"The Da Vinci Code"'s Sources: Did Dan Brown Really Borrow From "Holy Blood, Holy Grail"? | Carl E. Olson | February 27, 2006

The Da Vinci Code’s Sources: Did Dan Brown Really Borrow From Holy Blood, Holy Grail? | Carl E. Olson | February 27, 2006

Novelist Dan Brown is being sued in England for alleged breach of copyright law by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of the book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail (Dell, 1983). The Chicago Tribune reports that Dan Brown's lawyer has said the following about his client's alleged use of Holy Blood, Holy Grail in The Da Vinci Code:

But Jonathan Baldwin, representing Random House, said Baigent and Leigh were making "wild allegations." He said they were suggesting that "Mr. Brown has appropriated not only the numerous parts of a jigsaw puzzle but the organizational way (Baigent and Leigh) put it together."

"In brief, the complaint appears to be that 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' discloses the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that they had children which survived and married into a line of French kings, that the lineage continues today, and that there is a secret society based in France which has the objective of restoring this lineage to the thrones not only of France but to the thrones of other European nations as well, and that ('The Da Vinci Code') uses some of this idea," Baldwin said.

He said Brown referred to "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" in his novel, but the earlier book "did not have anything like the importance to Mr. Brown which the claimants contend it had."
So, Baldwin admits to Brown referring to some of the major premises of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (New York, 1982, 1983) but suggests that Brown's novel does not draw deeply from the book by Michael Baigent, Richard Liegh, and Henry Lincoln, nor really follow its structure or organization. True or not true? Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that the attorney for the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail isn't, of course, buying that argument:
Counsel for the two writers today disputed claims by Mr Brown, one of the highest paid authors in history, that their work was "incidental" to the creation of The Da Vinci Code, which has sold more than 40m copies worldwide. Jonathan James, QC, told Mr Justice Peter Smith in the chancery division of the high court today that this was an "extraordinary claim that would surprise anyone who has read The Da Vinci Code after reading The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail".

The QC said Mr Baigent and Mr Leigh's theory had "spawned many other books" that explored aspects of their historical conjecture in a variety of ways. But he added that only The Da Vinci Code had "lifted the central theme of the book"- the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married, had a child, and the bloodline continues to this day, with the Catholic Church trying to suppress the discovery. Mr James said "many people all over the world" had commented that the novel had lifted this focal theme.
Indeed many readers have noticed the "lifting" of "this focal theme" (and others), including myself and Sandra Miesel in our book The Da Vinci Hoax, where we note several times how Brown relies upon the 1983 book. Here in more detail is a look at some of the words, phrases, and ideas that The Da Vinci Code appears to borrow from Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

The Alleged Marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene

At the heart of Holy Blood, Holy Grail's elaborate pseudo-historical meanderings and conspiracy theories is the belief that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. As nearly everyone knows, the central premise of The Da Vinci Code is that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married:
"As I said earlier, the message of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record." He [Teabing] began pawing through his book collection. "Moreover, Jesus as a married man makes infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as a bachelor." (p 245)
"Because Jesus was a Jew," Langdon said, taking over while Teabing searched for his book, "and the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son." (p 245)
Compare those remarks to this passage from Holy Blood, Holy Grail:
According to Judaic custom at the time it was not only usual, but almost mandatory, that a man be married. Except among certain Essenes in certain communities, celibacy was vigorously condemned. During the late first century one Jewish writer even compared deliberate celibacy with murder, and he does not seem to have been alone in this attitude. And it was as obligatory for a Jewish father to find a wife for his son as it was to ensure that his son be circumcised. (pp 330-331).

The similarities are obvious, especially the re-use of certain words/phrases: "Judaic/Jewish custom","celibacy was condemned," "a Jewish father ... to find a wife for his son."

On page 246 of The Da Vinci Code, Sophie reads from the gnostic text, The Gospel of Philip (c. 250), citing a passage about the gnostic Jesus and his love for his "companion, "Mary Magdalene, a love demonstrated by many kisses on the mouth. Teabing says, "As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse" (p. 246). In Holy Blood, Holy Grail, before providing the same quote, the authors state: "According to one scholar he word 'companion' is to be translated as 'spouse'" (p 382).

Mary Magdalene as the Holy Grail

The Da Vinci Code
claims that Mary Magdalene, not a chalice or cup, is the true Holy Grail. Teabing states, "The Holy Grail is not a thing. It is, in fact ... a person" (p 236). And Langdon explains that "the Grail is literally the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church." (p 238).

