The Da Vinci Code

A friend of mine from work read the book The DA Vinci Code by Dan Brown and was intrigued by the possibilities expressed in the book. He asked me something like "Wouldn't it be neat if some of us really were descended from Jesus?" I'll get back to this question later in this document, but first I wanted to read the book and see what it had to say...

Overall impression

My overall impression of the novel was that it is a fast-paced, engaging combination of murder mystery and thriller set in the modern day against a background of a secret society that worships the sacred feminine and performs sex rituals, and a set of conspiracies against this society. It includes references to actions by a number of well-known people and groups, including Leonardo DA Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, Constantine, the Council of Nicaea, the Catholic Church, Saint Peter, Mary Magdalene, and Jesus Christ.

The story line is excellent, the plot keeps your attention, and the nuggets of historically-accurate details on church architecture, history, and art really help to ground the reader and build interest.

My concern with "historical" novels in general is that to the extent that they are engaging and interesting fiction they tend to stray away from historical accuracy. For stories set in specific times or during specific events (the US Civil War, the Cold War, the Gold Rush), this can be all to the good -- the reader can get the flavor of the times, and having a specific setting adds to the interest without the reader being confused into thinking that the author is asserting that these actual events happened during that time.

For stories tied to particular people or groups, there is the danger that the reader will confuse the fiction of the story with the history of the person or group. Here, the author needs to be very careful to choose either historical accuracy (producing a biography that matches fact as closely as possible) or interesting fiction. If the author is choosing interesting fiction, then it seems to me that the responsible thing to do is to select a fictional character or group rather than a historical one. If an actual person is chosen, then the author is basically using the notoriety of the person to increase interest in the book: playing on the fame of the person for their own gain while saying things about the person that are not intended to be true. Over time, this tends to muddy waters, producing a mix of fact and fiction surrounding the life of the person that is chosen.

The DA Vinci Code seems to claim a middle ground. The characters and groups in the action portion of the story are all fictional. The background seems to be portrayed as factual, due to the page labeled "FACT:" coming just before the prologue. This page states that the Priory of Sion is an actual society, that the Opus Dei Catholic sect is an actual sect, and that "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."

While the text does not strictly imply this, I suspect many readers will infer from this statement that the theology described in the book (which characters in the book claim follows directly from the documents and is portrayed in the artwork and architecture) is also factual. This is a statement about the path to salvation, and several statements made in the book are quite serious indictments of Christianity. I reproduce some of them here, numbered so that they can be referred to later by claim number:

  1. "The Priory's tradition of perpetuating goddess worship is based on a belief that powerful men in the early Christian church 'conned' the world by propagating lies that devalued the female and tipped the scales in favor of the masculine... The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever." (p. 124)
  2. "Council of Nicaea... At this gathering, many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon... and, of course, the divinity of Jesus... until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet... A relatively close vote at that... establishing Christ's divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman empire and to the new Vatican power base. By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity... now the followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel -- the Roman Catholic Church." (p. 233)
  3. "Because Constantine upgraded Jesus' status almost four centuries after Jesus death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling his life as a mortal man... Fortunately for historians, some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And, of course, the Coptic scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi. In addition to telling the Grail story [ed: this is the story that Mary Magdalene was the bride of Christ and bore him a line of children], these documents speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms." (p. 234)
  4. "The scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications, clearly confirming that the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda -- to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base." (p. 234)
  5. "What I mean... is that almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false. As are the stories about the Holy Grail." (p. 235)
  6. "...this concept of woman as life-bringer was the foundation of ancient religion. Childbirth was mystical and powerful. 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." (p. 238)
  7. "...the early Church needed to convince the world that the mortal prophet Jesus was a divine being. Therefore, any gospels that described earthly aspects of Jesus' life had to be omitted from the Bible. Unfortunately for the early editors, one particularly troubling earthly theme kept recurring in the gospels. Mary Magdalene... More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ." (p. 244)
  8. "Jesus as a married man is part of the historical record... The Gospel of Philip... 'And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene'... As any Aramaic Scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse." (p. 245-246)
  9. "I shan't bore you with the countless references to Jesus and Magdalene's union. That has been explored ad nauseam by modern historians" (p. 247) "Yes, but it is not I who claim she is the Grail. Christ Himself made that claim." (p. 242)
  10. "According to these unaltered gospels, it was not Peter to whom Christ gave directions with which to establish the Christian Church. It was Mary Magdalene... That was the plan. Jesus was the original feminist. He intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene." (p. 248)
  11. "The legend of the Holy Grail is a legend about royal blood. When Grail legend speaks of 'the chalice that held the blood of Christ' ... is speaks, in fact, of Mary magdalene -- the female womb that carried Jesus' royal bloodline... Not only was Jesus Christ married, but He was a father.
  12. "...the historical evidence supporting this is substantial." (p. 254)
  13. "Historically, intercourse was the act through which male and female experienced God... Physical union with the female remained the sole means through which man could become spiritually complete and ultimately achieve gnosis -- knowledge of the divine." (p. 308)
  14. "For the early Church, mankind's use of sex to commune directly with God posed a serious threat to the Catholic power base. It left the Church out of the loop, undermining their self-proclaimed status as the sole conduit to God. For obvious reasons, they worked hard to demonize sex and recast it as a disgusting and sinful act." (p. 309)
  15. "Sophie, every faith in the world is based on fabrication... Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory, and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school... Should we wave a flag and tell the Buddhists that we have proof the Buddha did not come from a lotus blossom? Or that Jesus was not born of a literal virgin birth? Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical." (p. 341-342)

