Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code begins with the murder of Jacques Saunière, curator of the Louvre Museum in Paris. As he is dying, Jacques hears his murderer say, “When you are gone, I will be the only one who knows the truth.”
The truth. In an instant, the curator grasped the true horror of the situation. If I die, the truth will be lost forever (p.4).
With a bullet lodged in his stomach, the curator is gripped by . . .
a fear far greater than that of his own death. I must pass on the secret. . . . He thought of the generations who had come before them . . . of the mission with which they had all been entrusted. An unbroken chain of knowledge. Suddenly, now, despite all the precautions . . . despite all the failsafes . . . Jacques Saunière was the only remaining link, the sole guardian of one of the most powerful secrets ever kept. Shivering, he pulled himself to his feet. I must find some way. . . (p.5).
What is the plotline of The Da Vinci Code?
The complex story of The Da Vinci Code is one of intrigue and conspiracy.
While in Paris on business, a Harvard professor by the name of Robert Langdon receives an urgent call. The curator of the Louvre art museum has been found murdered. The police are baffled by an encoded message left by the dead man and written with his own blood. Langdon follows the trail of this mystery, which leads to clues left in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci. He joins efforts with cryptologist Sophie Neveu, Saunière’s granddaughter, and together they discover that the dead curator was part of a secret society, the Priory of Sion, whose members included Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, and Leonardo Da Vinci. Behind the scenes, Opus Dei, a Catholic lay organization, is plotting to prevent the discovery of an ancient secret, the Holy Grail, kept hidden by the Priory of Sion for centuries. If discovered, it would shake the foundations of the church and the faith it has proclaimed for millennia.
Dan Brown’s plotline draws strength from public knowledge of past and present church scandals and has been recommended as a good and provocative read by prestigious critics. The Library Journal recommends The Da Vinci Code as “a compelling blend of history and page-turning suspense.”
Why are some readers shaken by this novel?
Central to the controversy is the book’s alleged exposé of the historic church and its Bible. Since followers of Christ stake their lives on the biblical record, The Da Vinci Code touches a nerve when its alleged expert declares, “The church has two thousand years of experience pressuring those who threaten to unveil its lies. Since the days of Constantine, the church has successfully hidden the truth about Mary Magdalene and Jesus. We should not be surprised that now, once again, they have found a way to keep the world in the dark” (p.407).
Brown claims ancient evidence that Jesus was not a God-man as described by the church. Instead, the novel’s “experts” describe Jesus as a mere man who had a child with Mary Magdalene and gave her the responsibility of leading His disciples after He was gone.
The source of these allegations is a collection of ancient Gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. The Secret Books Of James and The Gospel Of Thomas are just two of these documents that reflect the ancient philosophy of Gnosticism.
From the early days of the Christian church, Gnostics promoted a different view of Christ. They claimed to have a “secret knowledge” that was necessary to know the truth about God.
Regarding the second-century teaching of Gnosticism, one modern source says,
From the standpoint of traditional Christianity, Gnostic thinking is quite alien. Its mythological setting of redemption leads to a depreciation of the historical events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Its view of man’s relationship to God leads to a denial of the importance of the person and work of Christ, while, in a Gnostic context, “salvation” is not understood in terms of deliverance from sin, but as a form of existential self-realization (The New Bible Dictionary).
Although the Gnostic gospels are second- and third-century writings, The Da Vinci Code regards them as the “lost books of the Bible” that represent the true picture of Jesus and His teachings. Secret knowledge, goddess worship, and self-deification emerge as an alternative theory to the historic record of the Bible.
Why were the Gnostic gospels excluded from the Bible?
There are many reasons the Gnostic gospels were not included in the Bible. Early church leaders found consensus in determining whether ancient Christian documents were sacred by asking some basic questions: Was it written by an apostle of Christ or by someone who had direct contact with the apostles? Did the writings in question receive wide acceptance as being consistent with the teaching of Christ and the apostles? Did they bear the mark and effect of spiritual power and truth?
None of the Gnostic gospels measure up to the New Testament standard of reliable documents. Instead of being consistent with the earliest and most reliable eyewitness accounts, and instead of resting on the foundations of the Jewish Scriptures, the Gnostic gospels reflect a worldview that is foreign to both Old and New Testaments.
Why are so many taking The Da Vinci Code seriously?
On the title page of The Da Vinci Code, the author claims: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” In addition, Brown offers a lengthy list of acknowledgments that leave the impression that all of these prestigious sources and institutions collaborated with him in his research. Since so much of the complex plot and theme development are dependent upon Dan Brown’s claim of legitimate research into real people, times, and places, it’s easy for the reader to assume that the backbone of The Da Vinci Code is credible. Because the heroes of the novel are “seekers of truth,” they seem to be leading us to higher ground, as when a Harvard professor says, “I’m a historian. I’m opposed to the destruction of documents, and I would love to see religious scholars have more information to ponder the exceptional life of Jesus Christ” (p.342).
This is the apparent passion for truth expressed by another of the book’s heroes, a researcher by the name of Teabing, who makes statements like, “It’s a matter of historical record, . . . and Da Vinci was certainly aware of that fact. The Last Supper practically shouts at the viewer that Jesus and Magdalene were a pair. . . . The marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record” (pp.244-245).
On closer look, however, the book’s alleged factual basis does not stand up. Richard Abanes, in his book The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code, writes:
Most critics would acknowledge that Brown has the right to say whatever he wants to say. What is problematic, however, is the way that he, his publisher, and the media have been presenting The Da Vinci Code: as a fact-based exposé wherein the characters reveal truths long hidden from, or at the very least ignored by, the general public (p.9).
This observation is important because Brown has repeatedly insisted that his novel is based on fact. During an interview he said:
One of the many qualities that makes The Da Vinci Code unique is the factual nature of the story. All the history, artwork, ancient documents, and secret rituals in the novel are accurate—as are the hidden codes revealed in some of Da Vinci’s most famous paintings (ibid, p.9).
This is what makes The Da Vinci Code so misleading. It claims to be an accurate portrayal of history. Yet the book is a seductively clever mix of fact and fiction.