By David Webb


Clearly, one of the most popular novels of our time is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.  Well over forty million copies have sold worldwide, and Sony Pictures is teaming up with Ron Howard to produce a movie based on the story that is scheduled to be released in May, 2006.  The novel has been the subject of numerous news magazine programs such as 20/20, Primetime and Dateline, and has drawn criticism from many circles, including Bible believing Christians around the world.

Why is this book drawing so much media attention, and why should Christians be concerned about a fictional novel?  The Da Vinci Code has ignited what was once a smoldering controversy between scholars and turned it into a full-blown firestorm. 

The fictional story begins with the murder of the Louvre’s curator in Paris.  But this curator isn’t just interested in art; he’s also the Grand Master of a secret society called the Priory of Sion. The Priory guards a secret that, if revealed, would discredit biblical Christianity.  Before dying, the curator attempts to pass on the secret to his granddaughter Sophie, a cryptographer, and Harvard professor Robert Langdon, by leaving a number of clues that he hopes will guide them to the truth.

So what’s the secret?  The location and identity of the fabled Holy Grail – the cup Jesus used when he instituted the Lord’s Supper during his final Passover.  For centuries, treasure hunters and archeologists have sought to find the so-called Holy Grail, believing it not only would be the archeological find of the millennium, but would convey special powers to its owner. 

However in Brown’s novel, the Grail is not the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.  The secret that the Priory of Sion has been guarding for the past two thousand years is the alleged fact that the Holy Grail is a person – Mary Magdalene, the wife of Jesus, who carried on the royal bloodline of Christ by giving birth to His child.  The Priory guards the secret location of Mary’s tomb and serves to protect the bloodline of Jesus that has continued to this day.

So, once again we ask, why should any Christian be concerned about a fictional novel with a completely ridiculous and absurd plot?  The reason is simply that vast numbers of people around the world actually believe The Da Vinci Code is based on documented fact which the Roman Catholic Church has kept hidden for centuries.  The first word one encounters in The Da Vinci Code, in bold uppercase letters, is the word “FACT,” followed by the claim, “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”  Countless numbers of readers who have no special knowledge of this controversy have actually assumed the statement to be true.  What many don’t realize is that the statement is not only false, but has been documented as false by both scholars and criminal investigators. 

The Da Vinci Code is written in such a way to make the theories about Jesus and the early church seem credible. The theories are presented in the novel by two fictional characters with impressive credentials – a member of Britain’s Royal Historical Society, and a noted Harvard professor.  When coming from the mouths of these two characters, the theories seem highly plausible.  But are they?  Is there any truth to the story that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered a child, and that the royal bloodline of Jesus continues today?

The Claim that the Four Gospels Were Embellished

The Da Vinci Code’s fictional historian, Leigh Teabing claims that the fourth century Emperor Constantine intentionally embellished the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Teabing alleges that other gospel accounts – notably the writings of second century Gnostics – were intentionally omitted from the scriptures by Constantine (AD 274-337).  In the novel, Teabing says, “Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike.”

It’s been said the best way to pass off a lie as truth is to mix in just enough truth to make the lie believable.  The truth is that Constantine did send a letter to Eusebius (AD 283-371) ordering the preparation of “fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures.”  However, nowhere in the letter does he command or even request that any of the Gospels be embellished in order to make Jesus appear more godlike. Even if he had, Constantine would have failed to accomplish his goal.  The teachings of the Gnostics and their perversions of the biblical account of the life and true nature of Jesus Christ were already being condemned in the writings of the apostles John and Paul.  And while some were willing to follow this new mystical heresy, faithful Christians were universally rejecting these teachings and would have never tolerated these writings replacing those of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Before the reign of Constantine, the church suffered tremendous persecution under the Emperor Diocletian (AD 245-313).  It’s unthinkable that the same Christians who had suffered through this persecution would cast aside these most cherished inspired writings of the apostles and accept in their place the heretical embellished Gnostic accounts of the life of Jesus.  We can also be sure that if Constantine had tried to convince the early church fathers to alter the inspired writings of the apostles with the Gnostic teachings about Jesus, we would have found some mention of this in the writings of Eusebius and others.  However, there is no mention whatsoever of an attempt by Constantine to embellish the inspired accounts of the life of Christ.