Lets start with claim #15: As skeptic-turned-Christian C.S. Lewis says in Joyful Christian, "The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort..." That difficulty becomes even greater in our current postmodern society, where even physicists can be heard to grumble about how the students believe that there is no ultimate truth but only each person's view of the truth.

Christianity does in fact claim to be based on historically-accurate events relating to the life of an actual person named Yeshua (translated Joshua, then given the unique name Jesus). It relates to his claims to be the actual Jewish Messiah (called by his followers the Christ), and his actual claims like: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) It is therefore open to criticism on the grounds that what is presented in the Bible is not factual, either because Jesus was incorrect when he said these things or because later editors changed the text and he never actually said them.

This means that we need to investigate the other claims made in the novel to see if they are in fact true. If they are, then we Christians should in fact change our religion or abandon it in favor of the postmodern "nothing is universally true, it is all just a matter of your point of view".

Are all of the book's claims intended to be true?

Does the novel claim that everything described in it is true? Not at all. The characters and plot line are fictional. The descriptions of technology and mathematics seem to be intended to be interesting and engaging rather than strictly accurate:

GPS reception: The question of authenticity occurred to me as I was reading a portion of the plot that relied on cell-phone service being poor in a particular location. Earlier, a small global-positioning system (GPs) transceiver had worked in the same location. Knowing something about how GPs and cell phones work, this struck me as strange. There are two reasons why cell phones fail to receive signals: the phone can be somewhere far from a radio tower (like out in the wilderness), or it can be enclosed in some sort of material that blocks transmission from nearby towers (like inside a building that has metal in its walls). In the wilderness case, GPs transceivers work very well: they receive signals from satellites and in the wilderness there is nothing to block the "line-of-sight" radio signals required to locate the receiver. Within buildings that block cell-phone access, however, the GPs signal (coming from satellites that are further than the local radio towers of cell phones) is famously weaker than that of cell phones, especially when the receiver is as small as the one in the story. Also, miniature GPs receivers available in December 2003 are as small as 12x16mm, but only have an accuracy of 6-10 meters. This is much coarser than that described in the story.

Mythical Nano drives: Later in the story, a character is reported to have "some of those new nano drives." Because I am a computer scientist who researches nanoscale science and nanotechnology, I'm somewhat familiar with the currently-available computer technology based on nanoscale technology. There is currently a "millipede" storage device under development in IBM labs that uses multiple independent scanned probes to write data by melting and then sensing a polymer substrate. The newest "nano hard drive" technology involves the development of ordered independent magnetic domains, a technology that is about 5-10 years from production. There is also a lot of research into using carbon nanotubes to form crossed-wire junctions that will enable very high-density random-access memory that could be interfaced as a hard drive, and research into using inkjet-like printing technology to produce very small scale circuits. None of these technologies have yet produced a device that has higher storage density than available Flash RAM or micro hard drive systems, so would not be useful in the system described in the novel.

