In 2004 came a novel who made a big sale and headlines in the newspapers with it’s sensational “revelations”. Many of you may have read or seen The Davinci Code from Dan Brown and most have at least heard of it. Did you know that Jesus was actually married and had children? That a mysterious secret society called the Order of Zion With members like Davinci and Newton had Secret knowledge about Jesus’ descendants? Or that the church itself conspire through systematic silencing of deviant gospels and suspicious church meetings? And not least that Jesus never died on the cross?
This is claimed by Brown. He was lauded in media for having carried out an “amazing research”. But it turns out that the research is to a great extent taken straight from Holy Blood, Holy Grail (a book from 1982). He has also included ideas from 3 other books. What is common for all four books that have been his “great research” is that none of them are written by professionals and their books contain as much facts as an episode of The X-Files. Normally this wouln’t be adressed by this site. But since it got so much attention and many belived in the mythology Brown elaborated upon we’ll look futher into this backstory.
To get the details to fit their model, the authors broke all historical methodology. This gave them two big advantages: They could claim whatever they wanted, since they didn’t need to substantiate it in a proper manner. Secondly, they long stood unchallenged in public since no historians bothered do discuss the theories seriously. Thus, the ideas got spread unchallenged, and since most of us do not have very professional insight, many thought of it as facts. I will not make a thorough review of all errors, we have many other excellent writings for that, but I will comment on some of the fundamental pillars built upon.
Let’s look a little closer at the templar. This idea is based on documents of Pierre Plantard. He was born in 1920 in Paris. At the beginning of World War II, he started 2 extreme-right, nationalist and anti-Semitic organizations. The associations were closed to Jews, against France’s democratic system and largely fascist. The aim was to reintroduce the kingdom in France, and the members were largely fictional. In 1956 he founded the Order of Zion. This has nothing to do with Jerusalem but was a local place not far from Geneva. The purpose was purely political. It was quickly abandoned, but reemerged in 1962 after his second imprisonment for fraud. The second version had a different objective: Now he presented himself as the rightful heir to the meroving line of kings. He invented a false genus overview to prove this. To make himself more credible he connected this to the popular myth surrounding a village priest who suddenly seemed wealthy. I shall not go deeply into this specific myth, It’s suffice to mention that already in 1971 the man who made the papers about the Zion Order admitted it was a falsum. Zion Templar was left abandoned, but occurred a third time in 1989. But in 1993 Plantard under oath admitted everything was just his imagination. Thus died Zion Templar – which then existed intermittently through well 30 years but mostly in Plantard’s head.
The problem is that the fantasy lived on, helped by Holy Blood Holy Grail. They took it futher and thought of a family tree dating back to Jesus. The book end by arguing for an all-European theocratic monarchy with Plantard on the throne! Dan Brown is sly enough to camouflage most traces of Plantard and reimagine it to something that accentuates the feminine.
It is alleged in the novel that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, they have children, he only gets anesthetized on the cross and transported to safety. Later they all traveled to France where his children eventually married into the royalty. Jesus died in Masada when the Romans occupied the fortress Inga and he was 80 years old. As an argument for this marriage, they argued that the wedding in Canaan was Jesus and Mary’s. But why is it then said they were guests? And what else do this guesswork build on?
Fascinating imagination perhaps but no shred of historical or literary proof. If we were to take the allegations seriously: Why are there not a single source from ancient times mentioning it? On the contrary, all historical material – both inside and outside the Bible and the Church – describes that Jesus actually lived and died in Jerusalem. We can also wonder why on earth would the disciples go on preaching, suffering and ultimately dying for it, if they had arranged a conspiracy and knew Jesus lived in France?
The authors recognize they have at best a very flimsy biblical references to their ideas. They solve this by revolving around the conspiracy theory of hidden sources and nasty church meetings. It is alleged that the church and Constantine after the Synod of 325 destroyed writings that did not fit them. They invent two “facts” that are mutually dependent on each other, but without substantiating them. One is that there were stories about Jesus’ descendants. Secondly that the church destroyed those writings. To borrow an image of Oscar Skarsaune: It’s like I claim I have a black cat in my hand. You can say you don’t see the black cat. No, but that’s because a magician has made it invisible. Then we can “prove” anything, but obviously this is a type of methodology that no historian or scientist take seriously. It is inept to say that the church ran cencorship of writings. First late in the Middle Ages can we find incidents of burning books. It was quite contrary pious monks in the Middle Ages that made sure to write and take care of ancient literature as Homer, Plato and Aristotle. (For more of the historical facts around the Bible and early Church Meetings, se other articles in this category.)
In terms of biblical canonization no writings were burned by the Church. The canonization was a list of what books you read from during sermons. But this selection was in fact settled long before, not by force of a powerful state church, but by the decentralized use in the earliest martyr church under persecution. Here the local congregations looked at wich scriptures were really written by the apostles or their diciples. The counterfeits and heretical writings weren’t hidden by the church, but it was uninteresting to copy them by hand since they were not in use. Thus, they naturally did not spread much. Many of these writings would have been completely forgotten if not been mentioned and referred to by the church apologists.
Gnosticism, mystisism and God
Brown has many historical errors in his books. One obvious error is his description of jewish and hellenistic mystisism as sects where sex gave an experience of God. The fact is exactly the opposite. They preached asceticism as the way for gaining insight and contact with the deity. Gnostisism were negative to the material world and bodily pleasures. In fact they were an ideological counterpoint to Christianity who were preaching of the good in the physical creation.
We also have the references to the Dead Sea scrolls that he claimed was found in the ’50s and contain the truth about Jesus. The Fact is they were found in 1947 and contains pure Jewish pre-Christian texts. Jesus is not mentioned. These are otherwise fully available and have never been hidden away. Nag Hammadi texts are Gnostic texts. They contain nothing of a grail or marriage of Jesus and Mary like Brown argues, and certainly not a more “human side” of Jesus than the Gospels. On the contrary, as anyone with the least knowledge of the Scriptures or Gnosticism generally know. The gnostic would focus on Jesus as the mystic, the distant one.
It become clear that even if one take Browns gnostic texts as a description of true Christianity, it all fall apart for Brown. In his interpretation of a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary he quote from the gospel of Philip. He say the word companion is something anyone who know Aramaic know means wife. The problem is this is not an Aramaic text, but a Coptic based on a Greek original text. And the word companion does not mean wife as he claim. It actually had the same meaning as our present use of the word. By the way other writings indicate Jesus kissed James on the mouth, so the kiss is in no way a sensasional revelation about Jesus.
Considering the gospel of Philip is a gnostic scripture, it is clear that it certainly has nothing to do with sexuality. Celibacy was the norm in gnosticism. A kiss in this era was a sign of close spiritual communion. It was the same in the Christian Church as we see with Paul talking about greeting each other with holy kisses. The claim that it was unheard of for a man in Jesus’ time not being married is also erroneous. Several Jewish groups practiced celibacy as the Essenes and Zelotes. Jesus and Paul themself also recognize this as an ideal for someone.
I will not weary you with more examples, this was long enough as it is and there are excellent books going into details for those who want more. But as a conclusion I’d say that The Davinci Code is a pretty good fictional thriller – as long as you realize the fictional part. Regarding historical facts it is strikingly poor, and historical references is 90% either misunderstood or pure fantasy. But as they say in the X-Files: The truth is out there!