Exposing the Errors in "The Da Vinci Code" | Excerpts from
"The Da Vinci Hoax" | Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel
"Honestly, [reading the book] shook my whole faith. I realize
that the book is fiction, but much of what he wrote about seemed like
it was based on historical facts aside from the characters. Since I am
not a Christian scholar I dont even know where to begin to refute
these claims. As the Catholic church holds much of the evidence that would
refute the drivel in The Da Vinci Code, I was wondering if you
could point me in the right direction to a scholarly non-Christian book
that might help me make better sense of the whole historical chain of
events. If Christianity is nothing more than a big accommodation, it becomes
relegated to a lifestyle choice and not a religion, which I do not want
Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code | Excerpts from The
Da Vinci Hoax | Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel
(Note: Footnotes for these selected excerpts have been removed.)
Introduction: The Da Vinci Code Phenomenon
The immense success of The Da Vinci Code and its strong language
about early Christianity and the Catholic Church has resulted in substantial
controversy over many of the "facts" within its pages. Not only
is the novel influencing the views of non-Christian readers, it is raising
difficult questions in the minds of many Christians, some of whom are
being asked about Browns
interpretation of Church history and theology. One such reader recently
wrote to us, saying: "I own a Catholic bookstore. We are getting
bombarded daily by people who are buying into the garbage in this book.
You cannot believe how many people have been exposed to this book. . .
. We even had an elderly aunt talking about Opus Dei tonight and yelling
at us that the book is true or it couldnt be printed." Another
reader openly admitted the doubts that The Da Vinci Code has raised
in his mind:
Weve heard many similar stories in recent months and expect to hear
more, which is the main reason this book has been written. Just as the Left
Behind books have been used to promote a premillennial dispensationalist
understanding of Scripture and the end times, The Da Vinci Code has
proven to be an effective tool for attacking Christian doctrine and undermining
the faith of those uncertain of how to respond to the many accusations leveled
against the Church.
Sadly, its not surprising that a work of fiction has produced confusion
among some Christians about Church history and doctrine at a time when catechesis
and basic knowledge of the Faith are so poor. It is even less surprising
that non-Christian readers would be taken in by Browns revisionist
history of the Church. After all, its a demonstrated fact that most
Americans are illiterate about major events in the history of their own
country. For example, one recent study of historical literacy among young
Americans found that most "College seniors could not identify Valley
Forge, words from the Gettysburg Address, or even the basic principles of
the U.S. Constitution". So why should we expect them to be able to
discern fact from fiction when it comes to early Church history and the
complex debates over the divinity and person of Jesus Christ that took place
in the first four centuries of the Church? An example of this is a recent
online article about a Catholic discussion group meeting to discuss The
Da Vinci Code at a Catholic parish. The author of the article, David
"I queried several in the audience why they were there, and what
their reaction was to the book and the evenings discussion. One
woman told of her teenage son who was reluctant to go through the sacrament
of Confirmation, yet after reading the book found a more believable, understandable,
even human Jesus. That actually inspired him to continue the path. Another
person said that such material added to the mystery, and in doing so served
to strengthen her faith. For one it called into question the credibility
of the teaching of the Church, yet felt that faith needs to be challenged
to be pursued. Others voiced the idea that this book reinforced a disenchantment
with the Church."
This group, and others similar to it, obviously emphasize opinion and feelings
over careful and objective study. This ambivalent approach to the claims
of the novel are summarized well in Roterts remark: "Fortunately
the evenings [sic] participants did not come expecting Yes/No answers".
The same remark could be made about religious education in many parishes
and churches today, again highlighting the need for a more rigorous approach
to popular works such as The Da Vinci Code.
Fiction, especially best-selling popular fiction such as The Da Vinci
Code, has become a major means of "educating" the masses about
many, varied topics, but especially issues that are controversial and can
be easily sensationalized. The belief that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene,
had children, and was not divine has existed for several decades in American
pop culture and can even be traced back to feminist groups in the nineteenth-century.
Yet many, if not most, readers of Browns novel seem unaware of thiseven
though the novel provides the titles of several books written in the last
two or three decades proposing such beliefs.
Chapter 1: Gnosticism: The Religion of the Code
A serious question ignored by The Da Vinci Code is this: Why should
the writings of the Gnostics be considered more dependable than the canonical
writings, especially when they were written some fifty to three hundred
years later than the New Testament writings? Its easy for writers
such as Brown, who are sympathetic to the gnostics (or at least to some
of their ideas), to criticize the canonical Gospels and call many of the
stories and sayings contained in them into question. But without the canonical
Gospels there would be no historical Jesus at all, no meaningful
narrative of his life, and no decent sense of what he did, how he
acted, and how he related to others.
As we pointed out, the "gnostic gospels" arent gospels at
all in the sense of the four canonical gospels, which are filled with narrative,
concrete details, historical figures, political activity, and details about
social and religious life. Contrary to Teabings assertion that "the
early Church literally stole Jesus" and shrouded his "human
message . . . in an impenetrable cloak of divinity", and used it to
expand their own power (233), the Church was intent, from the very beginning,
on holding on to the humanity and divinity of Christ and on telling the
story of his life on earth without washing away the sorrow, pain, joy, and
blood that so often accompanied it. The Church fought to keep Christianity
firmly rooted in history and fact "rather than the random mythologies
reinvented at the whim of each rising Gnostic sage. The church was struggling
to retain the idea of Jesus as a historical human being who lived and died
in a specific place and time, not in a timeless never-never land."
