- As of May 2009, I have decided to merely link to the "cleaner," more edited version of the article that was once here, as it is hosted by the Answers in Action website here. I remain grateful to Answers in Action for this opportunity. At this location, I will simply keep my secondary comments.
- I'll also append comments on the movie version below.
- The Christian Research Journal has published an article I've written on the book, in which I offer some more details on Brown's errors in Renaissance art. I'll note a couple of those here as well, in the end matter of the article.
- The Da Vinci Code has offered a virtual gravy train for writers (speaking as one who is riding on the roof, so to speak). There are at least a dozen books out there about it, pro and con, and as we have opportunity we'll be making comments about them here.
- A word or so to anyone out there wishing to write me about this article....
- Don't write me saying, "You need to keep an open mind." I had one when I started; then I reached a conclusion based in evidence, and that means it's "closing time".
If you don't have a specific refutation of some claim I have made, and if you can't answer the arguments I have made, using credentialed scholarship, then there's little purpose in writing me. So far only one claim of mine here has ever been challenged (see below), and that one was esay to answer.
- Don't try to tell me, when I ask you who is right (myself or Brown), that we "both are". The Law of Noncontradiction has not failed to be applicable any time recently.
- Don't tell me that it's wrong to waste so much time "attacking" a fictional work. First of all, Brown claims that his book is rooted in fact, so he has claimed to mix fiction with non-fiction. Beyond that, great works of fiction have been known to cause massive social upheaval; if you doubt that, I have three words for you: Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Note that I am not the one who has problems seeing this is fiction -- other people do. That's who we're trying to inform.
Second, Brown himself is quite plain about his intentions to challenge beliefs and compel changes of mind; as Olson and Miesel note in The Da Vinci Hoax  he plainly acknowledged positively an interviewer's question, on a June 9, 2003 interview on Today, on whether he wanted to "challenge certain long-held beliefs or truths about religion." Brown is out to start socio-religious upheaval, so do not use the "fiction" defense.
- Don't tell me that I am "afraid" of Brown and that's why I wrote this. I wrote this on assignment; and besides, why can't I just say you're replying because you're afraid of me? Besides, Brown has apparently refused to be confronted by any of his critics, so if anyone is afraid, it is clearly Brown, who doesn't have the ability to defend his own propositions.
- Don't tell me I'm just a "fundamentalist". I'm not by any definition, and the criticisms I cite have come from believers of non-fundy bent, as well as non-believers, as well as religious persons who would never be called that, either. The fact is that this book is so full of errors that even the atheists, like Robert Price (formerly of the Jesus Seminar), and liberal religious scholars (like Robinson and others mentioned by Burstein; see below) are criticizing it.
- Don't write me saying, "You need to keep an open mind." I had one when I started; then I reached a conclusion based in evidence, and that means it's "closing time".
Review by Andrew Greeley -- this is no longer online, but I wished to preserve this quote: He depicts the “Vatican” as conspiring with Constantine to suppress the Gnostic gospels in the early 4th century. However, the Vatican Hill was a disorderly cemetery at that time. The “Vatican” is also involved in the suppression of the Templars, though the headquarters of the pope at that time was the Lateran Palace (and the pope was in Avignon anyway). Brown also refers to an individual he calls the Secretariat Vaticana who has charge of papal finances. Presumably he means the secretary of state, though that official does not in fact control Vatican finances. Brown knows little about Leonardo, little about the Catholic church, and little about history.
Lake Magazine -- an expert critic cited some of the same errors we did. The old link went dead; here are some quotes I wished to preserve:
1. Jesus' life was not “recorded by thousands of followers across the land” (p.231). Nor is it at all clear that Jesus “inspired millions to better lives”— if by that he means (as the sentence suggests) that Jesus did so in his own lifetime. Jesus was not a cause of much comment in any contemporary ancient sources (Jewish or Roman); any historical figure who had such an impact would have left a much larger blip on the radar screen of the Roman Empire.
2. The figure “80” or “more than eighty gospels” (p.231) is, as far as I know, completely fabricated. There were indeed more gospels than the canonical four (nothing new here, these have long been known and are widely available in the standard collection, The New Testament Apocrypha edited by Hennecke and Schneelmelcher [there are also other editions]). They list about 31 other “gospels,” but that number depends on which texts qualify as “gospels,” and there is a big debate about what the genre is. Some works, even the Gospel of Mary, are thought by some to be more apocalypses than gospels, etc.
Of course, we do not know what we do not know (a major principle of historiography!). So there were probably other gospels we aren’t aware of, but that just compounds the error of the factual-sounding number “80.”
3. No gospels were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, nor any other Christian documents (as the paragraph on p. 234 implies; see also p. 245). On p.245 the author has erroneously placed the Dead Sea Scrolls within The Gnostic Gospels. The Dead Sea Scrolls are not Christian (they are Jewish); the Nag Hammadi texts are not “earliest” (by anyone's reckoning for the whole corpus; some scholars hold out for one document, The Gospel of Thomas, as not necessarily being itself so early, but as containing within it traditions that were earlier, but by no means is even this a consensus position). Hence the statement that “these” (the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls] are ... “the earliest Christian records” (the sentence is grammatically in apposition with the one preceding) is false on two counts.
4. Of the Nag Hammadi codexes (p.234), only four in the standard edition are called “gospels” (43 other documents are letters, acts, apocalypses, and various other genres). “These documents” (i.e., the Nag Hammadi codexes), far from “speak[ing] of Christ's ministry in very human terms” (p.234), are famous for their Gnostic account of Christ as more divine than human. See, e.g., The Gospel of Truth 38: “Now the name of the Father is the Son. It is he who first gave a name to the one who came forth from him, who was himself, and he begot him as a son ...” (Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. James M. Robinson, p. 49). I could cite many more examples, but the point is that the Gnostic Gospels hardly represent a lower, more human view of Christ/Jesus than the divine Christ supposedly created by Constantine (see pt. 6).
