Many are stunned by the work and asking: What should I say to my friends who believe it? What is true and what is false?
So when John Vennari, editor of Catholic Family News, asked me my views on the novel, I agreed to read it and write a general appraisal.
A blasphemous main thesis
The first thing to say about this book is that a Catholic should reject it emphatically. For its principle thesis is this: Our Lord Jesus Christ was not divine. He was only a man, albeit an extraordinary man. Jesus, from the royal house of David, was married to Mary Magdalene, with the aim of claiming an earthly throne and restoring the line of kings as it was under Solomon. After Christ was crucified, a pregnant Mary Magdalene escaped to France. The seed of Christ that she carried became the root of the Merovingian royal family, and the line, which continues to this day, must be hidden and guarded from enemies, e.g. the male-dominated Catholic Church, which relies on the false history it has created to remain in power.
Only this ensemble of hallucinatory fables should suffice to raise the righteous indignation of the Catholic faithful. But there is more.
According to Dan Brown, Mary Magdalene is the key to understand the mysterious quest for the Holy Grail, or San Greal, which he translates as royal blood, not the sacred chalice of the Last Supper. She was the vessel that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ. The Grail, Brown imagines, is the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine principle. Setting out this feminist ideology, Brown supports the hypothesis championed by Protestants and progressivist scholars who claim the medieval Church “made” Mary Magdalene a prostitute to prevent women from taking their rightful place of power as Christ supposedly intended.
Brown rejects the Catholic tradition of Mary Magdalene the sinner who washes the feet of Jesus, above
Without receiving any historical evidence, the reader is expected to believe a novel and shocking revelation: the history of the Catholic Church has been one long attempt to conceal this bloodline of Mary Magdalene, which has been protected for ages by a secret brotherhood founded in 1099 – the Priory of Sion. The fantastic fable continues. This Priory was the secret society that established the Order of the Knights Templar so that its first nine knights could secretly retrieve ancient documents proving the Christ/Magdalene bloodline hidden under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The whole ideal of Crusade was just a grand front for the Templars, according to Brown.
It is wholly fabricated. I have read a number of scholarly works on the Knights Templar by authors both pro and con, but I have never seen a drop of evidence that they were founded to protect this “royal” bloodline and venerate the bones of Mary Magdalene. Out of the blue, Brown “reveals” that these relics would be buried beneath the glass pyramid structure at the Louvre. I do not doubt there is an occult significance to the strange pyramid at the Louvre. As for facts, many centuries ago the relics of Mary Magdalene were brought from Aix to Vezelay (France) where a monastery and a basilica were dedicated to her. Innumerable miracles were worked through her intercession, and the site became one of the most famous pilgrimage centers in the Middle Ages. Until today her relics can be venerated by anyone who visits the sanctuary.
A thesis that destroys itself
Besides the blasphemous character of this thesis, unacceptable to Catholics, and its lack of historic basis, to which I will still return, what strikes me is the contradiction that exists within the fable itself.
The author pretends that Mary Magdalene is the feminine principle, the goddess, divine, etc. But, she became divine by the fact that she would have carried the seed of Jesus in her womb. However, Brown denies Christ’s divinity. So, there is a contradiction.
If Christ is not a god, Mary Magdalene isn’t a goddess either.
If she is divine, He has to be divine as well. Then, one would be dealing with two eternal divinities, one masculine and one feminine. It would be an eternal couple, and not an eternal feminine Brown tries to present. Therefore, all the consequences he draws from the first imaginary fact that Magdalene is the goddess suppressed while Christ is mortal are inconsistent and self-destructive.
This is an internal contradiction that in terms of formal logic makes his thesis worth less than a penny.
The history is not factual
The Da Vinci Code is not difficult to refute historically, simply because the data Brown presents in numerous places are not true. To believe Dan Brown’s version of history, one first has to throw out everything recorded in the chronicles and documents of the past. Why? Because they were written by the “winners,” the ones in power, who only write history to serve their hegemonic, privileged, masculine interests. The revisionist history Brown bases his novel on is called postmodern history, which denies the reality of the past except what the historian wants to make of it.
