by Hank Hanegraaff
WHEN MEL GIBSON produced The Passion of the Christ—a movie that substantially follows the contours of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ death—he became the immediate subject of controversy. Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, called The Passion “a repulsive, masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film” that is “without any doubt an anti-Semitic movie.”1 Maureen Dowd, writing in The New York Times, accused Gibson of “courting bigotry in the name of sanctity.”2 And Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame characterized Gibson as “a real nut case” whose ulterior motive was making money.3
Conversely, when Dan Brown released The Da Vinci Code4—a novel that characterizes the New Testament Gospels as “fabrications” and the deity of Christ as a fable—he was immediately lauded as a brilliant historian. Library Journal characterized his work as “a compelling blend of history and page-turning suspense,” a “masterpiece” that “should be mandatory reading.” 5 Publisher’s Weekly called it “an exhaustively researched page-turner about secret religious societies, ancient cover-ups and savage vengeance.”6 And best-selling author Nelson DeMille christened The Da Vinci Code “pure genius.”7
Why is The Passion excoriated and The Da Vinci Code extolled? Why are Gibson’s motives denounced and Brown’s dignified? Why is Christ’s passion referred to as a “repulsive, masochistic fantasy” and his supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene touted as a researched material fact? The answer may surprise you. It is not just that in our increasingly secularist culture it has become politically correct to cast aspersions on Christ and the church he founded. It is because of a great reversal of values. Fiction—such as the notion that Christianity was concocted to subjugate women—is being cleverly peddled as fact, while fact—such as the deity of Christ—is being capriciously passed off as fiction.
Nearly all of Brown’s assertions in The Da Vinci Code are based on several statements he presents on page 1 under the heading of “FACT”—before the novel even begins. Most notable among these “facts” is the following:
The Priory of Sion—a European secret society founded in 1099—is a real organization. In 1975 Paris’s Bibliothčque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Leonardo da Vinci.
At first blush, this may seem rather harmless. But Brown uses this “fact” (which in reality is completely untrue) to cast aspersions on Jesus Christ, the historicity of the Gospels, and the uniqueness of Christianity. Brown depicts the Priory of Sion as a secret society bent on covering up the scandal of Christ’s marriage to Mary Magdalene—who would have been the true leader of the church if she had not unceremoniously crashed into an apostolic glass ceiling erected by a patriarchal church. As we will see, much of what Brown trumpets as truth is based on a fabrication concocted by an anti-Semite with a criminal record. Yet Brown says he is so confident in the reliability of his claims that were he to write a nonfiction piece on the same theme, he would not change a thing.8
The fact that The Da Vinci Code is false does not, of course, prove that Christianity is true. Thus, this book is divided into two sections. The first is a fast-paced analysis of Brown’s “facts.” To thoroughly examine the question of the historical authenticity of the claims made in The Da Vinci Code, I called on an expert witness — my good friend Dr. Paul Maier. As a highly regarded professor of ancient history and an award-winning author, Dr. Maier is in a unique position to unmask the deceptions of The Da Vinci Code. His rapier-sharp wit and his colorful style not only make Part 1 an engaging read but also highlight the disdain we both share for historical revisionism. The second section is an apologetic for what we know to be the truth. Here I provide a positive defense of the faith—namely, that the Bible is divine rather than human in origin, that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, and that amid the religions of the ancient world, Christianity is demonstrably unique. Let me be clear: no one should feel that his faith has been undermined by the fantasies and lies presented under the guise of truth in this novel.
Finally, a word about my passion for this project. During one of my early morning treks to Starbucks, a young woman pulled me aside and, fighting tears, asked me to reassure her that the Christian faith was valid. She, along with a group of her friends, had read The Da Vinci Code and was seriously shaken by its assertions. That same morning Ron Beers, Senior Vice President at Tyndale House Publishers, called to tell me about an avalanche of inquiries his office had received regarding The Da Vinci Code—and to urge me to provide a response. Further solidifying my resolve to debunk this novel and defend the faith was my final conversation with my friend Bob Passantino. In his view this project was necessary not only because The Da Vinci Code is a runaway bestseller (as of this writing the book has sold more than 6 million copies, and film director Ron Howard is working in collaboration with Columbia Pictures to turn it into a major movie) but because the novel is on the vanguard of a growing movement seeking to reconstruct Christ, reinvent Christianity, and reject the canon of Scripture.
Bob not only encouraged me to write a response to Brown’s book but also exhorted me to redouble my efforts to defend the faith. One hour later, a massive heart attack ushered Bob into the very presence of the historical Christ this book is designed to defend. His death is a sober reminder that “soon this life will be past— and only what’s done for Christ will last.” Thus, The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction? is dedicated to his memory.