5. To say that Mary Magdalene's marriage to Christ is “a matter of historical record” (P.244) is simply false. Brown’s appeal to an “Aramaic” term to explain a word in the Gospel of Philip (usually translated “companion”) is extremely weak (p.246). GPhil is a second- or third-century Coptic translation of a Greek original. Brown is probably trying to make reference to a Syriac term (a dialect of Aramaic) that is supposedly in the mind of the Greek author, who may have written in Syria (there are other references in the document to Syriac terms, but this is not one of them). But even if the three-stage translation equivalents (from Syriac to Greek to Coptic) are allowed (with all the problems that involves), the terms in all three languages still have a range of referents, including “friend” or “companion” (but by no means restricted to “spouse”). The same text does, however, say Jesus used to kiss her often (55b), likely to set her in competition with “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in John’s Gospel. Mary of Magdala was, however, called “a female disciple of the Lord” in the 2nd century Gospel of Peter (§50, which accords with Mark 15:40-41); she was likely a very important early Christian, but nowhere in ancient sources said to be Jesus’ wife, let alone mother of his children.
On the general point that Jesus may have been married, that is possible, by inference from general practice (as Brown argues, p. 245), but there are also reports of first century Jewish ascetics, such as the Essenes, who are said by Philo not to marry (Hypothetica 11.14). By the way, our author also does not reckon with the fact that even the source he appeals to, the Gospel of Mary (p.247), roots Mary’s special knowledge in a vision Mary had of the Lord (10), apparently post-resurrection, not in some special relationship with Jesus in his lifetime.
6. On Constantine's invention of the divinity of Jesus and exclusion of all but four canonical gospels: there are thousands of problems here (such as Irenaeus's defense of the four-fold gospel ca. 175-189[adversus haereses 3.11.8]!). Perhaps the most egregious error is that in his enthusiasm, Brown has left out the rather inconvenient testimony of the letters of Paul, (historical sources dated to the 50s or early 60s CE) in which Jesus is already the Son of God, one who was the very agent of creation (see 1 Cor 8:6, and many other places). This is hardly the very human Jesus that Brown says was the only view of Jesus for three centuries until Constantine struck it down. To add another witness: Ignatius of Antioch, in letters written ca. 110 CE, refers to Jesus as God (Letter to the Romans, prescript, etc.). Way too much, in other words, is attributed to Constantine here. Also, Constantine did not make Christianity “the official religion” (p.232). He issued edicts for its toleration, and gave it institutional backing, but that did not happen until Theodosius I outlawed non-Christian religion (Theodotian Code, 380-381 CE).
7. Constantine did not invent the term “heretic” (p.234); the word is Greek (it is a loan word in Latin, as Tertullian notes in de praescr. haer 6.2), and it does refer to “choice,” but was used already by Paul and Luke to refer to “divisions or factions” (1 Cor 11:19) or “schools” of thought (Acts 5:17; 26:5). It becomes technical “bad boy” language for “people not us” long before Constantine (Irenaeus in the 2nd, Clement of Alexandria and Origen in the 3rd century).
1. It is absolutely true that “The vestiges of pagan religion in Christian symbology are undeniable” (p.232). But the conclusion drawn from that —”Nothing in Christianity is original”— is not, and, from the point of view of the history of religions, an old, long-disqualified claim. Even new arrangements of existing materials are “original”! (and the Christian movements represent more than just that). Current scholarship recognizes that the relationship between the Christian cult and the world around it, and the ways in which it was culturally embedded in that world — sometimes unreflectively, sometimes reflexively, sometimes in deliberate accommodation, sometimes in deliberate cooptation — are far more complicated than noted here. Conspiracy theories sell books, but they do not explain complex human phenomena which are both local and more wide-spread — and hardly could have been instituted as a wide-spread, Stalinesque program of cultural totalitarianism as Brown has conjured up for Constantine.
For one thing, the papyri of Egypt (as well as the Christian literary record from Alexandria and elsewhere) already show a wide dissemination of early Christian literature (with a prominent place for the four gospels) before Constantine, which he could hardly have clamped the lid down upon singlehandedly.
Brown should have taken recourse to the Ebionites, but he apparently does not know them (these Christians, according to Irenaeus, adv. haer. 1.26.2, rejected Paul and apparently did hold to a human Jesus as Messiah), or to the tradition attributed to Hegisippus that says Domitian, near the end of the first century, interviewed blood relatives of Jesus and found them innocent of insurrection (Eusbius, historia ecclesiastica 3.19-20). But I do not offer this to try to improve a completely improbable hypothesis that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had secret offspring. I know of nothing in the ancient sources which supports this. Is that itself a sign of a massively successful cover up? I think not.
2. “Paganism” is treated throughout The Da Vinci Code as though it were a unified phenomenon, which it was not. “Pagan” is just the Christian term for “not-Christian.” The religions of the Mediterranean world were multiple and diverse, and cannot be all boiled down to “sun-worshippers” (p.232). Brown has Teabing say that “Rome's official religion was sun worship” (232). That is inaccurate; Rome's official religion was the cult of Roma — the goddess — and of her deified emperors, and the Capitoline trio Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Nor did all “pagans” frequently and eagerly participate in the hieros gamos ritual, which Brown presents as a universally acknowledged and revered practice. We actually have texts in ancient sources, such as Josephus and others, which lampoon this “sacred sex act” idea as a nefarious way to lure gullible women into intercourse (Antiquitates Judaicae 18.65-80).