What the reader has, then, is a fiction that claims to be based on historical facts by an author who says that facts and truth do not exist. Only the postmodern man, reduced to a kind of shell of a man with no sense of an absolute truth and reality, would put any faith in this spoof of a spoof.
One of Brown’s many foolish contentions is that Constantine called the Council of Nicea in 325 to transform Jesus Christ from a “mere mortal” to the “Son of God” (pp. 232-4). The blood of the martyrs in the Coliseum stands as proof that the early Christians were prepared to die rather than deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. Long before the Council of Nicea, early Church Fathers such as St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus, St. Cyprian of Carthage, and others clearly preached the divinity of Christ. Consider these words of St. Clement of Alexandria written in 190 AD: “Christ alone is both God and man, and the source of all our good things” (Exhortation to the Greeks 1:7:1).
As for the Council of Nicea, it was convoked by the Emperor, but the direction of the sessions was left to the some 250 Bishops who assembled to debate the claims of Arius. This heretic sustained that while Christ was divine, he was less than the Father. The vote against Arius was hardly “relatively close,” as Brown asserts (p. 232). Only two Bishops supported the heretic. These are the historical facts, quite different from the fabrications Brown uses as base for his novel.
Brown bases his claims for the marriage of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene and an egalitarian church on the Gnostic Gospels (p. 231), apocryphal texts written some 50-75 years after the Gospels of the Canon. Christianity, according to Brown, is a corruption of the Gnostic church that worshipped the divine feminine. He presents “gnosis” as if it were a single defined sect with a unified doctrine, like Christianity. This is an erroneous representation of gnosis and biblical history.
First, gnosis is a collective name for a large number of greatly varying pantheistic sects, which flourished from some time before Christ, revived in the 3rd century, and continued into our times. Basically, the Gnostics held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a degradation of the deity. The Gnostic origin of the world appears in concise form in its Gospel of Philip: “The world came into being through a transgression.” It taught the ultimate end of all being was to overcome the grossness of matter and return to a Parent-Spirit. Some of its many sects have a “Mother” or a “sophia” as the divine feminine, but others do not. So, Brown’s generalization that gnosis – all sects included – have the divine feminine principle is not objective.
Second, biblical scholars uniformly agree that the Gnostic gospels are apocryphal texts that never reflected the beliefs of the followers of Christ. Even a feminist theologian like Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, professor at Fordham University, admits that no historical credence can be given to the Gnostic gospels or a supposed marriage of Christ and Mary Magdalene. (1)
Nor did Constantine commission a new Bible, picking and choosing what pleased him, as Brown claims (p. 234). The four Gospels of the Bible had established themselves as authentic by the end of the 2nd century, as attested by Church Fathers. (2) Brown’s history is fiction. Old myths repeated
The Da Vinci Code repeats some tired old myths that today’s historians have discarded as propaganda or lies. To feed the fire of his supposedly anti-woman Catholic Church theory, Brown says the Catholics in the Middle Ages burned seven million witches (p. 125). In fact, the most recent studies show that during the period 1400-1700 an estimated 40,000 persons were executed as witches, many of them by Protestants. In the Middle Ages, relatively few witches were condemned. (3)
According to Brown, the Knights Templars would have been a front for an imaginary secret society, the Priory of Sion
The charges are either fabricated or grossly exaggerated. There is no evidence that the medieval Templars were master architects or artists; they were soldier-knights whose first concern was battle and defending the Holy Land. It was King Philippe IV of France, and not the puppet Avignon Pope, who conspired against the Templars and spread charges of heresy and magical practices. It was also under the influence of this King that cruel torture was exercised to elicit confessions, which were later retracted.
The vast literature on the Templars has been synthesized for English readers in recent scholarly works that have concluded that no convincing physical evidence of heresy was ever found. (4) Notwithstanding, Philippe the Fair forced the issue with the irresolute Pope and insisted on their suppression. As far as the Pope throwing the ashes of hundreds of burned Templars into the Tiber, no record exists of any Templar burned in Rome or in any other Italian city on the Tiber’s banks. Less than a hundred were burned in Paris and several other French cities. Nor, as he claims, was the first residence of the Knights Templar in the “old stables” under the Temple of Solomon. They lived in a wing of the royal palace on Temple Mount, next to the Al-Aqsa mosque.
