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The Da Vinci Code | Study Guide

Dan Brown

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The Da Vinci Code | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, one of the most theologically and politically controversial novels of the early 21st century, tells the story of Robert Langdon, a fictional professor whose interest in religious symbolism and mythology leads him to discover hidden mysteries of Christianity. As the title implies, Langdon relies on hidden "codes" in Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci's works to discover a vast conspiracy within the Catholic Church to cover up a sexual relationship between Christ and Mary Magdalene and hide that Christ has living heirs.

Brown's claims regarding the Church and Christian history led to a great deal of debate and backlash from religious officials, Christian congregations, and governments alike. Although many of Brown's ideas from the novel have been officially proven false or denounced, many readers were fascinated by the revelations he presented about Christianity, and some chose to accept them as fact. The novel, published in 2003, sold more than 80 million copies, and a 2006 film adaptation was received with similar popularity and controversy.

1. The Da Vinci Code was banned in several countries.

The Da Vinci Code has been met with a great deal of controversy since its publication, and several countries and provinces have banned the novel altogether. The book was banned in 2004 in Lebanon, which has a large population of Christians, for its depiction of Christ in a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene.

The Indian state of Nagaland, which also has a high concentration of Christians, banned the novel in 2006 after the film adaptation generated "immense publicity" for the text. Yet, the film was shown across India without incident. The film adaptation faced harsh criticism in the Philippines, however, where authorities in the capital city of Manila forbade cinemas from showing it.

2. The pope called for a boycott of the book's film adaptation.

Along with numerous governments and municipalities taking issue with The Da Vinci Code, the Vatican was not amused by Brown's portrayal of Christianity and the life of Christ. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, archbishop of Genoa, Italy, described The Da Vinci Code as "a sack full of lies," particularly regarding Christ's alleged relationship with Mary Magdalene. He continued, "Don't buy this. Don't read this because this is rotten food." In 2006, at the time of the film adaptation's release, Pope Benedict XVI weighed in on the controversy, calling on Catholics around the world to boycott the film.

3. Some Christian groups view The Da Vinci Code as a "tool for evangelism."

Whereas many Christian sects, congregations, and organizations consider The Da Vinci Code a misrepresentation of the faith, others viewed the great amount of publicity generated by the novel as an opportunity. The Christian Research Institute released an article in 2004 explaining the potential benefits of the renewed interest in Christianity The Da Vinci Code had helped inspire, even if Christians didn't agree with Brown's premises. The article reads:

Public discussion of Christ, Christianity, and the church is again front-and-center in media attention. The book's attacks against the Christian faith ironically provide Christians with a unique opportunity for effective evangelism. Sharing the truth in this case, however, will require some restraint.

4. Brown was sued for allegations of plagiarism, and the judge's ruling was presented in the form of a code.

Brown faced multiple lawsuits over claims of plagiarism after the publication of The Da Vinci Code, all of which he denied. Authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh took Brown to court over allegedly lifting information from their nonfiction publication The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which discussed mysterious incidents in Christian history. Mr. Justice Peter Smith responded to this claim by releasing a 71-page judgment, absolving Brown, with a "code" embedded in it.

The code read, "Smithy Code Jackie Fisher who are you Dreadnought." This was discovered to be a reference to Admiral Jackie Fisher who designed a battleship called the HMS Dreadnought exactly 100 years prior to the case. Justice Smith described his unorthodox inclusion in the ruling as "a matter of fun."

5. The 2006 film adaptation had to use a fake Mona Lisa.

The film adaptation, directed by Ron Howard and featuring Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, was granted permission to film in the Louvre Museum in Paris. However, the film crew was forbidden from shining light on the Mona Lisa, generally considered the Louvre's most famous holding, so they were forced to film a replica. During filming, the crew used the chamber where the Mona Lisa is held as a storage space.

6. Many authors have debunked Brown's claims about Christ and Mary Magdalene.

Upon The Da Vinci Code's publication, the controversy that Brown stirred up in Christian communities led some authors to write their own books debunking his conclusions. They noticed that many readers believed Brown's speculations regarding Mary Magdalene and Christ's sexual relationship, and they wrote book-length critiques to set the record straight. Several of these books parody Brown's title, such as Cracking the Da Vinci Code by James L. Garow and Peter Jones and Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell L. Bock.

7. Brown claimed 99 percent of The Da Vinci Code is true.

In response to overwhelming criticism from Christian communities and historians alike regarding his speculations on Christian history, Brown defended his work by claiming it was well researched and factual. When asked in an interview with CNN about the accuracy of his novel, Brown responded:

99 percent of it is true. All of the architecture, the art, the secret rituals, the history, all of that is true, the Gnostic gospels. [A]ll that is fiction, of course, is that there's a Harvard symbologist named Robert Langdon, and all of his action is fictionalized. But the background is all true.

8. Crusaders once massacred an entire town's population for believing Christ and Mary Magdalene were lovers.

The aspect of The Da Vinci Code that caused the most controversy among Christians was the proposed relationship between Christ and Mary Magdalene. Since, according to the Gospels, Christ was allegedly celibate, this notion was considered heresy. But Brown wasn't the first to conceive of this relationship, as the Cathars, a medieval religious sect, viewed Mary Magdalene as Christ's concubine. In 1209 Crusaders arrived at the French town of Beziers, intent on massacring a large population of Cathars, whom they viewed as heretics. A representative for the pope who was present at the massacre allegedly told the knights, "Kill them all; God will recognize his own."

9. A real Cryptex device was invented.

Brown created the fictional Cryptex device for The Da Vinci Code, describing it as a small, cylindrical, protected vault designed by Leonardo da Vinci. In 2004 the craftsman Justin Kirk Nevins created his own line of Cryptex devices based on Brown's description. The Cryptex cylinders function as storage chambers protected by a code that the customer designs. The most expensive of Nevins's Cryptex boxes costs upwards of $3,000 and are called the "Da Vinci Line."

10. Robert Langdon is Brown's alter ego.

The Da Vinci Code isn't Brown's only novel to feature the symbolism-obsessed Professor Robert Langdon—the character has also appeared in Brown's novels Angels and Demons and Inferno. Brown has described the character as "the man he wishes he could be." Brown has noted that author Joseph Campbell was his inspiration for Langdon, as Campbell's writings on religious mythology led to his own interest in historical mysteries.

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