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Frequently Asked Questions

The author tends to receive comments and questions on certain subjects more than others.

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Why bother comparing the historical evidence to the claims of a fictional novel? It's FICTION!!
There's no doubt that the novel is fiction. Robert Langdon, Sophie, Teabing and the other characters do not exist and the events and action in the story are purely imaginary. But it's not the story or the characters that have caused confusion and controversy; it's the novel's 'historical background' and the claims the author has made about them that has caused concern. [More]

But Dan Brown never claimed the history in the book was really true, did he?
Actually, that's precisely what Dan Brown claimed. Repeatedly, in fact. It was those claims that helped his initial sales immensely and thus first sparked the controversy about the novel. Unfortunately, a great many readers genuinely believed those categorical claims by Brown, despite the fact no historian or art expert on Earth accepts them. [More]

Didn't the controversy and the condemnations by Christian Churches turn this novel into a bestseller? Were they, therefore, counterproductive?
The novel became a massive bestseller long before any Churches made any kind of statement or condemnation of it. Thanks to the most expensive pre-publication publicity campaign in recent publishing history, The Da Vinci Code became a best-seller in its first week. Those initial sales were swollen by good notices given by reviewers that Brown's publishers had carefully cultivated, by paid TV appearances by Brown where he emphasised that the novel's historical background was 'all true' and by a puzzle competition with a trip to Paris as a prize.

Churches and other critics of the historical errrors in the novel only began to speak out when the sales of the book were in the tens of millions. So the condemnations were sparked by the sales, not the other way around.

Isn't it true, though, that this legend of Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene has been around for centuries anyway? It's not like Dan Brown made it up.
The idea that Jesus married anyone, including Mary Magdalene, is not a legend that has been around for centuries. There is no such legend and this idea doesn't even appear at all until the Nineteenth Century.

In the Nineteenth Century a few German 'Higher Criticism' Biblical scholars suggested that Jesus may have married, but purely as speculation as they realised there was absolutely no source or evidence which says this or even hints it. The 'theory' of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the 'Holy Bloodline' did not appear until 1982, when it was presented in Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. Their theory was then taken up and expanded on by authors like Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince (The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ), 'Margaret Starbird' (The Woman with the Alabaster Jar), and Lawrence Gardner (Bloodline of the Holy Grail). It is an entirely modern speculative theory invented by amateurs, not an ancient legend. [More]

But some of the things in the book definitely are true. For example, isn't it true that the Bible was edited by the Emperor Constantine and created at the Council of Nicea?
This is not true at all. The canon of the New Testament was well established at least 100 years before Constantine was even born and he had nothing to do with that process. He played no part in the formation of this Canon and the Council of Nicea did not even discuss it, let alone determine it. This is something else that Brown gets wrong. [More]

But isn't it true that the Church deliberately left gospels which depicted Jesus as simply a mortal prophet out of the Bible?
Many texts, some of them gospels, which were used as 'scripture' in the first four centuries of Christianity were 'left out of the Bible'. Virtually none of them depicted Jesus as simply a mortal prophet. On the contrary, most of the texts which were rejected from the final New Testament Canon were later Gnostic texts, which were considered 'heretical' because they downplayed Jesus' humanity and depicted him as a purely spiritual, totally non-human being.

It was the fact that these texts were written much later than the canonical gospels and the fact that they did not depict Jesus as human at all that led to their rejection. It was not because they depicted him as a human. The gospels that were accepted as part of the Bible depict him as far more human than the Gnostic texts that were excluded. Brown gets his facts on this point completely backwards. [More]

Okay, but I looked at a copy of The Last Supper and that person next to Jesus really does look like a woman. Isn't it reasonable to think it's Mary Magdalene, as Brown claims?
No, it isn't. Brown says that Leonardo put Mary Magdalene in his painting because he was a Grandmaster of the 'Priory of Sion' which knew Mary married Jesus. Except it's well known that the 'Priory' didn't even exist in Leonardo's time and was simply a modern hoax cooked up in France in the 1960s. [More] John was always painted as a beardless youth in Renaissance art and Leonardo tended to paint highly feminine-looking youths.

