Like its predecessor, Angels and Demons, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is full of errors.
Lots of other articles and web sites have pointed many of these errors out. But what the heck, since I’ve just gone through what I spotted in Angels and Demons, why not do the Da Vinci Code at the same time?
Start with the blurbs: “Several doctorates’ worth of fascinating history and learned speculation.” –Chicago Tribune.
Heaven help us. But it’s probably true.
“All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”
p. 61: “Early religion was based on the divine order of Nature.”
Early religion may or may not have had a concept comparable to our “nature.” My bet is that it did not. “Nature” as we understand it is, I think, peculiar to our culture, and invented by the Romantic movement in the late eighteenth century. The closest the ancients probably came to it was something more like “desolation” or “howling wilderness.”
p. 61: The pentacle is a goddess symbol.
The pentacle is called, in the Jewish tradition, the star of Solomon, as opposed to the six-pointed star of David. Here it is a symbol of Solomon and of Judaism, obviously not of the goddess Venus. It is also common in many flags: in the flag of the US and EU, for example. It is improbable that, in these cases, it is meant to be either a symbol of the Goddess or a Satanic symbol. It is also, as Solomon’s star, a symbol of Islam, and is common in Muslim flags, most notably the flag of Morocco.
While it could also represent Venus, Brown is way off to say it must represent Venus, and miss all these (mostly more common) associations.
Brown ignores or fails to understand something absolutely basic to symbols and “symbology.” Symbols are multivalent: they never have just one meaning. If they do, they are signs, not symbols.
Neither is the planet Venus as the morning star necessarily a symbol of the pagan goddess Venus. In Christian tradition, the morning star can be either a symbol of Mary or of Lucifer. And of course, other cultures have any number of other associations.
The association with Lucifer may be why the pentacle is often a satanic symbol in Europe.
Therefore, Brown is also wrong when he says:
p. 62: “the pentacle’s demonic interpretation is historically inaccurate.”
Again, Brown misunderstands a symbol as a sign.
p. 172: Brown refers to paganism as “matriarchal.”
This is fiction. Ancient Greece was no more “matriarchal” than Christian Greece.
p. 173: “During three hundred years of witch hunts, the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women.”
Astounding indeed. The witch hunts were more active in Protestant lands; and the total toll throughout Europe was probably about 50,000 over the three centuries. Few witch burnings even in Catholic countries involved the Catholic Church. A quarter of those convicted were men. And few were pagans, as Brown claims.
p. 174: “The once hallowed act if Hieros Gamos—the natural sexual union between man and woman through which each became spiritually whole—had been recast as a shameful act. Holy men who had once required sexual union with their female counterparts to commune with God now feared their natural sexual urges…”
“Hieros Gamos,” the sacred marriage, was generally not a literal sex act, but an allegory.
Nor does goddess worship necessarily go with more sexual activity. While there was such a thing as temple prostitution, in pagan Greece and Rome, priests of the goddesses also commonly castrated themselves. So the genuinely religious were still those who abjured sex. For Buddhism, all sex is wrong. Christianity stood apart from Gnosticism, its chief historical rival, precisely in not seeing sex as intrinsically shameful.
p. 174: “Mother Earth had become a man’s world, and the gods of destruction and war were taking their toll.” In “…testosterone-fuelled wars.”
The association of the male with war would have been a surprise to the pagans. There was a goddess as well as a god of war. The Amazons, supposedly all female, were noted for their bellicosity. And Aristotle observes that warlike polises are usually dominated by women.
It would also have been a surprise to the ancients that the rise of Christianity meant the rise of the “gods [note plural] of destruction and war.” Indeed, Christianity seemed to lead to a notable reduction in the prestige of war and of the soldier. Christianity was unpopular in the legions. Soldiers were generally strong adherents of Mithraism.
p. 191: of Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks: “Oddly, though, rather than the usual Jesus-blessing-John scenario, it was baby John who was blessing Jesus … and Jesus was submitting to his authority.”
Surprising only to someone who has never read the Bible. For this is exactly how it happens in the Bible. John baptizes Jesus. It would be odd to see it the other way around.
p. 200-201: “The head of this key was not the traditional long-stemmed Christian cross but rather was a square cross—… This kind of cross carried none of the Christian connotations of crucifixion associated with the longer-stemmed Latin cross…”
Square crosses are common in Christianity; they mean the same thing as those with one longer arm. Either version is mostly a symbol; as far as we know, the actual cross used for crucifixions was T-shaped.
p. 201: “equal-armed crosses like this one are considered peaceful crosses.”
The Maltese Knights, the most famous surviving Christian military order, use an equal-armed cross. The German Iron Cross, originally the insignia of the Teutonic Knights, is also equal-armed. So is Britain’s Victoria Cross.
If anything, Brown has it backwards. But the distinction is imaginary. An equal-armed cross is a Christian cross.
p. 225: “[D]oes it make any sense that it [the Grail] is merely a cup? If so, then certainly other relics should generate similar or greater interest—the Crown of Thorns, the True Cross of the crucifixion, the Titulus—and yet, they do not. Throughout history, the Holy Grail has been the most special.”
