|The Da Vinci Codebreaker: An Easy-to-use Fact Checker
By James L. Garlow with Timothy Paul Jones and April Williams
Bethany House Publishers
PB, 203 pages, US$9.99
The truth behind the story
By Steven Martinovich
Whether he believed what he wrote or not, Dan Brown had to know he was earning himself a world of trouble when he opened his best selling novel The Da Vinci Code with the words "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." Those few words have created a minor industry of books devoted to responding to Brown's primary thesis: that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and started a holy bloodline that is being protected by a secret order called The Priory of Sion.
The latest to join the war is The Da Vinci Codebreaker: An Easy-to-Use Fact Checker, a glossary of several hundred terms, personalities, events and concepts referenced by Brown in his novel. Though written by three committed Christians with traditional views of the faith's history and canon, The Da Vinci Codebreaker is fairly free of bias. Relying on established scholarship, the book sets out to correct where its authors believe Brown went wrong.
One might naturally ask why scholars would need to answer what even its author acknowledges is a work of fiction. In his introduction James Garlow answers that although The Da Vinci Code is a novel, Brown has argued that it is based entirely on fact. That's led many readers to accept many of Brown's questionable assertions on Christian history, art and theology. The Da Vinci Code isn't the threat to the Roman Catholic Church that some have painted it as, but its extraordinary popularity is capable of turning its fiction, or 'fact-ion' as Garlow refers to it, into accepted reality.
And it's quite understandable why that fear exists. Although Brown claims to have carefully researched the claims he makes, The Da Vinci Code is replete factual errors. Those with even a passing knowledge of Christian history, art or architecture couldn't have read the novel without wincing on every page. Yet those without the requisite knowledge will accept unquestionably Brown's claim that there are 666 glass panes in Le Louvre Pyramide when in fact there are 673. The Divine Proportion can be found everywhere in nature? Perhaps, but the examples Brown cites are patently incorrect.
It isn't just the little errors that The Da Vinci Codebreaker tackles. As Garlow and his team illustrate, Brown made huge claims that any casual glance at a history text would have shown to be ver wrong. Entries show how the canon that Christians today know as The Bible came together, the roles that Constantine and the Vatican played in early Christian history and who really is the figure next to Jesus Christ in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper?
Of course, The Da Vinci Codebreaker will only be as persuasive as the person reading it is open-minded. It is a sign of our times that the bizarre conspiracy theory, even those that have been revealed as hoaxes by their creators -- as the creator of the Priory of Sion hoax has already done, is more acceptable to millions than the orthodoxy is. Scholarship, reliable evidence and accepted fact often can't stand up to the clever efforts like those of Brown to attack Christianity in favour an alternative view of history and theology.
Ultimately, The Da Vinci Codebreaker is a useful reference to have alongside The Da Vinci Code itself, for few readers will have the necessary knowledge to understand the hundreds of occasionally obscure historical, artistic or theological references that Brown makes. The fact that this reference was written by believers does not mar its credibility. Garlow and his co-contributors should be congratulated for being clear in their aims and making it easy to fact check their aims.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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