What is History and What is Fiction in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code
New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg has provided a balanced, unreactionary review of the mega-hit book, The Da Vinci Code. He actually thinks it’s a pretty darn good novel, but notes that the problem is that most readers will not know where the historical facts end and the fiction about Jesus and Church history begins:
A competent church historian is needed in places, however, to help people understand just where the boundary is crossed between fact and fiction. But what concerns me most, as a New Testament scholar, are the number of people who think that the occasional comments about Jesus, his associates and the literature and events of first three Christian centuries are at all accurate. Put simply, they are not, and even very liberal biblical scholars (as in, for example, the famous Jesus Seminar) agree (see their two books, The Five Gospels [New York: Macmillan, 1993} and The Acts of Jesus [San Francisco: Harper, 1998]).
Though his article is not lengthy, Blomberg identifies several of the more notable features of The Da Vinci Code that have no basis in history:
• There is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus married or had children, and there is good evidence that he did not.
• The Bible was not collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great, and there is overwhelming evidence that the process of establishing the canon had been begun by the mid-second century.
• The Dead Sea Scrolls did not contain any gospels or other Christian documents. The DSS are a collection of Jewish writings.
• Jesus did not write Q. Nor is there anything startling or hidden about Q. It has been a feature of even conservative Biblical scholarship for decades.
• Claims that Jesus was divine arose much earlier than the fourth century. In fact, such claims are clearly made in the first-century canonical writings.
• The Priory of Sion does not have any documents proving the New Testament false. The Gnostic and post-canonical gospels and writings are widely available in English translations.
Blomberg concludes with these thoughts:
For readers who want actual scholarship pointing to the reliability of the New Testament, I invite them to consult my books on The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove: IVP, 1987) and The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel: Issues and Commentary (Downers Grove: IVP, 1991). For an excellent study of what can truly be known about Jesus outside the New Testament, see the book with that title by Robert E. Van Voorst (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000). For an in-depth response to the small number of scholars who do put stock in apocryphal documents besides Thomas, see Philip Jenkins, Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). For a survey and debunking of modern legends and fictions of various kinds (there are ample predecessors to The Da Vinci Code, and none of them agrees with another!), see especially Douglas Groothuis, Jesus in an Age of Controversy (Eugene: Harvest House, 1996).
Meanwhile, enjoy The Da Vinci Code. It's a fantastic novel. I'm so glad I read it. Just keep reminding yourself throughout, "It's only a novel. It's only a novel."