Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Review: The Da Vinci Myth Versus The Gospel Truth, by D. James Kennedy & Jerry Newcombe

The Da Vinci Myth Versus The Gospel Truth
D. James Kennedy, Jerry Newcombe
Mass Market Paperback, 
156 pages
Crossway Books, April 7, 2006
Christianity, Nonfiction, Religion, Theology
Source: Purchased from Christianbooks,com

Book Synopsis: Answers to the Da Vinci Code fictions. With 40 million copies sold, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is a cultural phenomenon, and a no-holds-barred attack on Christianity's 2,000-year-old claim that Jesus Christ is God. Authors D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe offer historical evidence to dispense with The Da Vinci Code fictions, including the outrageous assertions that the New Testament is unreliable and the deity of Christ is a fourth-century invention.

A few years ago, I bought an inexpensive paperback copy of The Da Vinci Code, and began to read it. I had already encountered some negative criticism of the book, especially from Christians -- both Catholics and Protestants -- so I decided to see for myself. Ironically, however, even non-Christian negative criticisms of The Da Vinci Code have shown this novel to be a very poor defense and exposition of pagan beliefs, as many of its 'historical facts' have actually been proven to be false. This is also the major contention of the authors of The Da Vinci Myth Versus The Gospel Truth.

Kennedy and Newcombe discuss most of the errors of The Da Vinci Code in Chapter Two of their book. One crucial point they make in this chapter is that Brown's novel totally fails in its intent to prove Christianity false, and this is  due to one very glaring  error: the existence of an alleged 'secret society' -- The Priory of Sion -- that was supposedly created in 1099.
These two authors are not the only ones to point out that this 'secret society' is a hoax. Although several real organizations have names similar to "The Priory of Sion", the version Brown holds up as factual is indeed a hoax, founded and dissolved in France in 1956, by one Pierre Plantard, who brought it back in the 1960s. 

To quote from the Wikipedia article on the subject: "In the 1960s, Plantard created a fictitious history for that organization, describing it as a secret society founded by Godfrey of Bouillon on Mount Zion in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099....In Plantard's version, the priory was devoted to installing a secret bloodline of the Merovingian dynasty on the thrones of France and the rest of Europe. This myth was expanded upon and popularised by the 1982 pseudohistorical book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and later claimed as factual in the preface of the 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code."  

The Wikipedia article goes on to state that Plantard's purpose for inventing this tale was to prove that he, Plantard, was the Great Monarch prophesied by Nostradamus!

In Chapter One, Kennedy and Newcombe criticize Brown's heavy reliance on the Gnostic Gospels, which he considers superior to the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Kennedy and Newcombe point out that the canonical Gospels were written in the first century, AD, when many witnesses to the life of Jesus were still alive. Thus, the canonical Gospels are far more authoritative than the Gnostic Gospels, which were produced in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries.

Throughout their book, Kennedy and Newcombe do a very creditable job of proving that Brown's assertions are totally ludicrous.  Another very important point they make is that Brown has failed to provide footnotes for his 'facts', something that, as a responsible author, he certainly should have done. The reader is just expected to accept these 'facts', which are then blended into the fictional sections of the book. Therefore, how can the reader know which is which?

Another very damaging criticism of this novel pointed out by Kennedy and Newcombe is Brown's false assertion that Emperor Constantine declared Jesus to be God in the 4th century, AD, all in the name of political power, since he (Constantine), had already declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire. There is plenty of historical evidence that Jesus was worshiped as God by the early Christians. Indeed, as Kennedy and Newcombe go on to state, many of the apostles were killed because of their unflinching faith in Jesus as God. Would they have been willing to die for a myth?

In regards to the above, here's a quote from The Da Vinci Myth Versus The Gospel Truth, with very important evidence: "In the first three centuries of its existence, the Church was struggling for its very survival, as it suffered under ten intense waves of persecution from the Roman Empire....." (page 40)

I never did finish reading The Da Vinci Code, but I was already somewhat familiar with the teachings of Gnosticism, which Brown threads throughout this novel. For those who might not be aware of this religious philosophy, Gnosticism is a collection of ancient beliefs which later evolved into a heretical Christian sect, and was thus a combination of pagan and Christian ideas. It was roundly condemned by the early Church Fathers, such as Irenaeus, Hyppolitus, and Tertullian.

Gnosticism in general stresses the importance of inner knowledge, or mystical enlightenment, as the way to salvation. This knowledge involves awareness of a 'divine spark'  within human beings, and thus, the realization that we are all really gods. This belief, of course, is completely anti-Christian.

Gnosticism also extols the feminine side of God, something which is, I must admit, very appealing, especially to feminists such as myself. In his novel, Brown claims that Mary Magdalene was, according to the plans of Jesus, supposed to be the leader of the Christian movement, which later became the Roman Catholic Church. As much as I would like this to have been true, Kennedy and Newcombe state that there is no historical evidence for this, beyond certain statements found in the Gnostic Gospels.

Brown further states that Mary was also married to Jesus, and that their descendants were members of the Merovingian dynasty in 5th-century France, adding that some of them survive to the present day.  (Thus his claim that the Priory of Sion is a real secret society.)

There was also supposed to be a strong rivalry between Mary and Peter, according to the Gnostic Gospels.

