My Review of Dan Brown’s THE DA VINCI CODE
This is my review of the following book:
The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown
I am reviewing this book because of its relevance to an article that I published on the internet in 1998. The article that I published is the following:
MARY MAGDALENE: AUTHOR OF THE FOURTH GOSPEL?
by Ramon K. Jusino, M.A.
I recently finished reading THE DA VINCI CODE. I must say, it is a very riveting novel. It is also very interesting to walk into any major bookstore, like the big Barnes & Noble I visited recently, and see a book about Magdalene and the Holy Grail be the number one bestseller week after week. There really is a great deal of interest in this out there.
As a Catholic, however, I noticed that the book did have a decidedly anti-Catholic slant. By this I do not mean that Dan Brown bashed Catholics. I mean that some important things that were said about the Church were, perhaps, not as well-researched as they could have been.
THE DA VINCI CODE is, of course, a work of fiction. And, as such, it was enjoyable. Many people will learn quite a bit from this novel. Unfortunately, many people unfamiliar with authentic Catholicism may get a very negative impression of the Church since they might assume that all of the historical references are accurate and meticulously verified. After reading this book, I have come to conclude that this is simply not the case. Which is unfortunate because the book is a runaway bestseller and many will assume that its references to the Church are all accurate.
Brown's novel seems to have many historical inaccuracies. One example of this is found on page 233 of the book. A character named Sir Leigh Teabing, who is a Grail authority, is discussing the history of the Grail. He is speaking with two other characters in the story -- Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu. Teabing tells them that the belief in the divinity of Jesus was something that the Council of Nicaea, in effect, made up in 325 AD. Leigh Teabing says to Sophie Neveu, "My dear, 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." Sophie Neveu then asks, "Not the Son of God?" Teabing then responds, "Right. Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea."
This is a glaring half-truth that can be very misleading to many people. The belief in the divinity of Jesus goes back to the very first Christians. Interestingly enough, the New Testament document in which the divinity of Jesus is most apparent is the Fourth Gospel which I have argued was authored by the Beloved Disciple, a.k.a. Mary Magdalene. (See my online article Mary Magdalene: Author of the Fourth Gospel?.)
The fact is that up until the Council of Nicaea, there were a variety of opinions as to the nature of Jesus Christ. The idea of Jesus being human and divine was very difficult for people to fathom back then. And it is still difficult to comprehend today. Some pre-Nicene Christians believed that Jesus was God, but not really a true human being. One of the big reasons that Gnosticism was ruled a heresy by the Nicene Council was ostensibly because they believed Jesus to be divine but not human. Conversely, another group known as Arians were also branded as heretics ostensibly because they believed Jesus to be a human but not God. All Christians, however, believed Jesus to be the Son of God in whatever way they may have understood this at the time. To imply, as I think Dan Brown does, that the Council of Nicaea proposed this new concept of Jesus' divinity in 325 AD is a misleading oversimplification at best.
The Council of Nicaea was interested primarily in uniformity -- one Church with one set of beliefs. Christianity had recently been legalized in the Roman Empire in 313 AD. This was their first opportunity to organize publicly without fear of being arrested or killed simply for being Christian. Emperor Constantine also had an interest in the outcome of the Council. Constantine wanted Christianity to be the new official religion of the Roman Empire. And, as such, it was important for the Church to have a unifying set of beliefs so that Christianity could be used as a much needed unifying force throughout the Empire.
The assertion in this book that Christians did not view Jesus as the divine Son of God until the Council of Nicaea is factually incorrect. Yes, there were diverse opinions about Jesus' nature in the early church. And some Christians did not understand Jesus to be God per se. But, the majority of the Christians did not view Jesus as simply a mortal prophet. And Mary Magdalene certainly viewed Jesus as divine. We see this in both the New Testament and the Nag Hammadi Library.
What Dan Brown's character goes on to say about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library can also be very misleading. He says the following:
Fortunately for historians, some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s (sic) hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And, of course, the Coptic Scrolls (sic) in 1945 at Nag Hammadi. In addition to telling the true Grail story, these documents speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 (not the 1950s). They do not mention Jesus Christ at all. And they were hidden in those caves c. 70 AD, some 250 years before the Council of Nicaea for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the as yet unborn Emperor Constantine at all.
The Nag Hammadi texts are incorrectly called "scrolls" in this book. They were, in fact, codices. And they do not mention anything about Jesus and Mary Magdalene having children, being married, or having a sexual relationship at all. Mary Magdalene is referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved and as the "companion" of Jesus. And, granted, some have translated the Coptic word as "consort" rather than "companion." But I think its a leap to say that these documents tell "the true Grail story" based on this. Furthermore, since the Nag Hammadi texts were probably compiled by Gnostics, in them a great emphasis is placed on the divine Risen Jesus who is alive and revealing his divine glory to a select group of people, particularly Mary Magdalene. I would hardly call the image of Jesus in the Nag Hammadi texts as that of a mortal prophet.
Normally, nitpicking about the accuracy of statements of fact in a novel would be a bit much. After all, an author is entitled to a certain amount of creative license. However, I comment on these historical innaccuracies in light of Dan Brown's own statement on the first page preceding his Prologue. Under the heading Facts he writes: "All description of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." Clearly, some of them, as pointed out here, are not.
On the whole, however, the book was very interesting. I think many people will learn alot of interesting things about the Quest for the Grail, the Templars, Leonardo da Vinci, the secret societies...etc. I was disappointed with the way the book seems to paint the Catholic Church in a negative light with broad brushstrokes. Dan Brown should have made more of an effort to be more historically accurate. I, for one, am not an authority on the Grail history. And I think I learned a lot about it by reading this novel. But, after seeing the way the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi Library, and the Council of Nicaea were discussed in this book, I now feel the need to double check all of the purported facts outlined in this novel.
Copyright © 2003 -- Ramon K. Jusino
My e-mail address: RamonKJusino@hotmail.com
Posted on August 18, 2003
Some Related Websites:
The Official Opus Dei Website
The Louvre Museum (Paris)
The Official Vatican Website (Rome)
Mary Magdalene: Author of the Fourth Gospel?
The Nag Hammadi Library
The Official Da Vinci Code Website