Adapted from Dan Brown’s mega best-selling novel (which has already sold 45 million copies), the movie opened with an estimated $29 million in box office sales.
The movie follows art historian Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou). Beginning with a murder at the Louvre, clue after clue leads Langdon to uncover the mother of all conspiracy theories, namely that Christianity is actually a fraud. In the process, Robert is joined by Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) in a fast-pace hunt for the Holy Grail.
When Langdon finally finds the Holy Grail, it turns out to be a person.
Christ turns out to have really been a Gnostic, the founder of an occult religion that worshipped the ‘Sacred Feminine.’
Mary Magdalene turns out to have been Jesus’ wife (or girlfriend), who bore him a daughter named Sarah.
Sophie turns out to be the last living descendent of Christ’s bloodline.
Before His death, Christ passed onto Mary Magdalene the authority to carry on His movement advancing the hidden secrets of spiritual enlightenment. The apostles, being jealous, chased Mary and Sarah to the continent, where they became the ancestors of the European and English royal dynasties.
The Bible was really written by the church to suppress the truth about Jesus’ true mission (apparently He never claimed to be divine and His disciples never believed he was).
As for the followers of the real Jesus, they went underground, forming part of a secret society revolving around the ideologies of feminism, occult and orgiastic sex rituals.
CONFUSING FACT WITH FICTION
In their book Cracking Da Vinci’s Code, Garlow and Jones note that
‘There are many readers of Brown’s book who are now confused about just who Jesus really is. These readers are turning away from what they thought to be true to grasp a mangled mass of bizarre claims cleverly portrayed as a work of history in a work of fiction.’
This same muddling of fact and fiction is also present in the movie’s adaptation of the book. Although The Da Vinci Code may play fast and loose with the truth, we all know it’s just a story.
Or do we?
According to a beliefnet.com survey, 27% of respondents believed that Mary Magdalene was ‘Jesus’ wife’ while a Canadian poll found that one in three who read the book believe ‘there are descendants of Jesus alive today and a secret society exists dedicated to keeping Jesus' bloodline a secret.’ A more recent Canadian survey found that 17% of all Canadians and 13% of Americans think that ‘Jesus’ apparent death on the cross was faked’ and that ‘Jesus was also married and had a family.’
Dan Brown himself acknowledged on a National Geographic documentary that he ‘became a believer’ in ‘this theory about Mary Magdalene and holy blood and all of that…’
In the novel, Brown opens by saying that ‘all descriptions of art, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.’ Many historical scholars have marvelled at this claim. 1st century scholar and Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, said that
‘details abound which make the first-century historian snort and want to throw the book into the fire... We may safely conclude, then, that The Da Vinci Code is fiction not just in its characters and plot but in most of its other details as well…’
The movie has raised similar objections, especially with its narrated ‘historical’ flash-backs that could easily be confused with reality. Concerned that the movie was promoting fiction as fact, the DVC Response Group asked that the movie contain a disclaimer. Ron Howard, the movie’s director, declined.
Why has The Da Vinci Code book and movie been so enormously successful? N.T. Wright believes the answer to this question lies in the current fascination with Gnosticism. Like the recent Gospel of Judas, Brown’s block-buster draws on recent interest in this ancient heresy. Although Gnosticism is not actually mentioned in the movie, the particular way it portrays Christ had its origins in that movement.
Gnosticism was the teaching that the apostle John had to combat in his first epistle and that Paul struggled against in his second letter to the Corinthians. It taught that because the material world is inherently bad, salvation consists in the spirit escaping the constraints of matter. Through occult (‘hidden’) knowledge, the soul is released into a higher spiritual experience.
In the book, Jesus was a Gnostic and therefore despised earthly things (this raises problems of why He would have a physical relationship, a paradox Brown does not attempt to address). Because of this, Jesus wanted to die, in order to escape the confined of the flesh.
One of the ways that Gnosticism comes across in the movie is its suggestion that true religion is about an inner experience - what we personally choose to believe - rather than what is actually true of the real world. Hence, after all the clues have been solved and the entire history of Christianity proved to be a fraud, Sophie asks Robert what he thinks. ‘The only thing that matters,’ he muses, ‘is what you believe.’
