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The Da Vinci Code Deciphered
(March 2006 - Volume 12, Issue 3)
The most celebrated novel of our times is much more than a novel. The Da Vinci Code has sold some forty million copies, just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who will view the movie starring everybody’s most beloved actor, Tom Hanks, and directed by none other than Opie (aka Ron Howard). As a result, before the close of 2006 the majority of those in the Western world will probably be introduced to the mysterious code popularized by Dan Brown. They will no doubt find this code both intriguing and troubling. It is intriguing because Brown is a fascinating author. The Da Vinci Code is unquestionably a great novel by literary standards and, if it was only a novel, would not be worth our time to examine in this venue. But it is troubling because Brown has a clear agenda, perhaps several overlapping ones.
In an interview found on his website, we find Brown’s response to a question about the Da Vinci conspiracy:
Rumors of this conspiracy have been whispered for centuries in countless languages, including the languages of art, music, and literature. Some of the most dramatic evidence can be found in the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, which seem to overflow with mystifying symbolism, anomalies, and codes. Art historians agree that Da Vinci’s paintings contain hidden levels of meaning that go well beneath the surface of the paint. Many scholars believe his work intentionally provides clues to a powerful secret…a secret that remains protected to this day by a clandestine brotherhood of which Da Vinci was a member.
Later in the interview Brown says, “My sincere hope is that The Da Vinci Code, in addition to entertaining people, will serve as an open door to begin their own explorations.”
The bottom line is that Brown is seeking to undermine the Christian faith by diminishing the person of Jesus Christ. In the process he seems particularly to have the Roman Catholic Church in his sights, as he spreads lies and distortions of historical events to create a cover-up for what he believes is the truth about Jesus. Then he introduces his unsuspecting reader to an alternative form of Christianity. I would like to examine these three areas:
The Roman Catholic Conspiracy
As most of my readers surely know I have strong disagreements with much of Catholicism’s theology. I seldom find myself in the position of defending Rome – however, let’s play fair. If we are to critique and criticize anything, we need to do so based on fact not fabrication. Here Brown fails on two fronts. First, he creates historical data, casts accusations against Catholic organizations that cannot be substantiated and elevates myths and legends to the status of truth. Virtually no one in the scientific, historical, religious or artistic communities gives any credibility to most of Brown’s wild claims. In truth, the Knights Templar existed, the Merovingians were real, important documents with counter-claims to Christianity were found in Nag Hammadi in 1948, the Opus Dei is a Catholic organization, the Priory of Sion existed (but apparently only from 1956 to 1984) and the Holy Grail and later the Sangreal (the blood of Christ) have been part of legend and folklore since at least the Middle Ages. Brown infuses each of these entities and many others with mythical features, weaves them into a conspiracy plot, and ultimately calls into question everything from the deity of Christ to the reliability and inspiration of Scripture.
Secondly, and here is where Brown is most creative, he claims that all of his deceptions and exaggerations are true. On the first page of the prologue he writes, “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” This implies that Brown has researched his subject and is giving objective, documented facts, when in fact he is stringing together bits and pieces of rumor, myth, legend and imagination to invent a story which has no basis in truth. Then he passes it all off as accurate, giving the illusion that he has blown the lid on the greatest cover up since the dawn of man. This makes for a great novel but lousy history. In an interview on “Good Morning America,” Charlie Gibson asks, “This is a novel. If you had written it as a non-fiction book, how would it have been different?” Brown answers “I don’t think it would have. I began the research for The Da Vinci Code as a skeptic. I entirely expected as I researched to disprove this theory and, after numerous trips to Europe and about 2 years of research, I really became a believer.” Unfortunately many will forget that The Da Vinci Code is a novel and begin to believe it is factual, especially after Brown has made that very claim.