But aside from circumstantial evidence that disproves the embellishment theory, we have historical evidence.  Manuscript copies of the four gospels exist that were written more than a century before Constantine and the Council of Nicaea (AD 325).  While none of the copies are complete, there are nearly complete copies of both Luke and John in a codex dated between AD 175 and 225.   Another manuscript of the gospel of John that dates back to AD 130 – approximately 85 years after the original gospel of John was written. 

Why is this important?  There are several reasons.

First, we can compare these pre-Nicene manuscripts with those that followed the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 to see if any embellishment existed.  None did.

Second, pre-Nicene versions of John’s Gospel include some of the strongest declarations of Jesus’ deity on record (see John 1:1-3; 8:58; 10:30-33).  These are the most clear and most explicit declarations of Jesus’ deity.  These same declarations are found in manuscripts that pre-date Constantine by more than a hundred years.

Can We Trust the Gospels?

Although there’s no historical basis for the claim that Constantine embellished the New Testament Gospels to make Jesus appear more godlike, the question still remains as to whether the Gospels are reliable sources of information about Jesus.  According to Teabing, the novel’s fictional historian, “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.”  Is this true?  There are historical facts that clearly show the reliability and authenticity of the New Testament Gospels.

For example, each of these Gospels was written in the first century AD.  Although the writers of each Gospel account do not specifically identify themselves, we have reliable evidence from second century writers such as Papias (c. AD 125) and Irenaeus (c. AD 180) for attributing each Gospel to its traditional author.  If their testimony is true (and there is no valid reason for doubting their testimony), then Mark, the companion of Peter, wrote down the substance of Peter’s account of the life of Jesus.  And Luke, the companion of Paul, carefully researched the biography that bears his name.  Finally, Matthew and John, two of Jesus’ twelve disciples, wrote the books ascribed to them.  If this is correct, then the events recorded in these Gospels “are based on either direct or indirect eyewitness testimony.”

However, a question raised by many skeptics is, did the Gospel writers intend to accurately record the life and teachings of Jesus, or were they only interested in promoting their own “Christian” theological agendas?   Craig Blomberg, a New Testament scholar, observes that the prologue to Luke’s Gospel “reads very much like prefaces to other generally trusted historical and biographical works of antiquity.”  He further notes that since Matthew and Mark are similar to Luke in terms of genre, “it seems reasonable that Luke’s historical intent would closely mirror theirs.”  Finally, John tells us that he wrote his Gospel so that people might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they might have life in His name. (John 20:31)  While this statement obviously reveals a theological agenda, Blomberg points out that “if you’re going to be convinced enough to believe, the theology has to flow from accurate history.”

In addition to the fact that the Gospels were written in the first century and recognized as the account of the writer that bears its name, there is additional evidence that argues for the reliability and integrity of the four Gospels.  History and archaeology have corroborated the accounts of the Gospel writers.  Where these authors mention people, places, and events that can be checked against other ancient sources, they are consistently shown to be reliable.  

However, a question that is frequently asked today, in light of the discovery of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, is what about those Gospels that were omitted from the New Testament?  Specifically, why doesn’t the New Testament now include the Nag Hammadi documents discovered in Egypt at the end of World War II?

The Nag Hammadi Documents

Since their discovery in 1945, there’s been much interest in the Nag Hammadi texts.  What are these documents? When were they written, and by whom, and for what purpose?  According to Teabing, the historian in The Da Vinci Code, the Nag Hammadi texts represent “the earliest Christian records.”  He claims these “unaltered gospels,” tell the real story about Jesus and early Christianity, and that the New Testament Gospels are nothing more than a later, corrupted version of these more accurate records.

