in a dose of feminism, as Dan Brown does, and you have a winning formula.

However, the book is full of inaccuracies, a fair number of them quite serious (see the appendix if you are interested). But that is not my main interest. I am pleased it has made people think about important issues such as the deity of Christ. Here are some of the questions raised in people’s mind:

Is the God of the Bible Male?  No, God has no gender. Both men and women (not just men) are “made in image of God.”  Also there is some female language used about God in the Bible. 

Could Jesus still have been divine if he had married? Yes, the Bible teaches that God’s divine Son Jesus became fully human so he could have got married. But it would have been inappropriate because of his imminent death. There is absolutely no evidence of Jesus being married. The New Testament writers would certainly have mentioned if he had.

  • Is the Church sexist?  It has been, and some denominations are still, but the Gospels have a high view of women: women travelled with Jesus and were important witnesses of his death and resurrection. The New Testament teaches that men and women are equal before God.
  • How important is Mary Magdalene? She was a key follower of Christ. She accompanied Jesus in his ministry and was a witness of crucifixion. Jesus appeared to her on her own when he rose again. There is no hint in the New Testament of any impropriety in her relationship with Jesus.
  • In the Bible, is sex sinful?  No, it is a sacred gift of God, and hence should be enjoyed within the total commitment of marriage.
  • How reliable are the NT books? The Gospels were certainly written within 50 years of Jesus lifetime, quite possibly from AD 60 onwards or even earlier. They are clearly based on earlier eyewitness accounts. Very early on (about 130AD) the Gospels and Paul’s letters were accepted by the church as Scripture. Having done very detailed studies, scholars tell us that we have some 97-99% of the original text of the Gospels. We have about 25,000 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, dating back as far as 130AD. This compares with 8-20 copies of other famous ancient Greek and Latin books all dating from 900AD onwards

Did the NT Gospels omit Jesus’ human characteristics to make him divine (as The Da Vinci Code claims)?Certainly not. The New Testament speaks of Jesus being born, learning as a child, obeying his parents. It records him being hungry, tired, thirsty, exasperated, angry, compassionate, crying out for joy and weeping in grief. He is tempted and he dies. In fact the New Testament condemns those who deny the true humanity of Jesus.

  • Was the idea of Jesus being divine originated by the 4th century Roman Emperor Constantine for political purposes (as The Da Vinci Code claims)?No. In the New Testament Jesus claimed to be divine: the only way to God and salvation, the source of eternal life, the complete revelation of God, the eventual judge of the whole of humanity.  The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus is the divine “Word” who is God. He is the one through whom and for whom the universe was created. His teaching is the foundation of our entire civilisation in the West. His character has been and still is admired by billions of non-Christians too. Jesus fulfilled 300 ancient Old Testament prophecies spoken over 500 years. This is far more than coincidence. Also his resurrection is one of the most established facts of history. The effect of Jesus on the church and history cannot be explained if he did not rise from the dead.  Millions of Christians claim to experience the risen Christ.

As C S Lewis said: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said, would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman, or something worse.”

