r m p

Theological Publications







The Da Vinci Debate



Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code has set sales records not seen since Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth (though the New York Tines tried to ignore that one, simply omitting it from the Best Sellers lists all those years). The two books share about the same degree of historical and theological acumen. In other words, both are pure bunk. Dan Brown now has both paperback and hardcover number one slots in The Times, and the movie adaptation, as I write, is due out in a month or so. So there is quite a lot of hype and hysteria over Brown’s bunk. Since you and I will most likely be called upon for an opinion on all this in the days to come, we might as well try to have an informed one.


Gospel Gossip

I have written a whole book (The Da Vinci Fraud) explaining what is factually wrong about The Da Vinci Code, and there is too darn much of it to repeat here. Suffice it to say, the author has naively swallowed a lot of propaganda generated by supposedly “esoteric” lodges of middle-aged men with nothing better to do than parade around in robes and claim to be the modern successors to the Knights Templar on the one hand and the Priory of Sion on the other. The modern Masonic Lodges, the prototype for Ralph Kramden’s Raccoon Lodge, falsely claim descent from the Templars. A post-World War II bunch of right-wing French monarchists called Alpha Galates picked out the name of a monkish order absorbed by the Jesuits back in the 17th century, the Priory of Sion, and christened themselves with it. Dan Brown takes all this nonsense seriously, and he has troubled himself to soak up great amounts of bogus data from books like The Templar Revelation and Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The punch-line of the whole joke is that Jesus of Nazareth married Mary Magdalene, and the pair produced the line of Merovingian kings, whose remote heirs, down on their luck, would like to rule again today. How do we “know” this? Because the Crusader Knights of the Temple of Solomon supposedly discovered reams of heretical documentation in the Temple Mount catacombs while they were looking for gold. These documents tell the tale.

Well, there is absolutely no evidence for any of this. Hey, I love these crazy theories, and if this one turned out to have anything going for it, I’d be the first to jump aboard the band wagon. But I have to protect a little thing called my scholarly integrity. That is a problem none of these Templar Jesus authors have to worry about. None of them are scholars. None has any real concept of what historical research is all about or how one pursues it. Brown is admittedly just a novelist, though he assures his gullible readers that his “factual” database is true. It is very telling that he has just been unsuccessfully sued by the authors of his chief sourcebook, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, namely Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard Leigh. Sued? What, for utilizing their scholarly research? No scholar would do that. Scholars are delighted when their colleagues build on their research and carry it further. It just demonstrates that Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh (whose names Brown has cobbled together into that of his character “Leigh Teabing”) correctly understand themselves, despite their overt claims, to be novelists, fiction writers, no more scholarly researchers than Brown himself. They make their ludicrous case by connecting the dots between disparate sources, trying to solve one enigma with another, and building an edifice of the most insubstantial hunches. In short, they do what imaginative novelists do. Just look at their book (as indeed all such books Brown drew upon): it is all first-person narration, the exciting tale of how intrepid delvers pieced a theory together and tried to confirm it. In other words, a novel.


Catholic Bashing?

Roman Catholic spokesmen, including the stultifying Pope Ratzinger, have warned the faithful not to be misled by The Da Vinci Code. Well, of course, I am, too! But Ratzinger and his squad of thought police are concerned that the book and the movie will make the Church look bad. If he was really worried about that one, maybe he’d do something about all the child-raping priests instead of kicking them upstairs, as he did Cardinal Law of Boston. But no one should be surprised that the Roman Catholic Church, a totalitarian institution, employs the “victim” defense when criticized. It is the spitting image of the way the Stalinists would yelp “Anti-Communism!” whenever anyone pointed out the bloody excesses of their regime. And Catholic spin-doctors are bleating the same thing now, about The Da Vinci Code. There are two causes for complaint, it seems. The first is the depiction of Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic devotional movement, as a fiendish bunch of conspirators, willing to kill anyone who stands in the way of their evil schemes. All right, I can see the problem there.

