The Da Vinci Code Distraction

By Thornbury, Gregory Alan | The American Spectator, July/August 2006 | Go to article overview
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The Da Vinci Code Distraction


Thornbury, Gregory Alan, The American Spectator


Dan Brown's mega-bestseller and the recent movie adaptation are replete with error and mispresentation. So why have readers and viewers found them irresistible?

DAN BROWN'S THE DA VINCI CODE is no ordinary work of fiction-but it is fiction. Despite the fact that the hardcover edition of the novel has sold 50 million copies and that Sony Pictures' movie adaptation quickly became a blockbuster, the central theme of The Da Vinci Code is historically inaccurate. That thesis, now widely known, asserts that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and sired a child. The Church supposedly covered up this relationship for almost 2,000 years and apparently remains desperate to do so.

In an attempt to quell some of the outrage over the claims of the book and film, some have risen to its defense by arguing: "Relax: it's just a work of fiction." But it is important to remember that, for his own part, Dan Brown has not been saying that. In an interview with NBC Today host Matt Lauer, Brown proudly asserted that while his work is a novel, it is grounded in historical fact. Consider the following interchange:

Matt: How much of this is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred? I know you did a lot of research for the book.

Dan: Absolutely all of it. Obviously, there are - Robert Langdon is fictional, but all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies, all of that is historical fact.

The problem with this claim is that there is no reliable historical evidence behind it. It is not even close. Many readers of The Da Vinci Code naively accept the book's claims at face value. Considering themselves to be urbane and sophisticated, they have been duped by a cleverly written hoax. In the meantime, they may unwittingly also fall prey to what may be a more insidious agenda.

So, Was Jesus Married

THE ANSWER IS NO. Where did Dan Brown get this theory? He gets many of his ideas from an argument made in a previously published book, Holy Blood. Holy Grail. That book and others like it stake their claim on two basic strands of "evidence." First, it is claimed that references from the so-called "Gnostic Gospels"-the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary-demonstrate that Jesus favored Mary Magdalene and was even seen kissing her. In The Da Vinci Code, the "historian" Leigh Teabing asserts that "Christ himself made the claim" that he was married.

The early Church deemed such texts historically unreliable and heretical partly because they were written so long after the actual events in the first century (Mary dating from the second century and Philip dating from the third). Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons, for instance, condemned such Gnostic documents in the late second century in his treatise Against Heresies. But even supposing Mary and Philip were trustworthy (which they are not), there is still no evidence in them to suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. For example, in the Gospel of Philip 63:33-36, there is an obscure fragment indicating that Jesus kissed Mary. But in context most scholars take this merely as an indication of spiritual fellowship. It is unlikely that the Gnostics, who loathed the body, would have meant that something sexual was involved. Similarly, in the Gospel of Mary 17:10-18:21, the primary focus is on a passage in which Peter disputes whether or not Jesus had given a special revelation to Mary. Secret knowledge (gnosis) was, after all, a key Gnostic theme. No substantive hint is given, in either text, that Jesus had a marital or sexual relationship with Mary.

The second claim made by The Da Vinci Code, that "Jesus must have been married," comes from Jewish customs. "The social decorum during [Jesus'] time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried.... celibacy was condemned," we hear Teabing say in the novel. While it is true that men who held the rabbinic office were married, Jesus himself never claimed to be a rabbi. This was actually a sticking point with the Pharisees.

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