Diminishes the Person of Jesus Christ
But what exactly is Rome covering up? Erwin Lutzer summarizes very well the alleged plot underlining The Da Vinci Code:
Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene! They had children who intermarried with the French royal line! And all this has been known for centuries, but the truth has been kept from the public for fear of destroying the power of the church! In fact, there is a highly secret organization that guards documents that, if made public, would destroy Christianity as we know it.
Actually, the story as Dan Brown tells it, seems to be that Mary was pregnant with Jesus’ only child when He died. She later gave birth to a daughter (Sarah). It was Jesus’ intention that Mary give leadership to His newly formed church, but Peter moved in on her and forced her to flee (partly by accusing her of being a prostitute). Mary and Sarah moved to Gaul and established the French royal line known as the Merovingians (which supposedly still exists today in the Priory of Sion which has links to the Knights Templar). The Holy Grail is not the chalice from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper (something which itself is the creation of Medieval Catholicism, not biblically based), nor the cup which held the blood Jesus shed at the cross (another twelfth and thirteenth century myth), but the body of Mary Magdalene who held the blood of Jesus in her womb while bearing His child. Mary’s body is now entombed somewhere in Europe (trying to find her body is the quest of the novel), but that location, along with this whole conspiracy, is the carefully guarded secret of Christianity. The importance of finding Mary’s tomb is heightened by the idea that her sarcophagus contains the Sangreal documents which reveal the truth about the bloodline of Jesus. Whole organizations (such as the Opus Dei) exist to keep all of these secrets under wraps else they will destroy Christianity and, more importantly, the authority and power of Rome.
So, according to Brown, Christianity as we know it is a sham. It is founded on the fraud of the deity of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of Scripture. In order to give his theory legs, Brown must undermine these two pillars of the faith which he attempts to do in a number of creative ways. First, he misrepresents history. Beginning with Christ, Brown has one of his characters (Teabing) make the accusation that before the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), most Christians believed that Christ was a great moral prophet and a great man, but a man nevertheless. It was Emperor Constantine who invented the deity of Jesus to solidify his power. He convened the Council to get the church to officially accept his theory. According to Brown, this “new” view was passed by the narrowest of votes and from that point on the church has considered Jesus as God.
Brown’s accusations simply do not stand the test of either Scripture or history. Historically, the church fathers prior to Nicaea wrote often of their beliefs in Christ’s deity. The Council of Nicaea was convened to solve some of the questions that a bishop by the name of Arius had popularized concerning the extent of Christ’s divinity. The council, composed of the key Christian leaders of the time, by a vote of approximately 316 to two, confirmed the deity of Christ which had been taught all along. This did not totally solve the issue, since Arius and his followers continued to teach his heresy (which continues to this day in cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses). But the doctrine of the deity of Christ from that point on was established as a test of orthodoxy. Brown’s contention that Constantine, conspiring with a slim majority of fourth century bishops, invented the deity of Christ simply is not historically true.
Of course, our theology is not ultimately based on creeds and councils, but upon Scripture. The New Testament clearly establishes Christ’s deity. It is beyond the scope of this paper to deal with that issue except to point out that Brown does not try interacting with the statements found in the New Testament. Instead he attempts to dispute their validity. Brown contends that, not only the deity of Christ, but the New Testament canon is also an invention of the church, invented to protect those in power from rival challenges. Teabing, the most authoritative figure in the novel, says that our Bible “was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda – to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base.” As a result, “almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.”
Brown would have us believe that the New Testament canon (meaning rule or standard) resulted from a vote at the Council of Nicaea as part of Constantine’s power grab. It was mortals who wrote the Bible and mortals who decided what books belonged in the canon. Those mortals chose the books that fit their political agenda, as much as their theology – so goes the argument. But there are several gaping holes in this argument. For one, the Bible claims to be the product of the Holy Spirit who inspired men to write God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21). Secondly, the documents of the early church record that from the very beginning the people of God accepted the books that would be listed in our New Testament. It is true that a finalized list of New Testament books was not officially recognized by the church until the fourth century but, from the time of the apostles, God’s people discerned the difference between the inspired Scriptures and the pretenders. The need for a list of canonical books arose only as a result of false teachers attempting to elevate uninspired writings to the level of Scripture. The “councils only ratified what the church had already done; no council or pope imposed upon the churches books that the people of God had not already accepted.”