For one simple reason: the crown of thorns, the true cross, and the titulus have already turned up. Only the Grail is still missing. It is not necessary to seek what has already been found.
And the fact that no phony “Grail” has ever popped up makes one suspect that the other relics, in turn, are not faked, as cynics commonly assume. Otherwise why has nobody successfully faked a Grail?
p. 267: “Silas fell to his knees… and he said ‘I am a lamb of God. Shepherd me as your heart commands.’”
No real Catholic is likely to speak like this. “Lamb of God” is a title of Christ, used every mass in the formula “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.” It would seem blasphemous to use it for oneself.
Dan Brown should really not write so much about the Catholic Church until he at least attends a mass.
p. 306: “… looked like they’d been lifted from some Byzantine temple.”
Constantine, the emperor who founded Byzantium (as Constantinople), was also the emperor who endorsed Christianity as the religion of the Empire. Accordingly, a “Byzantine temple” would be almost a contradiction in terms. There must have been precious few temples in Byzantium, ever.
p. 314: “Egyptian sun disks became the halos of Catholic saints.”
Possibly. But how did they (halos) manage to appear in Buddhist art in East Asia as well?
p. 314: “The new-born Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
I think I have read all the Vedic accounts of the birth and childhood of Krishna while in grad school. This is sure news to me. Might it show up in some more recent version influenced by Christianity?
p. 315: “Until that moment in history [the Council of Nicaea] Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet.”
The major controversy at Nicaea was whether Jesus was of one nature or two. Two won. But both parties held him to be divine; the question was whether he was also fully human. That he is divine is clear throughout the New Testament, which predates the Council of Nicaea.
p. 317: “The Dead Sea Scrolls … speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms. Of course the Vatican… tried very hard to suppress the release of these scrolls.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain no clear references to Jesus. And they have never been in the Vatican’s possession. They were held by Israeli Jewish scholars, over whom the Vatican is unlikely to have had much influence.
p. 327: “the one seated in the place of honour, at the right hand of the Lord [in Da Vinci’s The Last Supper] … was, without a doubt … female.”
He does look effeminate. This is commonly understood to be John the Evangelist, “the one Jesus loved,” and follows the usual iconography: young, with flowing red hair.
In a common devotional practice, Catholics read and have read the Gospel of John imagining themselves in John’s place as “the one Jesus loved.” As such an everyman or everywomen figure, John can be imagined as of either sex. As the individual soul is in Catholic tradition thought of as naturally female, female features are iconographically appropriate.
Nothing that strange about it. There are similar female “everywoman” figures in Raphael’s paintings.
If the figure is Mary Magdalene, we have an obvious problem: where is the apostle John?
p. 340: “A child of Jesus would undermine the critical notion of Christ’s divinity…”
Then why wouldn’t the idea of God having a Son undermine His divinity?
p. 357: “The millennium has recently passed, and with it has ended the two-thousand-year-long astrological Age of Pisces…”
This is a New Age idea, not a Catholic one; Brown acknowledges this later. And it is untrue. The cusp of the Age of Aquarius does not correspond with the end of the Christian second millennium. As I recall, we still have about three hundred years to go.
p. 410: “Since the days of Isis, sex rites had been considered man’s only bridge from earth to heaven… a climactic instant when his mind went totally blank and he could see God.”
As noted before, as far as we know, this has never been seriously and literally believed anywhere. At least before Freud.
p. 411: “Early Jews believed that the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple housed not only God, but also His powerful female equal, Shekinah.”
The Shekinah was one of God’s ten emanations, a “name” of God, not an independent, equal being.
p. 419: “The modern belief in a horned devil known as Satan could be traced back to Baphomet and the Church’s attempts to recast the horned fertility god as a symbol of evil.”
Nobody knows what “Baphomet” looked like; most likely the name is a corruption of “Muhammed.” The horned image of the devil probably comes from the Greek god Pan. Pan was not a nice guy. Note the word “panic.”
In his bias toward paganism, Brown seems unaware that the relationship of pagans to their gods was not like that of a Christian toward God. Pagan gods are not generally loved. They are feared and placated.
p. 453: “The boxy annex jutting out to the right was an unfortunate eyesore, although it did little to shroud the original pagan shape [i.e., circular] of the primary structure [the Templar church in London].”
Circular churches are not too unusual in Europe. The Templars’ churches were usually circular. My guess is that they were circular in imitation of the Dome of the Rock, the modern Temple of Jerusalem, which was after all what the Templars existed to protect.
p. 501: Brown’s Boolean search here seems to make no distinction between “and” and “or.” It would not work in practice.
I guess that’s it. Brown is fascinating, as a mirror held up to the culture. But it is scary that so many people seem to believe he speaks with some authority on history, symbols, religion, or culture.