3. Constantine's religious life — whether, when, how and by what definition he was Christian and/or “pagan” — is a hugely debated issue. Literary as well as non-literary sources (such as coins) are in conflict. Some coins issued under his name have what appear to be Christograms (the famous labarum sign on the helmet), but also continue to associate his with the sun (Sol). The fact that he was not baptized until his deathbed reflects some current Christian practice (deferring baptism for maximal absolutional benefit; see Augustine, confessiones 1.11.17). That Constantine the emperor had “political” motives (p.234) is hardly news to anyone! The question is how religion and politics (which cannot be separated in the ancient world) were interrelated in him. My own sense is that he is as hard to figure out on this score as Henry VIII, Osama Bin Laden, Tammy Fay Baker and George W. Bush (can you think of another sentence in which to put these four?!). Brown has turned him into a cartoonish villain.
4. “The Church” is used throughout the book as though there were a clear, uniform and unitary referent. For early Christian history this is precisely what we do not have. The Christian movement was a much more complex, varied and localized phenomenon. Brown presumes “the Church” is “the Holy Roman Catholic Church” which he thinks had this tremendous power always and everywhere, but ecclesiastical history is a lot messier!
5. The church and women/wisdom: Brown gives the full-dress conspiracy theory here. Feminist scholars and others have been debating different models of the “patriarchalization” of women in Christianity for decades. Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza's landmark work, In Memory of Her (1983), argued that while Jesus and Paul (on his better days) were actually pretty much pro-women, it was the next generations (the authors of letters in Paul's name like 1 and 2 Timothy and others) who betrayed their feminist agenda and sold out to the Aristotelian, patriarchal vision of Greco-Roman society. Others, unfortunately, sought to blame the misogyny on the Jewish roots of Christianity. More recently it has been argued that the picture is more mixed, even for Jesus and Paul. That is, they may have been more liberal than many of their contemporaries about women, but they were not all-out radicals, though they had ideas (such as Gal 3:28) that were even more revolutionary than they realized (in both senses of the term).
But one of the other accomplishments of feminist scholarship has been the retrieval and highlighting of elements even within the extant documents which, despite their decidedly male perspective, portray Jesus himself as divine wisdom, sophia (e.g., 1 Cor 1:24; Mt 11:19; Lk 11:49). Hence there are materials within the New Testament that preserve some of the traditions Brown claims were utterly expunged by “the Church” of the 4th c.
The Da Vinci Code also ignores completely the rise and incredible durability and power of Marian traditions in late antique and especially medieval Christianity. The Mary in question is, of course, the mother of Jesus, and devotion to her follows many patterns of “goddess” veneration (she even gets Athena’s Parthenon dedicated to her, after all!). Side-stepping this complex issue, I should also note that in his zeal for these “secret gospels” Brown does not reckon with rather patriarchal elements to be found in them, as well, such as Gospel of Thomas 114, which says a woman must make herself male to enter the kingdom.
This list is by no means exhaustive but only representative. We would need a full editorial and bibliographic full-press to present the “black light” edition, which neither you nor I have the time to do, and which would make it something other than a novelistic thriller. However, these examples should serve sufficiently to refute Brown’s prefatory statement, presented under the headline “Fact” in boldprint: “all descriptions of ...documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” — Margaret M. Mitchell, PhD
Extended critique by Envoy magazine, a Catholic publication
- Tekton Research Assistant "Punkish" found some material for us:
He found out about Margaret Starbird's education, and while it wasn't underwater basket weaving (grin), it may as well have been. Starbird holds BA and MA degrees from the University of Maryland where she concentrated on German, comparative literature and medieval studies (NOT Biblical studies) and only attended classes at Vanderbilt Divinity School without any degree awarded.
- Our helper "D. B." found out some information of note:
The Da Vinci Code movie that is supposed to come out in a couple of years would not be the first fictional movie on the subject. In the year 2001, a British movie came out titled Revelation (see here http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0278675/) starring Terence Stamp and James D'Arcy. It gets into a lot of the things that The Da Vinci Code gets into, although it introduces this relic called the Loculus, which I think was totally made up by the writers of the movie. This movie bears a strange similarity to the Da Vinci Code.
According to the book titled "The Gospel According to Philip: The Sources and Coherence of an Early Christian Collection" (on pages 8-9) the author Martha Lee Turner concludes that there was more than one gospel according to Philip in the early Church, and that the Nag Hammadi text represents only one of those versions. She also maintains that the Nag Hammadi gospel of Philip was written originally in Greek, but the text discovered is a Coptic translation (page 1). Turner (on page 166) also says that "The Gospel of Philip contains approximately sixteen dominical sayings, some with and some without context or accompanying action, and two actions attributed to Jesus. Of these four certainly come from Matthew's gospel; one could come from Matthew or Mark; one could come from Matthew or Luke; two come from John's gospel; two are from the Gospel according to Thomas; and six are from otherwise unknown sources." This shows dependence on some of our New Testament Gospels, so it could not have been earlier than them.
In Willis Barnstone's anthology of apocryphal Christian, Jewish, and Gnostic texts titled "The Other Bible", Wesley M. Isenberg writes (on page 87) "The Gospel of Philip is a collection of theological statements or excerpts concerning sacraments and ethics. Generally Valentinian in character, this collection was named for Philip the apostle, and was probably written in Syria in the second half of the third century AD." Since the gospel is "generally Valentinian in character", that means that it must express the ideas of Valentinian and his followers. Valentinian taught his doctrines around the middle of the second century (150 AD) so it could not have been written earlier than him. Isenberg also says about the gospel of Philip on the same page "According to this tractate, the existential malady of humanity results from the differentiation of the sexes. When Eve separated from Adam, the original androgynous unity was broken. The purpose of Christ's coming was to reunite "Adam" and "Eve"."
