Unpacking 'The Code'

What's true in Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' and what's pure historical fiction?

More than two years after it was published, "The Da Vinci Code" remains a huge best-seller-and a point of contention among evangelical Christians, most of whom consider it blasphemous. Still, "The Da Vinci" juggernaut moves forward. In the last couple of weeks, Sony Pictures, the studio behind the Ron Howard-directed adaptation of Dan Brown's novel, has released a short "Da Vinci Code" trailer, which is playing in theaters before the new Star Wars movie. The trailer debuts just as Britain's Westminster Abbey announced it would not allow Howard's movie to film there because the abbey considers the book "theologically unsound."

Bart Ehrman has written widely on early Christian documents. Like a lot of Americans, he loved reading "The Da Vinci Code," but Ehrman also immediately noticed factual errors ("howlers," he calls them). Focusing on ten issues-including the role Constantine played in the formation of the Bible and the evidence for Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene-Ehrman gives readers a lesson in how the Bible is scrutinized by scholars, without a theological wrist-slap. Beliefnet senior editor Deborah Caldwell recently talked with Ehrman about the "Da Vinci" errors.

What did you think of "The Da Vinci Code"?


I liked "The Da Vinci Code" as a work of fiction. But the thing that troubled me is that the fiction is allegedly based on historical fact. Dan Brown begins the book by laying out what he calls historical facts, and he includes the statement that all descriptions of art, architecture, sacred rituals, and documents are factual. The difficulty I had reading through "The Da Vinci Code" with that in mind was that most of the descriptions of ancient documents, in fact, are not factual-they're part of his fiction. But people reading the book aren't equipped to separate the fact from the fiction.

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