Are you confused about "The Da Vinci Code" and the strong reactions it's received from both supporters and detractors? You're not alone. No novel sells 50 million copies without hitting some kind of nerve in the popular imagination. The following Study Guide is intended to help spur personal thought and group discussion about the many spiritual issues raised in "The Da Vinci Code." It was created by Richard Smoley, who has more than 25 years of experience studying and practicing the Western mystical tradition.
Why Is "The Da Vinci Code" So Compelling?
The key probably lies in the secrets it mentions--a strange alternative history of the last 2,000 years, starting with the claim that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene.
Points to Consider:
• According to the novel, Jesus’ and Mary Magdalene’s descendants included the Merovingians, dynastic rulers who led what is now France from the fifth to the eighth centuries C.E. This theory holds that even after the Merovingians fell from power, the sacred bloodline survived. That would mean descendants of Jesus could be alive today.
• This sacred bloodline was known as the sang réal, meaning “royal blood” in Old French, according to"The Da Vinci Code." Later it became known as the Sangreal, which later produced its English equivalent, the “Holy Grail.” Although the Holy Grail is usually imagined as the cup that Christ used at the Last Supper, according to Brown’s novel, the real Grail is actually this “royal blood,” this sacred bloodline.
• Old legends in Europe say the couple did have children, who were eventually brought either to France or England (the versions differ). But these are legends, and there isn’t much, if any, documentation to prove they are true.
• "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" (New York: Dell, 1983), by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, inspired many of the ideas in "The Da Vinci Code." Baigent and Leigh recently sued Brown for plagiarism in an unsuccessful but highly publicized case. A good discussion of why the suit lost can be found on the website Out-Law.com.
• John Matthews’ "Sources of the Grail" (Hudson, N.Y.: Lindisfarne, 1998) is the best single-volume collection of the original Grail texts, which date from the Middle Ages. (The texts don’t talk about a sacred bloodline, though.
Questions to Ponder:
• Do you find "The Da Vinci Code" compelling? If so, why?
• Do you believe that the Grail could have been a sacred bloodline
• Would it change your beliefs to know that Jesus had surviving descendants?
How Many of The Claims in the Story Are True?
There are a lot assertions presented as fact in the novel. A number of these can be verified. But the theories in it are extremely speculative. The evidence for these theories is not very strong.
Points to Consider:
• "The Da Vinci Code" is a novel. Brown would have been within his rights to make up everything in it.
• Most of the novel’s theories are considered by mainstream scholars to fall into the category of “fringe” or “alternative” history--popular accounts of mysteries in the past that are based on highly circumstantial evidence. Very few scholars take these theories seriously.
• Brown himself has said, “The documents, rituals, organization, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist,” but he goes on to say that he makes no claim to advocate “any of the ancient theories discussed by fictional characters. Interpreting those ideas is left to the reader.”
• Do you think the theories in "The Da Vinci Code" are valid?
• Does "The Da Vinci Code" misinform the public, as some of its critics allege?
• If the novel’s theories are true, do they threaten the hierarchy of the Christian Church as it exists today?
Was Jesus Married to Mary Magdalene?
The evidence that they were married is very slim. The Bible doesn’t say whether Jesus was married or not. The evidence that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had offspring is even slimmer.
Points to Consider:
• There is an apocryphal text--that is, one that didn’t make it into the Bible--called the Gospel of Philip. It says Jesus was very fond of Mary Magdalene and used to kiss her often. The other disciples complained, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” According to the Gospel, Jesus replied, “Why do I not love you like her?” (The answer would presumably be obvious.)
• The Gospel of Philip is a late work. It was probably written 200 years after Jesus’ life. Most scholars don’t attach much value to it as a historical source.
• Do you believe that today it’s possible to have a spiritual connection with her?
• Do you feel that men and women should have equal status in religion?
Was There a Variety of Traditions in Early Christianity?
Yes. Some of them vanished, but they have left a legacy that survives to this day.
Points to consider:
• Scholars are concluding that originally there was no one “true” version of Christianity. There were many interpretations of Christ’s teaching, probably as early as the time of the Apostles.
• The version of Christianity that triumphed is sometimes known as proto-orthodox or proto-catholic Christianity. That’s because it was the ancestor of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches as we know them today. (Protestantism is an offshoot of Catholicism.)
• Other versions of Christianity held radically different views from what became the orthodox faith. "The Da Vinci Code" mentions some--for example, Christians who believed that although Jesus was a great teacher, he was not divine.
• The Gnostics, another collection of seekers, believed that the key to the human condition was not salvation from sin but inner illumination or enlightenment, which they called gnosis (meaning knowledge in Greek).
• Today there are versions of Christianity that focus on the story of Christ as symbolism rather than literal truth. This approach is sometimes called inner Christianity or esoteric Christianity. The word esoteric comes from Greek roots meaning further in. Because these truths are not about facts or history, you have to go further into your own being through meditation or contemplation to understand them.
• Do you believe that the Bible is literally true?
• Which version(s) of Christianity do you believe are closest to Christ’s teaching?
• Is there--or must there be--one "right" way to be Christian?
• What are the inner dimensions of your own faith?
Why Did Catholic and Orthodox Christianity Triumph?
Partly because they were fairly easy to understand: They emphasized salvation from sin. They also received a tremendous political boost from being adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century C.E.
Points to consider:
• The turning point in Christian history was probably the Council of Nicea, a conference of bishops, in 325 C.E. The council was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine I to determine whether Christ was fully equal or subordinate to God the Father.
• At Nicea the Trinitarian view triumphed, holding that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were coequal “Persons” in the Godhead. It was not a new view at the time, but after the Council of Nicea, the power in Christianity began to be centralized in what became Catholicism and Orthodoxy. (The Catholic and Orthodox churches did not fully separate until 1054.)
• Bible was compiled by the Church, whose leaders chose which of the early Christian texts would be included in it. The first complete list of the New Testament books as we have them today is found in a letter by a bishop called Athanasius, dating from 367 C.E.
• Later struggles and controversies--which went on from the fourth to the eighth centuries C.E.--solidified Catholic and Eastern Orthodox doctrine.
• Do you feel that the “right side” won in all the disputes on Christian doctrine?
• How important is it to your faith to have the right beliefs?
• Does it affect your faith to know that political and ideological struggles had a strong role in shaping Christianity? What role do you think God played in determining the outcome of these struggles?
What Was the Priory Of Sion?
According to "The Da Vinci Code," this secret society was entrusted with the care of the sacred bloodline of Jesus.
Points to Consider:
• According to the novel, the Priory goes back to medieval times. Until recently, according to "The Da Vinci Code," the Priory of Sion has stayed in the shadows, but the order’s leaders have included figures such as Isaac Newton, the novelist Victor Hugo, and the composer Claude Debussy.
• In fact, there was a Priory of Sion, but it wasn’t a secret society. It was a medieval religious order. It ceased to exist in 1617, when it was absorbed into the Jesuit order.
• The modern “Priory of Sion” was the creation of a Frenchman named Pierre Plantard. Plantard founded the organization in 1956. The group promoted right-wing monarchist and anti-Semitic ideas in the 1950s and 1960s, and created a number of documents intended to make it seem as if the society was much older.
• There’s no evidence that either Dan Brown or the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" were part of Plantard’s scheme. Instead, they may simply have made the mistake of taking Plantard’s claims at face value.