How can anyone put credence in Brown’s historical conjectures when his facts are just plain wrong? He is writing fiction, pure and simple.
Disputable assertions about secret societies
Brown interweaves his book with shocking and little-known information about the symbols and rites of the Rosicrucians, Freemasonry, and secret societies. Some is true; a lot is false; the result, a grand mishmash of revelations and conspiracies intended to titillate the public and sell books. For example, he describes pagan sexual orgies like the Hieros Gamos, which in fact, according to reputed authors, existed and still exist to this day in the secret societies.
Further, the historical personages that the author pretends were listed on a “secret dossier” of grand masters of the Priory of Sion (pp. 326-7) are known to be linked to various occult groups, not a single entity.(5) Isaac Newton, for example, was part of the “invisible College” that met at Oxford; Alexander Pope was enrolled in the ranks of Freemasonry, and Victor Hugo was steeped in esoterica and the legends of the sacred feminine. But according to Brown’s fantastic invention, they all would be leaders of his fictitious Priory of Sion.
Some of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings, like the John the Baptist above, have occult notes. The adrogynous look of this feminine man seems similar to the somewhat masculine appearance of the Mona Lisa, below
The figure of Leonardo da Vinci, about whom so much has been written, has been reputed a homosexual and dabbler in alchemy and necromancy.(6) He was a follower of Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and other Renaissance Humanists who were rediscovering the pantheist and Gnostic doctrines of the ancients. I have heard art lectures demonstrating how many of the Renaissance court painters, including Leonardo da Vinci, encoded doctrines of gnosis in their paintings. (7) But it is beyond the pale to propose that Leonardo would have imagined Mary Magdalene to be present as St. John at the Last Supper.
There is a known rule of apologetics that states: “Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur” – those things that are freely affirmed, can be freely denied.” Since no evidence was presented by the author about this extravagant substitution – St. John would be St. Mary Magdalene – everyone has the right to staunchly deny it. I think the deeper intent of Brown’s presentation of the symbols and secrets of Freemasonry, Kaballah, etc is to try to make these occult societies appear as a single, united reality. This supposed unity would give prestige to his imaginary league. The reality however, is different. These forces of evil only unite themselves when they join to fight against the Catholic Church and Christendom. Otherwise, they brawl among themselves like demons. The internal quarreling among Protestants is an above-ground example of what happens in the secret societies.
At any rate, Brown tries to charm the reader with his lies in order to give the impression that the ensemble of secret societies is good. In parallel he always presents the Catholic Church as bad.
Is the revolutionary modern man prepared to accept the good as bad, and the bad as good? Is he finally ready to reject the divinity of Christ? That is the more profound proposal The Da Vinci Code brings to light of day.
It is my opinion that The Da Vinci Code was intended principally to shock a novelty-craving public and destroy the stability of the Catholic Faith. This is why the trumpets of liberal propaganda are sounding to promote it.
Given its lack of seriousness and historical objectivity, this book should be rejected as an irrelevant inanity. Given its blasphemous character, it should raise general indignation.
I hope this review will contribute to such good reactions.
1. Elizabeth Johnson, “Cracking the Da Vinci Code,” St. Anthony Messenger, July 2004
2. Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), pp. 65-6.
3. Jenny Gibbons, “Recent Developments in the Study of The Great European Witch Hunt,” #5, Pomegranate (Lammas, 1998).
4. Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars, (Cambridge University Press: 1978); Edward Burman, The Templars Knights of God, (Rochester, VA: Destiny Books, 1986); Peter Partner, The Murdered Magicians: The Templars and Their Myth (Oxford: OUP, 1982).
5. Robert Richardson, The Unknown Treasure: The Priory of Sion Fraud and the Spiritual Treasure of Rennes-le-Château (Houston, TX: NorthStar, 1998). A summary of the work, “The Priory of Sion Hoax,” can be read on Alpheus.com website.
