Untrue or highly speculative
and themes regarding Christian history
Some factual errors and speculative passages, sorted by page:
The novel includes a lot of material on secret societies, descendents of
Jesus, secret rituals, visual codes embedded in Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings,
etc. This makes for a great story. Our concern is mainly in those passages where
author Dan Brown deals in depth with the history of the first few centuries of Christianity.
Much of this material is concentrated in Chapter 55 to 60, Pages
230 to 259 of his book. He includes many historical "facts" which are not true, and others that
are based on speculation.
Yet in the introduction to the book, Browns writes that: "all descriptions
of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are
accurate." On 2004-NOV-03, during an ABC News special "Jesus, Mary, and Da
Vinci" Brown said that he believes the book's thesis. On the same day, during an
interview on Good Morning America he said that if he were to write a
nonfiction piece on these things he would change nothing about what he claimed
in the novel. 9,10 These statements
have led many readers to assume that the entire book depicts actual history. But
the book is not really based on reality:
Page 231: May be speculative: "As a descendent of the lines of King
Solomon and King David, Jesus possessed a rightful claim to the throne of
the King of the Jews." Opinion is divided on whether Jesus was a
descendent of David and Solomon:
Beliefs of religious conservatives: Most believe that
the Bible's authors were directly inspired by God to write material that was without error.
They regard the genealogies of Jesus, which appear in the gospels
written by Matthew and Luke, to be factually correct. They do differ,
and thus have to be harmonized. The number of generations are very different.
Luke's genealogy appears to be Joseph's, which would seem to negate the virgin birth. However, they both agree
that David and Solomon were ancestors of Jesus. According to this belief
system, Brown is merely stating facts.
Beliefs of religious liberals and historians: Many believe
that the authors of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) wrote with
one eye on the Old Testament in order to show how all of the passages in
the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) that could possibly be made to
refer to Jesus were fulfilled. Since the Hebrew Scriptures talked about
an anointed one who would come in the future as a
political/military/theological power and gain freedom for Israel, the
Christian Scriptures had to reflect those predictions. The Hebrew
Scriptures talked about the coming anointed one being a descendent of
King David. Thus, Jesus' life had to fulfill this prophecy. The
anonymous author of the Gospel of Luke invented a genealogy for Jesus to
fulfill the predictions of the Old Testament. Some theologians and very
early Christian writers believe that the original copies of the Gospel
of Matthew did not incorporate sections on Jesus' genealogy and
nativity; the first two chapters were written later by an unknown
forger, include his or her beliefs about Jesus' ancestry, and were
attached as a prefix to the original gospel. 5 The result is two different
fictional genealogies which cannot be harmonized.
By the first century CE, Jews' detailed ancestry
would have been unknown. The
structure of 12 Jewish tribes had largely disappeared. When the Assyrians conquered
and annexed large portions of Israel in 732 BCE, the
Northern Kingdom ceased to exist. Nine tribes were deported; their Jewish
identity was forever lost. Foreigners were brought in to settle the land,
which was renamed as Samaria. When the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar
conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judah in 597 and 586 BCE, many Hebrews
were taken into exile; few returned. People in first century CE Palestine
had largely lost their tribal identity and information on their ancestry.
According to the beliefs of many liberals, the genealogies in Matthew
and Luke are pure speculation written to make Jesus life appear to
fulfill prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus was, in all
probability, not the descendent of David. Thus, Brown is simply
repeating the speculation of the two gospels.
Page 231: Not factual: Jesus "...life was recorded by
thousands of followers across the land." Jesus didn't have thousands of
followers during his lifetime. The Gospel writers described in detail about a dozen
of his close supporters who apparently traveled with him. About half were
male and half female. He preached to thousands of people; however, few could be considered
to be his followers. "...the total literacy rate in the Land of Israel at
that time (of Jews only, of course), was probably less than 3%." 2 A brief mention of Jesus' life as recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus
has survived. A few dozen gospels of Jesus have been found -- either writings
referred to by Christian writers in the second and later centuries CE, or full
texts, partial texts, or fragments. But the probability of thousands of
followers each keeping a record of Jesus sayings and acts is vanishingly
Page 231: Not factual: "More than eighty gospels were
considered for the New Testament and yet only a relative few were chosen for
inclusion -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John..." There are only about 40
known gospels for which full copies remain, or parts of their text exist, or
references have been made in other surviving writings.
Page 231: Not factual: Brown implies that Constantine the Great chose which books
would enter the official canon of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).
In reality, the canon started to develop centuries earlier. Circa 130 CE, Polycarp referred to the
same four Gospels which are now in the Christian
Scriptures. The Scriptures' Pauline writings were generally accepted by
that date as well. 3
Page 232: Not factual: Constantine was a Pagan all of his life
and was only baptized into Christianity on his death bed and then only
because he was too weak to resist. Constantine actually converted from Paganism
to Christianity in 312 CE after a vision on the battlefield. It is true that he was
until just before his death. Many Christians did this, thinking it was safer.
Baptism was believed to have magic powers: it wiped away all sin. By waiting
until the end of life to be baptized, one could lead a life on sin and have
everything forgiven. The suggestion that he didn't want to
be baptized seems very doubtful. He was probably anxious to be baptized in order
to obtain forgiveness of his sins.
Page 232: Not factual: "In 325 AD, [Constantine] decided to
unify Rome under a single religion. Christianity." Constantine did issue the Edict of Milan in 313 CE, which formally
established freedom and toleration of all religions, including Christianity.
".... Theodosius and his western counterpart Gratian, [only] recognized
Christianity as the official religion of the Empire in 380" CE. 4
Page 232-3: Not factual: "...Constantine
shifted [the Christian Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday] to coincide with
the pagan's veneration day of the sun." In reality, Constantine
merely declared that Sunday was to be a day of rest throughout the entire
Roman Empire. Sunday did not formally become the Christian Sabbath until the Church Council of Laodicea circa 364 CE ordered that religious observances were to be conducted on Sunday, not Saturday.
Their motivation was largely anti-Judaic. They ruled: "Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, but
shall work on that day."
Page 233: Not factual: Brown states that at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE,
"Jesus was viewed by his followers as a
mortal prophet...a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal."
This was true of the early Jewish Christians who regarded Jesus as a
prophet, rejected the virgin birth and deity of Jesus, and considered Paul a
heretic. But by the second century CE, Christianity was divided among those
who regarded Jesus as a man, or as a pure God, or as a god-man. Long before the time of Nicea,
the third position had won out and most Christians regarded Jesus as a god-man.
Page 234: Not factual: "Constantine commissioned and financed a new
Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and
embellished those gospels that made him godlike." Constantine did commission the creation of 50 copies
of the Bible. However, by that time, the four gospels
had long been accepted as part of the Christian Scriptures. The
Synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) all describe Jesus as having many
dozens of very human traits. He exhibited: hunger, anger, impatience, racism and other emotions. He bled and died.
Page 234: Not factual: "Fortunately for historians...some of
the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The
Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the
Judean desert...these documents speak of Christ's ministry in very human
terms." The Dead Sea Scrolls were actually found in the 1940s. The Dead
Sea Scrolls contained no gospels. The scrolls contained no
Christian writings at all; they were entirely made up of Jewish documents.
Page 245: Not factual: "...Jesus was a Jew...and the social
decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried." The
Essenes -- one of the major Jewish traditions during Jesus lifetime -- required
its men to be unmarried.
Page 245: Not factual: "These are photocopies of the Nag Hammadi
and Dead Sea scrolls...The earliest Christian records." The
Dead Sea scrolls contain no Christian material. They consist of copies of books from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament.) The Nag Hammadi scrolls are Gnostic Christian material that were written after the earliest Christian records were written.
Page 245: Speculative: Dan Brown implies that the Gospel of Mary
Magdalene was actually written by Mary Magdalene. The consensus of religious
historians is that none of the Gnostic writings -- Gospels and Acts -- are
written by the people to whom they are attributed.
Page 248: Not factual: Mary Magdalene is identified as being of the
House of Benjamin. Her family tree is known. In reality, nothing at all is known
of Mary's tribe or family tree.
Some unsupported themes in the book:
Priory of Sion: Throughout the book, the Priory of Sion is
described as a secret society that is dedicated to keeping the marriage and
bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene secret. Brown makes references to
parchments found in the Biblioth'que
National in Paris. Actually, these documents and the Priory of Sion have been exposed as a 20th century hoax.
Gospel of Q: This is described as a secret gospel which is being
kept from the public by the Priory of Sion. Actually, theologians have
derived the Gospel of Q from the Gospels of Mark,
Matthew and Luke. Anyone can buy a copy from
Jesus' status: Brown asserts that Emperor Constantine in the
early 4th century CE at the Council of Nicea changed
Jesus' status from fully human to a deity. In reality, by 325 CE, the original
Christian movement, the Jewish
Christians who had regarded Jesus as a fully human prophet, had faded from the
scene. Many of the Pauline Christians, who had evolved into proto-orthodox
Christians, had accepted that Jesus was both God and human. Another large
faction of Pauline Christians maintained that Jesus was fully human. The two
sides were almost evenly matched. But Constantine threw his considerable
political power on the side of Jesus being both God and man. The delegates
agreed with him, and the rest is history.
The book says that references to Mary's marriage to Jesus "kept
recurring in the [four canonical] gospels." Actually, no such
references exist. However, there are some events (the wedding at Cana,
Mary's behavior at the grave site, an ungrounded teaching by the early
Church that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, etc.) which some theologians have been
interpreted as supporting the possibility of their marriage.
Brown refers to the marriage as a "matter of historical record."
Actually, no such record exists.
The Last Supper painting: Brown suggests that the
individual to Jesus' right in the painting is a woman. In reality, it was
the normal practice during the Renaissance to portray John, the beloved disciple, with
long hair and without a beard. 6 Da Vinci's sketch of the angel
Gabriel 7 and painting of John the Baptist 8 look very similar to the figure to Jesus' right in terms. All three have a
rather effeminate face, long hair and lack of a beard.