I have avoided posting regarding The DaVinci Code until now because I have not read it, until now. I could have written a review of the thesis earlier but not the novel itself. And to review this as a piece of history would be silly as it is not history at all. It can only be discussed as a novel since it has very little factional material in the plot.
As a novel with a religious theme it is fitting to discuss on this blog. The most important factor to keep in mind is that it is novel. It is fiction. Where the book gets into trouble, and I presume the film as well, is when it boldly proclaims at the beginning that the main organization in the story, the Priory of Sion, is real along with all the documents and rituals it describes.
Now if you want to know nothing about this story before you read the book or see the film then you better stop reading here.
In a nutshell the story goes like this: there is a secret society, founded in 1099 called the Priory of Sion. They have some information about Jesus that the Church (by which they mean the Catholic Church) wants destroyed. Hidden throughout Western religious art is the truth that Jesus was just a man, that he married Mary Magdalene and that he had a daughter. The daughter and his wife fled to France after the death of Jesus and that the descendants of Christ live to this day. The Priory is meant to protect these people. from the Church. The Church wants them destroyed because they are evidence that the Jesus is God claim is false.
Now I am not a supporter of Catholicism, though it is preferable to the nutty fundamentalism that pervades the US, but a commitment to truth has to underlie all atheism. And this book is rubbish when it comes to history. The Priory was not founded in 1099. It was made up within the last few decades. There is no line of descendants of Christ that we know of.
That the story line is entirely false when it comes to history is different from whether it is accurate as history. As fiction it is a bearable work to read. I can see why it was a best seller. First, the author smartly created chapters that are consistent with the attention span of lot so readers. Often they are less than two pages long. And since we live in a world that is becoming less and less interested in the written word and prefers passive visual learning this increases the readership for the book. It allows readers to think they have accomplished something by finishing two pages. They can delude themselves by saying: “I read a whole chapter yesterday.”
Second, people love violent stories and this one has it’s fair share of violence. It opens with a string of murders. That should be enough for many readers. In addition the entire plot takes place over a short period of time with few flashbacks to clutter things up. Even those that are included are done in a manner that the average reader doesn’t find it too taxing to keep track of what is going on.
The story line is thus not too taxing and one that people can follow. Unfortunately this does not make The DaVinci Code a great book but does help make it a best seller. A friend recommended the book to me because it really let the church have it. True. It does. But it lets the church have it over fictional issues for the most part. There are small sections that get it right but not many. It does argue in places that Christian theology is mainly an adaptation of pagan beliefs. This is most assuredly true. Christianity is not some revealed doctrine from a god but stolen beliefs from various cults and sects that existed long before Jesus. Here the book is on strong ground but this plays only a small role in the book.
I have read the books on which The DaVinci Code builds its theories. In fact I only recently got rid of them from my overly large library. I got rid of them because they are rubbish from start to finish. My impression is that the main book presenting this thesis, Holy Blood, Holy Grail is more than just false. I couldn’t help but get the impression it is dishonest.
And various books and documentaries have exposed the thesis for what it is: wrong. And in this sense I think the book does Christianity some good. When you make a false accusation that is easily refuted your strengthen your opponent in some circles. You do so by discrediting critics of your target. That the main thesis of the Priory is a lie from start to finish, however, doesn’t mean that the counter theory, that Christ was divine, etc., is true. But some will take it that way.
My first commitment is to the truth not to atheism. I am atheist because I believe that is consistent with the facts. Had this book merely presented itself as fiction I would have little problem with it. It is adequately written and the plot does keep one’s attention. It is not particularly well written but then well written books don’t sell to what is called “the reading public”. People have been sufficiently dumbed down by government provided education to avoid well written books --- one reason they elect people like George Bush.
The author, Dan Brown, did an adequate job combining the absurd thesis of the Holy Grail (supposedly Mary and her descendants) into a coherent story albeit a false one. It is mildly entertaining even though I thought some of the plot a bit obviously ---- anyone who didn’t think that Sophie was of the bloodline of Christ wasn’t paying attention even if Brown tries to throw one off the track. If one reads this a purely fiction one could do worse. However, if one reads this as history they are in trouble.
One problem I have with mass market entertainment is that too many people think that “historical” pieces are actually historical. They rarely are. Hollywood in particular is too keen to rewrite history to make it more interesting. You are not getting church history from Brown any more than you learn the truth about the Kennedy assassination from Oliver Stone.
For those interested in some history regarding this matter I recommend this article,
and finally here.