The main problem with Teabing’s theory is that it’s completely wrong.  The Nag Hammadi documents are not “the earliest Christian records” – a fact recognized by virtually every credible Biblical scholar.  Every book in the New Testament is earlier.  The New Testament documents were all written in the first century AD.  The dates for the Nag Hammadi texts range from the second to the third century AD.  In fact, most of these writings are more than just a few generations removed from the preaching and writings of the inspired apostles of Jesus Christ.  While they reflect the development of the Gnostic beliefs that date to the first century AD, they were written at least 100 to 200 years following the events recorded in the New Testament.

The main belief of Gnosticism is that salvation comes through secret knowledge.  As a result, the Gnostic Gospels, in contrast to the New Testament Gospels, place little or no value on the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gnostic belief made it a point to separate the human Jesus from the Christ – the Son of God.  Gnostics saw the human Jesus and the Christ as two separate and distinct beings.  They argued that it was not the Christ who suffered and died; it was merely the human Jesus.  The death of Jesus Christ was of little consequence to the Gnostics because in their view the death of Jesus was not intended to attain salvation for all mankind.  His death only freed His spirit from His body so that His spirit could achieve the highest level of knowledge.  To the Gnostic, what was more important was not the death of the man Jesus but the secret knowledge brought by Christ. According to the Gnostics, salvation comes through a correct understanding of this secret knowledge.

Clearly these doctrines are incompatible with the New Testament teaching about Christ and salvation (see: Romans 3:21-26; 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3-11; Titus 2:11-14).  Ironically, they’re also incompatible with Teabing’s view that the Nag Hammadi texts “speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms.”  The Nag Hammadi texts actually present Christ as a divine being, although quite differently from the Christ of the New Testament.

The Nag Hammadi texts are both of later origin than the New Testament writings of the apostles, and promote a doctrinal system of belief that is radically different from the teachings of the New Testament.  These are two of the main reasons why these Gnostic writings are not included along with the writings of the apostles.

The Formation of the New Testament Canon

In the early centuries of Christianity, many books were written about the teachings of Jesus and His apostles.  Most of these books never made it into the New Testament.  They include such titles as The Gospel of Philip, The Acts of John, and The Apocalypse of Peter.  How was the decision made as to what books would be included in the New Testament and which books would be rejected?  According to Teabing in The Da Vinci Code, “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by... Constantine the Great.”  However, that is simply not true.

The early church had definite criteria that had to be met before a book would be included in the New Testament. First, the book had to be ancient, one written close to the time of Jesus – in other words, a first century AD writing.   Second, it had to be written either by an apostle or by a close companion of an apostle.  Third, it had to be consistent with other accepted writings that formed the basis of faith.  And fourth, the writing had to be widely recognized and accepted by Christians from the first century on.  Books that didn’t meet these criteria were not included in the New Testament.

When were these decisions made, and by whom?  To the surprise of some, there was no ecumenical council in the early church that officially decreed that the twenty-seven books presently in our New Testament were the right ones.  The canon of the New Testament took shape gradually over time as early Christians read, accepted and circulated those writings that were recognized to be inspired by God.  The earliest collections of writings to circulate among Christians in the first half of the second century were the four Gospels and the letters of the apostle Paul.  It was not until Marcion published his heretical version of the New Testament in about AD 144 that leaders in the early church sought to define the canon of the New Testament more specifically.

Toward the end of the second century there was a growing consensus that the canon should include the four Gospels, Acts, the thirteen Pauline epistles, “epistles by other ‘apostolic men,’ and the Revelation of John.”  The Muratorian Canon, which dates toward the end of the second century, recognized every New Testament book except Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, and 3 John.  However, these writings were recognized by Irenaeus in the late second century and Origen in the early third century.  Therefore, while the earliest list of the books in our New Testament comes from Athanasius in AD 367, there was widespread agreement on most of these books (including the four Gospels) by the end of the second century.

