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The Da Vinci Opportunity


The novel 'The DA Vinci Code' written by Dan Brown was made into a film released in May 2006. It is important for you as a Christian to realize that the book and the film represent one of the more significant opportunities to both strengthen your own faith and to talk to other people about what you believe about Jesus.

  • In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-5.

Here is a summary of the book (spoilers ahead):


The curator of the Louvre museum in Paris, Jacques Sauniere, is brutally murdered by a member of the Opus Dei (a real organization but represented in the story as somewhat corrupt organization within the Catholic church). Before he dies he leaves a series of clues to an ancient secret about the Holy Grail, which he died protecting. The rest of the novel is essentially a treasure hunt that leads to this 'secret'.

Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor who happens to be giving a lecture in Paris, is called by the police because of the nature of some of the evidence left at the murder scene. Through a series of events he is joined by a French cryptologist Sophie Neveu who - we later determine - is Jacques Sauniere's granddaughter, and then later by Sir Leigh Teabing - who we later find out is not all he appears to be and becomes a threat to Langdon and Neveu.

The story has the reader looking differently at some of the world's most famous artwork, including Da Vinci's Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, through which the reader is asked to rethink what the church has been saying about the story of Christ for the last two thousand years. In the story Langdon and Sophie discover that Jacques Sauniere was part of a secret organization known as 'The Priory of Sion' who - the story claims - were descendants of the Knights Templar. The members of 'The Priory of Sion' are said to include Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, Claude Debussy and Da Vinci himself.

The Opus Dei follow them as they close in on 'the secret' - that Sophie is a descendent of Mary Magdalene who was married to Jesus, that Mary Magdalene is the real Holy Grail, and that her remains are hidden in the Louvre.


Fundamentally the book creates a story using a false history as its backdrop. Its like writing a story about the second world war, but not only having Hitler win, but doing it in such a way to make you feel tricked by anyone who would tell you otherwise. The book attacks both the Deity of Jesus and the canon of Scripture. In my research on this, I get the impression that it's the historians rather than the Christians who are most unhappy with the book - perhaps Christians are used to having their faith attacked and are ready for this sort of thing - Historians are not.

Refuting the basic premises of the book is actually quite easy - there are many well publicized errors to choose from. It's more a matter of selecting the few issues that do best to re-enforce the Christian faith.

I present here a summary of my research which anyone can do. I've done my best to use multiple sources to confirm the 'real world' facts.

 
Introductory Facts
 

'The Da Vinci Code' alternative reality
 
Real World
 
  • FACT #1: The Priory of Sion - a European secret society founded in 1099 - is a real organization. In 1975 Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale discovered parchments known as "Les Dossiers Secrets", identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Leonardo Da Vinci.
  • The Priory of Sion was a small group founded in 1956 in France.
  • The group's name is based on a local mountain in France (Col du Mont Sion).
  • The Priory of Sion has no connection with the Crusaders, the Templars, and did not exist during the time of Da Vinci,
  • One of the founders, Pierre Plantard, made claims regarding the antiquity of The Priory of Sion, that it stemmed from the Crusades, that it was guarding a secret royal bloodline and that he was its"grand master".
  • A French Judge interrogated Plantard who under oath admitted that everything was made-up.

    For more reading an Internet search of 'Pierre Plantard' is suggested.

