by Allen Black
May – June, 2006

Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code. New York: Doubleday, 2003.
The book is, of course, a novel, a work of fiction. But page one has a bold heading “F A C T:” and at the bottom of the page says “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”
This is the crux of the problem. Brown passes off as fact many clearly fictional elements about doctrine, our understanding of the deity of Jesus, and how the canon developed. Nearly every piece of fiction has just the opposite statement, that the writing is the creation of the author’s imagination.
The descriptions that relate to the New Testament documents are often grossly inaccurate. Many of them are found in chapter 55, pp. 230-36.
The main issues concerning The Da Vinci Code and Christianity are:
The Da Vinci Code promotes a conspiracy theory approach to the history of early Christianity that undermines the reliability of the Gospels and the deity of Jesus.

Brown’s Harvard “symbologist” Robert Langdon and his British Royal historian Leigh Teabing wrongly say that “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, … The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great. (231) At [the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325]….many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon – the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus….until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal. (233) Because Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke…. [He] commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up and burned…. Fortunately for historians…some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And, of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi. In addition to telling the true Grail story, these documents speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms.” (234)

There is no evidence of 80 gospels. There is, however evidence for about two dozen gospels written in the second to fourth centuries.
The gospels Christians agree on come from the first century: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Nearly all scholars also date John in the first century, although a few would put John in the early second century.
The only gospels considered canonical by the mainstream of Christianity in the second and third centuries were our four.
This was not a decision made at Nicea. In the late second century Irenaeus and others make it clear the decision was already made in the mainstream (nonheretical) church. In about 180 Irenaeus declares that there are four gospels, no more and no less.
Jesus was considered more than a man already in the NT (e.g., John 1:1) and by numerous church fathers throughout the centuries preceding Nicea.
There were no Christian documents found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947. The heretical Gnostic documents found in Egypt in 1945 do contain a few false gospels presumably dating to the second or third centuries AD. The most famous is the Gospel of Thomas which some would argue originated in the first century, but which most scholars relegate to the second century.
The Da Vinci Code‘s revised story is that Jesus was not divine, married Mary Magdalene, and fathered a daughter who was born after his death while Mary was in hiding in Gaul (modern France).

According to Langdon and Teabing: “[Prior to Constantine] … one particularly troubling earthly theme kept recurring in the gospels, Mary Magdalene … specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ. (244) … it was not Peter to whom Christ gave directions with which to establish the Christian Church. It was Mary Magdalene … Jesus was the original feminist. He intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene (248) … I shan’t bore you with the countless references to Jesus and Magdalene’s union [in ancient gospels]. That has been explored ad nauseam by modern historians. (247) Mary Magdalene was pregnant at the time of the crucifixion…. [she] secretly traveled to France, then known as Gaul…. It was here in France that she gave birth to a daughter. Her name was Sarah. (255) … Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever. (124)”

Even the Gnostic gospels provide scant evidence for the bizarre claims about Jesus’ marriage and fatherhood.
Teabing cites the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of Philip. Besides dating from the second and the late third century respectively, neither of them makes a very good case for the alleged marriage.
Teabing claims there are many other sources but these are in fact the best that can be found for his case. There is no evidence even in the apocryphal gospels for the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
There is therefore also no evidence that Constantine converted the world from knowing this story and its implications.
The book also proposes that orthodox Christianity was developed by borrowing ideas from pagan religions:

“Nothing in Christianity is original. The pre-Christian God Mithras – called the Son of God and the Light of the World – was born on December 25, died, was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days…. The newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Even Christianity’s weekly holy day was stolen from the pagans…. Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan’s veneration day of the sun.” (232)

As to the last claim even in the NT there are some references to Christians meeting together on Sunday (Acts 20:7: 1 Cor. 16:1; Rev. 1:10) and there are many in Christian literature prior to Constantine. The other claims perpetuate falsehoods asserted without documentation in an 1875 work of pseudo-scholarship by Kersey Graves entitled The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors. (See the information on this bogus book in the Planet Envoy critique Part 2).
Perhaps the worst idea in the book is this:

“… every faith in the world is based on fabrication … ” and “Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.” (341-42)

If that is true nothing else the book claims would matter because Christianity would not stand or fall on the truth of its claims about Jesus.


The following books and website articles provide reliable critiques of the many inaccuracies concerning Christianity:
Darrell L. Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004).
(Available at Sam’s for about half price)
Ben Witherington, III, The Gospel Code (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
Carl E. Olsen and Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005). (Christianity Today articles)
Sony pictures has a website for critiques of the book and movie:

New Wineskins

Allen BlackAllen Black is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman, Harding, Harding Graduate School, and Emory University. He is Professor of New Testament at Harding’s Graduate School of Religion where he has been since 1983. He has written two commentaries for the College Press NIV New Testament Commentary series: one on the Gospel of Mark and one on 1 Peter. Allen also works for the Highland St. church in Memphis. Allen and his wife Nancy have two daughters: Amy and Stacey.

You might also enjoy reading his New Wineskins article Getting Started Reading the Gospel of Mark.

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