Fuzzy math: The novel also brings in the standard "magical" mathematics found in other science fiction and mysticism stories I have read: the Fibonacci Series and Phi: the Golden Ratio (or Golden Mean). Although the story accurately describes the Fibonacci series, it gives only an approximation to Phi: 1.618. The actual value is a nonrepeating nonterminating number when represented in the decimal system. Its actual value is (1 + sqrt(5)) / 2, which is better approximated by 1.61803398874989...

Do these inaccuracies get in the way of the story? Not at all. In fact, taking the time to describe the derivation of the exact value of Phi would have interrupted the flow of the story: an approximate answer does just fine for the purpose of the story. Does the story hinge on the existence of nano drives? Not at all. Can I suspend my disbelief of the cell phone vs. GPs reception and get on with the tale? Certainly.

After all, the book is primarily a novel and its purpose is primarily to engage the reader in a thrilling story. It is not an academic article on current technology, thus it does not require either mathematical rigor, a technically accurate understanding of how GPs works, or a strictly correct listing of what is and is not available to high-technology spies. Its technology and mathematics only has to be good enough to support the story line. It doesn't have to be true, only engaging and evocative.

Are the claims about Christ intended to be true?

But what about the Gnostic and mystery society theology presented in the book? What about its claims that Christianity has been modified by power-hungry men to change its meaning beyond recognition from the original intent of Christ himself? What about all of the claims listed above?

Are these claims intended to be true? Are they approximations, like the mathematics? Are they misinterpretations, like the GPs technology? Are they fabrications, like the nano drives? Are they something else? Again, we can recall that the novel was not written as an academic paper, trying to actually prove a case to a critically-thinking audience. Rather, the theology presented seems to be there to support the story and to draw the reader into the tale.

Unlike academic publications, the novel has few references and some sweeping statements that seem intended more to enable the suspension of disbelief rather than conclusive proof: claims 9 and 12 are of this type, intended to deflect question rather than prove a point. Other claims are unsupported statements of opinion given by the characters, such as claims 5 and 15. They are statements by fictional characters and they help to explain the characters' reasons for acting as they do in the story. Like the technology and math, they are not covered by the "FACT" claim that opens the book.

Another passage from the book seems to indicate that some of these claims are inserted merely to further character development and pique interest: "Langdon was always surprised how few Christians who gazed upon "the crucifix" realized their symbol's violent history was reflected in its very name: "cross" and "crucifix" came from the Latin verb cruciate -- to torture." (p. 145) Of course the violent history and use of the cross for torture is known to Christians: that's what was used to kill Jesus on Good Friday; that's where He took our place and suffered humiliation and punishment for our sins. That's the whole point of the cross as a Christian symbol. The author is clearly not attempting to argue that Christians don't know this, but is rather sprinkling trivia and context into the story line to make it interesting.

Some of the claims in the story do come with references, to the Dead Sea Scrolls, to the Nag Hammadi Library, and to the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Whether the author intends factual truth or not, responsible faith in Christ demands investigation of these sources to see whether they support the claims made above. Was the author merely using them as stage dressing (where picking and choosing bits out of context suit the purpose fine) or do these documents actually contain damning evidence against the fourth-century Church and the Canonical Bible?

The evidence from cited non-canonical sources.

Answering this question required me to get a copy of these texts and study them. I needed to see what the purpose of each was, how reliable they are as sources, and how well they support the claims presented above. Here's what I found...

The Dead Sea Scrolls.

I purchased the paperback version of the 1997 version of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English by Geza Vermes. Vermes has a doctorate in theology with a dissertation on the historical framework of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has been the director of the Oxford Forum for Qumran Research at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies since 1991.

On page 16, Vermes tells us that "The scrolls largely echo the contents of biblical books... none of these variations affect the scriptural message itself." This seems to be an inauspicious start for a set of documents that is going to highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications. Also in the introduction, the scrolls are described as being written by a Jewish sect called the Essenes. This sect had members who were either celibate or married (with strict rules for sex with their wives). They were called to separate themselves from the unclean people that were filled with lust. So far, this seems to be an unlikely place to find support for a mystery society holding secret sexual rituals, but lets see what the texts tell us.

