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The Da Vinci Code is an adventure novel by Dan Brown (Doubleday, 2003) in which a man and a woman seek the Holy Grail by following a trail of clues composed by a secret society called "The Priory of Sion." They are hounded throughout by a corrupt group within the French police and by the Vatican "secret service," including a monk with a license to kill. The author interrupts the novel in mid-chase to introduce a conspiracy theory asserting that the Jesus of Christianity is a lie promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church to consolidate its power. According to that conspiracy theory:

  • the "true religion" that Jesus believed in was a gnostic fertility cult, and
  • the "Holy Grail" is the "royal bloodline" of direct descendents of a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Although the novel fails on many levels,[1] and is ridiculed by many biblical scholars, there is anecdotal evidence that it has succeeded in persuading many previously-neutral non-believers to be skeptical of the Bible and suspicious of the Church. A 2006 survey, for example, found that seventeen percent of Canadians "think Jesus's death on the cross was faked and that he married and had a family." [2]


Fertility cult as true religion

In The Da Vinci Code there is no higher form of spirituality than the ancient gnostic fertility cults:

Physical union with the female remained the sole means through which man could become spiritually complete and ultimately achieve gnosis -- knowledge of the divine. Since the days of Isis, sex rites had been considered man's only bridge from Earth to Heaven . . .

The ability of the woman to produce life from her womb made her sacred. A god. Intercourse was the revered union of the two halves of the human spirit -- male and female -- through which the male could find spritual wholeness and communion with God. (Chapter 74)

A featured scene in Chapter 74 describes what Brown calls a "deeply sacrosanct ceremony" where participants, dressed in black and white robes and wearing masks, stand in a circle and chant while watching a masked man and woman copulate on a low altar in the center of the circle.

Religions based on ritual sex are very old. Scripture indicates that sex-worship of this type occurred in Old Testament times (e.g. Genesis 38:21), was apparently commonplace among Israel's neighbouring tribes, and was profoundly unacceptable to God. The people of God were to have no part in such cults (e.g. Deuteronomy 23:17, Numbers 25:1-3, and 1 Samuel 2:22-25) and sex in the sanctuary was "an abomination" (Ezekiel 23 NIV). Christians see, in this, God at work drawing his chosen people away from primitive, flesh-centered, self-fulfilling forms of religion in preparation for sending his Son into that society to redeem the whole world.

Need it be said that a fertility cult of this type would be unthinkable blasphemy to a pious young Jewish man in first century Palestine? This was, after all, a society where young women would be subject to public disgrace just for getting pregnant out of wedlock Matthew 1:19). Jesus, a Jew, would not have taken part in any of these activities and there is no evidence at all to suggest otherwise.

Jesus according to The Da Vinci Code

Much of the energy of Brown's book is devoted to attacking church history and promoting a false view of Jesus Christ. Brown's strategy in these attacks is clearly revealed in the middle of the book, when "Teabing" introduces "Sophie" to the secret truths:

"To fully understand the Grail," Teabing continued, "we must first understand the Bible. How well do you know the New Testament?"

Sophie shrugged. "Not at all, really. I was raised by a man who worshipped Leonardo da Vinci."

Teabing looked both startled and pleased. "An enlightened soul. Superb! . . ." (Chapter 55)

It can be safely assumed that, like Sophie in the novel, most of Brown's readers are not well-versed on the content of the Bible or the history of the Christian church. Biblically literate readers and biblical scholars alike do not take this book seriously. The core elements of Brown's christology are explained in Chapters 55 and 56:

  • Jesus was human, not divine -- which in reality is the old Arian heresy.
  • The Roman emperor Constantine I engineered a take-over of Christianity in 325 AD by convening the First Council of Nicaea.
  • Until Constantine, Christians viewed Jesus as only mortal.
  • Constantine "stole Jesus from His original followers" and "turned Jesus into a deity" to solidify the "new Vatican power base."
  • The church subsequently invented the Genesis creation story, where man is created first, as a way to disempower women: "Sadly, Christian philosophy decided to embezzle the female's creative power by ignoring biological truth and making man the Creator. . . Genesis was the beginning of the end for the Goddess." (Chapter 56)
  • The church has fought continually since Constantine to suppress the "true religion" of the fertility cult and thus to suppress women.

Is The DaVinci Code Heresy?

There is no evidence that Dan Brown speaks from within the Christian Church, nor have any Christian authorities endorsed his book, so is it fair to refer to The DaVinci Code as "heresy"? Normally, the term heresy is reserved for attacks on the true faith from people claiming to be within the church.

Dan Brown has, however, based much of his conspiracy theory on heretical assertions sometimes referred to as the Liberal Myth of Christian Origins. Those assertions truly are heresy, because they have been taught, in various forms, in liberal Christian institutions across North America and Europe for decades.