Gnosticism: an Alternative to Christianity
A legitimate question to ponder is why Brown has written The Da Vinci Code? Is he just trying to author the “great American novel?” If so, why does he devote so much of his attention to the debunking of Christ, Scripture and Christianity? Darrell Bock is correct when he writes:
The Da Vinci Code is not a mere work of fiction dressed in the clothes of quasi nonfiction. It reflects an effort to represent and, in some cases, rewrite history with a selective use of ancient evidence…. It claims to expose as fact something that is not there…. There is more going on here than the creation of an entertaining novel – there is a revision of what Christianity was and is.
Brown is not just attempting to destroy Christianity; he is trying to replace it with ancient Gnosticism. In this brief paper we can hit only some of the highlights of Gnosticism.
Who they were
The Gnostics were a diversified group of Greek thinkers who wrote from around the middle of the second century to the fifth. Many Bible scholars believe John’s Gospel and epistles, as well as Colossians, give evidence that, as early as the writing of the New Testament, elementary forms of Gnosticism were already becoming a concern. “Gnostic” comes from the Greek word for “knowledge” (gnosis). The Gnostics saw themselves as an elite group that was privy to special insights about the divine that others did not have. They sought to challenge the claims of Christianity and, toward that end, wrote gospels and epistles that propagated their teachings. Most of these writings were lost or destroyed over time, but in 1945 around 45 Gnostic titles were found in a cave in Nag Hammadi, Egypt . Among them were several so-called gospels, including Truth, Philip, Mary and the best known, The Gospel of Thomas. From these and other Gnostic works, as well as other ancient writings concerning Gnosticism, we can piece together some of what they believed.
What they believed
A one-sentence description of Gnosticism: a religion that differentiates the evil god of this world (who is identified as the God of the Old Testament [Jehovah]) from a higher more abstract God revealed by Jesus Christ, a religion that regards this world as the creation of a series of evil archons/powers who wish to keep the human soul trapped in an evil physical body, a religion that preaches a hidden wisdom or knowledge only to a select group as necessary for salvation or escape from this world.
Deity:The Supreme God of Truth is unknowable to humans. This being created a series of inferior gods, called Aeons. One of these Aeons was the female deity Sophia, who gave birth to Jehovah (or the Demiurge as the Gnostics called him), an inferior, evil god who is the creator of the earth and all that is in it. The Demiurge is so ignorant and proud that he actually thinks he is supreme.
Dualism: The spirit is good but matter, including the body, is evil. This explains the Gnostics’ hostility toward the idea of God taking on human form as Jesus did, for the body is merely a prison for the soul.
Salvation: Our salvation has nothing to do with the death of Christ for our sins. Salvation comes by learning secret knowledge. Jesus, “instead of coming to save us from sin, [came] as a guide who opens access to spiritual understanding. But when the disciple attains enlightenment, Jesus no longer serves as his spiritual master: the two have become equal – even identical.” “To know oneself, at the deepest level, is commensurate with knowing God; this is the secret of gnosis.”
“Contrary to orthodox sources, which interpret Christ’s death as a sacrifice redeeming humanity from guilt and sin, this Gnostic gospel sees the crucifixion as the occasion for discovering the divine self within.”
“Man’s problem, according to the Gnostics, is not sin, but ignorance; we simply need to know how to access the gnosis and experience our own enlightenment.”
Jesus: “Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is Lord and Son of God in a unique way…. Yet the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas relates that, as soon as Thomas recognizes Him, Jesus says to Thomas that they have both received their being from the same source.”
“Those who had… received gnosis had come to recognize Christ as the one sent from the Father of Truth, whose coming revealed to them that their own nature was identical with his – and with God’s.”
The Gnostics rejected Jesus’ physical resurrection.