But no I can’t. Anyone who has gotten to the end of the book knows that Opus Dei turns out to have nothing whatever to do with the villainy perpetrated in the book. There is a fanatical assassin sent to kill certain people who know too much, but it turns out his evil master is not some Catholic cardinal associated with Opus Dei, but rather our scholarly protagonist Professor Teabing! So the Church is not the bad guy after all. Did the grumpy Catholic spin-doctors fail to read that far? Or are they afraid their flock will lose interest before that point?

By the way, I have a theory about the assassin. Brown describes him as an albino: white skin and hair, pink eyes like an Easter Bunny. Why? What does that have to do with anything? I suspect that we are to sniff out a reference to the Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I, who died after mere weeks in office, and after making what some considered heretical statements. A whole cottage industry keeps alive a conspiracy theory that John Paul I was assassinated by Curia thugs. I think Brown is alluding to the supposed murder of Albino Luciani, as if maybe by the same assassin.

But I said there was another reason for Catholics to squirm at the book and movie. And I join them in squirming. The problem is the false and dubious claims made about Christian origins. Contra Brown, there is no evidence that Jesus and Mary married. I am not fully persuaded that either was even a historical character! But even if they were, the rest is the sheerest speculation. And the notion that Christians held Jesus to be merely human until the wicked Emperor Constantine elevated him to Godhood at the Council of Nicea, or that Constantine picked out the books for the New Testament: all this is blatant nonsense. And I speak as a radical New Testament scholar who takes very little of traditional church history for granted.

Were there, as Brown informs us, fully eighty gospels from which the canonical four were chosen? The only historical reference I know to that particular number occurs in a tenth-century work by the Arab chronicler Adb al-Jabbar, who said there had been eighty gospels. I don’t know if we can trust that figure, but there were indeed many gospels in the first centuries. Few are nearly as old as Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and while the historical character of these four is in severe doubt, there is just absolutely no chance that any of the others preserves authentic information about Jesus. It is not as if the Gospel of Philip, for instance, which tells us that Jesus often used to kiss Mary Magdalene full on the mouth, is true, and the Gospel of Mark is false. All the ancient gospels were written to set forth a theological viewpoint, and it is doubtful any of their authors had any genuine information about Jesus.

And this fact leads us to the other side of the Da Vinci Debate. Why do people champion the book? Why are there serious discussion groups centering on the novel (and soon, I suppose, on the film)? I think it is because there are a great many people who want to be Christians but cannot abide the more repressive aspects of the churches’ faith. Brown tells them that there was an alternative Christian tradition, set forth in alternative scriptures, and that this Christianity was feministic, Goddess-worshiping, and sex-friendly. They like this version of the Christian story better. So they are happy to take that story to heart as eagerly as the fundamentalist takes “the old, old story” to heart. In neither case is it a matter of anyone opting for the historical facts, because Dan Brown is not giving them to you any more than Billy Graham or Pope Ratzinger is.


Where to Stand?

What is supposed to be at stake in the plot and intrigue of The Da Vinci Code? Professor Teabing tell us that the Catholic Church, predicating itself on the Constantinian lie that Jesus was a God, not a man, would crumble if the fact of Jesus’ marriage were ever made known. Would it? Suppose we did find the caterer’s bill for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, as Father Guido Sarducci once said he found the bill for the Last Brunch? What doctrine would it disprove? The only teaching about Christ that I can see being threatened by such a discovery would be “docetism,” the notion that Jesus was not a divine incarnation, but only a phantom spirit who seemed to take on a body but did not. And that ancient belief was early rejected from emerging Christian orthodoxy. Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians have never denied Jesus was at least a flesh and blood man. The question is rather how much more he might have been. Thus for him to have been married would pose no theological problem at all.

So, in the end, all the intrigue and espionage surrounding the “secret of the ages” is much ado about nothing. It stems from the abysmal theological ignorance of Dan Brown and most of his readers. Insofar as Christians protest The Da Vinci Code as a gross campaign of misinformation, we ought to join them. Insofar as they claim that the alternative is the safe and secure myth of Christian origins spoon-fed by the church, we ought to protest their misinformation just as loudly. 


 By Robert M. Price



Copyright©2009 by Robert M Price
Spirit of Carolina Web Design