The novel is thus more properly identified as a "vector" [3] for heresies, rather than a heresy in and of itself.

Is the DaVinci Code Historical Fiction?

Professor Anne Macleod affirms the following perhaps-obvious statement about the "historical fiction" literary genre:

"...we can all agree that historical fiction should be good fiction and good history"

Books in this genre, by convention, embed a fictional plot (perhaps based on some factual event) within as factual a past world as possible. Writers are fastidious about getting the historical facts correct down to the last detail, and readers expect them to be so.

Dan Brown positions the novel squarely in this genre by including elements such as the following:

  • the promise (in true historical-fiction style) that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."
  • the historical-fiction trappings of the novel including:
  • settings, and richly detailed descriptions of, classical architectural sites such as The Louvre, Temple Church London, Rosslyn Chapel, and Westminster Abbey
  • the central use of puzzles and riddles based on historical events and people
  • skillful use of classical and ancient "oddities" to enliven the text
  • the first-page assertion that the Priory of Sion (a key element of the book's "past world") is an historical "fact." More specifically that it is a European secret society founded in 1099 with a membership that includes Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Leonardo da Vinci.

The novel however breaks covenant with the reader by not being "subject to normal standards of demonstrable historical evidence and sound reasoning," which is a core convention of historical fiction. Instead, it uses those well-understood conventions to deliver historically false material in the guise of historical facts. The real story of the Priory of Sion, for example, can be summarized as follows:

  • the Priory of Sion was a housing society invented in 1956 by André Bonhomme and Pierre Plantard in their home town of St-Julien-en-Genevoise, France
  • in the 1950s Bonhomme and Plantard created a mythology for it, including the distinguished membership list, using material written by Noel Corbu, a restauranteur in the Villa Béthanie
  • Bonhomme appeared on the BBC program "History of a Mystery" in 1996 (seven years before the publication of Brown's novel) and stated "It was four friends who came together to have fun. We called ourselves the Priory of Sion because there was a mountain by the same name close-by."

The The da Vinci Code is thus historical fiction in form but departs from the genre in content. The resulting blend of fact and fiction is dangerously deceptive for all readers, except those that are well equipped to discern the truth.

Is the Problem with the Readers?

Brown counters these criticisms by underlining that The da Vinci Code is fiction, and placing the responsibility on the readers to determine what is true:

"While it is my belief that some of the theories discussed by these characters may have merit, each individual reader must explore these characters' viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations" (Dan Brown website)

Even if Brown was correct in placing the responsibility on the readers, the reality is that a very large number of readers would be ill-equipped to read the novel critically, for at least the following reasons:

  • there is a disturbing inability in our culture to tell fact from fiction. Perhaps, as Malcolm Muggeridge suggested, this is partially a result of mass media's efforts to "present fantasy in terms of reality and reality in terms of fantasy."
  • many peopledo not know what the Bible says. Even many educated individuals, who consider themselves to be widely read, have poor biblical literacy.

The readers are not the problem, however. One cannot yell "Fire!" in a theatre and then blame the ensuing stampede on the poor fact-checking skills of the patrons.

As literature and film

The novel has been criticised for the mediocrity of the prose and the lack of development of the characters, and is thus generally recognized as a piece of "popular" or "pop historical" fiction rather than literature. It can be contrasted, for example with Umberto Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum, which also includes references to ancient secret societies, descriptions of classical architecture and art, and a quest that follows obscure clues. Even in translation, Eco's novel is more literary than Brown's.

From the way the Da Vinci scenes are set up, one can't help but suspect that the author had the eventual movie in mind as he wrote it. That film version was released in the spring of 2006.


  1. Geoffrey K. Pullum, "The Dan Brown Code," Language Log,[1], May 1, 2004
  2. "Canadian Christians choose religion without pews," Vancouver Sun, April 21, 2006, pg A16
  3. "In parasitology (the study of parasitic organisms), the vector carries the parasitic agent. For example, in malaria a mosquito serves as the vector that carries and transfers the infectious agent (Plasmodium), injecting it with a bite." Definition of Vector,


  • McDowell, Josh (2006). The Da Vinci Code: A Quest for Answers
  • Strobel, Lee and Poole, Garry (2006). Exploring the Da Vinci Code: Investigating the Issues Raised by the Book and Movie
  • Lutzer, Erwin (2004). The Da Vinci Deception
  • Bock, Darrell L. (2004). Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everyone's Asking
  • Ehrman, Bart D. (2004). Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine
  • Hanegraaff, Hank and Maier, Paul L. (2004). The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction
  • Baigent, Michael (1983). Holy Blood, Holy Grail

External links

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at The Da Vinci Code (book). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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