The gospel of Philip itself says this "When Eve was still in Adam, death did not exist. When she separated from him, death came into being. If he again becomes complete and attains his former self, death will be no more." It also says shortly after this "If the woman had not separated from the man, she would not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this Christ came to repair the separation which was from the beginning and to again unite the two, to give life to those who died as a result of the separation and unite them." What better way for the author of this gospel to show that Christ truly came to reunite the sexes, than to fabricate a story about Jesus being the husband of Mary Magdalene?
The Da Vinci Code says that the Jews of first century France wrote thousands of pages, chronicling the life of Mary Magdalene and her child and that part of the grail treasure is these thousands and thousands of pages. We have barely such amount of contemporary documents about many of the major figures in the history of the world, you think that these Jews would have compiled encyclopedia sized chronicles of Mary and the child? It does not sound very realistic. As Brown represents Teabing as saying on page 256, "The Sangreal documents include tens of thousands of pages of information. Eyewitness accounts of the Sangreal treasure describe it as being carried in four enormous trunks. In those trunks are reputed to be the Purist Documents - thousands of pages of unaltered, pre-Constantine documents, written by the early followers of Jesus, revering Him as a wholly human teacher and prophet." Tens of thousands of pages and four enormous trunks sounds like too much.
Brown also seems to show dependence on Acharya S and her book "The Christ Conspiracy" when he talks about Mithra and him dying, buried in a rock tomb and resurrected, and also when he talks about Krishna, Adonis, Osiris, and Dionysus, that "Nothing in Christianity is original" and "Even Christianity's weekly holy day was STOLEN from the pagans." (Stolen is capitalized by me). Brown even represents Teabing as asking (on page 266-267) what would happen "if persuasive scientific evidence comes out that the Church's version of the Christ story is inaccurate, that the greatest story ever told is, in fact, the greatest story ever sold." The full title of Acharya's book is "The Christ conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold." (JPH note -- this is possible, though I would not be surprised if Brown and Acharya just came up with the same pun.)
As for Tertullian's mention of the image of the resurrection that Mithra introduces to his followers, I have looked into what this might mean. In the book titled "The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and his Mysteries", the author, Manfred Clauss (on pages 108-109) mentions Justin Martyr's reference in his First Apology to the sacred meal of the followers of Mithras. Then Clauss says "Around a half century later, Tertullian, writing in Carthage in North Africa c. AD 200, and who knew a great deal about the cult of Mithrasa, maintained among other things that the devil had imitated the celebration of the Sacraments in the mysteries. In saying this, he was thinking primarily of the ritual meal. The Mithraists performed in the meal a semblance of the resurrection (imaginem resurrectionis). Tertullian saw in the mysteries of Mithras, as in Christian initiatory rituals, a way of speaking about eternal life. The Mithraists evidently believed that they were reborn through the consumption of bread and wine. The food was of course not simply actual or literal food, but also food in the metaphorical sense, which nourished souls after death: the mean was a guarantee of their ascension into the undying light. In the case of these analogies, there can be no question of imitation in either direction. The offering of bread and wine is known in virtually all ancient cultures, and the meal as a means of binding the faithful together and uniting them to the deity was a feature common to many religions. It repesented one of the oldest means of manifesting unification with the spiritual, and the appropriation of spiritual qualities. And if the Mithraists' meal could be seen by Christians as a distorted copy of Christian mysteries, indicating a close similarity with Christianity, that was because such offerings were made in the same manner in the cult of Mithras and Christianity, perhaps even to the accompaniment of the same words of consecration."
Teabing's saying that "until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet...a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless." I know that you already address this in your paper, but this is an expansion of it. Some did not believe that Jesus was divine before Nicaea, but many Christians before the year 325 AD believed that Jesus was God or the Son of God to some degree or another. Some pagans mocked the Christians for their belief that Jesus was God. Hiercoles, Lucian of Samosata, and Celsus were among those who did this. The work by Hiercoles against the Christians does not survive, but a quotation from him about Christians believing Jesus to be God survives in the work Against Hiercoles (in chapter 2) by Eusebius of Caesaria. This book is online here http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_against_hierocles.htm
The work by Lucian of Samosata titled "The passing of Peregrinus" is online here http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/lucian/peregrinus.htm It is in section 11 of this work were Lucian says that the founder of Christianity was "that other, to be sure, whom11 they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world."
Although the work of Celsus against the Christians is lost, much of his work was quoted in the work of the Church Father Origen titled "Against Celsus". This work, which consists of eight "books" is online at the bottom of this page http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-04/TOC.htm
Celsus and Lucian both lived and wrote around 160 AD, over a century before the Council of Nicaea, and these opponents of Christianity did see that Christians believed that Jesus was God. No Christian "conspirators" fabricated these passages in the writings of these pagan writers. These passages are hostile to Jesus and Christianity which no Christian would have made up. Roger Pearse has gathered together testimonies from the writings of the second century Church Fathers, attesting to their belief in Jesus' divinity and incarnation here http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/incarnation.html
As for the four Gospels, there are places where Jesus expresses very human traits. I am reminded of the passion in the garden, Jesus' anger towards his disciples for their lack of faith, and Jesus weeping because of the death of Lazarus. Manuscripts containing much of the four gospels and the letters of Paul, copied over 100 years before the Council of Nicaea, survive today and attest that the gospels really did not undergo modifications by Constantine, see here http://www-user.uni-bremen.de/~wie/ww_tc.html
As for the claim that Yahweh had a consort, this would not be entirely incorrect. Archaeologists have discovered artistic representations of Yahweh and Asherah and inscriptions indicating that Asherah was considered some sort of consort of Yahweh. See Ian Wilson's book titled "The Bible is History" on pages 146-148. However, we must remember that the Bible does say that many people of Israel fell into pagan practices before the Babylonian Exile, so evidence of this paganism might agree with, rather than contradict, the Bible. (JPH note -- I note this point as well in The Mormon Defenders; nevertheless it obviously is not a match for Brown's claim. The same depicitions also show Yahweh with the head of a bull!)