6. A. Richard Turner, Inventing Leonardo (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), p. 13; Roger Whiting, Leonardo: A Portrait of the Renaissance Man (NY, Knickerbocker Press, 1998), p. 18.7. Turner gives an extensive history of the critical interpretations of the works of Leonardo, extending from Vasari’s biography in the 16th century to the commentary of William Butler Yeats in the 20th century. Inventing Leonardo, pp.100-52
The Da Vinci Code, a popular suspense novel by Dan Brown, generated criticism and controversy after its publication in 2003. Many of the complaints centered on the book's speculations and alleged misrepresentations of core aspects of Christianity and the history of the Catholic Church. Additional criticisms were directed towards the book's inaccurate descriptions of European art, history, architecture, and geography.
Charges of copyright infringement were also leveled by the novelist Lewis Perdue and by the authors of the 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which puts forward the hypothesis that the historical Jesus married Mary Magdalene, and that their children or their descendants emigrated to what is now southern France, and married into families that became the Merovingian dynasty, whose claim to the throne of France is championed today by the Priory of Sion. Brown was cleared of these copyright infringement charges in a 2006 trial.
Fact or fiction
Brown prefaces his novel with a page titled "Fact" asserting that certain elements in the novel are true in reality, and a page at his website repeats these ideas and others. In the early publicity for the novel, Dan Brown made repeated assertions that, while the novel is a work of fiction, the historical information in it is all accurate and well-researched. For example:
Martin Savidge: When we talk about da Vinci and your book, how much is true and how much is fabricated in your storyline?
Dan Brown: 99 percent of it is true. All of the architecture, the art, the secret rituals, the history, all of that is true, the Gnostic gospels. All of that is … all that is fiction, of course, is that there's a Harvard symbologist named Robert Langdon, and all of his action is fictionalized. But the background is all true.
Matt Lauer: How much of this is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred?
Dan Brown: Absolutely all of it. Obviously, there are—Robert Langdon is fictional, but all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies, all of that is historical fact.
These claims in the book and by the author, combined with the presentation of religious ideas that some Christians regard as offensive, led to a great deal of controversy and debate, which found its way into political discourse in the media. For example, a front-page article in The Independent on May 10, 2006 stated that Ruth Kelly, a senior British Government Minister, was questioned about her affiliations: "Ms Kelly's early days as Education Secretary were dogged with questions about her religion, and her membership of the conservative Opus Dei organization which features in the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code."
The novel asserts that Mary Magdalene was of the Tribe of Benjamin, but historians dispute this claim, and there is no mention of this in the Bible or in other ancient sources. According to Sandra Miesel and Carl E. Olson, writing in their 2004 book, The Da Vinci Hoax, the fact that Magdala was located in northern Israel, whereas the tribe of Benjamin resided in the south, weighs against it.
In Chapter 58 it is suggested that the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene created a "potent political union with the potential of making a legitimate claim to the throne." Olson and Meisel not only state that this assertion is without any historical basis, but question why Solomon's kingship would have any purpose or meaning today that would motivate a large-scale conspiracy. The authors also question why if Jesus were merely a "mortal prophet", as the novel suggests, a royal goddess would have any interest in him. Olson and Meisel quote Chicago archbishop Francis Cardinal George, who remarked, "Jesus isn't God but Mary Magdalene is a goddess? I mean, what does that mean? If he's not God, why is he married to a goddess?" Olson and Meisel also argued that having Davidic blood in Jesus' time would not have been unique, since all of his stepfather Joseph's relatives, which included twenty generations of kings of Judah, had it as well. The authors also state that the Benjamites were not considered "rightful" heirs to the throne, and that the New Testament does not mention Mary Magdalene's tribal affiliation, and that she was likely not from the tribe of Benjamin, and that her connection with that tribe is traced to the 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which does not substantiate the idea.
