I know, I know… the DaVinci Code has been out for a while now. But, I recently re-read the book and feel the need to comment on it, just for the record. So, here goes…
Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code offers some interesting speculations and fictions, mixed in amongst a smattering of facts to make the story-line almost plausible. I don’t have the time or the space to go through all of the historical inconsistencies tonight, so I’ll focus on a relatively small area for this post. For those that want to follow along, I’ll focus on some of the comments made in chapter 55. Some of Brown’s “theories” parallel a line of thinking that has been popularized by relatively recent books like “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” by Michael Baigent and “The Pagan Christ” by Tom Harpur. To the average lay reader, the facts cannot be withdrawn from the fiction. But, to a Christian scholar, the lies become evident fairly quickly. Let’s give some of Brown’s fables a look and see what we can find.
First, a minor philosophical point needs to be made. “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God.” Brown goes on to say that the Bible has undergone numerous “translations, additions, and revisions,” It is important to note that the New Testament actually did not go through numerous revisions. In fact, many of the books of the New Testament were originally collected as letters that were sent to various Christian Churches. Revisions were not made to these letters over time. Archeological research and ancient documentation comparison has proven that the New Testament is extremely accurate when compared to fragments that date from the late first century and second century.
Next, Brown’s commentary on the creation of the Bible is historically impossible. The New Testament as we know it today was fairly complete by the end of the second century, which is one hundred years prior to the life of Constantine, who Brown suggests was responsible for collecting and collation of the final New Testament. And, the final works that were included in the New Testament were readily understood, in the first and second century, to be written during the “period of incarnation”, that is, by someone who could have been alive during the time of Jesus. Thus, the final canon was considered the “canon of truth”. The formal canonization came at the Council of Hippo in Africa in 393. The Synod of Cartage in 397 listed the New Testament books in the order that ours are in today. And, the final canon was reaffirmed in 419 at the Council of Carthage. The Gospels and Paul’s writings were never disputed. Some books were debated, but they were not debated based on political motivations. They were debated based on their Catholicity and value to the truth of the Church. This conflicts with Dan Brown’s version of events considerably. Why doubt Brown’s version? With two councils and a synod separately documenting the same list, it makes it quite difficult to ignore this evidence. Councils and synods were convened for special purposes and their findings were documented quite meticulously. It would be quite difficult to forget these results, especially when considered against one another and against the multiple sources that exist to attest each individual council or synod. So, the overwhelming evidence supports the version that I provided above.
Rome’s official worship does not appear to be sun worship, but instead, it was a collection of pagan religions. And Constantine definitely wasn’t the head priest. He was a military leader who rose to power through battle. And, history has recorded two conversion experiences, both of which occurred during the battle of the Milvian Bridge that led to his ascension to Emperor of the West. Further, Christians were not warring with the pagans. The pagans were martyring the Christians, but this does not, in any way, suggest violence on the part of the Christians. Brown does develop quite an interesting speculative story here though. Although the evidence doesn’t support it, the evidence doesn’t conclusively disprove this portion either. But, the historical record that exists for this period already contradicts Brown’s version. Seeing as the historical version I outlined above has more evidence to support it, it would make sense to support that version of the facts instead.
Brown suggests that Constantine tried to reign in a growing religion. The facts just aren’t there to support that theory either. In early 300, Christians numbered less than 10% of the general population. By 350, over 30 years after Constantine took power, this number had risen to 50 or 60%. This in no way suggests that Constantine was playing catch up. In fact, it suggests the opposite: that Constantine’s conversion prompted the growth of Christianity.
Brown’s transmogrification is even sketchy. Tom Harpur takes this idea quite far in his book The Pagan Christ. The similarities in the symbols and stories between Christianity and ancient myths are quite striking. But, that doesn’t automatically mean that Christianity lifted its message from other religions. Sociologists of religion will point to the similarities and say that the later faith is a forgery of the former. But, that discounts all of the evidence in support of Christianity, including the eye witness accounts documented in the Gospels and in Acts, along with the commitment of the martyrs to follow the faith that they experienced personally even when threatened with death.
And the final statement regarding Constantine shifting the Sabbath to Sunday doesn’t work either… history shows that by the time of Constantine, most Christians were already following Sunday as their day of religious observance.
This very cursory overview of the “purported facts” presented by Brown shows the weakness in Brown’s historical accuracy. Although a great work of fiction and a really fun read, The DaVinci Code is nothing more than that: a great work of fiction.