Who Was Mary Magdalene?

Mary Magdalene, of course, is a major figure in The Da Vinci Code.  Let’s take a look at Mary, beginning by addressing the unfortunate misconception that she was a prostitute.  Where did this idea originate?  And why do so many people believe it?

According to the novel’s fictional historian, Leigh Teabing, the popular understanding of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute “is the legacy of a smear campaign... by the early Church.”  In Teabing’s view, “The Church needed to defame Mary... to cover up her dangerous secret – her role as the Holy Grail.”  Remember, in The Da Vinci Code, the Holy Grail is not the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper.  Instead it’s Mary Magdalene, who’s alleged to have been both Jesus’ wife and the one who carried His royal bloodline in their child.

How should we respond to this?  Did the early church really seek to slander Mary as a prostitute in order to cover up her intimate relationship with Jesus?  

The first recorded instance of Mary Magdalene being misidentified as a prostitute occurred in a sermon by Pope Gregory the Great in AD 591.  This was probably not a deliberate attempt to slander Mary’s character, but rather a misinterpretation of various passages in the Gospels, resulting in his incorrectly identifying Mary as a prostitute.

For instance, like some erroneously do today, Gregory may have identified the sinful woman in Luke 7, who anointed Jesus’ feet, with Mary of Bethany in John 12, who also anointed Jesus’ feet shortly before His death.  This would have been easy to do because, although there are differences, there are also many similarities between the two separate incidents.  If Gregory thought the sinful woman of Luke 7 was the Mary of John 12, he may then have mistakenly linked this woman with Mary Magdalene.  Interestingly, Luke mentions Mary Magdalene for the first time at the beginning of chapter 8, right after the story of Jesus’ anointing in Luke 7.  Since it is assumed by many that the unnamed woman in Luke 7 was guilty of some sexual sin, then it’s understandable how someone who thought this woman was also Mary Magdalene could conclude that she may have been a prostitute.

It’s most likely that Gregory was mistaken when he misidentified Mary as a prostitute.  But there is no evidence that this was part of a smear campaign by the early church to discredit Mary Magdalene in an effort to cover up some “secret.”

What do the earliest written sources reveal about the real Mary Magdalene?  According to The Da Vinci Code’s fictional historian, Teabing, Mary was the wife of Jesus, the mother of His child, and the one whom He intended to establish the church after His death.  In support of these theories, Teabing appeals to two of the Gnostic Gospels: The Gospel of Philip and The Gospel of Mary (referring to Mary Magdalene).  Let’s look first at The Gospel of Mary.

The section of The Gospel of Mary quoted in the novel presents an angry apostle Peter who can’t believe that the risen Christ has secretly revealed information to Mary that He didn’t reveal to His male disciples.  Levi (Matthew) rebukes Peter by saying, “If the Savior made her worthy, who are you... to reject her?  Surely the Savior knows her very well.  That is why he loved her more than us.”

So, what about this passage?  First, we need to understand that nowhere in The Gospel of Mary is it said that Mary was Jesus’ wife or the mother of His child.  Second, many scholars believe this text should probably be read symbolically from the Gnostic point of view.  Peter would be representative of the early Christian orthodox views about Jesus while Mary would represent a form of Gnosticism.  This Gospel is probably claiming that “Mary” (that is, the Gnostics) has received divine revelation, even though “Peter” (that is, the orthodox) find it impossible to accept.  Finally, even if this text should be read literally, there is no reason to think it’s historically accurate.  It was most likely written sometime in the late second century, about a hundred years after the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. So, contrary to what’s implied in the novel, it certainly wasn’t written by Mary Magdalene – or any of Jesus’ other original followers.

