The Da Vinci Code

About The Da Vinci Code

In July 2003, Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code, the second novel chronicling the adventures of Robert Langdon, a Harvard "religious symbologist." It became a huge hit, remaining at the top of bestseller lists for well over a year. It is currently being made into a movie that will be directed by Ron Howard.

The novel begins with the murder of Jacques Sauniere, curator of the Louvre Museum in Paris, by a mysterious albino. When Sauniere is found at the foot of the Mona Lisa in a strange, symbolic pose, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, a French police cryptologist, are called in to help with the case. Soon the two are off on a fast-paced search through France and England, discovering hidden secrets and conspiracies, most of which center on Jesus and Mary Magdalene, along the way. Other topics incorporated into the plot include Opus Dei, the Priory of Sion, the Freemasons, the Holy Grail, Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, the sacred feminine, Gnostic gospels, the Council of Nicea, and much more.

With The Da Vinci Code's success has come a great deal of controversy. A flurry of articles and books rebutting the novel, most authored by Christian scholars and journalists, have now flooded the Internet and bookstore shelves.

Why such a stir over a fictional novel? Primarily because it is presented as a fictional narrative based on established facts, many of which are highly controversial. The opening page of the book reads: "FACT: The Priory of Sion - a European secret society founded in 1099 - is a real organization.... The Vatican prelature known as Opus Dei is a deeply devout Catholic sect that has been the topic of recent controversy... All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."

This opening, along with the intellectual and academic air of the book and its characters, make the reader inclined to trust the information on art, history, and religion presented as a backdrop to the fictional narrative. However, many scholars in those fields have noted a considerable amount of inaccuracy in these factual claims.

Many full treatments of the accuracy of The Da Vinci Code's claims have already been written and are freely available online, so we will not add to the stack here. Instead, presented below is a resource for those wishing to learn more about the topics touched on by the novel. In some cases, a brief overview of the topic is given, but what follows is primarily a resource for links and books on The Da Vinci Code as a whole, as well as topics like Leonardo da Vinci, Mary Magdalene, and Opus Dei.

What Experts Are Saying

Numerous art historians have weighed in on the book's claim that the figure next to Jesus in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper painting is not the Apostle John but Mary Magdalene. ABCNEWS interviewed several experts concerning this possibility and summarized their responses:

Many art historians have dismissed the theory that the figure is a woman, saying it's just a tradition to paint John as beardless and long-haired. "It looks like a young male. I see no breasts," art historian Jack Wasserman told ABCNEWS. But Carlos Pedretti, one of the world's leading Leonardo experts and head of the Leonardo Institute in Florence offered a rare word of agreement, noting that a portrait of the figure next to Jesus, sketched by one of Leonardo's top students, clearly appears to be a woman.

Even more experts in the field of Christianity and church history have commented that much of the book's factual claims are inaccurate. Margaret M. Mitchell, Associate Professor of New Testament and the Chair of the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago, lists the following statements as "patently inaccurate":

  • In his own lifetime Jesus "inspired millions to better lives" (p.231);
  • There were "more than eighty gospels" (p.231; the number 80 is factual-sounding, but has no basis);
  • "The earliest Christian records" were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (including gospels) and Nag Hammadi texts (pp.234, 245);
  • The Nag Hammadi texts "speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms" (p.234);
  • The marriage of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is "a matter of historical record" (p.244);
  • Constantine invented the divinity of Jesus and excluded all gospels but the four canonical ones;
  • Constantine made Christianity "the official religion" of the Roman Empire (p.232);
  • Constantine coined the term "heretic" (p.234);
  • "Rome's official religion was sun worship" (p.232). {2}

For more reviews of the book's accuracy, see the links below.

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External Links and News on The Da Vinci Code
  • The Official Web Site of Bestselling Author Dan Brown
    Contains a wealth of information on the best-selling book and its author, including book review excerpts (favorable, of course), a plot description, FAQ, an excerpt from the novel, TV and audio clips of interviews with Dan Brown, links to reviews and online articles, the latest news on the movie, a bibliography of books used by the author, a reader's guide for book clubs, print ads, and information about the author.
  • Tautou 'to star in Da Vinci film'
    BBC News - January 24, 2005
    French actress Audrey Tautou, star of hit film Amelie, will play the female lead in the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, it has been reported.
  • Louvre allows Da Vinci Code shoot
    BBC News - January 21, 2005
    France has allowed the makers of the Hollywood film version of hit novel The Da Vinci Code to shoot in the Louvre Museum, home of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
  • Da Vinci Code is 'lousy history'
    BBC News - December 24, 2004
    The plot of an international bestseller that thousands of readers are likely to receive as a Christmas present is 'laughable', a clergyman has said.
  • Da Vinci film to star Tom Hanks
    BBC News - December 1, 2004
    Actor Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard are reuniting for The Da Vinci Code, an adaptation of the international best-selling novel by Dan Brown.
  • Da Vinci Code banned in Lebanon
    BBC News - September 16, 2004
    Best-selling book The Da Vinci Code has been banned in Lebanon after complaints it was offensive to Christianity.
  • Dan Brown: Decoding the Da Vinci Code author
    BBC News - August 10, 2004
    BBC News Online profiles an author who has become a publishing phenomenon.
  • Deciphering The Da Vinci Code
    Crosswalk - July 29, 2003
    Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reviews the book, noting its historical errors, its heresy, and the draw of the conspiracy theory.
  • Dismantling the Da Vinci Code
    Crisis Magazine - September 1, 2003
    Sandra Miesel, a Catholic journalist, points out the author's factual errors regarding details including Gothic cathedral design, albinism, the ancient Olympics, the Priory of Sion, Christology, the New Testament, the Knights Templar, and others.
  • 'Code' hot, critics hotter
    New York Daily News - September 4, 2003
    Celia McGee provides an overview of the controversy surrounding the book, with quotes from the editor of a Catholic publication and Dan Brown's editor, Jason Kaufman.
  • Cracking the Da Vinci Code
    University of Chicago, Sightings - September 23, 2003
    In this concise article, Margaret M. Mitchell, Associate Professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago Divinity School and the Chair of the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature, lists the book's claims that are "patently inaccurate" and outlines the "gray areas where complex issues are misrepresented and distorted."
  • Jesus, Mary, and Da Vinci: Exploring Controversial Theories About Religious Figures and the Holy Grail
    ABC News one-hour special - November 3, 2003
  • Breaking The Da Vinci Code
    Christian History & Biography - November 7, 2003
    Collin Hansen points out the errors in the Da Vinci Code, especially in the areas of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and the compilation of the New Testament.
  • The Truth Behind "The Da Vinci Code" - March 13, 2004
    An interview with Carl Olson, co-author (with Sandra Miesel) of the upcoming book "The Da Vinci Hoax," which critiques the errors of The Da Vinci Code and analyzes the meaning of its popular success.
  • De-coding Da Vinci
    Zenit interviews Amy Welborn on her new book, De-Coding Da Vinci.
Books on The Da Vinci Code Links on Jesus' Marital Status
  • Was Jesus Married?
    By Deborah Caldwell,
  • Was Jesus Married?
    By Darrell L. Bock,
    "All available evidence points to an answer of no."
  • Why Jesus Didn't Marry
    By John Dominic Crossan,
    "For me the question is not whether Jesus was married, but, granted that he was not, why not? Within the options of his time, and leaving aside the possibility that all prospective fathers-in-law rejected him, there are three main possibilities."
Links on the Gnostic Gospels
  • Gospel of Thomas Commentary
    Peter Kirby
    "This site explores modern interpretations of the Gospel according to Thomas, an ancient text preserved in a Coptic translation at Nag Hammadi and Greek fragments at Oxyrhynchus. With no particular slant, this commentary gathers together quotations from various scholars in order to elucidate the meaning of the sayings, many of which are rightly described as obscure."
  • Translation of the Gospel of Thomas
    The Gnostic Society Library
  • Early Christian Writings: The Gospel of Thomas
    Peter Kirby
    Extensive directory of links to online text, online commentary, and offline resources.
  • The Nag Hammadi Library
    The Gnostic Society Library
    Searchable full text of the documents found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945 , plus background information
  • Early Christian Writings: Gnosticism and the Gnostic Gospels
    Peter Kirby
    Short article on Gnosticism with links to online text of Gnostic writings, links to online articles on Gnosticism, and books on Gnosticism
Books on the Gnostic Gospels About Opus Dei

The official website of Opus Dei describes itself as follows:

Opus Dei is a personal Prelature of the Catholic Church that helps ordinary lay people seek holiness in and through their everyday activities, especially through work. It was founded in 1928 by a 26-year-old Catholic priest, Josemaria Escriva, who died in 1975, and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 6, 2002.

The FAQ explains that a "personal Prelature" is:

a jurisdictional entity within the Church's hierarchical structure, presided over by a prelate, answerable to the Sacred Congregation of Bishops, and to which laity and clergy can belong. It is established by the Holy See for specific pastoral or organizational purposes, and it is governed by statutes given it by the Holy See. The word personal indicates that it is defined by persons, whereas, for example, dioceses and parishes are defined by geographical areas.

The FAQ of goes on to explain that Opus Dei is an organization in which most members are married, most are lay people, and no vows are taken. It notes that some controversy has arisen around the organization because its "privacy" has been misunderstood as secrecy.

In 1995, the Catholic magazine America published a full-length article on Opus Dei entitled Opus Dei in the United States. The article provided the following information:

  • 1982, Pope granted status of "personal prelature" - the only one in the church
  • 77,000 members (incl. 1500 priests and 15 bishops) in over 80 countries
  • Over 3000 members in the United States, with 64 residence centers in 17 states, most near universities where they recruit new members
  • Run five high schools and a few retreat houses
  • Founder canonized in 1992 in ceremony with 300,000 supporters - its quick occurrence after his death and "leapfrogging" over Pope John XIII made it controversial
  • Many articles at the time criticized the move, cast doubt on his worth of the honor, and Kenneth Woodward said later "It seemed as if the whole thing was rigged."
  • 1992, Michael Walsh wrote Opus Dei: An Investigation into the Secret Society Struggling for Power Within the Roman Catholic Church
  • Opus Dei published their own book, Opus Dei: An Open Book, to rebut Walsh's claims.
  • Primary source of controversy is their alleged secrecy, which the members deny, saying it is "privacy, not secrecy."
  • Statutes not available in English - reason given that the Holy See does not want it translated
  • Several defined positions within the organization (critics say replicates religious life while insisting on lay organization, Opus Dei says represents levels of availability to their mission):
    • Prelate (currently Bishop Javier Echevarría), the head of Opus Dei, who works out of Rome
    • Numeraries (20% of membership) - single people, commitment of celibacy, live in "centers," turn over their income, receive a stipend for living expenses, follow a "plan of life" (prayer, etc. and sometimes personal mortification). Males encouraged to join priesthood. Pledge loyalty ever year, then make a lifetime commitment ("fidelity") after five years. After 10- years, go to Roman College of the Holy Cross (seminary in Rome).
    • Supernumeraries (majority) - married persons who contribute financially and sometimes serve in corporate works like schools.
    • Associates - single people who are "less available," remaining at home because of other commitments, such as responsibilities toward aging parents.
    • Cooperators - not members because "they do not yet have the divine vocation." They cooperate through work, financial help and prayers.
    • Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, an association of diocesan priests who receive the spiritual help that Opus Dei provides but remain in their parish. Ordained Opus Dei members become members of this.
  • Men and women separated even in work
  • Women clean men's centers and cook for them, and men vacate when they arrive. They explain that women are not required to do it, they like it, they often hire others to do it. Former numeraries disagree.
  • Director reads all mail of people living in the centers.
  • Some say have aggressive recruiting tactics. Kenneth Woodward: "I call them the Catholic Mormons"
  • On campus, students have a "spiritual director," who reads mail, decides on their classes and what they read.
  • The author of the article visited Riverside Study Center on Manhattan's Upper West Side
  • Opus Dei Awareness Network is a support group concerned with outreach to families with children in Opus Dei
Links on Opus Dei References
  1. ABC News Special, March 11, 2003.
  2. "Cracking the Da Vinci Code," Sightings, September 23, 2003.

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