Evidence indicates that the model he used for this youth was his favourite pupil, Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, also known as 'Salai'. Salai was a very pretty and very feminine-looking young man, but he was definitely a man, not a woman. The figure next to Jesus is, according to all the evidence, the disciple John and not Mary Magdalene. [More]

Isn't it true that the Knights Templar were secret heretics who opposed the rule of the Catholic Church? Didn't they discover secret documents in Jerusalem and wasn't this the reason they were suppressed by the Pope?
The Templars were accused of being 'heretics' by their political enemies, since this was a classic way of discrediting a group that you wanted to persecute. The only admissions by Templars that this was true were made under torture. These so-called 'confessions' totally contradicted each other and the tortured Templars who made them later retracted them totally and said they had only been made under duress.

The clearly false accusation of 'heresy' has led to various later legends arising about the 'real, secret beliefs' of the Templars. These later legends also led to the idea that they had discovered 'secret documents' while in Jerusalem, even though there is zero evidence to support these later, modern, wild speculations.

The Templars were suppressed by the King of France, against the objections of the (relatively weak) Pope. The Pope actually did everything he could to stop the King's persecution - which was motivated purely by greed - and to protect the Templars. He ultimately failed in both aims. Once again, Brown's version of events is largely fantasy. [More]

But the things the novel says about Leonardo are all true and well researched, aren't they?
No, virtually everything Dan Brown's novel says about Leonardo is completely incorrect. It is not 'well documented' that he was a Goddess-worshipper, he was never in any conflict with the Catholic Church, he held no heretical or unusual religious beliefs, he did not receive 'hundreds of lucrative commission from the Vatican', his homosexuality was not 'flamboyant' and he did not practice alchemy, in fact he ridiculed it.

Brown also makes fundamental errors of fact about Leonardo's paintings and passes off discredited fringe theories about the 'symbolism' in Leonardo's work as though they are well-respected and accepted ideas. [More]

Didn't Dan Brown research his novel for over a year using information from experts?
Brown's characters often claim that 'historians', 'scholars' and 'experts' agree with the historical and artistic information they impart. Dan Brown, however, clearly and demonstrably used arguments and claims made by amateurs, conspiracy theorists and New Age writers rather than works by respected and reputable professional historians and academics.

In the 2006 plagarism court case over the novel, Brown revealed that he himself didn't actually even read these books in full. His wife, Blythe Brown, read them and then e-mailed summaries of what she thought were key points to her husband. Brown explained to the court that he worked this way because he has 'a short attention span'. Brown used discredited, amateur, secondary 'sources' and didn't even bother to actually read them. Not surprisingly, the historical 'information' he related in his novel via this strange method of 'research' - which he later confidently claimed is 'all true' - has since been utterly rejected by real historians and scholars.

Isn't it true that 'history is written by the winners?'
Many historical sources are written by the 'winners'. Others are written by the 'losers'. Others still are written by people who are neither. No modern historian takes any source at face value and always takes the perspective, biases, context and objectives of each source into account in their analysis. Archaeology, inscriptions, letters, diaries, household accounts and a host of other sources of information are also used so that, even when the 'winners' do try to manipulate information (which is rare), current professional historians are not forced to rely only on their perspective.

Brown's statement that 'history is written by the winners' is a totally oversimplified cliche, and one he uses to try to excuse the complete lack of evidence for most of his claims.

Are you a Christian?
I'm an atheist with an academic background in medieval literature and ancient and medieval history and a knowledge of the history of Christianity. Where this site's analysis touches on religious topics it does so purely in terms of history and attempts to handle current religious concerns, beliefs and controversies with neutrality. I have absolutely zero commitment to any religion - my interest in these subjects is based purely on an historian's dedication to what can be reasonably argued from the available evidence.

 

 

 


 


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History vs The Da Vinci Code is copyright Tim O'Neill 2006. All rights reserved.