Rewritten books? The scrolls contained sections of Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Exodus, and the Letter of Jeremiah that were compared with the canonical versions. These were translations from the Greek, probably from the 2nd or 1st century BC (well before the supposed fourth-century rewriting). When I went to read them to see what changes had been made, I came across the following: "On the whole, they represent the traditional text of the Septuagint with minor variations such as a word being replaced by its synonym... Since the translation scarcely differs from the original, there is no purpose in reproducing it." (P. 440)

Human or Divine Savior? A Messianic apocalypse refers to a Messiah who will care for the poor, heal the sick, and raise the dead. (p. 391) An apocryphal psalm says: "I belonged to death because of my sins, and my iniquities had sold me to Sheol. But Thou didst save me, O Lord, according to the greatness of Thy mercies, according to the greatness of Thy righteous deeds." (p.305) Another tract on Melchizedek points to a God-Messiah who both judges and forgives. (p. 500)

Vermes apparently disagrees with claims that the books were rewritten. At least some of the available text points towards a savior who is more than mere flesh and blood. There do not appear to be fragments of new-testament documents in this set of scrolls that are large enough to be definitively compared with other extant texts. None of the references from The DA Vinci Code seem to point to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a perusal of the scrolls themselves indicates that this may be because the scrolls themselves do not support the claims found there.

The Nag Hammadi Library

I purchased the 1990 paperback version of the Third, Completely Revised Edition of The Nag Hammadi Library edited by James M. Robinson. He tells us in the introduction: "The Nag Hammadi library is a collection of religious texts that vary widely from each other as to when, where, and by whom they were written... these diversified materials must have had something in common that caused them to be chosen by those who collected them. The collectors no doubt contributed to this unity by finding in the texts hidden meanings not fully intended by the original authors... Thus the texts can be read at two levels: what the original author may have intended to communicate and what the texts may subsequently have been taken to communicate." (p. 1)

On the quality of the translation, we are told: "The texts were translated one by one from Greek into Coptic, and not always by translators capable of grasping the profundity or sublimity of what they sought to translate. The translator of a brief section of Plato's Republic clearly did not understand the text, though it obviously seemed edifying and worth translating. Fortunately, most texts are better translated, but when there are duplications one can sense what a difference the better translation makes in comparison to the poor translation -- which leads one to wonder about the bulk of the texts that exist only in a single version." (p. 2)

Compared to the veracity of the Bible, we learn: "The number of unintentional errors is hard to estimate, since such a thing as a clean control copy does not exist; nor does one have, as in the case of the Bible, a quantity of manuscripts of the same text that tend to correct each other when compared." (p. 2)

The introduction describes much Gnostic thought as coming from a Christian base, but some being of Jewish and Egyptian origin. Some Gnostic texts were rewritten to appear Christian: "The Nag Hammadi library even presents one instance of the Christianizing process taking place almost before one's eyes. The non-Christian philosophic treatise Eugnostos the Blessed is cut up somewhat arbitrarily into separate speeches, which are then put on Jesus' tongue, in answer to questions (which sometimes do not quite fit the answers) that the disciples address to him during a resurrection appearance. The result is a separate tractate entitled The Sophia of Jesus Christ. Both forms of the text appear side by side in Codex III." (p. 8-9) This indicates Gnostic thought attempting to infiltrate Christianity, rather than Christianity being wrestled away from Gnostic origins.

Apparently Christians were not the only ones to reject the intrusion of Gnostic thought. The third-century Neoplatonist Porphyry reports in his Life of Plotinus that Plotinus often attacked the positions of the Gnostics in his lectures, and wrote a treatise Against the Gnostics. The relationship of the Gnostics with the Neoplatanists is referred to as, "We feel a certain regard for some of our friends who happened on this way of thinking before they became our friends, and, though I do not know how they manage it, continue in it." (p. 9)

