- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 3, 2006

“The Da Vinci Code” film is as powerful, fast-paced and mesmerizing as the book by Dan Brown on which it is based. It is also as theologically seductive.

Josh McDowell calls the book, which has sold 60 million copies, “the ultimate conspiracy novel,” in which the church hides the “true identity of Jesus Christ, misleading billions of the faithful.” Jesus is portrayed not as God but as only as a great teacher who married Mary Magdalene and fathered a child whose heirs live today.

This fabrication is given a patina of authority in the book’s opening words: “FACT: The Priory of Sion — a European secret society founded in 1099 — is a real organization. In 1995, Paris’ Biblotheque 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.”

Not true. The Priory of Sion was founded in 1956 by two Frenchmen who forged the “parchments” with its famous members, and dated the Order back to the Knights Templar who protected Jerusalem in 1118. This fabricated pedigree is even more extravagant. The Priory of Sion supposedly protected the “Merovingian dynasty,” descendants of Jesus and his wife, Mary Magdalene.

Mr. Brown writes that the Priory planned to go public with their secret of Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene. Therefore, Catholic Bishop Aringarosa, who oversees Opus Dei (a legitimate secret society), decided to kill the four leaders of the Priory, to protect the church’s official version of history. Why? To maintain power through apostolic succession of Peter instead of the hereditary succession of Jesus and Mary.

The story opens with the murder of Jacques Sauniere, curator of the Louvre Museum, a secret Grand Master of the Priory. Mortally wounded, he lived long enough to write mysterious words and numbers on the floor. Among them were “Find Robert Langdon,” a Harvard professor, leading police to assume that Langdon is the killer.

Thus begins the police chase for Langdon and Sophie Neveu, a granddaughter of Sauniere, that dominates the movie’s action.

At a deeper level, the book has more sinister goals. One is to undermine the credibility of the Catholic Church. Bishop Aringarosa plots four murders carried out by Silas, an albino attired in a monk’s robe, so devout ,he wears a cilice on his leg, a barbed leather belt that cuts into his flesh, reminding him of Jesus’ sacrifice. He kills in the name of God. Viewers hate both men, and by extension, the church. However, 98 percent of Opus Dei members are not clergy, but deeply committed lay Catholics.

At another level, Mr. Brown’s goal is more malevolent. He wants to replace the orthodox Christian idea of salvation through repentance of one’s sins and acceptance of Christ and his death on the Cross as the atonement for them. With what? The “Gnostic gospels” written by second-century Christians who believed salvation comes through study and self-knowledge, rather than faith. This permits relativism — being “religious” without the discipline of obeying the Commandments. Gnostics wrote “The Gospel of Mary” 90 years after Jesus’ death. It was rejected by the church as inauthentic.

The Gospel of Philip is another Gnostic creation that a character in the movie, Sir Leigh Teabing, reads to Langdon and Neveu: “And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The word companion in those days, literally meant spouse,” he asserts.

As further evidence, he points to Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” of Jesus with the 12 Apostles. He asks her to look at the person “in the place of honor, at the right hand of the Lord.” Neveu exclaims, “That’s a woman.” Mary Magdalene, not John, as all Biblical scholars assert.

It is true that Mary Magdalene, featured on Newsweek’s cover last week, is mentioned in Luke 8 as one of the women who traveled with Jesus and the disciples, “Helping to support them out of their own means.” She was at the Crucifixion. Most important, three of the Gospels report the resurrected Jesus first appeared to her.

On the other hand, no reputable biblical scholar believes Jesus ever married. The New Testament was written by eyewitnesses and Paul met the risen Christ — unlike Gnostic writers a century later. The Da Vinci Code “is an attack upon the core beliefs of the Christian faith,” built on fabrications, argues “The Da Vinci Hoax” by Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel.

What’s dangerous is that few of the book’s readers or moviegoers have the biblical knowledge necessary to discern fact from fiction.

Michael J.McManus is president of Marriage Savers and a columnist for “Ethics & Religion.”

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