Dan Brown's red-hot page-turner The Da Vinci Code has become a runaway bestseller. What's most intriguing to me, though, is not merely the astronomical sales figures, but the effect the book is having on popular culture. By cleverly mixing fact with fiction, Brown has created a raging controversy over how many of the novel's claims are rooted in reality. One study showed that one out of three Canadians who have read the book now believes descendants of Jesus are walking among us today!
If true, the book's assertions are nothing less than breathtaking: Jesus was merely a human being, Christianity is a fraud, and the four Gospels in the Bible are unreliable. But are those stunning allegations actually supported by historical evidence? Or are they as fanciful as the colorful characters in Brown's novel?
In the end, I hope you'll come to your own well-reasoned conclusions about the claims of The Da Vinci Code.
When I was an atheist and began my own probe into the case for Christianity, I promised myself that I would maintain an open mind — and I hope you'll make that same resolution.
What can history really tell us?
Can we trust the four Gospels?
What's the role of women in Christianity?
Is Jesus the Son of God?
The truth is, there is a lot at stake: can Jesus really be trusted as God incarnate, or was he merely a human pawn in the greatest scam in history?
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13
Dan Brown: A Believer
"I began as a skeptic. As I started researching Da Vinci Code, I really thought I would disprove a lot of this theory about Mary Magdalene and holy blood and all of that. I became a believer." Dan Brown to Elizabeth Vargas on ABC's Primetime Live
Factual and Accurate? "One of the many qualities that make The Da Vinci Code unique is the factual nature of the story. All the history, artwork, ancient documents, and secret rituals in the novel are accurate, as are the hidden codes revealed in some of da Vinci's most famous paintings." Dan Brown to Ruth Mariampolski for Borders, Inc.
Grounded in Reality?
Matt Lauer: How much of this book [The Da Vinci Code] is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred? Dan Brown: Absolutely all of it. Obviously Robert Langdon is fictional, but all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies - all of that is historical fact. The Today Show, NBC, June 9, 2003
Error-Laden? "So error-laden is The Da Vinci Code that the educated reader actually applauds those rare occasions where Brown stumbles (despite himself) into the truth." Sandra Miesel, Crisis magazine
Trustworthy? "The Da Vinci Code clearly contains many historical errors covering a wide variety of issues: church architecture, religious symbolism, the Roman Empire, ancient Israel, and different spiritual belief systems. If Brown cannot be relied upon to accurately recount the most basic of historical facts, then how can he be trusted to correctly explain more complex subjects?" Richard Abanes in The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code
Christianity maintains that God welcomes sincere examination and inquiry; in fact, it's a matter of historical record that Jesus encouraged such scrutiny. The Bible is not a secret kept only for the initiated few, but an open book, available for study and debate. The teachings of Christ are freely offered to all — the skeptic as well as the believer.
So here's an open invitation: examine the claims, explore the options, and draw your own conclusions. In an atmosphere of honest seeking and unrestricted discussion, we challenge you to put the claims of Christianity — as well as your own beliefs — to the test.
Of course, it's possible for any of us to believe error; it is also feasible for us to resist truth. My hope is that will sort out truth from speculation, and facts from opinion. I'm convinced it is healthy for all of us to wrestle with the assertions of the New Testament so we can make an informed decision about the relevance of Jesus to our personal lives.
Christianity stands or falls on Christ. And yet he left us with a lot of hard sayings. But the central scandal of Christianity is that at a point in history, God came down to live among us in a person, Jesus of Nazareth. And the most baffling moment of Jesus' life was on the cross — where he hung to die like a common criminal. In that place of weakness — where all seemed lost, where the taunts of "Prove yourself, Jesus, and come down from there!" lashed out like the whip that flogged him prior to his crucifixion — somehow God was at his best. There at the cross, he expressed a love greater than words could ever describe. That act of Jesus, presented as the ultimate demonstration of the love and justice of God, begs to be put to "cross" examination.
Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7
Every trial I covered as a legal journalist investigated an event of recent history. Did the defendant murder the victim? Did the doctor commit malpractice? To determine the truth, jurors consider eyewitness testimony, study documents, examine physical evidence — and through it all, they rely on their own common sense.
In a way, the study of ancient evidence is the same. Do we have records that are rooted in eyewitness accounts and are close to the
events themselves? Does archaeology corroborate or contradict the testimony? By carefully examining the evidence and using our common sense, we can conclude with reasonable certainty whether an event occurred long ago.
When I apply those standards to the historical claims of The DaVinci Code, I walk away totally unconvinced that they're rooted in reality. They simply do not hold up to sober scrutiny.
However, when I devoted two years of my life, as an atheist, to investigating the life and resurrection of Jesus, I became absolutely convinced that Jesus is the unique Son of God who proved it by returning from the dead. So let me ask this: where do you believe that the historical evidence points — and why?