If we want reliable information about Mary, we need to turn to earliest and most reliable sources – the New Testament Gospels.  The Gospel accounts reveal that Mary was a follower of Jesus from the town of Magdala. After Jesus cast seven demons out of her, she (along with other women) helped support His ministry. (Luke 8:1-3) She witnessed Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and was the first to see the risen Christ. (Matthew 27:55-61; John 20:11-18)  Jesus even entrusted her with proclaiming His resurrection to His disciples. (John 20:17-18)  This is all the Gospels tell us about Mary.  She was obviously an important character in the story of Jesus, but there is absolutely nothing to suggest that she was His wife, or that He intended her to lead the church.

However, those who read The Da Vinci Code may still have questions about The Gospel of Philip.  There is no argument that the strongest textual evidence that Jesus was married comes from the Gnostic writing known as The Gospel of Philip.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that the character, Leigh Teabing, would appeal to this text.  The section of The Gospel of Philip quoted in the novel reads as follows: “And the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene.  Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth.  The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval.  They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’”

But notice that the first line says that Mary was the “companion” of Jesus, not His wife.  However, in the novel, Teabing argues that Jesus and Mary were married by stating, “As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.”  Although this sounds rather convincing, there are some fatal flaws in this theory.

The Gospel of Philip was originally written in Greek, not Aramaic. Therefore, what the term “companion” meant in Aramaic is entirely irrelevant.  Even in the Coptic translation of The Gospel of Philip found at Nag Hammadi, a Greek word (koinonos) lies behind the term translated “companion.”  Scholars agree that “koinonis” is not the typical term for “wife” in the Greek.  The term is most often used to refer to a “partner” in the business sense – an “associate.”  For example, the word “koinonis” is used by Luke to describe James and John as Peter’s business partners. (Luke 5:10)   The Hebrew writer uses the word “companion” in a slightly different sense, suggesting those Christians had been a “companion” with others who also suffered persecution. (Hebrews 10:32-33)  The common Greek word for “wife” is “gune,” and is the word used by Jesus Himself in the Parable of the Great Supper. (Luke 14:16-24)  Here Jesus was showing excuses that were made by some for not attending the feast – including one man who said, “I have married a wife (“gune”), and therefore I cannot come.” (Luke 14:20)

So contrary to the claim of Teabing, the statement that Mary was Jesus’ companion does not in any way whatsoever prove that she was His wife.

But what about the statement from The Gospel of Philip that says, “Christ loved her... and used to kiss her often on her mouth”?  Once again, there are several problems with this statement.

First, this portion of the manuscript is damaged.  Simply put, we don’t actually know where Jesus kissed Mary. There’s a hole in the manuscript at that place.  Some believe that she may have been kissed on her cheek or forehead since either term fits in the break.  

Second, even if the text said that Jesus kissed Mary on her mouth, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a romantic kiss between husband and wife.  Most scholars agree that Gnostic texts contain a lot of symbolism.  To read such texts literally, therefore, is to misread them.  

Finally, regardless of the author’s intention, this Gospel wasn’t written until the second half of the third century, over two hundred years after the time of Jesus.  So the reference to Jesus kissing Mary is almost certainly not historically reliable.

Therefore, not even the Gnostic Gospel of Philip offers sufficient evidence that Jesus was married.  

But what about the novel’s contention that it would be unlikely for Jesus to remain single?

The two most educated fictitious characters in The Da Vinci Code claim that an unmarried Jesus is highly improbable.  Historian Leigh Teabing says, “Jesus as a married man makes infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as a bachelor.”  Robert Langdon, the fictitious Harvard professor of Religious Symbology, concurs: “Jesus was a Jew, and the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned... If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible’s Gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood.”

Could this be true?

In his excellent book Breaking The Da Vinci Code, Darrell Bock argues that an unmarried Jesus is not at all improbable.  Of course, it’s certainly true that most Jewish men of Jesus’ day did marry.  And it’s also true that marriage was often viewed as a fundamental human obligation, especially in light of God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)  However, by the first century there were a number of exceptions to this general custom.