- A reader has made these comments:
Dan Brown has no idea of Geography either. He says the Albino monk is badly beaten in a harbor and finds shelter in Andorra.
Andorra is a small country in the Pyrenees, hundreds of miles from any harbor, especially as he says later that the beating happened in Marseilles. He could have chosen an Atlantic place at least!
There are no prisons in Andorra, at least none so important as to have people there for twelve years. There are very few earthquakes too. There is no railway and the only way of arriving to one would be from the Pas de la Casa – in the French area of Andorra, as he has arrived there from France – through the Port d’Envalira and through Andorra la Vella till crossing the Pyrenees and arriving to Spanish la Seu d’Urgell, where there is a railway.
What I haven’t been able to understand yet is how a badly hurt man arrives to Oviedo. In comparison, it’s as if had escaped from Alcatraz and arrived in a few hours to New York, without a train or a plane.
- Another reader has noted that Brown erroneously claims that the Star of David goes back to the time of David and Solomon; it is actually only a few hundred years old.
A veritable cottage industry of books have been spawned by TDC; here, we'll comment on some of those.
- Secrets of the Code, by venture capitalist Dan Burstein (who is more of a collater and editor than an author here), it is a mixed bag. For the disciplined researcher, Burstein's methodology is hard to countenance, as he elicits comments from conspiracy theorists without any relevant credentials on one hand, and credentialed, sober scholars on the other. They often contradict each other directly, and Burstein refers to both as "experts" [cf. 7] and advises his readers to "make up their own minds" who is right.
We are told also for example that "most mainstream academic experts and scholars disagree" with a particular conspiracy theorist; yet a recommendation of the theorist's work is implied merely because it contains "unique, intriguing ideas" and has "challenged the status quo".  That Burstein and others do not see the difficulty in this approach is a sad indicator of how deeply uncritical thinking has affected our society.
I might add here another irony. Burstein only interviewed Biblical scholars who work is fringe even within Biblical scholarship (King, Ehrman, Pagels, Robinson); yet oddly enough, counterpointed with the conspiracy theorists (Starbird, Freke and Gandy, Baigent and Leigh, Picknett) these Biblical scholars come off sounding like Evangelical conservatives in some cases.
I don't recommend you buy it, but if you can get it from the public library, by all means do so. Here are some comments:
- Picknett, a conspiracy theorist and UFO expert, makes two mistakes of note, saying there was no "Magdala" in Judaea in Jesus' day (in service of an idea that Mary Magdalene was from "Migdol" in Egypt) and claiming that John the Baptist lived in Egypt for "several years" . The latter is completely without support anywhere, while the former is direcly refuted by other writers in the volume who note "el Mejdel, a prosperous fishing village" on the Sea of Galilee (which fits with Mary being a wealthy benefactor). 
- Starbird supposes that Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene (uniting the tribes of David and Benjamin) "would have been perceived as a source of healing to the people of Israel during their time of misery as an occupied nation," yet she also indicates "this marriage would have been kept secret from the Romans and the Herodian tetrarchs".  How does Starbird suppose that these mutually exclusive goals would be accomplished?
- Haskins apparently went into some detail in her own work on how a "cult of Mary Magdalene" emerged in France, thus debunking efforts by Baigent and Leigh to support their grail thesis. Burstein unfortunately did not find this worth more than a few summary lines. 
- Jansen  provides an excellent counter to the claim that Mary was turned into a prostitute by Pope Gregory as a way to "cover up" feminist origins of Christianity (which itself is a detailed rejoinder to the point of McBrien later on; 59). Jansen, a professor of history, calls such ideas a "gross misrepresentation" and explains it rather as part of the social need of the era to simplify things and provide the people with an inspiring example of a penitent sinner.
Olson and Miesel in The Da Vinci Hoax offer more details [83ff] and note that Mary Magdalene was held in high regard both before and in this period -- she even had a feast day named after her in the 8th century -- so that Gregory's treatment of her, if anything, was regarded as a positive.
- Robinson  pegs Brown for some more technical errors: "...it is clear to me that Dan Brown doesn't know much about the scholarly side of things in my field and he sort of fudges the evidence to make it more sensational than it is." Brown incorrecly refers to the Nag Hammadi documents as scrolls; they are actually codices (ancient books). Robinson adds that using the "kiss on the mouth" between Jesus and Mary in the Gospel of Philip as evidence for a marriage-type relationship misses the point: From the entirety of the book it is clear that the author of Philip "disdains phsyical sex as beastly, literally comparing it to animals." The kiss is rather more like a handshake, or as Miesel and Olson note  a gnostic symbol of spiritual nourishment. They note that in another Gnostic document, The Second Apocalypse of James, Jesus kisses James on the mouth.
- Curiously, conspiracy theorists Picknett and Price, whom Brown made some use of, consider the whole "Priory of Sion" setup to be a fraud  and go into great detail about how the fraud was perpetrated (with even more by Bernstein later in the book). Brown appears to have been selective even in what he culled from the conspiracy theorists.
- Denise Budd, whose doctoral dissertation on da Vinci earned her a Ph. D. from Columbia University, provides a sober counter to Picknett's claims (such as that no one knows why there are two versions of Virgin on the Rocks -- as I show in the CRJ article, it was requested by a second party) in the prior essay.
