Debunking the Da Vinci code

Three TCU professors sort fact from fiction in Dan Brown’s popular book.

Debunking the Da Vinci code

Three TCU professors sort fact from fiction in Dan Brown’s popular book.

First it was a novel. Then a movie. Then it became a three-city Alumni Association traveling seminar featuring three of TCU’s most renown art, history and religion scholars.

That’s the allure of The Da Vinci Code.

On three consecutive nights in June, nearly 1,000 alumni in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth listened to evidence presented by Scott Sullivan, dean of the College of Fine Arts; Carolyn Osiek, Brite Divinity School’s Charles Fischer Catholic Professor of New Testament; and Jim Duke, professor of History of Christianity and History of Christian Thought at Brite.

The verdict: While the popularity of Dan Brown’s thrilling page-turner about secret codes, centuries’ old mysteries and the foundations of Christianity is undeniable, the novelist deserves an F for accuracy. And so does the movie. Here is a sample of what’s truth and what’s fiction.

Assertion: The Holy Grail is not a chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper. It’s a code-term for a collection of documents that prove that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus and gave birth to His daughter.

Osiek says: False. Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus, and she was the first to see Him after He rose from the dead. According to Luke 8:2-3 and Mark 16:9, Jesus cast seven demons out of her. Then she, along with others, supported Jesus’ ministry. Also, in John 20:16, Mary Magdalene addressed Jesus, after His resurrection, as “Rabboni,” which means “Teacher.” A teacher-and-disciple relationship is implied — a progressive scenario for the first century, by the way — not a husband-and-wife relationship.

Assertion: In Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, the person seated by Jesus’ right hand is Mary Magdalene.
Sullivan says: You can plainly see that Peter is whispering into the ear of this individual. This represents the events described in the Gospel of John 13:21-24. The individual? It’s John, part of Jesus’ “inner circle” of disciples, composed of Peter, James and John. It’s not Mary Magdalene.

Assertion: The Priory of Sion — a European secret society founded in 1099 — guards the secret of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene and watches over Jesus and Mary’s descendants. Because of constant threat of danger from the Roman Catholic Church, the organization has allegedly hidden its message in literature, paintings and architecture such that only learned people can decipher the meanings.

Duke says: A Frenchman named Pierre Plantard founded a small social club named the Priory of Sion in 1954 to call for low-income housing in France. The organization dissolved in 1957, but Plantard held on to the name. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Plantard put together a number of bogus documents which “proved” the Jesus-Mary Magdalene theory, with French royalty being their descendants. Plantard claimed that he himself was one of the descendents of this couple. Some time later, a friend of the French president found himself in legal trouble and Plantard ended up being called to testify in the case. While under oath, the judge asked him about these documents about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and he admitted he made the whole thing up.

Assertion: More than 80 gospels were considered for the New Testament, yet only a relative few were chosen.

Osiek says: Aside from the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), history reveals there were only twelve other gospels in circulation during this general time, and these were clearly not “inspired Scripture.” There were also Gnostic gospels that emerged later, but these are too late to be counted.