The DaVinci Code: Fact or Fiction?

By Sarah R. Enterline

The New York Times called it “blockbuster perfection.” People magazine dubbed it a “pulse-quickening, brain-teasing adventure.”[1] Harmless praise for a fictional novel. A novel that has been on the Best Seller list since its release in 2003 and is a best seller in 150 countries.[2] Say hello to The DaVinci Code. When a “fictional” novel has this much popularity and publicity, one must wonder what it is all about. Many who became curious and read it were shocked. Jesus had a child? With Mary Magdalene? We can’t trust the Gospels in the Bible? Is there proof for the Gnostic gospels? People in all forms of Christianity began questioning the reliability of the Bible and rethinking their faith. The Washington Post says to “read the book and be enlightened.”[3] Unfortunately, many people are taking that bit of advice seriously. People are adopting this “theory” laid out in a “fictional” novel as their own personal belief.

How do we combat this attack on the reliability of the Word of God and the integrity of our Savior? By simply countering the claims Dan Brown lays out in the book. He relies heavily on the Gnostic gospels, the clues that Leonardo DaVinci supposedly left behind, and on the findings at Qumran, Israel. He slanders the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, by attacking their authority and authenticity. But can Brown’s use of the Gnostic gospels as his crutch really hold up under the weight of archaeology and Christian apologetics? The aim of this article is to show that it will crumble when Brown’s supposed “facts” are examined in the light of truth.

Is there proof for the Gnostic gospels of Philip, and Mary? What about the recent findings of the Gospel of Judas? In The Da Vinci Code, (henceforth The DVC), a character named Sir Leigh Teabing claims that “there were ‘more than eighty gospels’[4] considered for the New Testament but that only four were chosen. . . .[however,] there were not more than eighty gospel documents. . .The Nag Hammadi Library, published in English in 1977, . . . names only five separate works as gospels,”[5] including Philip and Mary. (Judas was discovered later.) “The dates of these gospels range from the second to the third century, A.D. . .[and] the bulk of this material is a few generations removed from the foundations of the Christian faith which is a vital point to remember when assessing the contents.”[6]

In The DVC, Teabing calls the Gnostic gospels unaltered and the earliest records of Christianity we have.[7] He cannot say they were unaltered with certainty. They were pretty far removed from the original events, more so that the Synoptic Gospels, and the Gospel of John. The further a writing is from the actual event, the more time for embellishment to enter in. They were dated 200 – 300 years after Jesus, whereas the four in the Bible were all before 100 A.D.

The theory in The DVC is one that praises Mary and exalts the role of women, almost above that of men. Teabing proclaims that Jesus was the original feminist.[8] However, the Gospel of Thomas, the most famous of the Gnostic Gospels, portrays a very different Jesus. It states that “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.”[9] This lays to rest the Sacred Feminine theory that Brown pushes in his novel.

Another theory of The DVC is that Jesus was not considered divine until after the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Teabing says that because Constantine didn’t exalt Jesus’ status until 400 years after His death, “thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. . .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.”[10] The problem with this theory is that another Gnostic book, the Acts of John, portrays a very divine Jesus. “I will tell you another glory, brothers, sometimes when I meant to touch Him I encountered a material, solid body; but at other times again when I felt Him, His substance was immaterial and corporeal. . . As if it did not exist at all.”[11] If the Acts of John portrayed Jesus as a spiritual deity, how come it was not included in Scripture? Brown cannot assert that the portrayal of Jesus as a mortal was the one criteria that ousted the Gnostic Gospels.

The one thread that seems to flow through all of the Gnostic Gospels is the idea to exalt man. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all about Jesus, and they are focused on Him and His ministry. The authors never try to exalt themselves. However in the recent finding of the Gospel of Judas, it is obvious Judas is being exalted. It states, “‘the secret account of the revelation Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week, three days before he celebrated Passover.’ The account goes on to relate that Jesus refers to the other disciples, telling Judas ‘you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.’ By that, scholars familiar with Gnostic thinking said, Jesus meant that by helping Him get rid of His physical flesh, Judas will act to liberate the true spiritual self of divine being within Jesus.”[12] In the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, she exalts herself by writing the “feelings” of the disciples. “And Peter said, ‘did the Savior really speak with a woman without our knowledge? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?’ . . . And Levi answered, ‘Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like an adversary. If the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us.”[13] Mary here, if she wrote this, is exalting herself above the men, and also, according to Brown, “goes on to say that Christ gave her instructions of how to carry on His church after He is gone.”[14]

As Teabing and Langdon try to explain everything to Sophie, it seems as though Brown stretched the facts to fit their theory. The Gospel of Philip states that “the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene.” The Greek word for “companion” is sunekdemos, which means a fellow- traveler. Also, kimonos, which is fellow partaker, and sunergos, which is a companion in labor, a fellow worker. The word for “wife” is either gune or gunaikeios.[15] In the introduction to the gospel of Philip, it states that “the Coptic text is a translation of a Greek text.”[16] The Greek would have used separate words for “companion” and “wife or spouse”, yet Teabing says “as any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion in those days, literally meant spouse.”[17] First of all, it wasn’t written in Aramaic, and second, they were completely different words.