A few moments later, gazing at a reproduction of The Last Supper, Sophie is told by Teabing that the person seated to the right of Christ in that painting is Mary Magdalene (p 243). And then Teabing states: "The Church needed to defame Mary Magdalene in order to cover up her dangerous secret–her role as the Holy Grail" (p 244). And: "Not only was Jesus Christ married, but He was a father. My dear, Mary Magdalene was the Holy Vessel. She was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ. She was the womb that bore the lineage, and the vine from which the sacred fruit sprang forth!"

The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail write:

Perhaps the Magdalen–that elusive woman in the Gospels–was in fact Jesus' wife. Perhaps their union produced offspring. ... Perhaps there was, in short, a hereditary bloodline descended directly from Jesus. Perhaps this bloodline, this supreme sang réal, then perpetuated itself, intact and incognito, for some four hundred years–which is not, after all, a very long time for an important lineage. (p 313)

At the same time the Holy Grail would have been, quite literally, the receptacle or vessel that is received and contained Jesus' blood. In other words it would have been the womb of the Magdalen–and by extension, the Magdalen herself. ... The Holy Grail, then, would have symbolized both Jesus' bloodline and the Magdalen, from whose womb that bloodline issued. (p 400)
Regarding Mary Magdalene's background, The Da Vinci Code says she is of the Tribe/House of Benjamin and "of royal descent" (p 248). Then Teabing states: "By marrying into the powerful House of Benjamin, Jesus fused two royal bloodlines, creating a potent political union with the potential of making a legitimate claim to the throne and restoring the line of kings as it was under Solomon" (p 249)

Meanwhile, Holy Blood, Holy Grail states that Jesus, "of the line of David and thus also a member of the tribe of Judah," needed to marry a "Benjamite woman" in order to have a legitimate claim to the throne. "Such a marriage would have constituted an important dynastic alliance an done filled with political consequence. ... Jesus would have been a priest-king of the line of David who possessed a legitimate claim to the throne. He would have consolidated his position by a symbolically important dynastic marriage." (p 347).

Constantine and the Council of Nicaea

Perhaps the strongest evidence of borrowing is found in The Da Vinci Code's remarks about Constantine, Christianity in the fourth century, and the relationship of pagan beliefs to Christian doctrine. Here are some examples:

The Da Vinci Code
Constantine "was a lifelong pagan who was baptized on his deathbed, too weak to protest" (p 232)
Holy Blood, Holy Grail:
"The image of Constantine as a fervent convert to Christianity is clearly wrong. He himself was not even baptized until 337–when he lay on his deathbed and was apparently too weakened or too apathetic to protest." (p 366)

The Da Vinci Code
"In Constantine's day, Rome's official religion was sun worship–the cult of Sol Invictus, or the Invincible Sun–and Constantine was its head priest."
Holy Blood, Holy Grail:
"The state religion of Rome under Constantine was, in fact, pagan sun worship; and Constantine, all his life, acted as its chief priest."

The Da Vinci Code
"Christian and pagans began warring, and the conflict grew to such proportions that it threatened to rend Rome in two. Constantine decided that something had to be done. In 325 A.D., he decided to unify Rome under a single religion. Christianity." (p 232)
Holy Blood, Holy Grail:
"While Constantine was not, therefore, the good Christian that later tradition depicts, he consolidated, in the name of unity and uniformity, the status of Christian orthodoxy. In A.D. 325, for example, he convened the Council of Nicea." (p 368).

The Da Vinci Code
"Historians still marvel at the brilliance with which Constantine converted the sun-worshipping pagans to Christianity. By fusing pagan symbols, dates, and rituals into the growing Christian tradition, he created a kind of hybrid religion that was acceptable to both parties." (p 232)
Holy Blood, Holy Grail:
"In the interest of unity, Constantine deliberately chose to blur the distinctions between Christianity, Mithraism, and Sol Invictus–deliberately chose not to see any contradictions among them." (p. 367) It then discusses Christmas and December 25th and (supposedly) shared beliefs between Christianity and Mithraism.

The Da Vinci Code
"Originally ... Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, but Constantine shifted it to coincide with the pagan's veneration day of the sun." (p. 232-3)
Holy Blood, Holy Grail:
"Christianity had hitherto held the Jewish Sabbath–Saturday–as sacred. Now, in accordance with Constantine's edict, it transferred its sacred day to Sunday." (p. 367)

The Da Vinci Code
At the Council of Nicaea, Teabing states, "many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon–the date of Easter, the role of bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus." (p. 233). The vote is described as "relatively close" by Teabing (p. 233).
Holy Blood, Holy Grail:
"At this council the dating of Easter was established. Rules were framed that defined the authority of bishops, thereby paving the way for a concentration of power in ecclesiastical hands. Most important of all, the Council of Nicea decided, by vote, that Jesus was a god, not a mortal prophet." (p. 368). An endnote states of the vote: "218 for, 2 against," which is far closer to the truth than Teabing's claim.