Gospel of Thomas: Attributed by some to the apostle Thomas, by some to a brother of Jesus. The introduction claims that the sayings found both here and in the Canonical gospels are in a more original form here. It may be from the first century. The Coptic and Greek translations were somewhat different. "The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."" (p. 126) So now we have Peter and James listed as possible leaders for the church, but none of the texts support Mary Magdalene as leader. "Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will give rise to sin for yourselves; and if you pray, you will be condemned; and if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits."" (p. 128) "Jesus said, "When you see one who was not born of woman prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father."" (p. 128) Each of these two sayings are exact contradictions of Canonical scripture, where the disciples are commanded to fast, pray, and help the poor. Jesus also warns in Canonical scripture that angels of darkness will come disguised as angels of light and attempt to turn people from his way; the second statement above would cause people to follow these dark angels, and worship them. In fact, later in the gospel of Thomas, it states that "If you do not fast as regards the world, you will not find the kingdom" (p. 129) and "If you have money, do not lend it at interest, but give [it] to one from whom you will not get it back." (p. 136); these statements seem to contradict the earlier statements about not fasting and not giving alms. This gospel ends with a quite surprising: "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."" (p. 138) This statement makes Jesus sound much more hostile to females (and the feminine) than he appears in the Canonical texts, which is the opposite of what we would expect if the Church fathers had removed the feminine from scripture. [It is worth noting that Joseph Rowe's English translation of Jean-Yves Leloup's French original The Gospel of Mary Magdalene translates the word "male" in this passage as "fully human," because the original Greek used anthropos rather than andros: this seems to be a much more reasonable translation, especially given the dubious quality of the Nag Hammadi translation.]

Gospel of Philip: The introduction claims that the sayings of Jesus found here are either already in Canonical gospels or are "brief and enigmatic." It interprets the writing to state that defiled women (any who have had intercourse) are forbidden to enter the bridal chamber, and that unclean spirits seek to defile men and women sexually. The text seems to have come from the second half of the 3rd century, probably written in Syria. Its name probably derives from the fact that Philip is the only apostle named in it. The text itself seems to me to be a defense of a nonstandard systematic theology based on sexual purity, the marriage chamber, and the theme that sinners are animals and saints are men. It has quite a lot of relevant detail, so I'll split it up below into paragraphs:

"When we were Hebrews we were orphans and had only our mother, but when we became Christians we had both father and mother." (p. 142) seems to support the theses present in The DA Vinci Code. "Some said, "Mary conceived by the holy spirit." They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman? Mary is the virgin whom no power defiled. She is a great anathema to the Hebrews, who are the apostles and apostolic men... And the lord [would] not have said "My [father who is in] heaven unless [he] had had another father, but he would have said simply "[My father]."" (p. 143) makes further claims along these lines, that the holy spirit is female and an argument based on wording (not firsthand evidence) that Jesus was born of a human father.

"For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in one another." (p. 145) I'm surprised that this quote didn't show up in the DA Vinci book, except for the fact that it argues that the conception that kissing produces is a spiritual one rather than a physical one. This could have been the source of speculation on Mary Magdalene's pregnancy. "There were three who always walked with the lord: Mary his mother and her sister and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and mother and his companion were each a Mary." (p. 145) This translator thinks the word should be companion rather than bride.

From this point on, the gospel gets pretty strange: "The saints are served by evil powers, for they are blinded by the holy spirit into thinking that they are serving an (ordinary) man whenever they do so for the saints." (p. 145) and "Those who have gone astray, whom the spirit (itself) begets, usually go astray also because of the spirit." (p. 146) The Holy Spirit portrayed as evil and misleading? Later this is contradicted by "If one go down into the water and come up without having received anything and says, "I am a Christian," he has borrowed the name at interest. But if he receives the holy spirit, he has the name as a gift."" (p. 148) seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit is necessary for being a Christian. And later "For if they had the holy spirit, no unclean spirit would cleave to them." (p. 149)

And now the passage we've been waiting for (ellipses and brackets here indicate missing text and probably reconstruction): "As for the Wisdom who is called "the barren," she is the mother [of the] angels. And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [... loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and used to] kiss her [often] on her [...]. The rest of [the disciples ...]. They said to him, "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The savior answered and said to them, "Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness."" (p. 148) This seems to indicate that Jesus saw that Mary Magdalene understood more than the other disciples did.

The very next section speaks about the mystery of marriage, and of evil spirits (male and female) trying to defile people sexually, "But if they see the man and his wife sitting beside one another, the female cannot come in to the man, nor can the male come in to the woman." (p. 148-149) This indicates that the mystery of marriage is not about having sex rites to discover the divine through intercourse with the sacred feminine, but rather it is a method of protecting men and women from being defiled by sex outside of wedlock. Soon after, "Fear not the flesh nor love it. If you fear it, it will gain mastery over you. If you love it, it will swallow and paralyze you." (p. 149) Sounds like good advice to me!

