Re-Sexualizing the Magdalene: Dan Brown's Misuse of Early Christian Documents in the Da Vinci Code

Article excerpt

Nancy Calvert-Koyzis, King's University College, University of Western Ontario


In his overwhelmingly popular novel, The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown states that he describes all documents "accurately" when he asserts the theory that Mary Magdalene had a sexual relationship with Jesus, was married to him and bore his children. In this article I will examine the sources for Brown's ideas and compare them to the actual documents–particularly the Gnostic gospels –that he claims to have carefully described. I will argue that Brown not only misrepresents the documents that he claimed to have used but that he actually replicates the errors of the early church by concentrating on Mary's sexual status rather than upon her status as the apostle to the apostles.

I. Introduction

[1] Placed just behind J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter volumes in popularity, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has sold over 40 million copies worldwide. Ron Howard will direct the movie version of the book, starring Tom Hanks, to be released in May 2006. Brown has even been compared to Charles Dickens, who was the most popular writer of his day. [1]

[2] While the book is terrifically entertaining, the rebuttal of some of Brown's implicit and explicit claims in the book has developed into a cottage industry in and of itself. Much of this critique has revolved around Brown's depictions of Jesus, Constantine, Mary Magdalene and Leonardo. For example, well-known biblical scholars such as Bart Ehrman and Ben Witherington have questioned his descriptions of these figures. [2] Roman Catholic scholars, whose religious tradition has been most tarnished by the novel, have also demonstrated their unease with Brown's claims as exemplified by the work of Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel in their book The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code. [3]

[3] Many of these rebuttals begin with Brown's statements on page 1 of his book that are listed under the title "Fact." [4] For many scholars, his last statement on this page that "[a]ll descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate" is problematic. [5] While some insist that this page of "facts" is part of Brown's novelistic fiction, Brown himself has indicated that he believes in the veracity of his work. For example, when Matt Lauer asks him how much of the book is based on reality in an early Today Show interview, Brown replies, "Absolutely all of it. Obviously, there are . . . Robert Landon is fictional, but all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, all of that is historical fact." [6] Furthermore, in an interview with Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America, Brown states that the theories about the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail, alternative Gospels and Mary Magdalene as found in the Da Vinci Code are true and that if the book had been non-fiction, the theories that he espouses would not have been different. [7]

[4] Brown is apparently not the only one who is convinced of the book's veracity. Many who have reviewed the book have implied that they believe the novel is historically accurate. For example, in the Chicago Tribune, reviewer Dick Adler states that in his novel, Brown transmits "several doctorates' worth of fascinating history and learned speculation." [8] In his review in USA Today, Bob Minzesheimer includes the statement by Carol Fitzgerald, president of, a web site for book discussions, as saying that the popularity of the Da Vinci Code shows that "readers are clamoring for books which combine historic fact with a contemporary story line. They say, 'I like being able to learn something as well as read a story. ' " [9]

[5] This acceptance of The Da Vinci Code as historically accurate is troubling, particularly in regard to the figure of Mary Magdalene. While biblical scholars such as Ehrman and Witherington have already written about Brown's many errors and misrepresentations, none have considered his depiction of Mary Magdalene in a way that carefully compares the sources that Brown apparently used with important recent research by scholars of early Christianity on the portrayal of Mary Magdalene in Gnostic texts. …