Another assumption that the characters make is that Jesus, being a Jew, would have been an oddity as a bachelor. They say that “if Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible’s gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood.”[18] In actuality, the gospels were not fully compiled or written before Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection. The disciples, i.e. Matthew, Peter (which Mark is based on), and John, might have been kind of dense concerning Jesus’ mission while He was with them, but after His Resurrection, they were all clear on why He was here. When they sat down to write their gospels, they would have understood why Jesus remained a bachelor in a culture where it was a given that you would be married. He was focused on God’s ultimate plan for His life. Therefore, they wouldn’t have seen it as an oddity and did not see a reason to include it.

Another crutch Brown uses is the evidence in Da Vinci’s paintings.[19] This is not proof at all. In actuality, Da Vinci just bought into the lie, ahem, I mean theory, like everyone else before him, and then propagated it through his art. He was so far removed from Jesus, around 1500 years, that nothing he does or says should be taken into consideration. Also, the documents that Teabing says supposedly exist, don’t exist at all. The Sangreal documents and the Magdalene Diaries[20] are probably just the product of folklore and legend. If God had wanted us to believe this theory, He would have made the literature available to us. The Bible has outlasted many documents to become the world’s number one best seller of all time. God’s plan includes the Bible, not obscure documents we have to search for. It is open to the whole world, and its message is readily available for anyone who seeks.

The “Q” source Brown brings up is said to be the writings of Jesus Himself.[21] In actuality, the “Q” source probably doesn’t exist. It is all the original material in the book of Mark, which means everything that isn’t in Matthew or Luke. Since Mark is based heavily on Peter’s testimony, it is probably just events and things that Peter thought should be written, since He was looking at Jesus differently than Matthew or Luke. There probably is no “Q” source.

The biggest reason we should not take the Gnostic Gospels as proof is because there are probably good reasons why they were left out of the canon. Off hand, I can think of seven. The Prophetic Principle, meaning that they do not claim to be a spokesperson of God. No “the Word of God came to me. . .” Also, the early church Father’s kicked them out, which takes care of the Patristic Principle. They were deciding on the canon when these things were being written! The early church Fathers never quoted the Gnostic Gospels in their writings but there were 36,000 quotes from the Scripture we have today in the Bible. Next, does it have Power to change lives? Besides the fact that they sound totally New Age-y and way out there, talking about other worlds and weird gods, they do not portray the Savior Jesus we see in the Four Gospels of the Bible. We see a detached, other – worldly, un-compassionate Jesus. The Gnostic Gospels are all clearly written with the hidden agenda of the authors to conform Jesus into the image they wanted him to be.

Next, did the People of God in the first century accept it? Considering that there are 24,000 manuscripts of the N.T. and there are like barely any of the Gnostic Gospels, which shows that they didn’t waste their time making copies or circulating them, also, they probably didn’t even exist yet! Do they agree with Past Truth? They cannot contradict the OT yet most of them do. Lastly, were they accepted by Peter and Paul? Well, Paul calls the Gospels in the Bible Scripture,[22] but never mentions the Gnostic Gospels, and even if they were not written yet, he might have said something similar in content to them, but he does not. Peter is looked at as the bad guy in most of the Gnostic Gospels so I can’t imagine why he would have stamped his approval on them.

Craig L. Parshall explored two of the claims the character of Teabing made in The DVC. In an article titled “Scrolls, Souls, and the Da Vinci Effect” Parshall points out that Teabing states that the “Dead Sea Scrolls are part of the earliest Christian records. Troublingly, they do not match up with the gospels in the Bible.” [23] The only Biblical Scrolls they found were OT, and they did not mention Jesus. So of course they won’t match up with the gospels. None of the gospels were found there! “The Dead Sea Scrolls consist of about 225 OT manuscripts. . .they contain every book in the OT with the exception of Esther. They date from the latest at AD 68 to the earliest at 250 BC… The Qumran society was not Christian, it was a separatist desert sect of Judaism. The Qumranites existed during the time of Jesus, but none of the Scrolls refer to Him or the fact that He had any followers. . . The bottom line is that the Dead Sea Scrolls are in no sense a ‘Christian record,’ as Dan Brown’s novel suggests. Nor do they contradict the Old Testament.”[24]

Next, Parshall explores the assertions concerning the Heretical writings found at Nag Hammadi. They contain none of the NT. “In fact, they contain sayings and accounts of the life of Christ that resulted from Gnostic heresy in the centuries following the original New Testament autographs. That heresy sought to re-explain the meaning of Christ’s ministry from the philosophical perspective of speculation and paganism.”[25] The Da Vinci Code promotes the validity of the Gnostic Gospels over the four in the NT. This cannot be true. The four gospels were all written and were being circulated before 100 AD as Paul quotes them in his epistles. The Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaiaticus, the Codex Alexandrius, the Codex Ephraemi, and the Codex Washingtonianus manuscripts were all dated as being originally written between AD 50-100.[26] The all contain either the whole NT, all four Gospels, or most of the Gospels, with the exception of like 5 verses at the most. I will take that evidence over the Gnostic Gospels any day. The Gospel of Mary was said to have been written sometime in the second century, and the two copies are nothing but fragments.[27] The Gospel of Philip was written in the second half of the third century.[28] The Gospel of Thomas was written in the second century[29] and reads like it has been collected from the Four N.T. gospels and then altered. Compare those to first century, and 24,000 manuscripts. The evidence for the four N.T. Gospels is overwhelming and needs to be considered over the evidence for the Gnostic Gospels.

In an interview with ABC, Dan Brown was questioned concerning his own personal beliefs. ABC asked, “Are you a Christian?” Brown replied “I am, although perhaps not in the most traditional sense of the word. . . We entirely miss the obvious- that is, that we are all trying to decipher life’s big mysteries, and we’re each following our own paths of enlightenment. I consider myself a student of many religions.” Then when asked how much of this novel is true, he answered, “The Da Vinci Code is a novel and therefore a work of fiction.” Brown, who had not seen the ABC special on The Da Vinci Code before it aired, said he doubts scholars will ever reach consensus over whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene married. “There is simply too much contradictory documentation in existence…”[30]

References

Bock, Darrell L. Breaking the Da Vinci Code, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc. 2004

Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code, New York: Doubleday 2003

Hilliard, Juli Cragg. “ABC Special Examines Da Vinci Code Ideas” Publishers Weekly, 4/20/04. https://danbrown.com/the-davinci-code/

Holden, Joe. Bibliology Course Guide

Parshall, Craig. “Scrolls, Souls, and the ‘Da Vinci Effect’”, Israel My Glory 14-15, Jan/ Feb. 2006

Robinson, James M. The Nag Hammadi Library. New York: HarperCollins 1978

Vine, W.E. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc. 1984

Wilford, John Noble, and Goodstein, Laurie. “Ancient Text Recasts Judas As Good Guy”, The Press Enterprise, Friday April 7, 2006.

[1] Brown, Dan The Da Vinci Code, New York: Doubleday 2003, back cover

[2] Parshall, Craig “Scrolls, Souls, and the ‘Da Vinci Effect’”, Israel My Glory, p. 14, Jan/ Feb. 2006.

[3] Brown, back cover

[4] Brown, 251

[5] Bock, Darrell L. Breaking the Da Vinci Code, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc. 2004

[6] Ibid.

[7] Brown, p. 266 & 268

[8] Brown, p. 268

[9] Robinson, James M. The Nag Hammadi Library New York: HarperCollins 1978, p. 138

[10] Brown, p. 254

[11] Bock, p. 78

[12] Wilford, John Noble, and Goodstein, Laurie “Ancient Text Recasts Judas As Good Guy”, The Press Enterprise, Friday April 7, 2006.

[13] Robinson, p. 526-527

[14] Brown, p. 268

[15] Vine, W.E. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc. 1984

[16] Robinson, p.141

[17] Brown, p. 266

[18] Brown, p. 265

[19] Brown, p.269

[20] Brown, p. 270 & 277

[21] Brown, p. 277

[22] 1 Timothy 5:18

[23] Brown, p. 266

[24] Parshall, p.15

[25] Parshall, p. 15

[26] Joe Holden’s class notes, Bibliology

[27] Robinson, p. 524

[28] Robinson, p. 141

[29] Robinson, p.124

[30] Hilliard, Juli Cragg “ABC Special Examines Da Vinci Code Ideas” Publishers Weekly, 4/20/04.

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