"A bridal chamber is not for the animals, nor is it for the slaves, nor the defiled women; but it is for free men and virgins." (p. 151) "If the woman had not separated from the man, she should not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this Christ came to repair the separation which was from the beginning and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated. Thus Eve separated from Adam because it was not in the bridal chamber that she united with him." (p. 151-152) This seems to see the bridal chamber as redemption, but somehow Christ is in the mix, and it has the chamber being only for the sexually pure.

"Adam came into being from two virgins, from the spirit and from the virgin earth. Christ, therefore, was born from a virgin to rectify the fall which occurred in the beginning." (p. 152) This seems to contradict the earlier question: "when did a woman ever conceive by a woman?" -- the two virgins brought forth Adam.

"There are two trees growing in Paradise. The one bears [animals], the other bears men. Adam [ate] from the tree which bore animals. [He] became an animal and he brought forth animals. For this reason the children of Adam worship [animals]." (p. 152) "That is the way it is in the world -- men make gods and worship their creation. It would be fitting for the gods to worship men." (p. 152) Strange doctrine indeed, when compared to the Jewish tradition from which Jesus came. It does not bear on our present questions, except that it is an example of the wildly different theology present in this document from that presented multiple times and clearly in the Canonical books of the Bible.

"Whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife -- a case of strength complemented by weakness" (p. 154) This document when taken as a whole hardly advocates for the sacred feminine.

Apocryphon of "James": Probably written before 150 AD, maybe as late as 314. Claims to have secret knowledge for a few of the apostles that should not be widely shared.

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

This work was also present in The Nag Hammadi Library described above because it was included in an earlier German find that had copies of two Nag Hammadi tracts.

This translation includes the following response by Jesus to a question about sin: "The Savior said, "There is no sin, but it is you who make sin when you do the things that are like the nature of adultery, which is called 'sin...'"" (p.525) This doesn't sound like support for a mystery society that holds sex rituals worshipping the sacred feminine.

The section of the discussion that describes the role of Mary Magdalene, the special revelation given to her, and the argument with Peter is translated as: "Peter said to Mary, "Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember -- which you know (but) we do not, nor have we heard them."... Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things. He questioned them about the Savior: "Did he really speak with a woman without our knowledge (and) not openly? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?"" (p. 525-526) The revelation she describes is one conversation about a soul descending and ascending through four realms; it is not a description of how to run the Church or who is to run the Church. The apostles are clearly concerned about even this much being revealed to a woman (this was astonishing in their culture), and also because: "But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, "Say what you (wish to) say about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas."" (p.526) They were comparing the message of the vision against other messages heard from Jesus and found it to be of a different sort.

Summary of evidence from cited texts

It is clear that small fragments of the documents cited above (in particular the Gospel of Philip) do support the claims laid out in the story. It is also clear that the main thrust of the documents more often opposes the claims than supports them. Far from being a set of revelations proving the claims, they are an eclectic group of documents that most often point either to the Canonical scripture being correct or else point in entirely different directions than the claims of either the Canon or The DA Vinci Code.

Are the claims about Christ and the Church actually true?

Of most concern to me as a Christian is whether the claims about the falsehood of scripture are supported by the evidence present in the various texts, as claimed in The DA Vinci Code. Based on the notes from the external documents, other documents, and argument I investigated each of them:

Claim 1: This states the powerful men early in the Christian church (A) devalued the sacred feminine and (B) converted the world from matriarchy to patriarchy. I believe that 1A is true, but more broadly than stated: The monotheism of Jewish and Christian tradition is at odds with all theologies that worship any aspect of the world rather than its Creator: not just those that raise up sex and the "sacred" feminine. The beginning of Genesis is a clear attack on these, paraphrased: "You worship the sun? Well, God made the sun! You worship the moon? Well, He made that too! The sea? Yep, he made that as well! Thunder? Lightning? Stone? Plants (or wooden idols made from them)? Animals? Men? Women? The Lord God made them all!" This is not a secret, nor is it targeted specifically at the sacred feminine. I believe as stated in 1B that the world now consists mostly of patriarchal societies, but I don't think you can lay the majority of the blame for that on Christianity. The same is true in Buddhist Asian nations, more so in Muslim countries, in atheist nations (the Soviet Union and China) and even in the vast majority of pagan cultures (Vikings, Aztecs). The exception of the Amazons does not reveal a pleasant, loving society where women led in peace and harmony but rather a society in which women took the male role as warriors. There's no 'conning' going on here, and nothing secret. Such broad claims make good setting for a story, but that is about all.

