The Da Vinci Code

Peter Barnes Rev Dr Peter Barnes is a Presbyterian pastor who lives in Sydney, Australia. He has served on the mission field in Vanuatu, ministered on the Nambucca River in northern NSW, and is currently pastor at
01 February, 2005 4 min read

Last month I reviewed Dan Brown’s best-selling ‘historical’ novel, The Da Vinci Code, and showed that it is fiction with very little basis of fact. We now turn to Brown’s alleged historical sources.

Brown relies on the so-called Gnostic Gospels, none of which can be dated in the first century and none of which can be regarded as reliable, let alone authoritative. He specifically mentions the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

He asserts (through his character Sir Leigh Teabing) that the Gnostics remained faithful to the original history of Christ (p.234). They also supposedly tell of Christ kissing Mary on the lips (p.246).

In fact, the text of the Gospel of Philip is quite broken and dislocated, and reads: ‘And the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene. […loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and used to] kiss her [often] on her […]’.

Low credibility

One may assume that it is Jesus being described as kissing Mary, but it does not say he kissed her mouth. Greeting someone ‘with a holy kiss’ was common practice in the early church (Romans 16:16; 1 Peter 5:14). The kiss in question was almost certainly similar to that frequently used today – kissing one or both cheeks is a standard form of greeting in many lands.

If more is meant, one needs to recall the Gnostic practice of allegorising Scripture. The Gnostics relied on ‘hidden’ meanings, and one of their concepts was the so-called ‘bridal chamber’ where the physical represents the spiritual. The text is meant to be read allegorically.

Nevertheless, the main point must remain that even if the Gospel of Philip was trying to say something serious about literal history (which is unlikely) its credibility rating is low. The Gnostic writings – which are not all ‘Gospels’ – are dated much later than the New Testament period. The Gospel of Philip, for example, dates from about AD 250.


Brown gives the wrong impression of the Gnostics. Because of their dualism, the Gnostics rejected the humanity of Christ. Christ appears rather like the old Phantom, – ‘the ghost who walks’.

For example, in the Acts of John the apostle says of Jesus: ‘I will tell you another glory, brethren; sometimes when I meant to touch him I encountered a material, solid body; but at other times again when I felt him, his substance was immaterial and incorporeal, and as if it did not exist at all’. His footprint, says the same source, never appeared on the ground.

To the dualistic Gnostics, for whom matter was evil, God could not be the creator of a material universe; the Word could not become flesh and dwell among us; Christ could not suffer on the cross; and the body could not be redeemed.

It was widely believed in Gnostic circles that Christ did not suffer on the cross but escaped from his body, laughing at the ignorance of those who thought that he had been crucified.

Attitude to women

Some modern scholars with agendas, such as Elaine Pagels and Karen King, think that the Gnostics were in favour of ‘women’s liberation’. However, the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas promises, ‘every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven’ (saying 114).

Contrary to the impression left by Brown, all dualistic heresies down the ages have tended to be misogynist. The perfecti of the medieval Cathars, for example, were vegetarian, celibate and generally hostile to women.

Mary Magdalene

According to Brown, the ‘Holy Grail’ is not a cup but a person, Mary Magdalene. Mary is supposed to have given birth to Sarah in Gaul, thus beginning the Merovingian line – the kings with the long hair! – which continued with Godefroi de Bouillon, the founder of the Priory of Sion. Ultimately, he says, ‘The quest for the Holy Grail is the quest to kneel before the bones of Mary Magdalene’ (p.454).

This Mary is not the woman who was a sinner in Luke 7:36-50, nor Mary of Bethany in John 12:1-8, but the one from whom Christ cast seven demons -(Luke 8:2-3).

She is a ‘saint’ in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and has churches named after her. In the New Testament, she is hardly dismissed as a whore. She is present at the cross (Matthew 27:55-56) and at the resurrection (Matthew 28:1; Luke 24:10). Indeed, in recording one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, John centres on her alone (John 20:11-18).

The oppression of women

According to The Da Vinci Code, Mary Magdalene, not Christ or Peter, was the real rock of the church. There was a rivalry between Mary and Peter (says Brown) and ultimately Peter won out!

Jesus is portrayed as ‘the original feminist’ (p.248) but the church invented the Bible to suppress women. There is a problem of logic here – apart from a multitude of other problems.

The Jesus of the Gnostic documents is hardly a feminist, yet the Bible was supposedly written to suppress women. Where, then, is this feminist Jesus to be found? Not in the Gnostic texts nor in the New Testament. The one place remaining is Brown’s own imagination. The Jesus he writes about is one he has invented.

Brown’s character ‘Langdon’ claims that five million women were tortured and burned at the stake by the church over a period of three hundred years (p.125). In fact the dreadful witch trials, from 1450 to 1750, probably claimed more like 40,000 to 50,000 lives, with about 20% of them being men. Conspiratorial views of history are usually fictional!

The ‘Sacred Feminine’

According to Teabing, ‘Genesis was the beginning of the end for the goddess’ (p.238). The claim is even made that Shekinah was originally the consort of Jehovah – a claim that is so nonsensical that it is difficult to respond to.

Simon Cox also asserts, with far more boldness than evidence, that ‘The goddess can truly claim to be the original and oldest deity'(Cracking the Da Vinci Code, p.60).

Langdon tells Sophie (who had been disgusted on stumbling across her grandfather’s involvement in a sexual ritual): ‘What you saw was not about sex, it was about spirituality. The Hieros Gamos ritual is not a perversion. It’s a deeply sacrosanct ceremony’ (p.309).

In the end, Langdon (or Brown) is proclaiming an ancient pagan message – that the way to the divine is via the sexual act. Such a message is likely to be welcomed by modern males high on testosterone, but not by more discerning ladies.

H. L. Mencken once defined an historian as ‘an unsuccessful novelist’. Dan Brown may illustrate the converse – a novelist can be an unsuccessful historian!

Rev Dr Peter Barnes is a Presbyterian pastor who lives in Sydney, Australia. He has served on the mission field in Vanuatu, ministered on the Nambucca River in northern NSW, and is currently pastor at
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