Characters in the book also claim that Mary Magdalene was labeled a prostitute by the Church. While Catholic tradition in the past, in contrast to other Christian traditions, defended these imputations, these claims are now rejected by the majority of biblical scholars, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, according to Carol Ann Morrow of AmericanCatholic.org. Also, Pope Gregory I's teaching about Mary Magdalene, though popular throughout much of the Church's history, was never formally integrated into Catholic dogma; nor was he speaking ex cathedra at the time, so his speech is not seen as infallible. Whatever weight is given to this tradition, however, there is no evidence that it was used to defame Mary, who was considered a saint to whose honor churches were built. She is also respected as a witness to Christ's resurrection as written in the Gospels.
Alleged marriage to Jesus
The story claims the "Holy Grail" is not a chalice but a bloodline sprung from the marital union of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This idea is not original to Brown; it was previously hypothesized by others, including Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Many textual and historical scholars have characterized this claim as being without evidence.
Women in the Gospels were usually identified with husbands or male relatives, especially if they shared their names with others. For example, there are many mentions of women called "Mary", all designated differently (any possible identification with each other nonwithstanding). There is Mary "the mother of Jesus", Mary Magdalene, Mary "the mother of James and Joses", Mary "[the mother] of James", "the other" Mary, Mary "the wife of Cl[e]opas" and Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Mary Magdalene stands out from most of the other Marys as she is not directly associated with any man. Mary "Magdalene" means "Mary of Magdala", just as Jesus "the Nazarene" means "Jesus of Nazareth." Some researchers have claimed that, if indeed she was married to Jesus, she would have been designated, following custom, Mary "the wife of Jesus" instead.
According to The Da Vinci Hoax, the use of the term "bride of Christ" for the Church in some of the letters of Paul (Ephesians 5:25–27, 2 Corinthians 11:2–3) and the Book of Revelation suggests that Jesus was not married. The authors of that work also speculate that the recorded words of Jesus that "those people who can remain celibate, for the kingdom of heaven's sake should do so" (Matt. 19:12) were made in response to criticisms of his own celibacy.
In the novel, a line of the Gospel of Philip is quoted where Mary Magdalene is referred to as Jesus's "companion", and a character of The Da Vinci Code says that Aramaic scholars know that this means "wife". James M. Robinson, an authority on the gnostic gospels, has responded to this passage by pointing out that "companion" was not necessarily a sex-related term. In addition, "the Gospel of Philip is in Coptic, translated from Greek, so there is no word in the text for Aramaic scholars to consider. The Gospel of Philip depicts Mary as Jesus's koinonos, a Greek term indicating a 'close friend', 'companion' or, potentially, a lover. In context of Gnostic beliefs, Gnostic writings use Mary to illustrate a disciple's spiritual relationship with Jesus, making any physical relationship irrelevant.
Mary Magdalene in Leonardo's The Last Supper
Many art historians dispute that Leonardo's famous The Last Supper depicts Mary Magdalene beside Jesus.
Jesus in Church teaching
According to Sir Leigh Teabing in Chapter 55 of the novel, the early Church consolidated its power by suppressing ideas about the sacred feminine and elevating the mortal prophet Jesus into a divine being. According to Religion Facts, the questions discussed by the Council were not whether he was divine, as the New Testament authors already believe that he was, but what his precise relationship to God was. In particular, the Council decided upon the question of whether Jesus was homoousios, "of one substance" with God the Father, or whether instead Jesus was the first created being, inferior to the Father but like him, but still superior to all other beings (see Arianism), or whether he was merely of like substance to the father, or homoiousios.
Portrayal of Gnostic Christianity
The novel claims Constantine wanted Christianity to unify the Roman Empire but thought it would appeal to pagans only if it featured a demigod similar to pagan heroes, so he destroyed the Gnostic Gospels that said Jesus was a human prophet and promoted the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which portray Jesus as divine.
Historically, however, Gnostic Christianity did not portray Jesus as merely human. In fact, the Gnostic Jesus was less human than the Jesus of orthodox Christianity. While orthodox Christianity generally considered Christ both divine and human, many Gnostic sects considered Christ purely divine, his human body being a mere illusion (see Docetism). Many Gnostics saw matter as evil, and believed that a divine spirit would never have taken on a material body. Some varieties of Gnosticism went so far as to hold that the God of the Jews is only a demiurge who has trapped humanity in a fleshly prison; and that Christ is an emanation of the true God, sent to free humanity from that bondage to the flesh. (See Marcionism, Aeon, Archon).
