A First Look at The Da Vinci Code

February 13, 2006

After being urged to do so by many friends, I finally got around to reading The Da Vinci Code, the mega-bestseller by Dan Brown. The book has sold an astonishing 30 million copies since its release in 2003. Later this spring the movie version starring Tom Hanks seems likely to become the biggest film of the year, spurring millions more to buy the book.
I should note that I’m not finished yet. For those who have read it, I’m at the point where the plane has landed in England and somehow Harvard professor Robert Langdon and French cryptographer Sophie Neveu and the Englishman and his manservant and the captured albino have managed to escape once again. At this moment they are discussing how to find the “head of stone” honored by the Knights Templar. That will lead them to the tomb of Mary Magdalene, who was pregnant with Jesus’ child at the time of the crucifixion, and who moved to France where she had a daughter named Sarah, from whose womb proceeded a line of physical descendants that exists to this very day, but that secret, which would destroy Christianity and therefore has been deliberately hidden by the Catholic Church for centuries, is about to come out because the good guys (the Gnostics/pagans) who have weird sexual rites that take place in basements, are about to force the truth to the surface but only if Robert and Sophie, who is the granddaughter of the man who turned out to be the grand master of the Priory of Sion, a position once held by Leonardo Da Vinci (who put all sorts of secret codes in his paintings, most prominently “The Last Supper” which supposedly shows Mary Magdalene sitting to Jesus’ right), can somehow find that “head of stone” which will unlock all the secrets and maybe even bring down the whole Christian church, but they’ve got to work fast because Opus Dei is after them and so are the French police, but I don’t think they’re going to get them before they make their great discovery. I think that about covers it to this point. It’s possible that Robert and Sophie will come to Jesus in the last chapter, but I doubt it.
Actually it’s a pretty good read. Lots of suspense, some killing, a hint of romance, and some well-described scenes inside the Louvre. Clearly Dan Brown knows his way around a thriller. And the plot line is not one you will find in Ken Follett or Robert Ludlum. If you like contemporary suspense novels, The Da Vinci Code will be a fun read for you. I’ve enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It’s easy to see why millions of people have read this book. Somewhere in the text Brown has one of his characters observe that “everyone loves a conspiracy.” And we do live in an anti-authority age where people are inclined to believe that people in power are inherently corrupt. Look at the continuing debate surrounding the death of President Kennedy. To this day millions of people refuse to believe that one man acting alone could have killed him. Someone else, the Cubans, the Russians, the CIA, the FBI, the left wing, the right wing, the Mafia, or some amalgam of all the above, conspired somehow or another to ensure the president would be shot in Dallas. I admit that I enjoy watching those TV specials investigating the Kennedy assassination. You can play the “what if” game forever.
Dan Brown has several advantages going for him. For one thing, he’s writing about mysteries and conspiracies and rumors and fanciful superstitions that have been around for more than a thousand years. Most of us aren’t experts in the Knights Templar. And it’s cool to read about the Fibonacci numbers, the “divine proportion,” and all the legends about the Holy Grail. It’s easy to be dazzled by all this because most of us know nothing about it. I will say this. The book exhibits a fearful anti-Catholic bias. And it puts forward notions about the Bible and Jesus that if true would destroy the Christian faith altogether. Dan Brown would have us believe the pagans got it right and the early Christians distorted the truth about Jesus and then tried to wipe out the opposition.
At the moment I don’t intend to write anything by way of refutation. There have been many excellent books by historians and theologians that have dismantled Dan Brown’s fanciful history and shown it to be what it truly is–artfully-contrived fiction. One wonders why such a book has sold 30 million copies. I prefer to think that it speaks to the spiritual hunger of this generation. Dallas Seminary prof Darrell Bock wonders if The Da Vinci Code will be a threat or an opportunity. He concludes (correctly, I believe) that it is an opportunity:

The novel raises questions that allow one to discuss who the real Jesus was. It also provides an opportunity to explain how people over the centuries came to appreciate him as the unique salvation figure he both was and is.

It would be a good thing if Christian leaders read this book before the movie comes out. We needn’t be defensive or fearful. After all, if a preposterous novel could overturn the Christian faith, we’re already in big trouble. We have nothing to fear from a vigorous discussion about who Jesus is and why he came. And we needn’t try to cover up the many mistakes and excesses of the followers of Jesus over the last twenty centuries. Our history is checkered because we are still prone to all sorts of foolish behavior, but that foolishness does not and cannot overturn the central truth that in Jesus Christ the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, God himself in human flesh, coming to save a rebel race.
I say, let the debate begin. Read the book and then read one of these nine books offering solid answers to Dan Brown’s wild distortions.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?