The Da Vinci Con: 
    Fact and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown's 2003 best-seller, The Da Vinci Code, makes some outrageous historical claims about Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.  Despite being a work of fiction, the author presents these claims as historical fact: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."

In fact, almost nothing Brown claims about art, history, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Bible, secret documents or the Catholic Church is either true or accurate.  In addition to books, articles and websites, the following pages give a detailed look at some of Dan Brown's more fantastic claims.  Where possible, there are links to disinterested, secular sources.

Story of The Da Vinci Code:

Brown’s alleged historical facts (and the truth behind the fiction):

Other Historical Claims

  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Founding of Paris
  • Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Content of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Jehovah
  • Walt Disney

 

Pages in order

  1. Story of The Da Vinci Code: Murder Mystery
  2. Story of The Da Vinci Code: Historical Secret
  3. Leonardo’s Last Supper 
  4. Derivation of 'Holy Grail'
  5. Mary Magdalene in the Bible
  6. Priory of Sion
    6a. Opus Dei
  7. Questions of Jesus’s True Identity
  8. Non-Christian Sources
  9. Christian Sources: Biblical Texts
  10. Other Apostolic Texts sometimes considered inspired
  11. St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch – AD 110
  12. "Alternate" Gospels: Gospel of Peter (c. AD 130)
  13. St. Justin, Martyr – AD 151
  14. St. Irenaeus of Lyon – AD189
  15. "Alternate" Christianities: Marcion (c. AD 140), Valentinus (gnostic) (AD 136 – 165), Gnosticism (AD 100-150)
  16. Gnostic Scriptures:Gospel of Truth (AD 140-180), Gospel of Thomas (AD 140), Coptic Apocalypse of Peter (c. AD 200)
  17. The ‘Muratorian’ Canon: list of acceptable texts for church in Rome – c. AD 200
  18. Constantine
  19. Council of Nicaea - AD 325
  20. St. Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea (c. AD 330) – In his History of the Church, lists Four Categories of Texts
  21. Constantine’s Bibles – AD 331
  22. Codex Sinaiticus: Oldest surviving manuscript of the New Testament (from 4th c.)
  23. Closing the Canon
  24. Philosophical Issues: Diversity of Christianities
  25. Philosophical Issues: Subjectivism of Belief
  26. Theological Issue: Was Jesus married?
  27. Other Historical Claims

Resources

Books

Philip Jenkins, Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way, (Oxford 2001).  Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. Written two years before the appearance of Brown's work, Hidden Gospels offers a scholarly critique of all of Brown's supposed sources.  Jenkin's shows that the theories in the DVC are neither new, nor historically well-grounded. Jenkins shows that the DVC is part of long and ignoble tradition in popular entertainment:

Over the last century, the literature on hidden gospels, genuine and fraudulent, has been pervaded by conspiratorial speculations which suggest that some powerful body (usually the Roman Catholic Church) is cynically plotting either to conceal the true gospel, or to plant bogus documents to deceive the faithful.  Such ideas run through the many novels and fictional presentations on this theme: in the Hollywood film Stigmata, the Vatican is shown desperately trying to suppress a "Jesus Gospel" which is unmistakably modeled on the Gospel of Thomas.

In an episode of the TV show The X-Files, a forger produces a bogus "Gospel of Mary Magdalen," which records a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary.  Convinced of the document's authenticity, a cardinal who is considered a likely candidate for the papacy purchases the supposed gospel in order to surpress it. Ultimately the cardinal murders the forger.  However bizaare this may sound, the story is based on events that occurred in Utah in the 1980s, when a real-life forger produced documents purporting to expose embarassing secrets about the nineteenth-century origins of Mormonism.  He then tried to blackmail senior officials in the Mormon church, who wished desperately to keep these supposed discoveries from public gaze.  Presumably the writers of the X-Files episode ("Hollywood A.D.") felt that giving this tale an anti-Catholic slant would appeal much more directly to popular prejudices about religious trickery.

Much contemporary discussion of the earliest church is laden with age-old anti-Catholic rhetoric, with its imagery of power-hungry popes and book-burning prelates, set against heroic dissidents clinging to their scriptures of liberty (pp. 18-19).

Bart D. Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine, (Oxford, 2004).  Ehrman is the James A. Gray Professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He is the author of Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament and Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew.  He is no champion of "orthodoxy," but he is a reputable historian.  As he says in his Introduction (xiii): 

But like most historians who have spent their lives studying the ancient sources for Jesus and early Christianity, I immediately began to see problems with the historical claims made in the book [The DVC].  There were numerous mistakes, some of them howlers, which were not only obvious to an expert but also unnecessary to the plot.

Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code, (Ignatius, 2004).  The best critique from a Christian perspective.  It not only discusses the historical errors, but background on what gnosticism really is and why Brown's book is so popular. Amy Welborn, De-coding Da Vinci (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004).  A concise treatment of the problems of Brown's work.  It is intended for a popular audience.
Richard Abanes, The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code: A Challenging Response to the Bestselling Novel, (Harvest House Publishers, 2004).  Hank Hanegraaff and Paul L. Maier, The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004).
Erwin W. Lutzer, The Da Vinci Deception, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004) Shawn McDonnell, Preaching Another Jesus: Decoding Dan Brown's Davinci Code Hoax, (Lulu Press, 2004). 
Darrell L. Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code : Answers to the Questions Everyone's Asking, (Nelson Books, 2004).  James Garlow, Cracking Da Vinci's Code: You've Read the Fiction, Now Read the Facts, (Cook Communications, 2004).

On-line Resources

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Copyright © 2005-2006 Joseph M. Magee, Ph.D. - Last Updated 5/30/06