The Da Vinci Code
"To rewrite the history books [states Teabing, the historian], Constantine knew he would need bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history. ... Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned." (p. 234)
Holy Blood, Holy Grail:
"Thus, a year after the Council of Nicea, [Constantine] sanctioned the confiscation and destruction of all works that challenged orthodox teachings–works by pagan authors that referred to Jesus, as well as works by 'heretical' Christians. ... Then, in A.D. 331, he commissioned and financed new copies of the Bible. This constituted one of the single most decisive factors in the entire history of Christianity and provided Christian orthodoxy–the 'adherents of the message'–with an unparalleled opportunity" (368). Then, on the next page, the authors state that "the New Testament itself is only a selection of early Christian documents dating from the fourth century. There are a great many other works that predate the New Testament in its present form" (p 369). The authors argue that those other documents depict Jesus as being human only, even "all too human" (p. 270).

Many Streams, Same Water

On page 253 of The Da Vinci Code there is a list of four titles found on the bookshelves of historian Leigh Teabing. "The best-known tome," Teabing tells Sophie, is a "tattered hardcover" book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. He adds: "This caused quite a stir back in the nineteen eighties. To my taste, the authors make some dubious leaps of faith in their analysis, but their fundamental premise is sound, and to their credit, they finally brought the idea of Christ's bloodline into the mainstream" (p 254). What Teabing thinks "dubious" remains unclear since he refers to or repeats most of the major claims of the book. And Brown also seems agreeable to those claims, as he explained in this December 17, 2004, National Geographic article:
"I began as a skeptic," Brown says in the special, which premiered this past Sunday. "As I started researching The Da Vinci Code, I really thought I would disprove a lot of this theory about Mary Magdalene and holy blood and all of that. I became a believer."
It's worth noting that the other three sources listed on the same page of the novel as Holy Blood, Holy Grail, all draw heavily from that same work. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, authors of The Templar Revelation (Touchstone, 1998), write that Holy Blood, Holy Grail was "originally a particular inspiration to both of us" and that "we owe a debt of gratitude to all these writers for the light they have shed on our shared areas of investigation, but we believe that all of them have failed to find the essential key to the heart of these mysteries" (p 16). At least part of that "heart" is the belief Jesus was a high priest in an Egyptian mystery religion oriented around the worship of Isis and Osiris, and was "not so much the Son of God as a devoted Son of the Goddess" (p 297). Although Brown passed over that notion, he did apparently take up many of Picknett and Princes' strange ideas about the artwork of Leonardo da Vinci, drawing heavily from the first chapter of their book, "The Secret Code of Leonardo da Vinci" (pp 19-35) in making his claims about The Last Supper and Virgin of the Rocks, most notably the idea that the person to the right of Christ in the first painting is Mary Magdalene (in The Messianic Legacy [1986], the sequel to Holy Blood, Holy Grail, it is claimed that Jesus' "twin brother", Jude Thomas, sits as his right hand in that painting [pp 96-97]).

The other two books, Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine (Rochester, VT: Bear & Company, 1998), and The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail (Rochester, VT: Bear & Company,1993), are by Margaret Starbird, a former Catholic catechist who has been described by Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong as "a seeker after truth, not a defender of doctrine. She recognizes that orthodoxy is orthodox because it won and not necessarily because it is true" (from back cover of The Woman with the Alabaster Jar). Starbird admits that she turned her back on orthodox Catholic teachings after reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail in the 1980s: "The more deeply involved I became with the material, the more obvious it became that there was real substance in the theories set for in reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail. And gradually I found myself won over to the central tenets of the Grail heresy, the very theory I had originally set out to discredit" (The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, xx-xxi). (How ironic that Brown's admission of falling under the spell of the holy blood theory so closely echoes that of Margaret Starbird. Could that admission be borrowed as well?)

Whether or not Brown has infringed upon copyright laws is up to the English court of law. But it is clear that he has gone to the Holy Blood, Holy Grail well many times, both directly and indirectly incorporating large amounts of information from that book into his novel. Such, apparently, accounts his vaunted research and scholarship. And so the Coded Craziness continues, bouncing from best-seller charts to courts of law to the silver screen.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code | Excerpts from The Da Vinci Hoax | Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel
The "It's Just Fiction!" Doctrine: Reading Too Little Into The Da Vinci Code | Carl E. Olson

Carl E. Olson
is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.

He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers.

He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California. Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com .

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