Similarly, the role of women in the New Testament is much greater than that found in traditional Jewish society: if a set of fourth-century rewriters had intended to remove women from the picture, they should not have left such things as: Jesus conversing with a Samaritan woman at a well, at which the disciples marveled. (John 4:9-27) A woman anointed Jesus with expensive oil before his crucifixion; Jesus rebukes his disciples for rebuking her and claims that this will be told wherever the gospel is known. (Matthew 26:6-13) A group of women was the first to discover Jesus' empty tomb and be told that he had risen; they were to tell the disciples. (Matthew 28:1-7)

Claim 2: I'll need to go and find a book on the early Church to get an idea of what the Council of Nicaea was like, and what it determined to be true and what heresy, but it could hardly be as it was described in this claim: "until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet." Not by the followers who wrote the four Canonical gospels. Not by Saul of Tarsus after his encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road. Certainly by some: at least by the Gnostics who proclaim that we come to become gods ourselves by knowledge of our inner self or by communion one with another: but these claims are pre-Christian and non-Jewish -- intrusions on the Christian message, rather than the original Christian message. The idea that the Christian Church survived to the fourth century because of people who believed that Jesus was mortal, and now dead, is absurd. It wouldn't have survived a week -- the disciples were scattered, Peter had denied Jesus, Judas had killed himself; all were dejected and completely demoralized. Something changed their whole attitude and made them willing to be beaten, imprisoned, tortured, and killed because they had a message to bring to the world. Paul, who was originally set against the Christian movement and not one of the disciples, came to believe this so strongly that he forsook his place of education, wealth, and power to travel the world and convert the Gentiles; again, suffering beatings and imprisonment to do so.

Claims 3,4,5: These state that the Bible we have today came from documents that were altered in the fourth century, and that the recently-discovered documents (Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.) put a lie to them. This claim disregards an important facet of Bible translation -- Catholic, Protestant, and secular scholars are constantly updating the translations based on new material. The translator's preface for the New International Version states: "The Dead Sea Scrolls contain material bearing on an earlier stage of the Hebrew text. They were consulted, as were the Samaritan Pentateuch and the ancient scribal traditions relating to textual changes... The translators also consulted the more important early versions -- the Septuagint, Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion; the Vulgate; the Syriac Peshitta; the Targums; and for the Psalms the Juxta Hebraica of Jerome... The Greek text used in translating the New Testament was an eclectic one. No other piece of ancient literature has such an abundance of manuscript witnesses as does the New Testament." Far from being hidden away, each new bit of evidence is eagerly snapped up and used to perfect later translations! The modern translations of the Bible are the best picture we have of the people, places, events, and beliefs surrounding the life of Jesus. This is attested to by the introductions for both the The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English and The Nag Hammadi Library.

Claims 6,13: I'm sure that woman as life-bringer was the foundation of some ancient religions. I'm sure that Genesis was the beginning of the end for this goddess-worship. When the truth comes, the false fades. The same happened to those who believed that the earth is flat. The same happened to people who thought that heavy objects fall faster than light objects in proportion to their weight (or at all, in the absence of air resistance).

Claims 7,8,9,11,12: The idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered children through her, and that there is a large body of historical evidence for this. The only evidence presented in the documents that are cited hinges on the translation of a single word in a single passage in a single document whose translation is somewhat suspect. More dubious is that, although The DA Vinci Code refers to Aramaic scholars knowing the correct translation of the word, the Gospel of Philip is a translation of a Greek text into Coptic (Egyptian written in a phonetic Greek script). This hardly counts as "the historical evidence supporting this is substantial", nor does it warrant "I shan't bore you with the countless references to Jesus and Magdalene's union." Again, this is clearly intended as flavor for the background story in the novel and it serves very well in this purpose. A serious look at the documents reveals that they do not support the claim. Reinterpretations of Grail legends and the opinions of famous painters who lived centuries later are not evidence.

Of particular surprise to me is the statement made on page of The DA Vinci Code 242 that "Christ Himself" claimed that Mary Magdalene was the Holy Grail. However, I can't find anything in the rest of that book, or in any of the reference materials I have explored, that substantiates this claim. It appears to be simply an unsubstantiated claim of a fictional character.

Claim 10: This claims that the unaltered Gospels point to Mary Magdalene rather than Peter as the rightful leader of the Church. In fact, one of them points to James. Mary's own gospel describes a single post-resurrection encounter with Jesus in a vision that reveals specific knowledge that she freely shares with the other disciples. In fact, it is clear that Christ intends for His Church to be led by the Holy Spirit: this is attested to both in the Canonical gospels and in the ones from the Nag Hammadi library. Jesus spoke of both sons and daughters being prophets, and healers, and speaking in tongues. In His kingdom, "there is no male and female," -- the earthly cultural distinctions are not important to the rank of the person in heaven. In that sense, Jesus was a feminist as stated in the claim.

Claim 14: If the goal of the fourth-century Church had been to "demonize sex and to recast it as a disgusting and sinful act," then they did a poor job. Here are some examples that come to mind: The entire book Song of Songs is a love poem. Here from the New Revised Standard version: "O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me!" "Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves." "Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle." "Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits." "My beloved thrust his hand into the opening, and my inmost being yearned for him." [This is actually about the lover putting his hand into the bedroom, but it sure sounds more erotic when taken out of context!] Genesis tells people to "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it." (Genesis 1:28) It reports that God said the same to Noah and his sons. (Genesis 9:1) The promise to Abraham was that he would get his wife Sarah with child, and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. (Genesis 17:4) Men and women were created male and female, and for this reason are to leave their families to become one flesh. (Matthew 19:4-7, Mark 10:6-8) [These particular passages are about the sacredness of marriage and denouncing divorce, but we all know what the flesh will be doing when it makes children.]

This claim also stated that "mankind's use of sex to commune directly with God posed a serious threat to the Catholic power base. It left the Church out of the loop, undermining their self-proclaimed status as the sole conduit to God." The Protestant revolution pointed out, among other things, that Christians already have a way to commune directly with God: through prayer and the Holy Spirit. This is described clearly in scripture and is widely accepted throughout Christendom. The fourth-century Church must have been very foolish indeed to do such a poor job of removing sex from the Bible to preserve their role as sole conduit and at the same time leave the scripture intact when it describes how to commune with God all by yourself. Or in small groups: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:19) We can know God through His revelation in the Bible, and through personal communion through the Holy Spirit.

"Wouldn't it be neat..."

Answering the original question: Wouldn't it be neat if some of us really were descended from Jesus? One important answer is that Christianity is not about what's "neat," or what's fashionable, or what makes us feel good, or what might be helpful, or what is a good philosophy to live by: it is about what is true. We can go to the history books and find out. When the atheist CS Lewis (a British Linguist) went to examine the texts of the Bible to prove once and for all that they were fabrication, he ended up convinced by his investigation that they could only be true accounts of actual events, and he ended up a Christian. When investigative journalist Lee Strobel went looking for the facts of the case, interviewing those on each side of the debate, he came to the same conclusion and to the same faith. Those who have earnestly sought the truth of the matter have found it.

A second, and to me more compelling, answer is to slightly rephrase the question to bring out what for me is a deeper yearning: Wouldn't it be neat if each of us could have a little bit of God inside us? This is the longing of my heart. It is the longing of the mystery society described in the book. It was the longing of the Gnostics. It is the only thing that can make people good. The good news ("Gospel" means "good news") is that Jesus came to earth for the purpose of making this very thing possible. His innocent suffering on our behalf on the cross fulfilled the demands of Justice: he traded his righteousness for our sin so that we could be right with God. He died and then rose again, defeating the hold that sin and death have on those who accept this gift. He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell those of us who place our lives in his hands and open our whole hearts to His love. Read the Gospels to hear the story. Read the book of Acts to see the impact this had on the disciples. Place your life in His loving hands to get God into your own life. And yes, it is much more than neat! For me, it has been life-changing.