Mistakes in the Da Vinci Code

CLAIM: The Priory of Sion was founded in 1099 WRONG: the Priory of Sion was registered by Piere Plantard who claimed to be the Merovingian royal descendant. It was founded in 1956 The documents about it in the Paris Library were admitted by Plantard to be forgeries during a trial in 1993. He and his colleagues confessed to this in a programme presented by Tony Robinson on Channel 4 in Feb 2005. Plantard created a false genealogy.
CLAIM: Documents “The Dossier Secrets” about the Priory of Sion in the Paris Bibliotheque Nationale have been authenticated by a “many specialists” WRONG: they are a hoax exposed by French journalist Jean-Luc Chaumeil. A 1996 BBC documentary outlined the hoax. The forger himself, Philippe de Cherisey, admitted the documents are fakes.
CLAIM: There are monks in Opus Dei WRONG:, there are no monks in Opus Dei
CLAIM: Leonardo put Grail codes into his paintings WRONG: Leonardo never wrote anything about Jesus being married
CLAIM: Mary Magdalene is seated next to Christ in Leonardo’s Last Supper painting, they are joined at the hip and display the letter V, a sign of femininity and M for Mary or Magdalene WRONG: Leonardo often painted effeminate-looking men. Even his John the Baptist (in reality a macho character) looks effeminate. The rest is fantasy. Serious art critics dismiss it.
CLAIM: Leonardo’s Last Supper painting unusually does not have only one chalice but a number which shows he is conveying a secret code that Mary Magadalene is the Holy Grail. WRONG: approximately one third of Italian paintings of the Last Supper from 1300-1500 do not have a single chalice.
CLAIM: The Mona Lisa is an androgynous self-portrait (neither male nor female but a balance of the sexes) WRONG: It is widely known to portray a real woman, Madonna Lisa, wife of Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo.
CLAIM: The nuns of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception gave instructions for Leonardo’s Madonna of The Rocks painting WRONG: there were no nuns in that order. It was an all-male order.
CLAIM: The word for Holy Grail in French sangraal can be rendered san greal: holy blood(line) WRONG: it can’t.  The mistake comes from an English copy of the legend which got the French wrong.  The original for Grail was “graal” meaning a serving dish (from the Latin gradale) not “greal”
CLAIM: The Knights Templar dug 50 metres under the Jerusalem Temple to recover documents from Jesus’ time WRONG: There is no historical evidence for this and it is highly unlikely they excavated in this way.
CLAIM: Pope Clement V threw the ashes of the Templars into the River Tiber in Rome WRONG:  Pope Clement lived in Avignon and never went to Rome.
CLAIM: 5 Million women were burnt as witches by the church WRONG: the number is approximately 50,000. 
CLAIM: Constantine, the 4th century Roman Emperor, was a life-long pagan, baptised on his death bed when he was too weak to resist WRONG: He accepted Christianity 25 years before he died when he believed he saw the (Chi-Rho) sign of Christ in the skyHe gave Christians freedom to practice their faith without state interference.He then made Christianity the official religion of the empireHe passed laws which favoured Christianity:He humanised criminal laws and the law of debtHe improved the conditions of slaves He made grants for poor childrenHe discouraged exposure of unwanted childrenBaptism was often delayed in those days, not least because some believed that sin after Baptism was unforgivable.
CLAIM: Constantine invented the idea that Jesus was divine in order to strengthen his own political power and commissioned a new Bible which excluded references to Jesus’ humanity WRONG: SEE ABOVE
CLAIM: Constantine set up the Council of Nicaea in order to establish his new idea that Jesus was divine and this was accepted by a majority of just two bishops WRONG: the church wanted the Council of Nicaea in order to settle the crisis caused by the teaching of Arius that Christ was a lesser god, not fully divine. Constantine opened the Council then handed over presidency. 99% of the 250 bishops present affirmed the Nicene Creed that Jesus is fully divine (“homo-ousios of the Father).”  They condemned Arianism.
CLAIM: Constantine settled the Canon (official content) of the New Testament, excluding books which spoke of Jesus’ humanity WRONG: Constantine had nothing to do with settling the Canon. The four gospels and 13 Pauline letters were accepted by c 130AD and placed on level with OT between 170 and 220AD. An ancient manuscript, the Muratorian fragment (c 170AD), showed 61 out of 66 books of our Bible were treated as sacred.
CLAIM: Sunday as a special day was an innovation made by Constantine. WRONG: it was established long before that, because Jesus rose on a Sunday. The earliest church met on a Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). The Didache (AD50-120) speaks of the church meeting on Sunday, as does Ignatius (died AD107) and Justin Martyr (c 140-150AD).
CLAIM: Nothing in Christianity is original it is a amalgam of ancient pagan cults WRONG: this is a ludicrous idea.
CLAIM: All 1st Century rabbis must be married WRONG: e.g. John the Baptist and the Essenes were celibate. Jesus himself taught that some people would feel called to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
CLAIM: Benjamin in the Old Testament founded a royal dynasty and Mary Magdalene was part of it WRONG: this is fiction. There is no evidence whatsoever for this novel idea.
CLAIM: Early Jews made up God’s name YHWH by combining the masculine Jah with Havah, the pre-Hebrew name of Eve. WRONG: YHWH comes from the verb “to be.” It means “I am He who is,” or “I am He who exists.” (Incidentally Havah is Hebrew, not pre-Hebrew)
CLAIM: Early Jews believed that the Holy of Holies in the Temple housed God and his powerful female equal Shekinah WRONG: Shekinah is a word meaning “glory,” referring to the glory of God
CLAIM: Early Jewish tradition involved ritualistic sex in the Temple WRONG: This behaviour would have been strongly condemned in early Jewish tradition and would have led to te death penalty
