The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code is a novel by Dan Brown published in 2003. It has sold over 60 million copies to date and a film version was released in 2006. The book's popularity in part derived from its sensationalistic claims about the history of Christianity, which are in large part based on an earlier non-fiction work, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh,, and Henry Lincoln. The text of the novel is prefaced with a claim that all documents and artwork referenced in the novel really exist, and within the context of the story many of the book's claims are presented as being common knowledge among historians. However, The Da Vinci Code does not represent the views of mainstream Biblical scholarship, the liberal wing thereof, or informed skeptics of Christianity.
Claims About the Bible
The Da Vinci Code alleges that Constantine commissioned a massive re-write of the New Testament for political reasons. Jesus, supposedly, really was an important historical figure, but Constantine's rewrite made him much less human by, among other things, removing all reference to his marriage to Marry Magdalene and the child he had by her. It is suggested that the various non-canonical gospels could provide important insights into the life of Jesus.
There are a large number of New Testament manuscripts dating from 200 A.D. onwards. While comparison of these various manuscripts reveals isolated instances of tampering, there is no evidence of a massive re-write in Constantine's era or any other. Also, the canonicity of the various books had been largely decided by Constantine's era, though the status of Revelation was still hotly disputed.
The surviving non-canonical gospels appear to have been written after the canonical ones, and portray Jesus in a much more exalted light. While the historical content of the canonical gospels is debatable, scholars agree that they are much more likely to contain historical information than the later books.
The Da Vinci Code also refers to a book called Q, which it suggests may have been written by Jesus himself and is currently being kept hidden away in a vault somewhere. Scholars have indeed concluded that Matthew and Luke did indeed copy some of their works from a now-lost collection of sayings, and this is referred to in the literature as Q. However, there is no reason to believe that Q was written by Jesus himself, nor is there any reason to think that a secret copy has survived somewhere.
The Priory of Sion
The Da Vinci Code claims that there is a secret society called the Priory of Sion, whose mission is to protect the bloodline of Jesus, and that the existence of this society is documented by papers found in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. These papers do exist, and claim among the Priory's members Leonardo Da Vinci. Dan Brown spins this into the idea that gave his book its title, that Da Vinci put clues about the conspiracy in his paintings. However, the papers have been proven to be forgeries, created by a right-wing French organization in an attempt to give itself a more impressive history than it actually has.
- Baigent, Michael; Richard Leigh; and Henry Lincoln. Holy Blood, Holy Grail. New York: Dell Publishing, 1983
- Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. Doubleday, 2003
- Ehrman, Bart. Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. Oxford University Press, 2004
- The Da Vinci Hoax by Robert M. Price