Characters in the book claim Christianity has suppressed the sacred feminine, the representation of the earth or mother Goddess's mystic power that's often linked to symbols of fertility and reproduction, such as Venus and Isis.
Early Christian devotion to female martyrs (such as Perpetua and Felicity) and the apocryphal writings about figures like St. Thecla seem to indicate that women did play a role in the early Church, far more than either Brown or some modern critics of Christianity acknowledge, though historical evidence does not suggest men and women shared all roles of office. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches particularly venerate the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, but the book deems this a desexualised aspect of femininity that suppresses the sacred feminine. Brown echoes scholars such as Joseph Campbell in saying this image of Mary derives from Isis and her child Horus. Meisel and Olson counters that the "Mother and child" symbol, as a universal part of the general human experience, can be found in other faiths; so Christianity did not copy this element from Egyptian mythology.
Christian documents and traditions tend to stress the virtues of chaste womanhood in keeping with general Christian encouragement of chastity for both genders. The Gnostics expressed anti-female views, for example, in the Gospel of Thomas's famous ending verse where Jesus says he will make Mary into a male to make her worthy to enter the Kingdom.
While the character Robert Langdon claims in the book that early Israelites worshipped the goddess Shekinah as Yahweh's equal, this is contradictory to Jewish theology. Judaism is and was a monotheistic religion, and belief in a goddess counterpart to God is both illogical and expressly forbidden. In fact, the term Shekinah (derived from Hebrew for "dwelling") does not appear in early Judaism at all, but later Talmudic Judaism used it to refer to the God's "dwelling" or presence among his people. The term describes a spiritual radiance. Critics argue that this comes from an understanding of Kabbalah, which speaks of God as having "male" and "female" attributes in the Sephirot.
Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel state that contrary to the book's claims, the Gnostic Gospels (e.g. the Gospels of Thomas, Philip, Mary Magdalene, and the Judas) also do not focus more on Jesus' humanity. The other known Gospels, for the most part, treat Jesus as more otherworldly and lack the humanizing detail of the Biblical accounts. The assertion of "more than eighty gospels" written, with only the familiar four chosen as canonical, greatly exaggerates the number of Gnostic Gospels written.
The assertions that the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 (not the 1950s as Brown predicates), contain lost or hidden Gospels is also false. The scrolls contain books of the Hebrew Scriptures, apocryphal and pseudepigraphic books, and manuals used by the Jewish community at Qumran. No definite Christian documents—orthodox, Gnostic, or otherwise—have ever been found at this site, perhaps with the exception of 7Q5.
The depiction of Opus Dei as a monastic order which is the Pope's "personal prelature" is inaccurate. In fact, there are no monks in Opus Dei, which has primarily lay membership and whose celibate lay members are called numeraries. But it may be explained by the fact that Silas is referred to as a monk mostly by the protagonists, Langdon and Neveu, who are shown to have little knowledge of Opus Dei. The word numerary is used to refer to Silas, by actual Opus Dei members such as the person at Opus Dei centre in London. Moreover, Opus Dei encourages its lay members to avoid practices that are perceived as fundamentalist to the outside world. The term personal prelature does not refer to a special relationship to the Pope; it means an institution in which the jurisdiction of the prelate is not linked to a territory but over persons, wherever they be.
Silas, the murderous "Opus Dei monk", uses a cilice and flagellates himself. Some members of Opus Dei do practice voluntary mortification of the flesh, which has been a Christian tradition since at least St. Anthony in the third century, and it has also been practiced by Mother Teresa, Padre Pio, the child visionaries of Our Lady of Fatima, and slain archbishop Óscar Romero. Saint Thomas More and Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England both wore hairshirts in the Tudor era.
Critics have accused the book of depicting the order as misogynistic, a claim which the order's defenders say has no basis in reality because half of the leadership positions in Opus Dei are held by women.