Although I am writing from a Christian perspective, again I have to agree with non-Christian critics that Brown's attempt to discredit Christianity and promote a pagan religion -- that of Gnosticism and the Great Goddess -- is very poorly done. As Kennedy and Newcombe state, the main reason for the success of his spuriously historical novel is the public's ignorance of secular and Biblical history, as well as of Biblical scholarship. Brown knew this, and played upon that fact.

Kennedy and Newcombe also analyze the reasons for the popularity of Brown's novel. One of these is Brown's claim, based on Gnostic beliefs, that sex is the way to divine union with God. Kennedy and Newcombe refute this by stating that this is merely an excuse for libertine sexual practices. 

Another reason for the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, according to these authors, is society's dissatisfaction with organized religion. This is evident even within Christian circles; in fact, Kennedy and Newcombe divulge the shocking fact that there are nominally Christian professors teaching in today's seminaries. These professors have departed from certain basic Christian teachings, such as the divinity of Christ, and yet, they are preparing future Christian ministers. 

Among the general public, the recent pedophile crisis in the Catholic Church has also fostered a dislike of Western organized religion. Instead, spirituality is praised as an end in itself, with a syncretistic approach which includes Eastern spiritual practices.

There are many other excellent points made by the authors of The Da Vinci Myth Versus The Gospel Truth, but they are too numerous to mention here. I have merely touched upon the major ones. Besides, unlike Brown's novel, Kennedy and Newcombe have included many footnotes in their book, which readers can easily refer to. 

I recommend The Da Vinci Myth Versus The Gospel Truth to anyone with an open mind, willing to dig to discover the real facts of the matter. However, although this book is pretty comprehensive in its rebuttal of Brown's false claims, I do wish the authors had written a 'meatier' volume, with more references included, as well as a more thorough analysis of such topics as the status of women in Christianity. As it stands at present, this small volume seems to be merely an introduction to an analysis of this highly controversial novel.



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  1. Hi Maria - I hope that you are doing OK.

    I read the Da Vinci Code. and its prequel Angels & Demons. Though I thought that both books had some merits I did not think that they were all that were strong novels. I thought that the theology, history and themes were really simplistic in an almost comic book kind of way. I also thought that the plots were somewhat mediocre. I did however think that while critical of Christianity they were in other ways sympathetic to the Catholic Church.

    I must admit a bit puzzled as to the intentions of the authors of this book. I look at Brown's book as a piece of amusing fiction only partially based upon history and culture. I never considered them to be assertions of historical accuracy. I might be wrong about this but I think that Brown has said the same. With that I know folks take these books very seriously.

    I will mention that I highly recommend another book, Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum of which Brown's books seem highly derivative. Many people have commented upon the similarities. In my opinion Eco's book presents a much more complex and nuanced look at the subject. In my opinion it is a much better book then Brown's books.

  2. Hey, Brian,

    Well, I'm doing as well as I day at a time.... Hope you are doing okay yourself. Thanks for asking! :)

    How interesting that you're comparing the theology, history and themes of Brown's books to some sort of comic-book variety of philosophy, given that so many people take these books very seriously. But that is a very apt analogy. I haven't read "Angels and Demons", and really have no interest in doing so. I am planning to re-read "The Da Vinci Code", though. Well, I actually have to read the book properly, as I mostly skimmed it the first time around. And I have ordered another cheap copy, from eBay, because I don't know where my original copy is. I suspect I donated it during my recent move, but don't remember. I regret not having it, because I underlined a lot of passages in it. Of course, I intend to write a negative review of the book.

    As for the intentions of the writers of "The Da Vinci Myth Versus The Gospel Truth", don't forget that they're writing from a Christian perspective, and they perceive "The Da Vinci Code" as an attack on Christianity. I do agree with them, too, since I am a Christian, after all, albeit a somewhat liberal one, because of my feminist views.

    Brown does mix 'facts' and fiction in a very irresponsible manner. For instance, his statement, in the preface of "The Da Vinci Code", that the Priory of Sion is a real secret society, founded in 1099, is totally false. I verified this myself through doing my own research on Google. There are multiple other 'facts' presented by Brown through the mouth of the 'historian' in the book, Leigh Teabing. This character makes some serious historical errors. I really should have mentioned more of them in the review, but I felt it important to mention the more egregious ones.

    I had a VERY difficult time with this particular review. While writing it, I realized that I was really writing a negative review of "The Da Vinci Code"....So I had to keep revising and revising it, reminding myself that I was supposed to be writing a review of "The Da Vinci Myth Versus The Gospel Truth", instead. However, I see that, to a certain extent, I was also indirectly writing a review of "The Da Vinci Code". It was unavoidable. I still intend to write a separate review of that book, though. I want to pour all of my scathing condemnation on it!

    By the way, as I was doing the research, I came across comments by famous writers regarding "The Da Vinci Code". One of them, Salman Rushdie, said that this book makes bad books look good in comparison!!

    During my research, I also came across comments to the effect that Brown's books are indeed derivative of Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum". As I'm writing this, I have opened up a tab on Google, and have the Wikipedia article on that novel open. Yes, I do see some similarities between this book and "The Da Vinci Code", in that they both mention the Grail and the Knights Templar. It even mentions the Kabbalah. I don't remember if the latter was mentioned in "The Da Vinci Code", but this is something I'm very interested in, paradoxically enough. All in all, from what I'm reading in the Wikipedia article, Eco's novel does seem to be much superior to Brown's. I will definitely be purchasing and reading it!

    Thanks so much for the recommendation, and for the TERRIFIC, thought-provoking comment!! :)


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