No Gospel in "Da Vinci Code" Claims, Scholars Say

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic Channel
Updated May 17, 2006
The secrets in The Da Vinci Code—Dan Brown's hugely
successful best-seller, to be released as a Tom Hanks movie Friday—are hardly
secret any more: Mary Magdalene was really the wife of Jesus, the novel
says. The two had a child and their descendants walk among us today, the
story goes.

According to Brown, the truth was suppressed by the Catholic Church but handed down through centuries by a secret society that included Leonardo da Vinci, who hid clues about the union in his paintings.

While the novel has spawned a whole cottage industry of museum tours and books exploring the credibility of this claim, Brown himself has stayed largely out of the spotlight.

But in a 2004 National Geographic Channel documentary, Unlocking Da Vinci's Code: The Full Story, the reclusive author talks about his controversial theory.

"I began as a skeptic," Brown said. "As I started researching The 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."

Most scholars interviewed in the documentary and elsewhere, however, say that Brown is relying on discredited sources and flimsy connections to make his bloodline theory.

Still, most experts concede that the Church suppressed some early Christian writings that may have differed from the version of events described in the Bible. They also contend that Mary Magdalene, while not married to Jesus Christ, was probably a lot closer to Jesus than most people imagine.

Gospel of Mary

Mary Magdalene is one of the most elusive figures in Christianity. She has been depicted as a prostitute, though there is no evidence in the Bible for that.

Instead, she was an intimate disciple of Jesus. All four gospels in the New Testament say she was present at both the Crucifixion of Jesus and the empty tomb on the morning of the Resurrection.

But neither the Bible nor any other historical text identifies Mary as the wife of Jesus. A married woman at the time would have gone by her husband's name, but Mary was referred to as being from the town of Magdala.

"This notion that she's talked about as being from this place indicates that she was independent," said Karen King, a history professor at Harvard Divinity School and a leading authority on Mary Magdalene.

While it would have been unusual for a Jewish man like Jesus Christ to not be married, it was not unheard of.

"The really odd thing would be to have Mary married to Jesus and have them next to each other in the same text [in the Bible] and for it not to be mentioned," King said. "That for me is quite conclusive that they were not married."

One of Brown's sources is a controversial text known as the Gospel of Mary. It is believed to have been written in the second century by a Christian sect and is generally accepted as authentic, even by the Church. However, the text's veracity and importance are very much up for debate.

Although the Gospel of Mary does not show any evidence of Jesus Christ and Mary being married, it suggests their relationship was stronger than it is described in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Mary, Jesus Christ reveals deep theological insights to Mary, who appears to understand his teachings better than his male disciples do.

Power Struggle

Brown's assertion that the divinity of Jesus Christ was an invention by the Roman emperor Constantine in A.D. 325 is widely dismissed by scholars—Christ's divinity had already been described in the New Testament.

But many scholars agree that a power struggle raged within the early Christian church, especially over the role of women. Beginning in the fifth century, Catholic leaders began referring to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, perhaps because they wanted to undermine women's ability to use Mary Magdalene's example as an argument for greater power.

"Brown tells people something they didn't know, that the early history of Christianity was much more complicated than anybody thought," said Joseph Kelly, a professor of religious studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.

The theory proposed in Brown's novel is that Mary Magdalene and her daughter, Sara, were whisked away to France after Christ's death. There, the descendants of Jesus and Mary intermarried with French kings, creating the so-called Merovingian dynasty. But there is no evidence of such a child or bloodline in any verifiable documents.

The Last Supper

Brown, however, believes that a secret society known as the Priory of Sion was established to protect the descendants of this royal bloodline.

In the early 1960s a set of documents was discovered at a French library that appeared to list the members of this secret society. The names included famous scientists and artists like Isaac Newton and Leonardo da Vinci.

At the heart of Brown's novel is the suggestion that da Vinci hid clues about the secret of Jesus and Mary within one of his masterpieces, "The Last Supper."

Conspicuously missing from da Vinci's painting is the cup, also known as the Holy Grail, from which Jesus Christ is believed to have drunk on the night before his execution.

But Brown says the Holy Grail is included in the painting. Only it's not a cup but a person: Christ's supposed wife, Mary Magdalene. He says the person seated at the right of Jesus is not the apostle John but Mary Magdalene.

"If you look at that painting, it's clearly a woman," Brown says in the documentary.

Art historians and religious scholars, however, scoff at the idea. Although the person to the right of Christ appears effeminate—with long flowing hair and no beard—they say that's how John is usually depicted in most works of art.

In fact, there is no evidence that da Vinci was a member of the Priory of Sion or that such a society even existed. The secret files found at the French library were later deemed to be a hoax, scholars say.

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