The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction?

The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction?

Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”  (which has been made into a movie) has achieved remarkable status in publishing history, becoming the “the biggest selling adult hard back fiction book of all time”. It has sold over 40 million copies and made the author a multimillionaire.

Why such interest in what would seem just another intriguing thriller? It’s no secret. Written into the plot of Dan Brown’s book is the mother of all conspiracy theories. The Church (and Dan Brown targets the Roman Catholic Church in particular) has conspired to suppress the true nature of Jesus Christ. 2000 years of Christian history is, according to Dan Brown, based on fraud. Through the characters in the story he claims:

Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and their descendants became kings of France.

Jesus was not the Son of God but a mortal prophet. His status as Son of God was passed by a close vote at the council of Nicaea.

The emperor Constantine destroyed the true accounts of Jesus and embellished the four gospels to make him appear more “god-like”.

However the truth about Jesus has been kept through a secret society known as the Priory of Sion, the Knights Templar and hidden in the artwork of Leonardo Da Vinci.

While stopping short of saying these are historical facts, it is clear from his official website that he believes his theories deserve serious consideration. Is there any truth in Dan Brown’s theories? We will check three key claims. At the end of this article are links to some websites which give more in depth critique of his theories.

1. The Priory of Sion

Dan Brown says: the Priory of Sion is a secret society founded in Jerusalem in 1099 whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Leonardo da Vinci. This society has guarded the secret of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene.

Reality: The Priory of Sion was a social organisation formed in 1954 by a Frenchman called Pierre Plantard who later admitted making a number of bogus documents which “proved” the Jesus-Magdalene theory. This in it self undermines the whole infrastructure of Dan Brown’s theory.

2. Jesus and Mary Magdalene

Dan Brown says: the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is a part of historical record.

Reality: Dan Brown bases his claim on a Gnostic document, the Gospel of Philip, written as late as the second half of the third century – over two hundred years after the events it describes. It makes reference to Jesus showing affection for Mary Magdalene. However, taken at face value, this document does not suggest Jesus was married to her, let alone had a child. The fact there is no mention of Jesus being married in any of the four New Testament gospels or in the writings of the apostle Paul cannot simply be dismissed. There is no real historical evidence Jesus was married.

3. The Bible

Dan Brown says: the New Testament is based on fabrications; more than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The emperor Constantine 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.

Reality: The four New Testament gospels were not only written (60-70AD) long before  the earliest of the gnostic gospels, the gospel of Thomas (150AD), but were already recognised by the early church as authentic records and widely distributed. The gnostic gospels (written between the 2nd and 4th centuries) are in fact not gospels at all in the sense of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John which give a coherent historical account of Jesus’ life from his birth to his crucifixion and resurrection. One only has to read a gnostic “gospel” and one of the four to see this is self evident. The early church had rejected these gnostic gospels as bogus long before Constantine and the council of Nicaea. The idea he influenced which books should be in the Bible has no foundation.

The authenticity of the New Testament writings has been confirmed through decades of objective scholarship. Literally thousands of partial and complete ancient manuscripts of the New Testament exist, some as early as 200AD. Anyone can confirm this to be the case.

If Dan Brown had offered his theories in the form of a non-fiction historical treatise they would be rejected as pure speculation. But in the guise of of a thriller novel he and his publisher have appealed to the public at large, exploiting the average person’s lack of knowledge of Christian history. One could accuse him of dishonesty, but he appears to seriously believe his ideas. The Da Vinci Code may, even so, serve the purpose of arousing interest in discovering the real Jesus Christ. And this where the evidence of history, objectively considered, comes down squarely in favour of the Jesus Christ of the four gospels, as I discovered as an atheist in 1972 .

Peter Miles

May, 2006

Internet Resources (updated Jan 2019)

The Da Vinci Code (Wikipedia)

Criticisms of the Da Vinci Code (Wikipedia)

Crash Goes the Da Vinci Code (Ron Rhodes)

Da Vinci Code (review by Bethel Chapel)

The Da Vinci Code (review by Russell Grigg)


Photo Credit: Martin Roberts