"The Da Vinci Code," the best-selling novel that asserts as fact that Jesus Christ had a daughter as well as a wife, has provoked fierce opposition from Protestants and Catholics alike.
From Dallas Theological Seminary, whose faculty and students have staged seminars debunking the novel, to "Christian History" magazine in Carol Stream, Ill., which established a Da Vinci section on its Web site (www.christianitytoday.com/history), Christians have denounced the fabrications.
"What caused the stir, at least in part, was the author's claim that the backdrop to his fictitious story is based on the truth," says professor Darrell Bock of the Dallas seminary, who calls the book's claims "ludicrous."
"Dan Brown's book isn't an innocent book," he said. "There is something else going on here. At its very core is an attempt to reshape our culture and Christian beliefs."
Mr. Bock's counterpunch book, "Breaking the Da Vinci Code," is due out in April.
A thriller purporting to combine art, cryptology and religion, "The Da Vinci Code" has sold 6.1 million copies to date and has topped the New York Times best-seller list for 45 weeks. A movie by Columbia Pictures is in the works.
America's religious elite ignored the book for months after it was released in March. Then it became clear that many Americans, particularly the unchurched, have taken the book as gospel according to Dan Brown.
He writes that the Emperor Constantine originated the New Testament during the fourth-century Council of Nicea, a large gathering of Christian leaders that rewrote Jesus into a divine figure, writing that the early church had venerated him merely as a mortal prophet.
Other "facts" recited by Mr. Brown include assertions that pre-Babylonian Judaism included temple prostitutes, that sex is a prime way to God that has been squelched mainly by the Roman Catholic Church for 2,000 years, that Gothic cathedrals are modeled after the female body, and that Noah was an albino.
Not everyone is alarmed. David Klinghoffer, writing Dec. 8 for the National Review, said the fact that Christians regard the novel as a threat to their faith indicates that readers are taking the book far too seriously.
"This also suggests that the problems in Catholic religious education are every bit as severe as Catholic conservatives have been alleging for some time now," he wrote. "If the professional educators were doing their job, any believing Catholic past elementary-school age would know that Brown's book is a total falsehood."
Leonardo Da Vinci is cited as the author of the "codes" because he purportedly placed such clues in his paintings. One of them, according to the novel, is that the person on Jesus' right in Da Vinci's painting of "The Last Supper" is not the Apostle John but Mary Magdalene. The Catholic Church, he writes, hid the "fact" that Jesus and Mary were husband and wife and that she fled to France after the Crucifixion, bearing him a daughter whose descendants are alive today.
Christian clerics were alarmed when a New York Daily News book reviewer called the book's scholarship "impeccable" and the book rocketed to the top of the best-seller charts.
"[The author] wins your trust with fascinating facts that are true, then misleads you with insights that are not," says the Rev. Tim Floyd, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in McLean whose Wednesday night lecture series on the book typically draws 75 to 80 persons.
"The book easily deceives readers by cleverly mixing truths, half-truths and complete falsehoods. Oliver Stone did the same thing with the Kennedy assassination in his notorious  movie 'JFK,' which most people accepted as totally factual."
What spurred Mr. Floyd -- and many other Christians -- to action was a Nov. 3 ABC special on whether Jesus had a wife. "I knew [such a claim] was spurious, but people were talking about it, and I realized I had to do something."
When the Rev. George Evans, pastor of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in McLean, scheduled a Da Vinci lecture for Jan. 14, "I thought we'd get six to 10 people," he said. "We got 113 people, and that was on a bad night, with rainy, freezing weather."
Mr. Evans was asked by a parishioner whether the word "companion" in the gnostic Gospel of Philip meant "wife" in the Syriac language in which the second-century manuscript was written.
"It could be used to mean 'companion,' 'friend' or maybe 'wife,' but that stands against a flood of testimony of it being a different relationship," he said. "The Gospels have her calling him 'rabbi,' 'lord' and 'teacher,' words you would not be saying to your husband and lover."
Crisis magazine, a Catholic publication, took a swing at Mr. Brown's book in its September issue.
Such debunkings might seem "like a pile driver applied to a gnat," author Sandra Miesel says, but "the blows are necessary to demonstrate the utter falseness of Brown's material. His willful distortions of documented history are more than matched by his outlandish claims about controversial subjects. But to a postmodernist, one construct of reality is as good as any other."
For the author, she says, "to state that the [Catholic] Church burned five million women as witches shows a willful -- and malicious -- ignorance of the historical record. The latest figures for deaths during the European witch craze are between 30,000 to 50,000 victims."
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