She notes more errors by Brown: He has mixed up John the Baptist and Jesus in the painting; Leonardo, despite Brown, would have been given specific working guidelines, not free rein; the commission for the painting was not for "nuns" but for a confraternity, which was only males (I missed this one); and the only problems were legal ones surrounding how long it took for him to finish (as I note in the CRJ article). She notes as well against Brown's point over the absence of a chalice in The Last Supper that Christ's left hand is touching a cup of wine. [227-8]
- Of most value (and fun) to me was the chapter by Shugarts listing "plot holes" and "intriguing details" in TDC. In addition to some of the errors I have cited above, Shugarts notes:
- Silas' gun is a 13 shot model (Heckler and Koch USP 40), but he only fires one shot that is narrated before the gun is empty. He had killed two other men the same night; Shugarts wonders if his poor albino eyesight made it so that it took 12 shots to kill the other two men.
- The gunshot injury of the sort to the curator's stomach has a mortality rate of less than 5 percent and would take hours to kill someone, not just the few minutes Brown's plot requires.
- Shugarts lists several places where Brown misreports Parisian geography.
- Shugarts called the office of the architect who designed the Pyramid, which said that there were actually 698 pieces of glass, not 666 (also contrary to the total above, oddly), and that despite Brown, Mitterand had no say in the matter; Brown is uncritically following a rumor started by a French newspaper in the 1980s.
- The "drop down" security gates Brown envisages in the Louvre are not really used by any museum, but come from movies. The Louvre does have real security cameras, contrary to Brown.
- Contrary to Brown, Leonardo did not have an "enormous output" but "had trouble finishing works and they would drag on for long periods."
- Brown's portrayal of the GPS tracking device placed on Langdon is fantastic: The unit would have to be much larger to work with satellites, and both this and smaller versions that do not use satellites would have to have antennas of at least two inches; and the smallest of these is still "ten times the size of the so-called GPS dot that Sophie describes."
- Tarot cards do not have only 22 cards per deck; they usually have 78. Brown is confusing a "suit" of cards for a specific classification (Major Arcana).
- The "Divine Proportion" applied to bees is an error; the population of hives "changes throughout the season" and "seasons change throughout the world," so there is no way all beehives could have this ratio at once. If you make the division Brown describes, the ratio will be more like 50 to 1 on average -- not 1.618 to 1; not even close. I have confirmed this by speaking directly to beekeepers who say that a hive is usually at least 95% female; one even said that a hive with the proportions Brown describes would be dead within a few days, since females do all the real hive work.
Perhaps some species of bee comes close to having the proportions Brown describes at some time, but it is clearly not a bee universal.
- Paris was not the site of the world's first prime meridian. The first prime meridian was established by Hipparchus of Rhodes in the 2nd century BC. Paris did have a prime meridian but it was only one of eleven that existed together, and only 8 percent of the world used Paris' version (72 percent followed the one in Greenwich).
- Shugarts confirms a point I made in CRJ: The Mona Lisa was not called by that name by Leonardo, nor that in his lifetime. Brown's "Amon L'isa" anagram is therefore a fraud. Brown gets the size of Madonna of the Rocks wrong; it is 6' 6", not 5', and so heavy that Sophie "would have to be unbelievably strong to pull it off the wall and set it down without wrecking it."
- The SmartCar may get 19 km (a reader said a range of 17-24), to the liter, but not 100 (!) as Brown claims.
- Contrary to Brown, Architectural Digest has never said a word about Opus Dei's HQ building. So much for all descriptions of architecture in the book being "fact".
- Contrary to Brown, there is no 10th knight "missing" in the Temple Church in England. There are only nine carved knights.
- Kings College does not have the sort of sophisticated search capabilities Brown describes; all they have are desktop Macs.
- Pope did not preside over Newton's funeral. He did write an epitaph as part of an effort by a "number of people" some four years later.
A new entrant is Bart Ehrman's Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, which has the same stuff as Bock and Witherington, and which I do not recommend because it was not necessary.
- I appreciate their many comments about American historical illiteracy , to the point that most college seniors had no idea what Valley Forge was, or even what basic principles of the Constitution were. Little wonder, then, that people can't tell fact from fiction in Brown's work. I can also appreciate their observation that people are so self-absorbed that they don't even care that they are historically illiterate .
- Brown often refers to the "Vatican" as though it were synonymous with the Catholic Church. He puts another mistake in Teabing's mouth as he refers to Constantine creating a "new Vatican power base." The Vatican as such did not exist until the 14th century as the Pope's residence; in Constantine's time it was still a "swampy marsh." 
- Brown has no idea what it really means that Opus Dei is a "personal prelature". He makes it out to mean that it is a church unto itself (it isn't) and a personal army of the Pope. "Personal prelature" only means that it is an institution with jurisdiction applying to persons rather than a territory. Persons in such groups are still subject to the authority of local bishops (for Baptists, it is like Baptist campus ministries with members who are still part of a local church, roughly speaking).
- Brown is under suspicion of plagiarizing the earlier work of author Lewis Perdue. See details here for the claimant and here for more details on how and why Perdue is suing Brown. A most interesting point is how they share yet another error: In 1983, I made a historical error in The Da Vinci Legacy. I wrote that a work by Leonardo, The Codex Leicester, had been written on parchment. It was actually written on linen paper. According to John Olsson, head of the Forensic Linguistics Institute in the U.K., the only two places where this mistake appears is in my book, The Da Vinci Legacy and Dan Brown's book, The Da Vinci Code. "[T]he courts have regarded the existence of common errors in two similar works as the strongest evidence of copying as a factual matter, sometimes creating at least a prima facie case of copying." From Nimmer on Copyright, 13.03[C], page 13-76
- Their treament of the Grail material, the Templars, and the Priory of Sion stands as unqiue among books in this set and makes the book worth purchase by itself. Contrary to Brown, there was nothing unique about the form of the cross they used; they were not a "law unto themselves" but were answerable to the papacy; most of their members were illiterate (and therefore incapable of identifying any of the documents Brown has them unearthing); they were not "master stonemasons" (this Brown picks up from The Templar Revelation, not from serious historians); they were not unique in building round churches and few of the churches they had were circular to begin with.