The first century Jewish writer, Philo of Alexandria, described the Essenes as those who “repudiate marriage… for no one of the Essenes ever marries a wife.”  Interestingly, the Essenes were often admired for their celebacy. Philo also wrote, “This now is the enviable system of life of these Essenes, so that not only private individuals but even mighty kings, admiring the men, venerate their sect, and increase... the honors which they confer on them.” Historical writings such as this clearly show that not all Jews of Jesus’ day considered marriage a requirement. And those who sought to remain unmarried for religious reasons were often admired rather than condemned.

The New Testament does not condemn those who choose to remain unmarried.  In fact, it praises those who choose to remain single to devote themselves to the work of the Lord.  In 1 Corinthians 7:25-38, the apostle Paul (who was single) wrote, “Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy.  I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress — that it is good for a man to remain as he is: Are you bound to a wife?  Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife?  Do not seek a wife.  But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned… But I want you to be without care.  He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord.  But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please his wife.  There is a difference between a wife and a virgin.  The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit.  But she who is married cares about the things of the world — how she may please her husband… But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes.  He does not sin; let them marry… So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.”  Furthermore, in Matthew 19:12, Jesus explains that some people “have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven” (NIV).  Notice His conclusion, “The one who can accept this should accept it.”  

Since there is absolutely no indication in Scripture that Jesus was married, it’s obvious that he remained single to fully devote Himself to the work of His heavenly Father.   Furthermore, since there was precedent in the first century for Jewish men to remain single for religious reasons, Jesus’ singleness would not have seemed out of place.  Contrary to the claims of The Da Vinci Code, it would have been completely acceptable for Jesus to be unmarried.

Did Jesus' Earliest Followers Proclaim His Deity?

We’ve examined The Da Vinci Code’s claim that Jesus was married and found that there is nothing to substantiate that claim.  Mark Roberts observed “that most proponents of the marriage of Jesus thesis have an agenda.  They are trying to strip Jesus of his uniqueness, and especially his deity.”  This is certainly true of The Da Vinci Code. Not only does the novel call into question Jesus’ deity by alleging that He was married, it also maintains that His earliest followers never actually believed He was divine.

According to the character, Teabing, the doctrine of Christ’s deity originally resulted from a vote at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.  He further asserts, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet... a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless.” 

Is there any truth to this statement?

By the time of the Council of Nicaea, the followers of Jesus had been proclaiming His deity for nearly three centuries.  Not only are the earliest written sources about the life of Jesus found in the New Testament, these first century documents repeatedly affirm the deity of Christ.   For instance, in his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul declared, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9; see also Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:5-11; Titus 2:13).  And John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word... and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14)

There are also claims to the deity of Jesus found in the writings of the pre-Nicene church fathers.  In the early second century, Ignatius of Antioch wrote of “our God, Jesus the Christ.”  Similar claims to the deity of Jesus can be found throughout these early writings. There is even non-Christian testimony from the second century that Christians believed in Christ’s divinity.  Pliny the Younger wrote to Emperor Trajan, around AD 112, that the early Christians “were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day... when they sang... a hymn to Christ, as to a god.”

Therefore, the claim that early Christians did not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ is blatantly false.  Christians believed in Christ’s deity long before the Council of Nicaea.  In fact, first and second century Christians were so convinced of His deity that they were willing to die rather than deny it.

What is the Priory of Sion

Finally, what about the Priory of Sion – the secret organization dating back to the days of the Crusades and the Knights Templar who were said to be entrusted with safeguarding the secrets about the Holy Grail?

Like the rest of the evidence presented in the novel, the Priory of Sion is also a creation of fiction. 