The Jesus of the gnostic writings is rarely recognizable as a Jewish carpenter,
teacher, and prophet dwelling in first century Palestine; instead, he is
often described as a phantom-like creature who lectures at length about
the "deficiency of aeons", "the mother", "the Arrogant
One", and "the archons"all terms that only the gnostic
elite would comprehend, hence their secretive, gnostic character. One strain
of gnosticism, known as docetism, held that Jesus only seemed, or appeared,
to be a man. Adherents believed this because
of their dislike for the physical body and the material realm, a common
trait among gnostics. The tendency towards a docetist understanding of Jesusif
not a fully formed docetist Christologyexisted in the first century
and was addressed in some of the later writings of Paul (Colossians and
the pastoral Epistles) and John (cf. 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6; 2 Jn 7). In the second
century, docetism became a developed theology and made its appearance in
various Gnostic writings, including the Acts of John, written in
the late second century:
"Sometimes when I would lay hold on him, I met with a material
and solid body, and at other times, again, when I felt him, the substance
was immaterial and as if it existed not at all. And if at any time he
were bidden by some one of the Pharisees and went to the bidding, we went
with him, and there was set before each one of us a loaf by them that
had bidden us, and with us he also received one; and his own he would
bless and part it among us: and of that little every one was filled, and
our own loaves were saved whole, so that they which bade him were amazed.
And oftentimes when I walked with him, I desired to see the print of his
foot, whether it appeared on the earth; for I saw him as it were lifting
himself up from the earth: and I never saw it."
If the material realm is evil, as almost all gnostic
groups believed, why would a being such as Christ have anything to with
it? And why should we be concerned at all with history and the common
life of ordinary people? The gnostic Christ is not interested in earthly,
historical events as much as freeing the spirit from the entrapment of
the body. In many gnostic texts, Christ and Jesus are posited as two separate
beingsChrist being from above and Jesus, the bodily vessel that
Christ dwelled in for a time on earth, from below. "This kind of
Christology could be called separationist, in that it saw
two clear and separate persons, the human being Jesus and the divine aeon
Christ who temporarily dwelled in him", notes Ehrman. "According
to some forms of these Gnostic views, the Christ descended into Jesus
at his baptism, empowering him for his ministry, and then left him prior
to his death. Thus it was that the divine Christ escaped suffering. Jesus,
in this view, suffered alone."
"This high regard for Mary Magdalene continues in the fourth-
and fifth-century Latin fathers of the church. Ambrose, bishop of Milan,
associated Mary Magdalene with the New Eve who clings to Christ as the
new Tree of Life, thereby reversing the unfaithfulness of the first Eve.
Augustine maintains this view, pairing Mary Magdalene with Christ as symbol
of the New Eve and the church in relation to Christ as the New Adam. Her
faithfulness reversed the sin of the first Eve."
Gnosticism was exclusive, elitist, and esoteric, open only to a few. Christianity,
on the other hand, is inclusive and exoteric, open to all those who acknowledge
the beliefs of the Faith handed down by Jesus and enter into a life-giving
relationship with him. Jesus Christ of the canonical Gospels is a breathing,
flesh-and-blood person; he gets hungry, weeps, eats and drinks with common
people, and dies. Jesus Christ of the gnostic writings is a phantom, a
spirit who sometimes inhabits a body and sometimes doesnt, and who
talks in ways that very few could understand. Once again, The Da Vinci
Code has it backwards.
Chapter 2: The Magdalene: Saint, Sinner, or Goddess?
Any supposed attempts to rid the Church of Mary Magdalene or ban her name
from being mentioned did not succeed, simply because they didnt
exist. In fact, many of the early Church Fathers remark about the Magdalene,
and she is described by Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 236) as "the apostle
to the apostles" in his commentary on the Song of Songs. Even feminist
theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, hardly a supporter of the Catholic
hierarchy, scoffs at the notion of a conspiracy against Mary Magdalene,
pointing to the positive treatment she received from the early Church
By the eighth century the Western Church was celebrating a feast day for
Mary Magdalene, the twenty-second day of July. By the ninth century there
were specific prayers for her feast day, and by the eleventh century there
was "a complete mass dedicated to the saint (with introit, gradual,
offertory, communion, and lessons)". It was also in the eleventh century
that devotion to the Magdalene began to noticeably increase. The cult of
Mary Magdalene was established at Vézelay, the Romanesque church
in Burgandy that had been founded in the ninth century and was originally
dedicated to the Virgin Mary. During the abbacy of Geoffrey (1037-1052)
Mary was recognized as the patron of that church in a papal bull dated April
27, 1050, by Pope Leo IX. At the same time, relics of the Magdalene were
being sought and gathered in earnest, and soon Vézelay became a major
destination for pilgrimages.
Numerous stories, almost all of them fanciful and legendary in nature, were
created to explain how Marys remains had arrived at Vézelay.
A leading tradition in the West held that Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lazarus
were expelled from Palestine following the crucifixion of Christ. Floating
in an oarless boat, they eventually arrived at the southern coast of France.
In the East, a tradition stated that Mary had been the companion of the
Apostle John and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and that they had all settled
in Ephesus. According to The Golden Legend, the Magdalene and John
were betrothed. Some legends depict Mary living her final days in a cave
in France, a hermit covered only by her long hair; these stories probably
date back no farther than the ninth century.
During the late medieval era it was common to hear sermons about Mary Magdalene
and how she fulfilled the apostolic life. She was also a model for Christians
seeking to leave behind a life of sensuality and luxury, an encouragement
to monks and nuns, as well as an exhortation to prostitutes. "But most
of all a Magdalene sermon was the vehicle by which preachers called people
to penance and offered them the hope of salvation. . . . We must not forget
that it is our own age that officially memorializes Saint Mary Magdalene
as a disciple; it was the Dark Ages that honored her as a preacher
and apostle of the apostles."
Chapter 3: The Christ and the Code
So what about Teabings claim that until A.D. 325nearly three
centuries following Jesus time on earthnobody believed that
Jesus was anything more than "a mortal prophet" and a "a
great and powerful man"? Notice that Teabing does not personally reject
the divinity of Jesus (many people do reject it), or claim that certain
modern day scholars deny that Jesus was somehow divine (many scholars do
deny it), but that the early followers of Jesusthe Christians of the
first three centuries following Jesus time on earthbelieved
that he was not divine at all, but "a mortal" only. For one thing,
this seriously undermines the credibility of Teabings character, for
any historian, whether or Christian or not, knows that the early Christians
most definitely believed that Jesus of Nazareth was somehow divine, being
the "Son of God" and the resurrected Christ. In fact, the central
issue at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 was not whether Jesus
was merely human or something more, but how exactly his divinitywhich
even the heretic Arius acknowledgedwas to be understood: Was he fully
divine? Was the Son equal to the Father? Was he a lesser god? What did it
mean to say that the Son was "begotten", as the Gospel of John
states in several places (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18)?
Even Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation, two
of Browns main sources for his statements about Jesus, Constantine,
paganism, and the Council of Nicaea, do not propose that prior to A.D. 325
nobody believed Jesus was divine. In fact, the authors of Holy Blood,
Holy Grail do not even deny the possibility that Jesus was divine; their
main interest is insisting that Jesus was marred to Mary Magdalene: "And
while we ourselves cannot subscribe to Jesus divinity, our conclusions
do not preclude others from doing so. Quite simply there is no reason why
Jesus could not have married and fathered children while still retaining
The authors of The Templar Revelation have a different perspective;
although they admit that Jesus was called the "Son of God" by
his early followers, they write that this was a mistake, and that "Jesus
was not so much the Son of God as a devoted son of the Goddess." Their
central thesis is that Jesus was "essentially an Egyptian missionary"
intent on promoting the pagan religion of the Isis/Osiris mystery cult of
Egypt. "Christianity was not the religion founded by the unique Son
of God who died for all our sins", they write, "it was the worship
of Isis and Osiris repackaged. However, it rapidly became a personality
cult, centered on Jesus." Both books agree that Jesus main goal
was the establishment of political power, that he did not die on the cross,
and that his resurrection was a clever and elaborate hoax, all of which
is either stated directly or hinted at in The Da Vinci Code.
The essential point is that Teabings statements, which apparently
reflect Browns beliefs as well, are not only false, they arent
even supported by Browns main sources. What The Da Vinci Code
does share with The Templar Revelation and Holy Blood, Holy Grail
is the conviction that historical, creedal Christianity is a lie, an elaborate
ruse born out the thirst for power and a violent desire to suppress the
truth about Jesus: that he was a mere mortal, or a married man with lofty
political goals, or the high priest of an Egyptian mystery religion. In
their own ways, each denies the death and resurrection of Jesus, his salvific
work, and the establishment of a unique peoplethe Churchbound
not by ethnicity or gender or social status, but by the unique work of Jesus
Christ, the God-man. "For you are all sons of God through faith in
Christ Jesus", the apostle tells the Christians in Galatia, "For
all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there
is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal
Chapter 4: Constantine, Paganism, and Nicaea
Constantines move from paganism to Christianity was not immediate
or always consistent. But over the course of several years he increased
his support of the Church and implemented laws against certain pagan practices
and activities."For a time it seemed as if merely tolerance and equality
were to prevail", states The Catholic Encyclopedia, "Constantine
showed equal favour to both religious. As pontifex maximus he watched
over the heathen worship and protected its rights. The one thing he did
was to suppress divination and magic; this the heathen emperors had also
at times sought to do. Thus, in 320, the emperor forbade the diviners or
haruspices to enter a private house under pain of death."
Some scholars argue that the chasm between the monotheism of Christianity
and the cult of Sol Invictus was not as wide as it might initially
appear. The cult of Sol Invictus was not polytheistic or even pantheistic,
but monotheistic; it was "the worship of the divine spirit by whom
the whole universe was ruled, the spirit whose symbol is the sun; a symbol
in which this spirit in some way specially manifests itself. . . . The whole
cult is penetrated with the idea of an overruling divine monarchy. Moreover,
the cult was in harmony with a philosophical religion steadily growing,
in the high places of the administration, throughout this same [fourth]
century, the cult of Summus Deusthe God who is supreme."
For Constantinea man without concern for theological precisionthere
was probably little, if any, distinction between the pagan and Christian
notions of God (even though he surely recognized the differences in worship
and morality)."The transition from solar monotheism (the most popular
form of contemporary paganism) to Christianity was not difficult",
writes Henry Chadwick. "In Old Testament prophecy Christ was entitled
the sun of righteousness[Mal. 4:2]. Clement of Alexandria (c.
A.D. 200) speaks of Christ driving his chariot across the sky like a Sun-god.
. . . Tertullian says that many pagans imagined the Christians worshiped
the sun because they met on Sundays and prayed towards the East."
The Da Vinci Code implies that Constantine was baptized against his
wishes (232). This was not the case. He had desired to be baptized in the
waters of the Jordan River, where Jesus had been baptized, but it was not
to be. Not long after the Easter of 337 he called together some bishops,
removed his purple robe, and put on the white garments of a catachumen,
then was baptized by Eusebius, the bishop of Nicomedia. He died a few days
later. It was common for Christians at the time to put off baptism until
their deathbed. Serious sins committed after baptism would require severe
penance, so some considered it safer to wait until the end of life to be
baptized. This practice was mentioned by Augustine in his Confessions;
as a child he nearly died of illness and his mother considered having him
baptized. Augustine writes that once he recovered, however, "my cleansing
was deferred, as if it were inevitable that, if I should live, I would be
further polluted; and, further, because the guilt contracted by sin after
baptism would be still greater and more perilous."18 This
approach to baptism would have fit Constantines case since he undoubtedly
understood that many of his actions were considered grave sins by the Church:
"It was common at this time (and continued so until about A.D. 400)
to postpone baptism to the end of ones life, especially if ones
duty as an official included torture and execution of criminals. Part of
the reason for postponement lay in the seriousness with which the responsibilities
Constantine did see Christianity as a unifying forceand he was correct
in his assessment that Christianity, not paganism, had the moral core and
theological vision to change society for the better. He may not have been
a saint, but neither was he simply a political operator without concern
for truth and goodness. William Durant, hardly partial to the Catholic Church,
writes, "His Christianity, beginning as policy, appears to have graduated
into sincere conviction. He became the most persistent preacher in his realm,
persecuted heretics faithfully, and took God into partnership at every step.
Wiser than Diocletian, he gave new life to an aging Empire by associating
it with a young religion, a vigorous organization, a fresh morality."
Constantine was not a life-long pagan or a cynical manipulator, as The
Da Vinci Code suggests. "[Dan] Brown has turned him into a cartoonish
villain", states Dr. Mitchell. "That Constantine the emperor had
"political" motives (The Da Vinci Code, p. 234) is hardly
news to anyone! The question is how religion and politics (which cannot
be separated in the ancient world) were interrelated in him." The "answers"
that Brown gives to that question are less than satisfying as well
see in his explanation of how Constantine supposedly "created"
a "hybrid religion" of paganism and Christianity.
Chapter 5: Myths of the Holy Grail
The object of a successful Grail quest is "to kneel before the bones
of Mary Magdalene", (257) something Browns herobut not
his heroineactually gets to do at the novels sodden climax.
(454). On the other hand, the villainous Vaticans Grail quests were
secret missions to kill the Magdalenes descendants who continue
the holy blood of Jesus (257). The hierarchy has always tried to destroy
the Grail to keep its ill-gotten patriarchal power (268). As another negative
example, Browns villain Teabing is a quester so murderously obsessed
that the Grail has become his spiritual mistress and therefore he fails
Browns version of the Priory of Sion not only guards the secret
of the Magdalene-Grail equationbut also her relics, her bloodline, and
four huge chests full of documents verifying same. Significantly, he adds
another feature to the society, goddess-worship, which had not featured
at all in the program of the modern Priory.
To this degree Brown fuses the principal tenets of Holy Blood, Holy
Grail with The Templar Revelations emphasis on the goddess
and the mystical feminism of Margaret Starbird. Browns characters
worship the fusion of masculine and feminine divinity through the ancient
pagan rite of hieros gamos "sacred marriage" but he doesnt
specifically identify Jesus and Mary Magdalene as lovers who performed
this ritual. They are properly wed, just like his heroine Sophies
grandparents in The Da Vinci Code, and their cultic functions are
discreetly unmentioned. Starbird has the Magdalene as Christs Bride
in The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, but Picknett and Prince have
Jesus and Mary Magdalene unmarriedand uncongenialparticipants
in the sexual worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis. Picknetts recent
solo book, Mary Magdalene: Christianitys Hidden Goddess depicts
her as a Jewish-Ethiopian goddess-worshipping priestess-preacher of Johannite
Christianity. Whatever happened to the signature red hair? Perhaps Brown
realized that hed better stick to prettier theories.
Brown makes large claims for the Grail story, calling it "the most
enduring legend of all time" (249). Never mind that is was unknown
until the late twelfth century. He wonders why none of the other Passion
relics have attracted such a mystique, apparently unaware of the stories
of the True Cross which are more than seven centuries older and connected
with widely dispersed visible relics. Brown says that the Grail has been
the object of wars and questsas if these were real and not literary
To universalize the Grail, Brown connects it with a V-shaped figured called
the "chalice". It is supposed to be the most ancient symbol
of femininity while the reversed figure termed the "blade" represents
masculinity. Turned into triangles and superimposed, they become the familiar
Star of David or Seal of Solomon, which supposedly means a conjunction
of gender principles. Brown is taking these ideas from Riane Eislers
Chalice and the Blade which Neo-Pagan writer Margot Adler calls
"a provocative, feminist reinterpretation of history". Dipping
a blade into a chalice is in fact a detail in Gardnerian Wiccan ritual.
Incidentally, one paragraph of Alders own summary of common Neo-Pagan
beliefs wouldnt have sounded out of place in The Da Vinci Code:
"In our culture which has for so long denied and denigrated the feminine
as negative, evil or, at best, small and unimportant, women (and men too)
will never understand their own creative strength and divine nature until
they embrace the creative feminine, the source of inspiration, the Goddess
within." The incompatibility of these notions with Christianity should
The Star (more properly the Shield) of David wasnt used by Jews
in biblical times but entered Jewish culture as a protective sign via
Islamic magic practices around the tenth century. It became a heraldic
symbol in early modern Prague and finally emerged as the universal emblem
of Jewishness among nineteenth century Zionists, hence its use on the
Israeli flag.4 Granted that anything concave is "feminine"
and anything convex is "masculine" in a Freudian sense, if the
so-called chalice and blade were as primordial and universal as Brown
claims, they would be easy to detect in the most ancient human societies.
But an examination of a work by pagan-friendly archeologist Marija Gimbutas,
The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, on Neolithic divine imagery
reveals many kinds of sexual symbols, but no chalices or blades. Going
farther back in time to Ice Age Europe, two pages of Paleolithic signs
reproduced by Alexander Marshak in The Roots of Civilization show
a variety of female and male signs but only one possible chalice.
On the other hand, recognition of the female body as a container is a
basic mythological insight simply extrapolated from observing the functions
of breast and womb as vessels. The Great Mother by Erich Neumann
is a notable analysis of the worldwide maternal archetype from a Jungian
perspective. Neumann connects the grail with the breast as an "open"
symbol of nourishment, transformation, and fertility.
These traits will be met in the legendary Holy Grail. But its worth
noting that Mary Magdalene is essentially a transformed rather
than a transforming person: in the Bible she goes from possessed
to free; in tradition she goes from sinner to saint. In neither the canonical
nor the Gnostic gospels is she physically fertile; her impact is spiritual
only. The Grail-as-Magdalene is a poor fit. Our Blessed Lady as Virgin
and MotherNeuman analyzes her in both rolesmakes the perfect
living Grail because she is the "container" par excellence of
Christs own blood.
Chapter 6: The Real Templars
Brown picked up the supposed heterodoxy of round churches from
The Templar Revelation, which cites no Church document as evidence.
Yet round churches have never been forbidden nor cruciform ones imposed
by ecclesiastical authorities. Not all the great churches of the Middle
Ages were shaped like a Latin cross. Teabings allusion to the Pantheon
(later repeated by Langdon) refers to a temple of all the gods in Rome
that was rededicated as a Christian church in 609 in honor of St. Mary
and the Martyrs. There are also round churches in Rome built by Christians,
S. Costanza (ca. 350) and S. Stefano Rotundo (ca. 475). The shape has
been revived in recent decades, see for example the Catholic Cathedral
of Liverpool, designed in the 1950s and St. Louis Priory in St. Louis,
Missouri, completed in 1962. Are we to imagine that all the architects
were crypto-sun worshippers? If theres an intrinsic connection between
roundness and paganism, the ancient Greeks and Romans never heard of it,
inasmuch as their temples were almost always rectangular.
The true inspiration for distinctive Templar churches was the Anastasis
Rotunda, a high-domed circular structure that Constantine ordered built
over the Tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, adjacent to the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre (in use by 350). Muslims adapted its double-walled design, building
a circular core within an outer octagonal shell for their famous Dome
of the Rock on Temple Mount (ca. 690). This shrine was reclaimed as a
church during Crusader occupation and named the Temple of the Lord. Medieval
depictions of the original Temple of Solomon were often modeled on the
re-christened Dome. It gave the Templars their name and appears on the
reverse of their seal. The image stuck: a domed, polygonal Temple appears
in Raphaels Espousals of the Virgin, painted in 1504.
Few Templar churches were circular. St. Sepulchres in Cambridge,
England (1130) is a rare surviving example. The church within their huge
Holy Land fortress Chateau Pélerin (ca. 1220) is imperfectly round
but echoes the contours of the Anastasis Rotunda. The twelfth century
Paris and London Temples had circular naves with oblong choir sections
added later. Teabings claim of perfect circularity misrepresents
the buildings actual appearance. And Brown appears so unfamiliar
with churches that he cant tell one end of it from another. Browns
hero Langdon thinks the "boxy annex" of the oblong portion is
the nave of the church (343). The oblong part is in fact the choir, not
the nave. (How did he overlook the opportunity to read an oblong part
conjoined with a circular part as a pagan symbol of coition?) But not
all round churches were built by Templars and not all centrally-planned
Templar churches were round. Some were polygonal, recalling the Dome of
Browns depiction of the London Temple is defective, although detailed
descriptions exist in one of his sources, not to mention ample data and
photographs available on the Internet. Browns characters are by
turns too knowledgeable and too ignorant, as well as oblivious to whats
in front of their eyes. For instance, the buildings random patches
of dark and light stonework caused by post World War II repairs arent
noticed. The central arcade of columns somehow becomes a room-encircling
stone bench. The characters count ten tomb effigies of stone knights before
they notice that one tomb lacks an effigy. Teabing the expert historian
wrongly assumes that the sculptures depict Templars when he should have
known that they are figures of Templar admirers, including the famous
Sir John Marshall and two of his sons.
The reason for belaboring these points is that fantasies about the Knights
intellectual and artistic achievements loom large in Holy Blood, Holy
Grail and The Templar Revelation. Brown had the chance to learn
the facts from Peter Partners book The Murdered Magicians,
which he lists in his bibliography, but he chose to ignore them. Browns
bibliography contains no standard reference works on medieval architecturea
poor basis for his pretensions to scholarship. But then, Brown distorts
the fate of the Templars even worse than their buildings.
Chapter 7: The Templar Myth
The Templar myth started with an offhand remark by a Renaissance expert
on magic. When German scholar Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim wrote
De occulta philosophia (1531), he happened to mention "the detestable
heresy of the Templars" as an example of evil magic alongside witches,
dualist heretics, pagan sex rites, and Gnostic abominations. The idea
was picked up in France and embellished with lurid details about ancient
Gnostic orgies and infant sacrifice. From this unpromising spark, a durable
fire would kindle.
But several developments had to occur before the Templars could light
up the occultist world. Freemasons had to emerge, a well as taste for
various types of "illumined" mysticism. "Speculative"
Freemasonry, as distinct from the "operative" craft of working
stone, coalesced in Scotland in the 1590s when lodges of actual stoneworkers
began to enroll outsiders who were interested in the symbolic possibilities
of architectural knowledge. David Stevensons Origins of Freemasonry
traces the gradual process whereby guild practices habits of secrecy evolved
into a secret society.
Freemasonry was nourished by intellectual enthusiasms first unleashed
during the Italian Renaissance: Neo-platonist philosophy, Hermetian wisdom
derived from Hellenistic Egypt, Christianized Cabala, alchemy considered
as spiritual transformation, and Rosicrucianism that sought the renewal
of all arts and the mastery of nature. "The occult striving"
says Stevenson, "was in essence an attempt to penetrate beyond the
world of experience to the reality which underlay it and as such paralleled
or overlapped with the artistic use of symbols and emblems.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, the turn towards human reason so
dear to the Renaissance and subsequent eras flowed beside an opposite
current attracted to mysticism. Then as now, some intelligent people dipped
from both streams. Sir Issac Newton worked at alchemy as well as mathematics
and physics; contemporary computer programmers may practice Wicca. This
double stream was especially prominent in the eighteenth century, for
the Age of Reason was also an Age of "Illuminism" that longed
to be "enlightened" by secret wisdom. French historian A. Viatte
observes: "Rather than obey the dictates of the real, and adjust
himself to his reduced limits, late eighteenth century man took refuge
among phantoms; satisfying his nostalgia with the marvels offered by imposters
and necromancers." Partner himself says, "The Age of Reason
was an age of runaway superstition." Not coincidentally, the same
century saw Freemasonry attain its modern formand the Lodge brought
back the Temple. Freemasonry had already traveled from Scotland to England
in the seventeenth century and created an aura of profundity around itself.
Even members of Britains Royal Society, the earliest organization
of scientists, became Freemasons and absorbed Rosicrucian ideas.
The failure of Scotlands rebellion against English rule in 1715
sent Scottish refugees to France. Some these leading "Jacobites"
were Freemasons and spread their Craft among the French nobility. In 1736,
one of these men, the Chevalier Ramsay, preached that Freemasons were
heirs of Masonic crusaders who had learned biblical, Egyptian, and Greek
wisdom during their service in the Holy Land. Building the Temple was
a metaphor for self-development. Ramsays talk played to French taste
for chivalric pageants and honors. (Although early Freemasonry enrolled
many Catholics, including Ramsay himself, Pope Clement XII strongly condemned
the Craft in 1738 for Deism and religious indifferentism. This prohibition
has been repeated by subsequent popes and Catholic are still forbidden
to join Masonic organizations.)
The advanced "Scottish Rite" (sometimes called Red Lodge) degrees
were developed to satisfy this taste. In its final form, the twenty-nine
degrees of this rite repeatedly refer to Solomons Temple and include
a Knight Rose Croix ("of the Rosy Cross", for that Rosicrucian
touch). The parallel York Rite, which originated in the later eighteenth
century, has the Knight Templar as its highest degree.
Chapter 8: The Priory of Sion Hoax
First publicized by French writer Gérard de Sède in the
1970s, the Priory was revealed to English speakers by the 1982 best-seller
Holy Blood, Holy Grail, co-authored by Michael Baigent, Richard
Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. So fundamental is this book to The Da Vinci
Code that Dan Brown borrowed two of the authors names for his
character Leigh Teabing (whose surname is an anagram of Baigent). Both
Baigent and Lincoln are Masonic historians, while Leigh is a fiction writer.
They fully accept the Templar myth connecting the Knights to Freemasonry
and believe that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, leaving descendants who
survive to this day under the Priorys protection.
Brown borrows the Holy Blood, Holy Grail
theses with both hands. His fictional Priory likewise guards the "Grail
Secret" of the Holy Bloodwith documents to prove itas
well as the precious bones of the Magdalene. Coyly, the Priorys
initials P.S. also stand for "Princess Sophie", the nickname
of his heroine Sophie Nevue, born into the sacred bloodline. Browns
Priory continues the practice claimed in Holy Blood, Holy Grail
by enrolling the best and brightest of the day. Sophies personal
attractions are presented as typical of the breed. Her brilliant, multi-talented
grandfather Jacques Saunière is both a curator at the Louvre and
Grand Master of the Priory. And as clinching proof of excellence, Priory
members drive expensive cars to a gathering for worship of the divine
But so high-minded is Browns Priory that it wont lift a finger
to flick its ancient enemy the Catholic Church into well-deserved oblivion.
Rather than using its secret documents to blackmail the Church or unmask
the falsity of her claims, the Priory will wait for imminent liberalization
in Rome and let belief in the divine feminine re-emerge spontaneously.
This is why the millennium passed without the overturning of altars.
This forbearance is a departure from the arguments of Holy Blood, Holy
Grail, which outlined the ambition of the Priorys then-Grand
Master Pierre Plantard to restore the French monarchy with himself as
king. Four years later Holy Blood, Holy Grails 1986 sequel
The Messianic Legacy, modified these plans to encompass a new (and
counterintuitive!) European order based on popular enthusiasm for elite
Because Plantard died in 2000 with "earth-shaking secrets" still
unrevealed, Brown dropped the political angle but kept the Priorys
pretensions as the ultimate secret society, more powerful than the Jesuits,
the Holy Office, Opus Dei, the Mafia, the Freemasons, the Bilderbergers,
and the Trilateral Commission. He does simplify the Priorys list
of rivals, making its great enemy Opus Dei instead of the Knights of Malta,
which The Messianic Legacy views as the Vaticans intelligence
service. (The Knights medical apostolate is dismissed in that book
as mere cover for spying.)
Brown does cling to the following historically ludicrous claims made by
Holy Blood, Holy Grail: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and
intended his Church to be led by her, not St. Peter. They were the parents
of at least one child. After the Crucifixionwhich is not followed
by a resurrectionthe Magdalene fled to southern Gaul with Joseph
of Arimathea. There they found safe refuge among the local Jewish community.
Some fifth century descendant injected the Holy Blood into the Merovingian
dynasty that took power in what is now France after Romes fall.
(The Merovingians were already themselves derived from the Hebrew tribe
of Benjamin, transplanted to Greece, then Germany.) Although the last
Merovingian king was deposed in 751, the lineage persisted in secret and
linked up with various noble families, including the House of Lorraine,
which produced the famous crusader Godfroi de Bouillon, Defender of the
Godfrois election as civil ruler of the crusaders Kingdom
of Jerusalem in 1099 was supposedly arranged by the mysterious Abbey of
Notre Dame du Mont de Sion, which Holy Blood, Holy Grail claims
was also behind the founding of the Cistercians and the Knights Templar.
The Abbeyafterwards the Priory of Siondid this in order to
have the Knights excavate under the ruins of the ruined Jewish Temple
to retrieve damaging documents relating to the Magdalene and perhaps the
bones of Jesus or the Ark of the Covenant as well.
The Priory and the Templars shared the same Grand Master until 1188 when
the Priory severed ties following a curious incident involving a felled
tree at Gisors in France. Thereafter the roll call of Grand Masters includes
high nobility, the alchemist Nicholas Flamel, painters Botticelli and
Leonardo da Vinci, scientist-mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, writer Victor
Hugo, composer Claude Debussy, and filmmaker-artist Jean Cocteau. (St.
Joan of Arc and Nostradamus are also supposed to have been members.) A
number of the Grand Masters are female. Women take the code name Jeanne
and men Jean for St. John, apparently meaning St. John the Baptist, who
is seen by some occultists as the founder of an alternative "Johannite"
Chapter 9: The Code Puts On Artistic Errors
When interviewed for ABCs "Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci",
Brown repeated the character Teabings belief that people see what
they are told to see: "Our preconceived notions of this scene are
so powerful that our mind blocks out the incongruity and overrides our
eyes" (243). The person to Jesus right, Brown declared, is
"clearly a woman", echoing his novel: "It was, without
a doubt . . . female" (243). It is ironic that Brown insists that
we see what we are told to seeand then tells them what to see. Does
that only apply to those who disagree with his claims, or are his remarks
held to the same dismissive standard?
The identity of the three apostles to Jesus right has never been
in doubt. In The Last Supper, Steinberg writes, St. Andrew (from
left to right) "is followed by Peter, Judas, and John, the three
whose identity in the mural was never doubted." These three have
distinctive qualities: Peters intense movement forward and wielding
of the knife (prefiguring his use of a sword in the Garden), Judas recoiling
and grasping the bag of money (he was the treasurer for the groupsee
Jn 13:29), and Johns youthful appearance and contemplative pose.
There is also physical evidence. A parish church of Ponte Capriasca near
Lake Lugano contains a mid-sixteenth-century fresco copy of The Last
Supper. On that fresco are the names of the twelve apostles, left
The grouping of John, Judas, and Peter is purposeful. The group [of three]
at Christs right, John, Judas, and Peter", Steinberg points
out, "clusters the three who are destined for roles in the Passion."
Judas betrays Jesus, Peter denies Jesus, and John"the disciple
whom Jesus loved" (Jn 13:23;19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20)was the only
apostle to stand at Jesus cross (Jn 19:26-7). Steinberg states that
there are also "significant pairs" in the painting, including
Peter and John, and Jesus and John. Peter and John are often companions
(cf. Lk 22:8), and personify "the active and contemplative life"
and are "shown putting their heads together". Hearing the prophecy
of impending betrayal, Peter lunges forward, his hot temper and desire
to defend his Master evident. John is the quiet, reflective contemplative
who internalizes the distressing news, his hands folded in a prayerful
manner appropriate to the coming death of Jesus. These two true apostles
frame Judas, the traitor, who personifies greed and disloyalty. Although
Jesus and John are depicted as being apart from each other, their mirrored
images indicate that they are "soulmates . . . matched in outline,
in (original) hue of garment and tilt of head."
Viewing a reproduction of the painting, Sophie sees "flowing red
hair, delicate folded hands, and the hint of a bosom" (243). The
figure is undoubtedly effeminate, as Leonardo depicted the youthful
John in the early-sixteenth-century Florentine style. This approach can
be seen in other paintings of the period, including Leonardos own
Saint John the Baptist (c. 1413-16), which depicts a young man
who is quite effeminate in appearance and also has flowing hair and delicate
hands. As for the "hint of bosom", it can only be found in the
feverish imagination of those subscribing to Browns theoryLeonardos
painting reveals no "hint" at all, unless viewers are willing
to see what Brown suggests they see, despite lack of visual evidence.
There is no suggestion, in Leonardos sketches or writings, that
the figure is Mary Magdalene. There is, however, evidence that is the
apostle John. In a sketch for the painting, Leonardo depicts John "leaning
over, face down; Christ resting one arm on Johns back as he turns
toward Judas . . ." Gombrich describes the sketch in detail:
"It is well known that the description of that text of the apostle
St John leaning on Jesus bosom is explained by the ancient
habit of lying on couches during meals, though this had largely been forgotten
and the apostles were usually represented sitting at table. But tradition
still had St John leaning against Christ, and the only rapid sketch we
have by Leonardo for this composition indicates that he originally meant
to adopt this tradition as well as the action of Christ reaching across
the table to give the sop to Judas, who was generally placed there in
isolation from the others."
Always searching for a new way to explore character and interrelationships
in his paintings, Leonardo opted to show the Apostle John as a mirror image
of Christ (for the reasons noted by Steinberg) and to dramatically isolate
Christ against the open window behind him.
Teabing states that a "V" shape representing the Grail and the
female womb is "at the focal point" of The Last Supper,
(244) but this doesnt hold up to an examination of the painting. The
figure of Christ is clearly the focal point of the painting; the entire
composition is based around his figure and his silhouetted head. Likewise,
the "M" shape (244-5) is a brilliantly conceived compositional
motif, with the three open windows providing a field of perspective and
sense of depth.
Chapter 10: More Errors and Final Thoughts
Imagine a novel based on the premise that the Holocaust had never happened,
but was the invention of a powerful group of Jewish leaders who have used
that "myth" to garner themselves power and fortune. Or consider
a theoretical novel claiming that Muhammad was a not a prophet at all, but
a drug-addled homosexual who married multiple wives in order to hide his
deviant behavior and who killed non-Muslims in fits of rage against heterosexuals.
Needless to say, such novels would be immediately and rightly condemned
by a majority of critics and readers. Yet The Da Vinci Code, a novel
claiming that Christianity is fraudulent, the Catholic Church is a violent,
misogynist institution run by murderers and liars, and androgyny is the
answer to lifes problems is not met with condemnation, but incredible
success and even significant critical acclaim.
Just as important, the novels dubious and often ridiculous claims
about historical events and persons are taken seriously by many readers
and members of the media. Brown has drawn upon the old stereotype of the
Catholic Church as blood-soaked, evil institution, an image that has sold
well in the U.S. for decades, even centuries. As Philip Jenkins notes in
The New Anti-Catholicism, "Most contemporary attacks on Catholicism
or the Catholic Church draw heavily on history, or at least on a kind of
mythic history that has become deeply imbedded in popular thought."
And so The Da Vinci Code is filled with talk of murder, intrigue,
hatred of women, sexual repression, mass murder, religious oppression, and
intolerance. "Today, likewise", Jenkins explains, "hypercritical
examinations of Catholic misdeeds are intended to support contemporary political
positions, commonly in debates over morality and sexuality."
Some readers, puzzled by the concern over The Da Vinci Code, insist
that it is "just a book" or "only a novel." However,
what we read says much about who were are, both individually and as a culture.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "Truth, of course, must of necessity be
stranger than fiction, for we have made fiction to suit ourselves".
The Da Vinci Code is custom-made fiction for our time: pretentious,
posturing, self-serving, arrogant, self-congratulatory, condescending, glib,
illogical, superficial, and deviant. It has managed to tap into a deep reservoir
of spiritual longing, restlessness, distrust, suspicion, and credulity.
But how ironic is it that a novel that continually advocates distrust of
authority is so easily trusted by millions of readers? How strange is it
that a book so bent on criticizing religion in general and Christianity
specifically is so overtly religious in preaching the gospel of the "sacred
It is also strange that the novel is presented as a thriller but is rarely,
if ever, thrilling. We estimate that over twenty percent of the book consists
of lectures, almost all of them directed at the character Sophie, who first
appears with " a haunting certainty to her gait" (50) and with
a striking boldness (64), but is soon little more than an empty-headed and
helpless student in the impromptu classrooms of Langdon and Teabing. Symbologist
Robert Langdon is hardly any more believable than Sophie, a sort of emasculated
pseudo-intellectual who is continually surprised that others know anything
at all and constantly offering up lectures that are as flawed as they are
The novel brings to mind Mark Twains classic essay, "Fenimore
Coopers Literary Offenses", in which the great wit dryly complains
that Cooper violated eighteen of the nineteen rules"some say
twenty-two"governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction.
Many of the same criticisms can be applied to Browns novel: "a
tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere", "the talk
shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely
to talk in the given circumstances", "the author shall make the
reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate",
and "avoid slovenliness of form." The effusive praise that many
readers have for the books "plot" is puzzling, for there
really isnt much of a plot, save a set-up and twist that is more in
keeping with Days of Our Lives than it is with best-selling thrillers
such as The Bourne Identity or Eye of the Needle. It is standard
romance novel fare: boy meets girl, they get into a bind, they get out of
the bind, and they kiss. Characters stand around and loiter endlessly, very
little ever happens, and the ending is a bust. The "story" is
simply a vehicle for a lengthy indictment against Christianity and the Catholic
Church and an excuse, much like the Left Behind books, for endless
lecturing and proselytizing. Brown appears to have little respect for his
readersand many of them dont seem to mind, or to notice.
Publicity on "Geraldo" | Carl E. Olson
"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
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
Sandra Miesel is the co-author of the best selling The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing
the Errors in The Da Vinci Code. She holds masters degrees
in biochemistry and medieval history from the University of Illinois.
Since 1983, she has written hundreds of articles for the Catholic press,
chiefly on history, art, and hagiography. She regularly appears in Crisis
magazine and is a columnist for the diocesan paper of Norwich, Connecticut.
Sandra has spoken at religious and academic conferences, appeared on EWTN,
and given numerous radio interviews.
Outside the Catholic sphere, she has also written, analyzed, and edited
fiction. Sandra and her husband John have raised three children.
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