The statues of the London Temple are not Templars but admirers of the Templars. Pope Clement V did not burn any Templars; it was all King Philip's idea, and Clement could not have had their ashes tossed in the Tiber River (in Rome) even if he had burned them, because the Popes resided in Avignon (France) at the time; either the Tiber was diverted hundreds of miles, or Clement had a good throwing arm.
Sigificantly Olson and Miesel note that even some of Brown's own sources (like Holy Blood, Holy Grail) get this history right, and he thus must have chosen to ignore what they said.
- Brown also does not know the difference between a nave and a choir in church architecture .
- Many of the references by Teabing to Priory of Sion documents are nothing but "typescripts with covers." 
- Brown's police cryptographer Sophie, a native Parisian, errs in claiming that Paris was founded by the Merovingians. It was originally a Gaulish village called Lutetia Parisorum that the Romans expanded. 
- Brown calls Leonardo a "flamboyant homosexual". In fact Leonardo appears to have been celibate and the only hint of sexual activity on his part was a charge (quickly dropped) of sodomy. Far from being "flamboyant," he was very private.
- There is no evidence that he was a "nature worshipper" as Brown claims; he did many sketches of nature, but none of them had religious elements or hints. Brown depicts Leonardo as being into the "darker arts"; in fact Leonardo was "severely critical" of the occult and pseudo-sciences (Abanes notes that one of the quotes Brown uses, allegedly as Leonardo criticizing the superstition of religion, was made actually in reference to the occult) and only gave some respect to alchemy where it came closer to being chemistry.
- He did not, contrary to Brown, believe he could turn lead into gold (he would have scoffed at such an idea) or create a life-sustaining potion. He did not design torture devices as Brown says, though he did design some weapons of war (which by the way, runs against Brown's depiction of him as a peace-lover and nature worshipper).
- The idenity of the Mona Lisa as the wife of a local merchant (as I note in the CRJ article) is said to be confirmed now by notes from Leonardo's assistant Caprotti. The youthful and feminine appearance of John in The Last Supper is confirmed by Leonardo's own painting of John the Baptist, in which that John is depicted as an effeminate young man with flowing hair and delicate hands.
I noted here earlier a note from Abanes about the claim that some "computer study" revealed points of correspondence between Leonardo and the Mona Lisa. I replied that Abanes found no evidence of such a study anywhere, and that any finding of correspondence seemed unlikely, since the only depiction of Leonardo we have is a self-portrait drawn when he was an old man -- with a full beard. A reader has since pointed me to a story about a computer graphics specialist, Lillian Schwartz, who created a "morphing" picture of the two, which seems to be what Brown had in mind.
Based on the non-resemblance of most of the two faces (and especially that the hair on the Mona Lisa, and the beard and eyebrows on da Vinci, cover so much detail of the faces), I find the whole thing rather contrived.
An art critic here calls Schwartz's idea "silly".
"Punkish" now adds this note about the claim of "Shekinah" in Ch. 74, and some more miscellaneous notes:
This is found in Starbird p165 and her source is Raphael Patai, the Hebrew Goddess, Hoboken NJ: KTAV publishing house 1967. Amazon gives ISBN: 0814322719 and Wayne State University Press as a publisher. (One website calls him a "leading anthropologist, Jewish folklorist and biblical scholar.") Bear & Company basically sells occult literature.
Interestingly on p54 Starbird correctly states the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1940s and 50s. Brown is not reporting his own sources properly.
Starbird cites the Gospel of Philip bit about Jesus kissing Mary Mag on the mouth without discussion on p53.
The book is presented in a popular style, not a scholarly one. She writes "I have included footnotes when necessary, but basically I have told the story in a form that can be easily received and digested." (xxiv) We recommend readers go for a doctor's check-up for food poisoning, as one of her sources is Barbara Walker's Women's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects!
The sexual rite hieros gamos described in Brown gets a lot of mentions here also (though without Brown's descriptions) and words like "anointing" and certain well-known bible verses get sexual reinterpretations (I won't go into it) and although not cited, Walker also gives these interpretations.
Also got Holy Blood, Holy Grail. (frequently used by Starbird) A scholar called Marina Warner (a historian) called this work "a heap of hooey."
It tells us Leigh received a PhD, though not in what subject. He's primarily a short-story writer & novelist.
Baigent has also been a professional photographer.
Templar Revelation by Picknett & Prince, sources include: Baigent and Leigh (what a surprise!) and Margaret Starbird... so Brown's sources are not independant.
Starbird's Goddess in the Gospels. This is her personal journey (not a historical work, contra Brown's historian), describing how she came to believe in the Holy Grail theory. Baigent appears in the bibliography.
Some extra links from a reader:
The author has a Ph. D. in history.
1) Crash Goes The Da Vinci Code Dr. Ron Rhodes http://www.leaderu.com/theology/crashdavincicode.html
2) Was Jesus Married? Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D. http://www.leaderu.com/theology/wasjesusmarried.html
3) The above two articles plus an article by Ben Witherington III titled 'Mary, Mary, Extraordinary' and more articles (and even lectures)! are all linked to from this page http://www.leaderu.com/focus/davincicode.htm
4) Catholic Answers Special Report Cracking The Da Vinci Code http://www.catholic.com/library/cracking_da_vinci_code.asp
5) and finally, a lecture by Mike Licona that refutes the 5 major claims of The Da Vinci Code is available here http://www.risenjesus.com/articles/index.asp?pagea=mike&pagea2=website
The Movie Verison
The main issue I wanted to look at was, "Is there anything new in the movie that is not in the book?" My suspicion was that most of the "fact" claims (as found in Ch. 55 of the book) would be left out, narrowed down to just what was absolutely essential to the plot, because Teabing's long speech just wasn't the stuff of an action thriller. That turned out to be right; the lecture was still there, much shorter (I didn't hear my favorite factoids about Mithra, for example), and spiced with tech wizardry and historical flashbacks.