Critics also say that the novel's allegations of dealings between John Paul II and the order concerning the Vatican Bank also have no basis in reality. Allegedly due to these dealings, Opus Dei's founder was declared a Saint just 20 years after his death. In reality, Josemaría Escrivá was canonized 27 years after his death; admittedly faster than some others—but this is attributed to streamlining of the whole process and John Paul II's decision to make Escriva's sanctity and message known.
In the novel, the head of Opus Dei travels alone and makes momentous decisions on his own. In real life, the head of Opus Dei is usually accompanied by two other priests called custodes or guardians. Decision making in Opus Dei is "collegial": i.e., the head has only one vote.
Leonardo da Vinci
The contention that the Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo as an androgynous "whole" humanity that represented both genders is contested by Olson and Meisel's book, in which they state that reputable art historians have explained that it is simply a masterful portrait of a woman. Olson and Meisel also take issue with the idea that Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa as a self-portrait, and that this idea is based on the fact that points of congruency are found between Leonardo's face and the Mona Lisa's. Olson and Meisel respond that points of congruency can be found among many faces, which is how computer morphing of faces is facilitated.
The title of the book is not consistent with naming conventions, because "Da Vinci" was not Leonardo's surname. As Tom Chivers of The Daily Telegraph comments, "[Leonardo] was from Vinci, or of Vinci. As many critics have pointed out, calling it The Da Vinci Code is like referring to Lawrence of Arabia as Mr. Of Arabia, or asking What Would Of Nazareth Do?".
See also: Knights Templar legends
The allegation that Pope Clement V burned the Templars to ashes and threw the ashes into the Tiber River in Rome is false. The last leaders of the Knights Templar were killed in France in 1314 by King Philip IV of France, being burned at the stake on a small island in the Seine. Pope Clement's administration was not in Rome as he had moved the papal headquarters to Avignon.
The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail
Main article: The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail
The legend of the Holy Grail alleged that a sacred relic (in many versions, either the cup used at the Last Supper, or the cup said to have been used by Joseph of Arimathea to collect blood of Christ – or both) existed, which would bring untold blessings to any pure knight who found it. The story appeared around the time of the Crusades and is featured in Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. In Old French, the Holy Grail was written as San Graal. However The Da Vinci Code, taking cues from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, interprets this as "Sang Réal" and translated this as "royal blood". In early Grail romances, graal in fact denotes a large dish for fish, itself a Christian religious symbol, but clearly removed from the traditional cup. The idea of a cup seems to have developed quickly during the late 12th and early 13th centuries, influenced both by apocryphal religious stories, such as that of Joseph of Arimathea, and pagan stories involving magic containers that, for example, produced endless food (itself a useful parallel to the Christian belief of the 'Bread of Life' produced at the Last Supper). The cup therefore presented a convenient fusion, like many of the stories that are now associated with the Quest for the Holy Grail and King Arthur, of (albeit apocryphal) Christian teachings, and pagan traditions.
Several claims about the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris are disputed. While there is a brass line running north-south through the church, it is not a part of the Paris Meridian. The line is instead more of a gnomon or sundial/calendar, meant to mark the solstice and equinoxes. Further, there is no evidence that there was ever a temple of Isis on the site. This note has been on display in the church:
Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this [the line in the floor] is not a vestige of a pagan temple. No such temple ever existed in this place. It was never called a Rose-Line. It does not coincide with the meridian traced through the middle of the Paris Observatory which serves as a reference for maps where longitudes are measured in degrees East or West of Paris. Please also note that the letters P and S in the small round windows at both ends of the transept refer to Peter and Sulpice, the patron saints of the church, and not an imaginary "Priory of Sion."
The reference to Paris having been founded by the Merovingians (Chapter 55) is false; in fact, the city was settled by Gauls by the 3rd century BC. The Romans, who knew it as Lutetia, captured it in 52 BC under Julius Caesar, and left substantial ruins in the city, including an amphitheater and public baths. The Merovingians did not rule in France until the 5th century AD, by which time Paris was at least 800 years old.
Brown characterized the cycle of Venus as "trac[ing] a perfect pentacle across the ecliptic sky every four years". This was corrected to "eight years" in some later editions, such as the British paperback and the April 2003 printing of the US hardback.