Why the renewed interest
Erwin Lutzer is correct when he states, “Dan Brown’s agenda is not so thinly veiled: This book is a direct attack against Jesus Christ, the church, and those of us who are his followers and call him Savior and Lord.” Consider the following contrasts between Christianity and Gnosticism:
Sin: The concept of God becoming man and dying for our sins is repugnant to most, for the presupposition is that our real problem is sin. Sin has been removed from the vocabulary of the Western secularized world and replaced with phobias and syndromes. Deliverance from sin is found in Jesus Christ who died in our place. Deliverance from disorders is found in knowledge about the self. Gnosticism fits well with a society which is trying to find salvation in the self.
Savior:Because Christianity teaches that our true problem is sin, we need a Savior. But in Gnosticism the real problem is lack of understanding of self and therefore salvation is found in obtaining that knowledge.
Knowledge: Knowledge about God, according to traditional Christianity, must be found in revelation (i.e. the Bible); how much more appealing is it to find enlightenment in the self and experiences offered in Gnosticism?
God: The God of Christianity is the Supreme Being of the universe, sovereignly in control, holy and the final authority over all things. But mankind has always fled God’s holiness and longed to be free from His control (Psalm 2:1-3). Gnosticism offers a deity which is as corrupt and arrogant as we are, and actually under the thumb of other deities, most directly the female goddess Sophia.
Feminism:Feminism has permeated our culture. There is nothing more infuriating to feminists than male domination, of which they see the church being a prime example and one of the last holdouts against their ideology. The church has portrayed God as male; priests and pastors are historically male; the Bible is full of “sexist” language, etc. But in Gnosticism males have been dethroned, including Jehovah. Sophia, while herself being an inferior deity, is at least as powerful and worthy of worship as Jehovah. Dan Brown comments, “Two thousand years ago, we lived in a world of Gods and Goddesses. Today, we live in a world solely of Gods. Women in most cultures have been stripped of their spiritual power. The novel touches on questions of how and why this shift occurred…and on what lessons we might learn from it regarding our future.”
If we put it altogether, we discover in Christianity (according to Gnosticism and The Da Vinci Code) a church which has suppressed the truth about all of these things in order to control its adherents and to maintain male dominance. As Lutzer writes:
Christianity, according to Dan Brown’s novel, was invented to suppress women and to turn people away from the “divine feminine.” …The upshot of this theory is that Christianity is based on a big lie, or rather, several big lies. For one thing, Jesus was not God, but his followers attributed deity to him in order to consolidate male rule and to suppress those who worshipped the divine feminine…. Further, Constantine also chose Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the only Gospels because they fit his agenda of male power…. “It’s all about power,” we are told. 
The Da Vinci Code is not just a novel or a movie. It is a disguised but frontal attack on the Christian faith. Millions are being given reasons, based on myths and imagination, to question the claims of the Scriptures. At the same time they are being exposed to an ancient heresy which few know even exists. While Gnosticism as a system has long since been dismantled, its spirituality lives on in many forms today, including the emerging church, the subject of our next several papers.
For further study on The Da Vinci Code I would recommend Erwin Lutzer’s book, The Da Vinci Deception and Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell Bock.
Erwin W. Lutzer, The Da Vinci Deception, ( Wheaton: Tyndale House, 2004), p. xiii.
 Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, Special Illustrated Edition, ( New York: Doubleday, 2003), p. 240.
 Ibid., pp. 239-244.
 Ibid., p. 243.
 Lutzer, p. 73.
 Darrell L. Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code, ( Nashville: Nelson Books, 2004), pp. 149-150.
 Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief ( New York: Vintage Books, 2003), p. 166.
 David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs ( Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005), p. 143.
 Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Vintage Books, 1981), p. xx.
 Ibid., p. xix.
 Ibid., p. 114.
 Ibid., p. xx.
 Ibid., p. 140.
 Lutzer, p. xvii.
 Lutzer, pp. xvii-xviii.