And there's an even bigger surprise...
Tom Hanks (Langdon) actually comes out arguing the other side now and then.
It's most apparent during the lecture. Teabing says that the Council of Nicea decided on Jesus' "immortality" (not "divinity," oddly, but it's still wrong!); but then Langdon shoots back that it wasn't that way at all (and Teabing dismisses his reply as "semantics" in action).
Later it's Langdon who says a truer version first, stating that 50,000 women were killed by the church in witch hunts; Teabing shoots back, "some say millions" (true, but "some" are not professional historians).
Langdon expresses doubts about who the real instigators were in Constantine's time: pagans or Christians. He rolls his eyes and has an "aw, come on" look while Teabing waxes eloquent about hidden meanings in The Last Supper.
What's going on here?
I can only guess, but I have the idea that one of two things happened. Either the movie's producers decided they could try and avoid controversy by giving both sides "equal time" now and then, or....
....more likely, given what else we see, it's a case of Ron Howard trying to make peace. When Teabing and Langdon start shouting, Sophie dons referee stripes and puts a stop to it with a sermonette about how people have so often killed each other over these things, so "let's not argue." And nowhere is this peacemaker posture made more clear than the final discussion between Sophie and Langdon, in which Langdon suggests that "maybe human is divine" and who knows...Sophie could have healed him of his claustrophobia, and maybe she could also turn water into wine if she tried. (She dips her foot in some after that, and of course, does not; or maybe she was trying to walk on water??)
Langdon indicates that it is belief that matters and suggests that it would not be good for Sophie to reveal the truth because it is better to preserve faith than to destroy it (which is interesing as a counter to Teabing, who is very angry over alleged historical injustices). He professes to have been a Catholic, and as a child was trapped in a well and prayed to Jesus, whom he seems to think answered his prayer.
Perhaps Ron Howard figured he'd throw the Christian community some bones. Or perhaps they tried to correct some of the errors to avoid more controversy. Or maybe all of the above, with the bottom line held firmly in vuew.
It's not just the lecture scene, either; at the beginning, there is what I may be imagining as a subtle "retort" to Brown's use of the Mona Lisa: Those factoids from Brown about the painting are never used, other than a brief hint about the left side of the woman being larger as a sign of the feminine, but tight focus is put on a little sign that gives the Mona Lisa's original French name, and spells the later name properly, Monna Lisa -- am I imagining it, or could this be their way of saying, "No, we'll skip all that stuff about it being Leonardo in drag and about it being an anagram of Egyptian gods"?
And some of the minor errors are preserved untouched. Paris is still wrongly the site of the first Prime Meridian. Pope still erroneously presided at Newton's funeral (though that is essential to the plot, after all). At the end, we get to see a library of documents hidden under Roslyn chapel, with dates to the first century, preserved by the Priory of Sion (which is said to be real), but nothing is said of what is in them.
Opus Dei isn't seen in quite so bad a light; Silas and his friends are part of a smaller rebel core that the Vatican would excommunicate if it got wind of them. (There is a rather excessive focus on Silas' self-flagellation at the beginning; perhaps they figured some buttocks would ensure a more tantalizing rating.)
But the core message, and what it seems Howard thought was, "let's not fight, huh, because it doesn't really matter, does it?"
Mmm, well, yes, it does. If this WAS a bone thrown our way, we're not touching it.
If I am right here Howard and the crew behind this may think they were offering us a compromise. But I'm sorry -- there is no compromise with truth. At the very beginning there are shades of the "blind man and the elephant" routine as Langdon fools students into misidentifying symbols by only tightly focussing on small parts of pictures they are in.
But the message refutes itself. Langdon corrects the errors by pulling back on the perspective so it is clear what the symbol really means. And so it has been done with history.
But what else? Teabing reads from the Gospel of Philip and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and about Jesus kissing Mary, but is interrupted by Sophie before he can say the word "mouth" for the spot where the kiss is given. (That word isn't in the fragmentary text.)
Teabing says Mary wrote her gospel; Langdon says, "maybe" she did, with a tone of serious doubt. (In reality, there is no doubt at all; and of course they still don't seem to know that the Gnostic authors would have not been on their side, rejecting any idea that Jesus and Mary had sex, much less children.)
Teabing remains uncorrected, though, when he makes the statement that Philip was rejected at Nicea. (It wasn't even discussed; Nicea was not about the canon.)
Technical notes....the film was very dark, and the word "corny" kept popping into my head. This may be because cryptography just doesn't make for good cinema. There is a valiant and sometimes successful attempt to spice things up with historical flashbacks (eg, into the Crusader era), and rather amusingly, Teabing's lecture now features PowerPoint.
I also think people who did not read the book will find it hard to follow, and the one person I metr who saw the movie but did not read the book agrees. There are other plot changes as well, but I will stick to issues apologists care about where that is concerned.
In sum....it can be said that some effort was made to make things more palatble to those who pointed out the book's errors. I can't be sure of the reason, but I can be sure that it was an effort in vain. Errors remains errors. On the other hand, perhaps we can suppose that the apologetic effort to correct these errors in the book had some effect on the decisions made about the movie.
Other Film Material
It has been reported that the film bombed at the Cannes film festival (see here, with our thanks to a reader) which is interesting but probably not very significant in terms of what popular audiences will think of it.
Recommended links by readers:
More links about critics panning the movie: