Author: Dan Brown
Year Published: 2003
I finally read this much talked about book, but before I go into a review of the book, let me first say that I have a degree in religious studies, with a focus on Christian Origins. I’ve also read Umberto Eco’s marvelous occult novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, several years ago. Eco is a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, who weaved together an extremely detailed and complex occult mystery in Foucault’s Pendulum. Having said that, I was not at all impressed by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
I won’t bore you with plot, because there are a number of reviews out there that talk about it, but I found it to be your standard Fugitive storyline – your main character is framed for a murder he didn’t commit, escapes captivity, and has a limited amount of time to find out what actually happened so he can prove his innocence before police arrest him.
The story itself is cliché and predictable. I suppose it finds its audience among those with little background in historical Christian origins. Anyone who has seriously studied any of the religious topics Brown based his conspiracy upon could see where Brown was going a good 12 chapters before he actually got there. Seriously, if such a secret society really had such mysteries, I would hope they’d go to greater extremes to keep such secrets hidden. The simplicity of the mystery was such that I questioned whether I was reading a cheap children’s detective story.
I found Brown’s depiction of his characters to be extremely oversimplified. The critical thinking by the main characters in Foucault’s Pendulum (who happened to be editors) was something I’d expect of any well respected literary professor from Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, or lifelong Grail researcher, Leigh Teabing. Instead, we get shadows of characters prone to one sided, on the fringe thinking – and of course, each agrees with the other’s theories… how many liberal arts scholars have you met that were in total agreement? And then, there’s Sophie Neveu, whose name means New Wisdom – the innocent girl who learns the truth about herself and lineage throughout the book. The standard hero character, who, by no choice of her own, is fated to leave her old life behind and learn the truth that could change both herself and the world.
And the inaccuracies! Yes, a few of the concepts in the book are based on fact, but the vast majority are either very liberally interpreted or completely made up. I cringed when he brought up that bit about the Dead Sea Scrolls being Christian documents. They most certainly are not, and anyone that has ever read them or done any bit of research would know that. His references to Solomon’s Temple (ie the famous Solomon’s Stables) located underneath Herod’s Temple, have such been proven to be false by biblical archaeologists of the last 30 years. And he has taken extreme liberties with the history of the Gnostic gospels and what they actually say. Yes, a few do refer to Mary Magdalene – his two quotes do come from legitimate texts – but the vast majority of all Gnostic texts denounce fleshly desires. And given that many Gnostic texts are dated well after the canonical gospels, making such broad sweeping claims that they hold the key to true Christianity makes for a great conspiracy, but is extremely difficult to prove historically. The purpose of the Council of Nicea that Brown cites – to vote on the 4 gospels to use out of 80 and to vote Jesus’ divinity – is absurd as well. I could go on and on…
On a side note, I also hear so many people who can’t believe Jesus might have actually been married to Mary Magdalene. Even the most liberal scholars would see this as a fringe belief, but still, I have to wonder, so what if he was married? He was Jewish, and it is Jewish custom to take a spouse. I really don’t see how that might undercut one’s faith, regardless of whether it is true or not. In one of my religious studies classes, a professor pointed out evidence that Paul might have been married. Personally, I find that more difficult to believe than Jesus.
I suppose my biggest criticism – and the main reason why I despised the book so much – is that it arrogantly claims to be based on facts. Once you position a book in the realm of historical fiction, you’d do well to research your subject thoroughly because you immediately subject yourself to critiques based on the accuracy of your facts. It is extremely difficult to suspend one’s beliefs and immerse oneself in a book when the author is deliberately presenting nonsense as facts. And if you don’t buy into the author’s foundation for the story, the book becomes very difficult to continue reading.
Still, I find it interesting that such a book has stayed on the best sellers list for quite some time and has sparked so much discussion over its truth. I even hear that it will soon be a movie. In any case, readers will be wise to take as fiction Brown’s claim on his fact page All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate and I would add to that his interpretation of Christian origins.