Steve Olson, author of Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins, writing in an article in Nature, says that the notion that a small number of people living today could be the only descendants from any particular person who lived millennia ago, such as Jesus and Mary, is statistically flawed. According to Olson, "If anyone living today is descended from Jesus, so are most of us on the planet."
Near the end of the novel, Sophie and Langdon are standing outside Roslyn Chapel in the evening, Brown describes them looking to the east watching Venus rise above the horizon in the twilight. Astronomically, due to the location of its orbit between the earth and the sun, Venus is only visible rising in the east early in the morning shortly before sunrise or setting in the evening toward the west shortly after sunset. It is not possible to see Venus rising above the eastern horizon in the evening.
Allegations of plagiarism
Two lawsuits have been brought alleging plagiarism in The Da Vinci Code.
On April 11, 2005, novelist Lewis Perdue sued Brown and his publisher Random House for plagiarizing his novels The Da Vinci Legacy (1983) and Daughter of God (1999), claiming "there are far too many parallels between my books and The Da Vinci Code for it to be an accident." On August 4, 2005, District Judge George B. Daniels granted a motion for summary judgment and dismissed the suit, ruling that "a reasonable average lay observer would not conclude that The Da Vinci Code is substantially similar to Daughter of God. Any slightly similar elements are on the level of generalized or otherwise unprotectable ideas." He affirmed that The Da Vinci Code does not infringe upon copyrights held by Perdue.
In February 2006, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, took the UK publisher of The Da Vinci Code to court for breach of copyright, alleging plagiarism. Some sources suggested the lawsuit was a publicity stunt intended to boost sales of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (a boost which did in fact occur). However, the projected court costs of over 1 million pounds outweigh or at least substantially reduce the financial benefit of the lawsuit.
Dan Brown repeatedly said in his defense that history cannot be plagiarized and therefore the accusations of the two authors were false. Leigh stated, "It's not that Dan Brown has lifted certain ideas because a number of people have done that before. It's rather that he's lifted the whole architecture – the whole jigsaw puzzle – and hung it on to the peg of a fictional thriller". Dan Brown has admitted some of the ideas taken from Baigent and Leigh's work were indispensable to the book but stated that there were many other sources also behind it. However, he claimed that neither he nor his wife had read Baigent and Leigh's book when he produced his original "synopsis" of the novel. Among Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh's arguments were that the given name of the character Sir Leigh Teabing's is the same of Richard Leigh's surname, and that "Teabing" is an anagram of "Baigent".
On April 7, 2006, High Court judge Sir Peter Smith rejected the copyright-infringement claim by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, and Random House won the court case. However, in the published extracts of his judgement the judge criticised the non-appearance of Blythe Brown and the vagueness of Dan Brown's evidence, saying, "He has presented himself as being a deep and thorough researcher...evidence in this case demonstrates that as regards DVC [The Da Vinci Code] that is simply not correct with respect to historical lectures...The reality of his research is that it is superficial."
The judge also included a code in his judgment. Throughout the judgment, apparently random letters are italicised and these form the message. The letters in the first paragraphs spell smithy code and the rest appear as follows "jaeiextostgpsacgreamqwfkadpmqzv". This was subsequently decoded to read "Smithy Code Jackie Fisher who are you Dreadnought", referring to the British admiral whom Judge Smith admires. As with the book, this secret message made use of Fibonacci numbers for its encoding.
At a conference on April 28, 2006 Archbishop Angelo Amato, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican curial department, specifically called for a boycott of the film version of The Da Vinci Code, characterizing the film as "full of calumnies, offenses, and historical and theological errors." The film was rated as "morally offensive" by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In India, home to 30 million Christians (3% of the population), the Central Board of Film Certification gave the film an adult rating on condition that disclaimers saying it was a work of fiction were inserted at the beginning and end of the film.
In contrast, some Catholic groups sought to use interest in this book and film as a means to educate Catholics and non-Catholics on the history of the Christian Church, and what it teaches regarding Jesus Christ. Similarly, other Christians have looked to use the film as a tool for evangelism.
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