Mona Lisa

Will the Real Leonardo

Please Stand Up?

-an article for the June 2006 Deep Cove Crier


The Da Vinci Code Movie bus ads boldly state: “Seek the Truth”.  I would agree, as only the Truth can set us free.  Dan Brown has his ‘religion expert’ Leigh Teabing claim that, "almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false."  At the start of the ‘Da Vinci Code’ book, Dan Brown pledges, "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." These remarkable allegations are at the heart of many scholars’ critique of an otherwise interesting page-turner.   Historical accuracy is not the strong suit of the Da Vinci Code fad.


The Right Reverend Dr. Tom Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham and former Oxford scholar, said at Seattle Pacific University that “it is a well-known fact of today’s culture that some people can’t tell fact from fiction.” One third of Canadians today, since reading the Da Vinci Code, actually believe that descendants of Jesus are walking the earth today.  Dan Brown claims in his Da Vinci Code book that there really was a Priory of Sion to which Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Victor Hugo belonged.  Bishop Wright comments that this claim ‘can be shown very easily to be false.’  It is now becoming well-known that the Priory of Sion documents that Dan Brown cites as evidence were ‘forgeries cooked up by three zany Frenchmen in the 1950s.’  In fact, says Bishop Wright, “they cheerfully confessed to this in a devastating television program shown on British television....”  As well, CBS's "60 Minutes" skillfully outed "The Priory of Sion" as a convoluted hoax, created by two Frenchmen, Pierre Plantard and Philippe de Cherisey, in 1956. "


Historical inaccuracies are found in virtually every chapter of the Da Vinci Code.  As Bishop Wright notes, “(Dan) Brown...includes the Dead Sea Scrolls as documents about Jesus. They are nothing of the sort.  Neither Jesus nor early Christianity is mentioned anywhere in the scrolls.”  Most significantly “there is not the slightest sign, in Nag Hammadi (the gnostic Egyptian scrolls) any more than the Dead Sea Scrolls, of Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene and having a child by her.”  Giving a holy kiss in the early church was not a sign of a secret marriage, but a mark of being fellow Christians.  How many people, for example, would assume that modern Italians are married to everyone that they kiss on the cheeks?


Thanks to Dan Brown, millions of people are scrutinizing Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Last Supper paintings for evidence of secret mother-goddess worship.  Yet Mona Lisa, rather than being an androgynous self-portrait and a secret name for Egyptian fertility goddesses, was actually Madonna Lisa, married to Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo in March 5th 1495.  Mona Lisa was a real life Florentine mother of five children, two of which became nuns. 


And what about the long-haired, rather effeminate, beardless person in the Last Supper painting? Leonardo in his own notebooks clearly stated that the person closest to Jesus in the Last Supper painting was John the beloved disciple, not Mary Magdalene as an alleged secret mother-goddess and wife. Credible art historians tell us that John the beloved, as the youngest of the twelve disciples, was always painted by medieval painters as looking young, beardless, and somewhat effeminate from 21st-century standards.  All one needs to debunk Dan Brown’s Last Supper allegations is to be able to count up to thirteen.  As everyone knows that there were 12 disciples plus Jesus present at the Last Supper, the supposed addition of Mary Magdalene to the Last Supper painting would have required fourteen people in the painting.  Count it for yourself: you will only find thirteen!

The Last Supper

Did Leonardo's journals include secret codes and messages, as the Da Vinci Code movie advertisements are telling us?  Dr. Ward Gasque explains that Leonardo's journals were written in common Italian, but from right to left instead of the opposite method employed today. This makes perfect sense as Leonardo was left handed. Leonardo’s journals are still on display today and can be read easily with the help of a bathroom mirror, but no secret codes or messages have ever been uncovered in his journals.


Dr. Stephen Andrews comments: “Why is it not obvious that The Da Vinci Code is meant for entertainment, not education?  It has about as much historical credibility as Monty Python's The Life of Brian.” Dr. Andrews elaborates that contrary to Dan Brown’s claims, “the Roman Catholic lay movement, Opus Dei, does not have monks; Westminster Abbey does not have spires; (and) the Christian habit of worshipping on Sundays was not a Constantinian accommodation to paganism, but predates Constantine by 200 years...”


Dan Brown claims that the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century invented the concept of Jesus being God in order to consolidate his hold on the Roman Empire: “My dear”, Teabing declared, “Until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet...” “Not the Son of God?” (said Sophie).  “Right”, Teabing said.   In fact, as Bishop Tom Wright notes, “the divinity of Jesus was already firmly established by Paul within 20 to 30 years of Jesus’ death.”  


This claim to Jesus’ deity was not a 4th century ‘Johnny-come-lately’ invention.  In 110AD, Ignatius of Antioch, Syria refers to Christ as God, saying "God Himself was manifested in human form".  In 150 AD, Clement of Alexandria, Egypt said "It is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God"  In 180 AD, Irenaeus of Lyon, France said of Jesus that: "He is God, for the name Emmanuel indicates this".  In 235 AD, Novatian of Rome, speaking of Jesus, said"...He is not only man, but God also..."


Dan BrownDa Vinci Code book  

Dan Brown rejects the trustworthiness of the New Testament by asserting in the Da Vinci Code (p. 256) that "history is always written by the winners.” But anyone who knows anything about Christian history knows that the early Christians were anything but "winners." The early Christians were persecuted, outlawed and even murdered.  Some Christians were thrown into the arena to be eaten by lions.  Other were tied up on poles, drenched with fuel, and lit as streetlamps at night.


“We may safely conclude”, says Bishop Wright, “that the Da Vinci Code is fiction not just in its characters and plot but in most of its other details as well.”  I encourage Christians in particular not to be defensive about the Da Vinci Code movie/book, but rather, as 1 Peter 3:15 puts it, to always be ready to answer those who ask us for the reason for the hope within us, always with gentleness and respect.  I strongly commend Lee Strobel’s brilliant video-based website on the Da Vinci Code and his book “Exploring the Da Vinci Code” which can be purchased online.  Let’s look forward to discussing both the claims of the Da Vinci Code and of Jesus Christ with our neighbours, co-workers, and family during this ‘spiritual tsunami’ season.

The Reverend Ed Hird

Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver

Anglican Coalition in Canada

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