  • FACT #2: The Vatican prelature known as the Opus Dei is a deeply devout Catholic sect that has been the topic of recent controversy due to reports of brainwashing, coercion, and a dangerous practice known as "corporeal mortification." Opus Dei has just completed construction of a $47 million National Headquarters at 243 Lexington Avenue in New York City
  • Opus Dei is a true organization. Although Dan Browns interpretation seems certainly exaggerated, I'm not a Catholic so my position on this topic remains neutral. I include this to simply point out that his treatment of this organization has no bearing on truths concerning Jesus or the Bible.
  • For further reading:
    • For: the Opus Dei web page is at www.opusdei.us - it includes their own response to 'The Da Vinci Code'.
    • Against: the Opus Dei has its critics. For example the Opus Dei Awareness network: www.odan.org.
  • FACT #3: All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals are accurate
  • While some descriptions may be accurate, not all are. For example
    • the Louvre pyramid has 673 panes of glass, not 666 as described at the start of Chapter 4.
    • in Chapter 39, Job 38:11 has 17 verses (King James version) not just the 7 quoted.
    • a note seen at Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris: "Contrary to fanciful allegations in a recent best-selling novel, this [the line in the floor] is not a vestige of a pagan temple. No such temple ever existed in this place. It was never called a Rose-Line. It does not coincide with the meridian traced through the middle of the Paris Observatory which serves as a reference for maps where longitudes are measured in degrees East or West of Paris. Please also note that the letters P and S in the small round windows at both ends of the transept refer to Peter and Sulpice, the patron saints of the church, and not an imaginary Priory of Sion."
    • In chapter 40, Da Vinci's "Adoration of the Magi" is described as having something troubling beneath the layers of paint. Scientific tests do show a gray-green under drawing by Leonardo, and consensus agrees the visible painting on top is no longer considered to be by Leonardo but of a reinterpretation of the drawing by someone else. However the key difference between them is that the painting shows a world in ruins, whereas the drawing underneath shows a world of reconstruction - certainly a positive allegory to the newborn presence of Christ in the world, and nothing troubling at all.


    At the end of this page, I have included some extracts from the recent court case in England of Baigent & Leigh v Random House that I found interesting.

 
How to be Saved
 

'The Da Vinci Code' alternative reality
 
Real World
 
  • Chapter 60: The Christian Church declared itself the sole vessel through which humanity could access the divine and gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven.
  • An important error than can be used to introduce the gospel. People are reunited with God through Jesus, not by any human effort or organization. It is by faith we are saved, not works, nor the church:
    • That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:9-13

 
The Canon of Scripture
 

'The Da Vinci Code' alternative reality
 
Real World
 
  • Chapter 55: The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.
  • The Old Testament canon had been forming for centuries. Jesus and the apostles already recognized the authority of the Old Testament writings that existed in their time.
  • In the first century the apostles and their associates wrote the books of the New Testament, which were passed down to succeeding generations of Christians and read in the churches.
  • In the second and third centuries, Gnostic heretics began to manufacture writings that falsely claimed to be from the apostles, but since they had not been passed down in the churches from the beginning, they were rejected.
  • In response to these new, false writings the churches drew up lists of the authentic books that had been handed down from the apostles.
  • The process by which the canon of Scripture was formed was largely complete by the time of Constantine (the early fourth century), and he made no contribution to it. There were a few Old Testament books (known today as the "apocrypha") that continued to be discussed after Constantine's time, into the late fourth century-further illustrating that he did not collate the Bible.
  • No Bible scholar holds that Constantine played such a role in the development of Scripture.
  • The Council of Nicea actually didn't canonize anything. The canonization process occurred a full 70 years later.
  • Chapter 55: the canonical gospels were selected from among 80 other gospels.
  • There were not 80 books written about Jesus - less than half this were written.
  • The two Gnostic gospels used most in the story weren’t written until the second century A.D., long after the New Testament gospels were written.
  • In fact most Gnostic gospels were written in the late second century, as this is when Gnostic thought was most prevalent. The New Testament books were all completed before the end of the 1st Century.
  • Chapter 55: The Dead Sea Scrolls and texts found at Nag Hammadi tell the true Grail story and speak of Christs ministry in very human terms. Of course the Vatican tried hard to suppress the release of these scrolls.
  • Chapter 58: The Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi are the earliest Christian records.
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls are strictly Jewish documents. They don’t contain any gospels, say anything about the grail, or anything mentioning Jesus. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a very large collection of documents written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. They cover many subjects, adopt many literary styles, and include manuscripts or fragments of every book in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) except the Book of Esther. All of them are dated nearly one thousand years earlier than any previously known manuscripts.
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls in fact re-enforce the accuracy of nearly all of the Old Testament books adding to the confidence of the accuracy of the Old Testament. Of course this includes the book of Isaiah who among others prophesies much about Jesus.
  • It was the Israelis - not the Vatican - that tried to suppress the release of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

  • Gnostic documents are generally dated 100 years after the Gospels.

 
The Deity of Jesus
 

'The Da Vinci Code' alternative reality
 
Real World
 
  • Chapter 55: Jesus Christ never claimed to be divine and was never worshipped as a deity until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal. . . . by officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity - and by a close vote at that.
  • Jesus was crucified because of who he claimed to be.
  • Jesus is called God and Lord in the divine sense several times in the New Testament in books that clearly predate the Council of Nicea. (Matthew 16:16, Mark 1:1, Mark 8:29, Mark 14:61-62, Luke 9:20, John 1:1-14, John 20:31, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20 are but a sample.)
  • Constantine had called the Council together among other things to settle a dispute that had arisen when a priest from Egypt named Arius began to deny that Jesus was God. The bishops of the Council reaffirmed the traditional Christian teaching that Jesus was fully divine.
  • It was thus the bishops of the Council of Nicaea (not Constantine) who reaffirmed the historic Christian position against Arius and his followers.
  • It was thus a vote against the view that Jesus was just a man, not a vote for the divinity of Jesus.
  • It was not a close vote - it was overwhelming, with over 300 of the reported 318 bishops attending voting in favor.

 
Miscellaneous Research
 

'The Da Vinci Code' alternative reality
 
Real World
 
  • Chapter 58: The Holy Grail is the 'Sacred Feminine', Mary Magdalene.
  • Reminder: the concept of a 'Holy Grail' is never mentioned in the Bible and is certainly not part of the Christian faith.
  • The legend of the Holy Grail has taken many forms since circa 1000AD when 'grail romance' stories started.
  • Grail romance stories always identified the Grail as the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper. The idea of identifying it as the "sacred feminine" and tying it into a supposed bloodline emanating from a union of Jesus and Mary Magdalene seems to have started with the 1981 publication, Holy Blood, Holy Grail.
  • Chapter 37: The Knights Templar organization was purged in the 1300s by Pope Clement V who worked with King Philip IV of France to arrest all knights in Europe on a single day (13 October 1307).

 

  • King Philip IV of France arrested all knights in France (not Europe) on a single day (13 October 1307) and proceeded with barbaric investigations and executions without authority from the Pope. King Philip was greedy, and by some accounts, in very great financial debt to the Knights Templar.
  • 6 months later the investigation into the Templars widened across Europe but most were found innocent.
  • 3 years later (16 October 1311) at a General Council of Vienne in Dauphiné the majority of members were favorable in maintaining the Knights Templar.
  • A harassed pope under the influence of a dominating King Philip IV compromised and issued a papal bull 6 months later dissolving the organization "with a sad heart" - that had the effect of merging the Knights Templar with another organization in existence at the time - the 'Order of Hospitalliers'.
  • Chapter 58: In Da Vinci's "last Supper", the figure identified as John the Evangelist is really Mary Magdalene, and that these two figures together form an "M," and that, because there is no grail in the picture, Da Vinci is telling us the "grail" is the sacred feminine of Mary Magdalene.
  • Art historians tell us that the effeminate-looking John is a typical representation for the time, as is a Last Supper portrayal emphasizing betrayal rather than the institution of the Eucharist (hence no cup). Just look at other artwork from the same time period and compare.
  • Chapter 55: The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1950’s.
  • They were discovered in 1947.
  • Chapter 58: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.
  • Chapter 58: That the word “companion” in 'The Gospel of Philip' actually means spouse because that’s what the Aramaic word really means.
  • Chapter 58: There are countless references to a Jesus and Magdalene union. That has been explored ad nauseam by modern historians.
  • Not one Gnostic gospel claims there was a marriage.
  • 'The Gospel of Philip' was written in Coptic not Aramaic. The word used for companion is koinonos and it means companion, not spouse.
  • In general, historians seem more offended than Christians by the Da Vinci code novel.
  • Chapter 26: The Mona Lisa is androgynous— the melding of male and female sexuality into one. This is why she smirks with secret knowledge. Mona Lisa, is not a real name but an anagram of the Egyptian god “Amon,” and the Egyptian goddess “Isis.” And so “Mona Lisa” is an anagram for “Amon-L’lsa” (Italian for Isis).
  • This painting was not called 'Mona Lisa' until 30 years after Da Vinci died. It took this name after a biography of Da Vinci was published indicating the painting to be a portrait of Madam Lisa Giocondo, wife of a wealthy Florentine. Before then it was known as "a certain Florentine lady" or "a courtesan in a gauze veil."
  • Chapter 55: Constantine moved the Christian holy day from Saturday to Sunday.
  • From earliest times Christians worshipped on Sunday rather than on the Sabbath because that is the day that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. Several second century historical texts affirm this. There is also indication of Sunday worship in the New Testament texts:
    • On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. Acts 20:7
    • On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, Revelation 1:10.
  • Chapter 8: Da Vinci accepted hundreds of lucrative Vatican commissions.
  • Historical evidence indicates there was only one commission, and he spent - at most - 4 years in Rome.
  • Chapter 60: Paris was founded by the Merovingians
  • Paris was known to exist in roman times (as Lutecia) - the Merovingians did not rule until the 6th century AD making Paris at least 700 years old by then.
  • Chapter 28: Five million women were burned at the stake by the Catholic Church.
  • The estimate is closer to 50,000 men and women who were burned at the stake.
  • Chapter 74: The Jewish Tetragrammaton YHWH - the sacred name of God - in fact derived from Jehovah, an androgynous physical union between the masculine Jah and the pre-Hebraic name for Eve, Havah
  • The word Jehovah doesn't appear in the Bible in either the Hebrew text of the Old Testament or in the Greek text of the New Testament. The word Jehovah is a made-up English word which didn't exist until about 500 years ago.
  • There is no J sound in the Hebrew language.
  • Chapter 6: So strong was the churches fear of those who lived in rural 'villes' that the once innocuous word for 'villager' - vilain came to mean a wicked soul.
  • Not quite - the old word was actually 'villein' (meaning a partially free person under the feudal system).
  • Chapter 20: If you divide the number of female bees by the number of male bees in any beehive in the world you get PHI (the golden ratio - approximately 1.618.)
  • The actual ratio is closer to 20:1. There's a theoretical study that examines the ancestor bees of a drone - if you look at - say 20 generations going back from a drone, and if you look at the ratio of male & female bees in that family tree - it approaches PHI. However this has no bearing on the actual population ratio in a hive.
  • Chapter 47: Leonardo Da Vinci invented the cryptex.
  • Pure fiction, and an invented word for the novel.

Here's a summary of the Gospel:

The world was created perfect.

  • In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
  • God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31

But man rebelled against God.

  • God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no-one who does good, not even one. Psalm 53:2-3
  • All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6

The consequence of this is death.

  • And the Lord God said, 'The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.' So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. Genesis 3:22-23
  • For the wages of sin is death.. Romans 6:23

This is therefore the current state of mankind. We are cut off from God because of our imperfection (sin) and there is nothing that we can do. By no work can anyone save himself.

But there is Good News (Gospel means good news). God did something he didn't need to do - he set in motion a plan to save mankind.

  • Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows... Isaiah 53:4
  • Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer... Isaiah 53:10
  • But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
  • For he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12

Isaiah lived several hundred years before Jesus, and yet prophesied about him. Jesus died for our sins (Luke 23:26-49). To show that death had no hold of him, he rose again three days later (Luke 24).

  • The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again. Luke 24:7
  • He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in the scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24:25-27

So how do we respond to this? Our belief in Jesus saves us.

  • For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
  • Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2
  • But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:21-23
  • Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,.. Romans 5:1

And finally:

  • That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Romans 10:9

John Bell
May 14th, 2006
Irvine, California, USA.

(updated July 3rd after seeing the film)


A brief note on the film: I observed the film to have a few subtle differences to the book: some of the errors outlined above are corrected (e.g. the number of people burned at the stake), and I found both Robert Langdon and Sophie to be more skeptical with some of the claims outlined by Teabing than the blind acceptance portrayed in the book. There was even a heated exchange between Teabing and Langdon at one point. In other words, even through the film attacks the Deity of Jesus and the Canon of Scripture (and the claims made here were not debated), the film seems to soften a little on the ancestral claims. This means more space is given to the audience to decide for themselves fact from fiction.


MR JUSTICE PETER SMITH: Case No: HC04C03092, Baigent & Leigh v Random House, Judgement

Extracts

Paragraph 37: After the television series and after the publication of HBHG [Holy Blood Holy Grail] material emerged which suggested that the Rennes Le Chateau mystery and the Priory of Sion documents were all an elaborate hoax in which Mr Pierre Plantard had a significant role. I do not have to elaborate or even determine that issue. Anybody who is already not aware of the detailed denouement will find it at the website Priory-of-sion.com referred to above. Mr Baigent in his evidence before me said they were always suspicious of Mr Plantard but I do not find such suspicion in HBHG; it was essential for HBHG to have credibility that the Priory of Sion as introduced to them had a plausible basis because without that a large part of HBHG simply disappears as a credible book if not an outright hoax or piece of fiction.

Paragraph 50 & 51: At page 430 they maintained that their hypothesis whilst it could not be certain to be correct in every detail they were convinced that the essential outlines of their hypothesis was accurate. Their research has persuaded them that the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau involved a serious attempt by influential people to re-establish a Merovingian monarchy in France if not indeed in the whole of Europe and that the claims of legitimacy of such monarchy rested on a Merovingian descent from Jesus. There are three problems about that summary. First as I have said above the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery derives from the material provided ultimately via Pierre Plantard which has been strongly held to be fake. Second Pierre Plantard himself did not claim at any time to be descended from Jesus. No evidential material has been produced for these speculations. Third the Merovingians were never Kings of France; they were Kings in France.

Paragraph 81: The text is preceded by a page designed to clothe the book with authenticity headed “Fact”. He refers to the Priory of Sion as being a European secret society founded in 1099 as being a real organisation identified in the Bibliotheque Nationale and the Dossier Secrets with various Grand Masters. The second part relates to the existence of Opus Dei a deeply devout Catholic Sect that has been the topic of recent controversy. Finally all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals are accurate. Of course merely because an author of fiction describes matters of being factually correct does not mean that they are factually correct. It is a way of blending fact and fiction together to create that well known model “faction”. The lure of apparent genuineness makes the books and the films more receptive to the readers/audiences. The danger of course is that the faction is all that large parts of the audience read and they accept it as truth.

Paragraph 343: The Claimants say I should treat his [Dan Browns] evidence with caution. That is too high in my opinion. He started confidently enough but ultimately his confidence was gradually eroded by Mr Rayner James QC’s protracted and carefully measured cross examination. In that cross examination Mr Rayner James QC established that in reality Mr Brown knew very little about how the historical background was researched. He in my view simply accepted Blythe Brown’s [wife of Dan Brown] research material when incorporating it in to the writing of part two of DVC [da Vinci Code]. I do not believe for one minute he was analytical of it or critical of it; he simply accepted it.

Paragraph 348&349: I am aware (this may be an understatement) that the case has wide interest. It is very important that people do not take parts of the judgment out of context.

Mr Brown is a fiction writer. As a device to writing fiction he is perfectly entitled to dress up factual scenarios to give an illusion that supports his fiction. He is not (contrary to the complaints of the Claimants) going into deep and detailed research for these factual matters. Indeed as he said in his evidence that would be counterproductive; he wishes to create “grey” areas not black and white. He simply needs therefore a mystery and a series of unanswered questions. He can do that without deep research and that he has done. As he has taken matters at a general and low level of abstraction and he has only taken ideas and facts without any of the architecture (if any) he has done nothing wrong. It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way DVC has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright. I accept that if that was allowed to happen it would have a serious impact on writing. This case whatever its result would not have that impact in my view. However cases can be used for improper purposes.

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