The story begins with Frenchman,
Pierre-Athanase-Marie Plantard (1920-2000), the son of a butler and a concierge, who was so much in love with the Monarchy that he invented for himself imaginary aristocratic and even Royal genealogies.  Among the many organizations and so-called societies Plantard formed on his own in an effort to gain respect and recognition was the Priory of Sion, legally incorporated on May 7, 1956 in Annemasse, France.  The reference to Sion was not to mount Zion in Jerusalem, but to mount Sion near Annemasse where Plantard hoped to purchase a home and turn it into a retreat center.  He promoted the Priory of Sion as intending to restore Medevil chilvary and create an order much like the Masons.  However, like all his other orders and societies, Plantard not only failed to attract members, but his problems were further compounded when he was arrested for abuse of minors, divorced by his wife, and when he spent a year in jail from 1956 to 1957.  During the 1960’s Plantard made money by offering his services as a psychic under the name of “Chyren the Seer.”  But by 1964, Plantard was ready to once again try his luck with his Priory of Sion – this time, however, he would promote his order by linking it to a story that eventually inspired The Da Vinci Code.  

Plantard had come across the story of the parish church of a small French village of less than one hundred inhabitants, were a hidden treasury had been supposedly discovered in 1897 by the local parish priest, Berenger Saunière (1852-1917).  There were those who claimed the treasury consisted of secret documents which enabled the parish priest to come become incredibly wealthy.

The story of Saunière has since been debunked by several scholarly studies.  The parish priest did not become a millionaire, even though he became wealthy.  But his wealth didn’t come from some mysterious treasure of secret documents, but rather from illegally fleecing the people of his village and of surrounding villages.

Following his death the story Saunière’s treasure became embellished, and was changed by Plantard for his own purposes.  According to Plantard’s version, the legitimate heirs to the throne of France are not extinct as believed by popular opinion, but have surviving descendants still alive, the last of which in 1967 was, or course, Pierre Plantard, who was therefore the only true contender to reinstate the royal throne of France.  In order to protect the rightful heirs to the throne of France, a secret society was formed during the days of the Crusades – the secret society known as the Priory of Sion.

Plantard also claimed that the Priory of Sion later had a number of well-known and highly respected secret members over the centuries, including Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Isaac Newton (1642-1727), as well as famed author Victor Hugo (1802-1885), and the musician Claude Debussy (1862-1918), just to name a few.

Plantard claimed that the documents discovered by the perish priest Saunière were those that revealed the truth concerning the Priory of Sion, and that Saunière was able to use these documents to blackmail the ruling family of France, and make himself quite wealthy.

In order to support these claims, Plantard enlisted the help of two friends to prepare and untimately rediscover a number of fake apocryphal documents (some, in fact, riddles), which they secretly deposited between 1965-1967 into Paris’ French National Library.  Plantard and his three friends were later exposed and admitted in writing that the documents planted in the Paris National Library between were a “brilliant” hoax.  For readers of The Da Vinci Code, it is useful to note that neither the Priory of Sion publications nor the 1965-1967 forged documents ever mentioned that rightful heirs to the throne of France were the actual fleshly descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.  This theory was advanced in a 1982 novel, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which in turn served as an inspiration for The Da Vinci Code to the extent that Dan Brown was sued by the authors for plagiarism, although the court ruled in Brown's favor.

Plantard, took advantage of the sudden celebrity status he had achieved and began hinting in talk shows that he may have been not only the last of the rightful descendants to the throne of France, but, based on the theory advanced in the popular novel Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Plantard may also be the last living descendant of Jesus Christ.

Plantard’s Priory of Sion never recruited more than a dozen members, and at the end of his life Plantard was a broken man, living in very difficult circumstances.  Plantard died in 2000, never realizing how much money an American author would make with the Priory of Sion, a creation of his which never made him rich.  

The Da Vinci Code is not based on fact.  The Da Vinci Code is nothing more than a novel – a work of fiction based on presuppositions, poor scholarship, bad history, and a would-be King and founder of an alleged secret society, the Priory of Sion.