Like the opera Jerry Springer, which ends with the final moral message ‘no right, no wrong’, the message of The Da Vinci Code movie is that truth does not matter. Thus, both sides are shown to be wrong: the church is wrong for suppressing the truth about Jesus, while Sir Leigh is wrong in his attempts to expose the deception and destroy faith. Only Robert and Sophie get it right in their synthesis that whatever you choose to believe can be true for you. Andrew Coffin comments that,
‘Christianity isn’t entirely repudiated, even if it is based on utter falsehoods, because faith (in something) is important, insofar as that faith benefits those who require it. That, more than Mr. Brown’s silly, easily refuted conspiracy theories, is an all too prevalent cancer on our culture’s understanding of spirituality.’
It isn't all bad. We can thank the Lord that He is using the movie to provoke many people to start discussing Christianity and issues of church history for the first time. There is also an extraordinary opportunity to share the gospel to those who have seen the movie. Focus on the Family have written on their website that
‘Ultimately, issues raised by The Da Vinci Code present believers with a unique opportunity: to openly talk about Jesus Christ and church history! Dan Brown’s book has suddenly made it okay to discuss Christian truth claims and specifics of the biblical worldview.’
Finally, I'll close by comparing ideas from the Da Vinci Code book or movie, with quotes from prominent historians.
Dan Brown Vs. The Historians
From the book or movie: there were 80 other gospels circulating in the fourth century, many of which did not portray Christ as divine.
What the historians say: ‘At that time there were not 80 of them, there were 11…. Those Gnostic gospels, according to Iraeneus, were always recognized as heretical.’ Dr. George Grant, historian and director of Kings Meadow Study Centre.
From the book or movie: The Council of Nicea (AD 325) decided which books would be included in the canon of the New Testament.
What the historians say: ‘It was actually later, at the Synod of Hippo in A.D. 393, quite a few years after the death of Constantine, when the church listed the 27 confirmed books of the New Testament. But, of course, both dates are misleading, …the church had recognized these books as the definitive New Testament nearly 175 years before Nicea.’ Josh McDowell, biblical scholar and 1st century historian.
From the book or movie: The Council of Nicea (AD 325) voted whether Jesus was divine.
What the historians say: ‘[The vote] did relate to the deity of Christ but the issue was whether Jesus’ status was lesser than the Father – was he coeternal?’ Josh McDowell
From the book or movie: It was a very close vote.
What the historians say: ‘…the vote was 300 to 2.’ Dr. Paul Maier, Western Michigan University.
From the book or movie: The Dead Sea Scrolls are among the many documents that refer to Jesus.
What the historians say: ‘Neither Jesus nor early Christianity is mentioned anywhere in the scrolls.’ N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, biblical historian and 1st century scholar.
From the book or movie: The doctrine of Jesus’ divinity was a later invention.
What the historians say: ‘…we find no evidence at all of anyone ever opposing the so called myth of the divine Jesus in the name of an earlier merely human Jesus. …until the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313, Christians were subject to persecution, often tortured and martyred…for their beliefs…. Yet no one ever confessed that they made it all up – even when martyred.’ Dr. Peter Kreeft, professor of Philosophy at Boston College, USA.
From the book or movie: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married or lovers.
What the historians say: 'Not a single one of our ancient sources indicates that Jesus was married, let alone married to Mary Magdalene.’ Dr. Bart D Ehrman, Department Chair of Religious Studies, University of NC.
From the book or movie: Pierre Plantard, discovered documents detailing the history of the Priory of Sion, showing that Pierre himself was a direct descendent of Jesus. In the section ‘True Facts from the Da Vinci Code’ on Dan Brown’s website, he writes that these documents, discovered in 1975, ‘[identified] numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci.’
What the historians say: ‘Pierre…confessed that he had forged this… He forged it as a hoax in order to give some substance to this new organisation that he had created in order to advocate for low income housing in France in 1959… and it’s an acknowledged hoax by everyone who has ever examined the parchments and by the man who forged them himself.’ Dr. George Grant.
From the book or movie: Biblical Christianity was a later invention that grew out of the church’s ascendancy to power. It was used as a tool to suppress the pagans.
What the historians say: ‘Look at the 2nd century. The people who were being thrown to the lion and burnt at the stake...were reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Acts and Romans. And you can check that out again and again in the actual historical documentation. These documents that we call the New Testament were not written as a political power play.’ N.T. Wright