This book by Dan Brown is a poorly constructed vehicle for bashing the Christian Church.
|Book Review: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Fast paced with an intriguing plot
Poorly researched facts, 1 dimensional characters and a thinly veiled anti-Catholic message.
The Bottom Line
As a Christian that loves history and fiction, I was intrigued. But this story is based on bad pseudo-history. Moreover, I was offended by the author's hidden agenda.
The first few chapters of The Da Vinci Code drew me into the story. A murdered museum director who's naked body is arranged to form an ancient symbol. The American professor of symbology who might solve the riddle quickly becomes the prime suspect. His only ally, a police cryptology expert who is also the granddaughter of the murdered man.
It was fast paced but still full of interesting details. In a flood of revelations we soon learn why Da Vinci's Mona Lisa is smiling and why Mary Magdalene is hidden in plain sight in “The Last Supper”. If only college Art History classes could be this interesting. Brown builds nicely on Da Vinci's use of pagan symbology in his Christian art. Da Vinci's little known genius in cryptology is also critical to the story. Brown’s premise is that there is a pattern to what is hidden in Da Vinci’s work. In fact there may be a secret that will shake western civilization itself, a secret closely guarded for 2000 years, a secret involving the Holy Grail.
Did I mention it is fast paced? In fact, it’s probably best if you read it very, very quickly. That way you might just pass over some of the book’s worst flaws. The first one you may notice is that the characters are one dimensional. The primary investigators are Langdon, the American professor visiting Paris and Sophie, the beautiful French police cryptologist who oddly shows little grief over her beloved grandfather's death.
Landon and Sophie are alternately brilliant and bafflingly dense in their knowledge and deductions. For example, Sophie the cryptologist once fails to recognize an anagram. At one moment these two are are spouting fascinating and obscure pieces of historical information but a few pages later they get easy historical facts wrong. For instance, Landon says the Hebrew name for God, "YHWH" comes from the more ancient “Jehovah” It is actually just the opposite as many Jewish and Christian laypersons could tell you. Brown also incorrectly credits the canon of the New Testament to Constantine (Emperor from 306-337). Historical records show that the process of identifying the canon lasted 150 years. The NT canon was finalized at Council of Carthage in 397, some 60 years after Constantine’s death. Brown even makes the preposterous claim that the doctrine of Jesus divinity was invented by Constantine for political reasons while Mary Magdalene’s true identity as a goddess was brutally suppressed by the Church. Huh? Jesus was just a man but Mary Magdalene was a god? Where does he get this stuff?
Taking off from these silly errors, Brown's novel begins to sound like a bad Oliver Stone conspiracy script. Brown continues to play loosely with historical facts while constantly painting both ancient and modern Christianity as the real villain. He reports that Medieval Christians burned 5 million educated women as witches? Yes, pagan witches were often scapegoats and sometimes killed in medieval centuries but historians estimate it was thousands that died not millions. While horrible, this was nothing like the organized genocidal acts of the 20th century. This was just one of many examples of how Brown overstated and exaggerated facts to support his prejudice.
Why the need to pillory Christianity? Weren’t his fictional weirdoes from the odd Catholic cult, Opus Dei, evil enough to carry the plot? Brown seems to have a personal need to identify much of Christian history and most things Roman Catholic as evil.
Some will say “but this is fiction. It’s just part of the novel...it's intended to advance the plot.” And I tried to see it that way but as I continued to read, Brown kept intruding into the narrative, distracting me from the story like an annoying buzzing in my ear. His anti-Christian rhetoric was no longer a vehicle to advance the story. Sadly, it was the story that had become a vehicle for bashing Christianity. In the end the book becomes something less than a novel, and more like propaganda. Try a few Googles and you will find that this novel has fed the fires of Christian bashing. People are quoting it as a trustworthy source of factual historical information about Christian history. But it’s just a novel right? The author can’t be blamed if people take a work of fiction and believe it as fact—unless, of course, that was the author’s intent.
Both in the novel and in subsequent interviews Brown makes it clear that he is a true believer concerning this 2000 year Christian conspiracy. In an interview on New Hampshire Public Radio, Brown said only the characters and the plot involving them were fiction--everything else is historical fact. Clearly, promoting this book as historically factual is disingenuous at best.
I am not a Catholic but I wonder why Brown has an axe to grind with the Catholic Church--and not just in this book. His earlier book, “Angels and Demons” also demonstrated his distaste for the Catholic Church. Perhaps he has good reasons for those feelings. If so, he is free to speak out against the church. But I would rather he did it openly rather than putting that message into his novels.