MISTAKES ABOUT BUILDINGS(smaller mistakes but easily-checked, showing lack of care re accuracy) 
CLAIM: Francoise Mitterrand explicitly demanded that the Louvre Museum should have 666 panes of glass  WRONG: The Louvre museum however states that the finished pyramid contains 673 glass panes (603 rhombi and 70 triangles).
CLAIM: Women have to use a separate entrance to the Opus Dei HQ. WRONG: Men and women can freely use the main entrance
CLAIM: Westminster Abbey has spires WRONG: it has towers
CLAIM: You can see Parliament from St James’ Park WRONG: you can’t
CLAIM: College Garden, Westminster Abbey is a very public place WRONG: it is a very private place
CLAIM: You can look out onto it from the Chapter House WRONG: you can’t
CLAIM: There is a long hallway leading to the Chapter House with a heavy wooden door WRONG: there isn’t
CLAIM: The Temple Church has a crypt WRONG: it doesn’t
CLAIM: Characters go by tube from the Temple Church to King’s College WRONG: this is a journey of only a few hundred yards down the Strand
CLAIM: Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh is styled on Solomon’s Temple and has a Star of David on the floor WRONG: It is style on St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh and there is no Star of David.
CLAIM: The Paris Church of St Sulpice is built on a pagan Temple and has the Rose Line on its floor, which coincides with the Meridian. It also has the letters P and S which refers to the Priory of Sion. WRONG: The church is not built on a pagan temple. The line on the floor is not called the Rose Line and doesn’t coincide with the Meridian through the Paris Observatory. It is part of an 18th century scientific instrumentbuilt in full agreement with Church authorities by the astronomers in charge of the newly-built Paris Observatory. They used it for defining various parameters of the earth’s orbit.The letters P and S refer to Peter and Sulpice, the patron saints of the church, not the Priory of Sion.
CLAIM: The Dead Sea Scrolls show the NT Gospels are wrong abut Jesus WRONG: the Dead Sea Scrolls make no reference to Jesus or Christianity. They teach an exclusively Jewish religion which, unlike Jesus, rejects the lame, blind, deaf, dumb
CLAIM: Grail treasures contain document Q, “allegedly it is a book of Jesus’ teachings, possibly written in his own hand” which contradicts the NT WRONG: Modern scholarship believes that if Q exists it agrees with Matthew and Luke. No scholar believes Jesus wrote it.
CLAIM: That history shows Jesus married Mary Magdalene WRONG: Brown only quotes one piece of evidence, the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, which merely says Jesus often kissed her. Brown claims it says he kissed her on the mouth but the word is missing in the document. The early Christians often exchanged a “holy kiss.” It had no sexual connection.The Gnostic “Second Apocalypse of James” found at Nag Hammadi describes the risen Jesus imparting his secret mysteries to James by kissing him on the mouth and calling him “my beloved.” This is a non-sexual symbolic act.Jesus probably had a special affection for Mary. She was a devoted disciple. He appeared specially to her after his resurrection, but told her not to hold on to him. But there is no evidence that he married her, and in view of his impending death it is unlikely he would have done so. It is not incredible that the Gospel writers would have omitted mention of Jesus getting married.Every detail of the Biblical account indicates he was single, for example at the crucifixion where Mary is mentioned. Only his mother, brothers and sisters are mentionedAll scholars believe he was singleNo ancient documents support the idea of his being marriedBut if he had married that would not have made him not divine.
CLAIM: Mary Magdalene is said in the Gospel of Philip to be the companion of Jesus and, in Aramaic, “companion” literally means “spouse” Wrong: The Gospel of Philip was written in Coptic not Aramaic and we only have a Greek translation. The word used in the Greek can mean “spouse” but it is not the normal word used. It is used in the NT to mean business partners, or fellow-murderers. (There is no word in Aramaic which can mean both “companion” and “spouse”)
MISTAKES ABOUT THE GNOSTICS (a 2nd century mystical group who believed in salvation by secret “knowledge” – Greek: “Gnosis” – and who wrote alternative gospels) 
CLAIM: More than 80 Gnostic gospels were considered for inclusion in the NT, but were rejected. WRONG: There were only 11 Gnostic Gospels. They are obviously fictional and very mystical
CLAIM: The Gnostic Gospels are around the same date as the NT WRONG: they are much later:Gospel of Thomas is about 150ADGospel of Philip is about 250ADGospel of Mary is 2nd centuryAll the four NT gospels are within a maximum 60 years of Jesus death, and are clearly based on earlier accounts.
CLAIM: The Gnostic Gospels stress that Jesus was human, not divine WRONG: Gnostics denied the humanity of Christ because they believed the material world, including the body, was evil.
CLAIM: The Gnostic Gospels stress the feminine in contrast to the male dominance of the NT, stressing Mary Magdalene as representing the goddess figure, the embodiment of the sacred feminine, the Holy Grail, the Rose, the Divine Mother.   WRONG: The Gnostics saw men as rational, orderly, spiritual and strong and women as emotional, disruptive, earthbound and weak (though some Gnostics acknowledged that women are life-giving and have “feminine intuition”)Mary is mentioned three times in the Nag Hammadi scrolls. The so-called “Gospel of Mary” has nothing to do with the sacred feminine.The Gospel of Thomas has one saying about Mary Magdalene (114) in which Jesus states “Mary will be saved is she makes herself male, because every female who makes herself male will be fit for the kingdom of God.”
CLAIM: The Gospel of Mary shows that Jesus wanted Mary to become the leader of the church WRONG: The Gospel of Mary teaches no such thing. It only says the disciples thought Jesus loves her more than them.

[1] The Da Vinci Code, Dan Bown, Bantam Books London 2003

© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction