The Da Vinci Code
Author: Dan Brown
SOME months ago, my niece spoke to me about an exciting book that she was reading: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Little did I know then that this fictional thriller has not only captured the coveted number one sales ranking at Amazon.com but also sparked some controversy and debate about the origins of Christianity. In this book, Dan Brown makes the bold assertion that “almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false”.
He argues that the Council of Nicea, which was convened by Constantine in 325 and which decisively articulated what was to become the orthodox view of the person of Christ, was a political move by the bishops.
Consequently, the doctrine of the deity of Christ that Nicea propounded and the infallibility of Scripture that it implied were fabrications that came about because of the bishops’ power brokering.
Brown puts in the mouth of one of the characters of the novel, Teabing, what must be the central thesis of the book: “The winners in history are usually the ones who write the history we read.” Throughout the book, he deconstructs Christian history as we know it, and offers an eccentric and mostly erroneous alternative. So compelling is his presentation, however, that the book reviewer of the New York Daily News could write (to my utter astonishment!) that Brown’s “research is impeccable”.
The errors that pervade the entire book are staggering! Because of his preoccupation with the goddess myth, Brown sought to trace vestiges of the goddess image in almost everything, from the so-called Ishtar pentagram (the motion of the planet Venus) to the five-linked rings of the modern Olympic Games to the architecture of Gothic cathedrals.
A clear evidence of Brown’s preoccupation with the goddess myth is his interpretation of Shekinah. According to him, Shekinah is Yahweh’s feminine counterpart, and the tetragrammaton YHWH is derived from “Jehovah, an androgynous physical union between the masculine Jah and the pre-Hebraic name for Eve, Havah”. Any first-year undergraduate student at Trinity Theological College would know just how profoundly wrong Brown is.
When one examines Brown’s sources one finds the basis for his bizarre claims. He relies heavily on the following dubious sources: The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince; Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln; The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine and The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail by Margaret Starbird; and The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker. Brown is also very much beholden to feminist writer Elaine Pagels, especially her book, The Gnostic Gospels.
The most insidious aspect of Brown’s retelling of the Christian story is his portrayal of Christ. Taking his inspiration from authors like Picknett, Prince, Raigent and Lincoln, he presents a negative view of Scripture and a grossly distorted image of Jesus.
According to him, Jesus was neither the Messiah nor a humble carpenter but a wealthy and trained religious leader who was eyeing the throne of David. Jesus’ wife, Mary Magdelene, Brown claims, was a wealthy woman who came from the royal blood of Benjamin.
Lifting the metaphor of the sacred lineage from Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Brown tells an intricate tale of the holy blood which descended from Jesus and his wife Mary to the Merovingian dynasty in Dark Ages France, and which continues in several modern French families.
The deity of Jesus Christ, Brown maintains, was an invention of the 4th century which resulted from the conspiracy of certain bishops against the party represented by Arius. The latter was an Alexandrian theologian who taught that the Son was a creature of God, and therefore was never co-equal with God the Father. Arius’ conclusions regarding Jesus were the result of his failure to grasp the revelation of God as triune. Arius and his followers, the Arians, were consequently condemned as heretics.
The Nicene Creed spelt out the Church’s belief that the Son was co-equal with God the Father by stressing that he was “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God”. By arguing that this credal statement was the result of the political wrangling between the bishops and Arius’ followers (which the latter lost), Brown is asserting that orthodoxy was the result of conspiracy and nothing more.
To strengthen his case, Brown maintains that the New Testament itself is a post-Constantinian fabrication to replace the true accounts which are found only in the extant Gnostic texts. Furthermore, he maintains that the emperor Constantine, who convened the Council at Nicea, was a life-long sun-worshipper who sought to repackage this old cult of the Invincible Sun as the religion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He portrays the Church, which he refers to as “the Vatican”, as a deceitful, power-crazy, and crafty institution.
“The Church may no longer employ crusades to slaughter,” he writes, “but their influence is no less persuasive. No less insidious”. So what we have here is a vicious attack against the Church, against its teaching regarding Christ, and against Scripture.
The success of The Da Vinci Code tells us more about the postmodern culture in which we inhabit than its author, who simply took advantage of it. Ours is a culture in which truth is relativised and authority, especially religious authority, despised. Such a culture fails to recognise the disguised dogmatism of the claims of authors such as Dan Brown, and the self-defeating nature of such claims.
If, as Brown puts it, “the winners of history are the ones who write the history we read” then he is surely also in the game. And if, as he alleges, that much of Christian history is propaganda, then what about his retelling of it?
The success of the book shows starkly how a combination of freedom of speech and a wild concoction of conspiracy theories, legends, half-truths and blatant falsehoods can be turned into a best-selling novel.
But more importantly, the success of the book should serve as a wake-up call for the Christian church. It should challenge Christians to know their own history and to steep themselves in the apostolic tradition that shapes their faith. It serves as a clarion call for Christians to take theological truth seriously.
Dr Roland Chia is Dean of Postgraduate Studies and lecturer in historical and systematic theology at Trinity Theological College. He worships and serves at Fairfield Preaching Point in Woodlands.