One of the best-selling novels in recent times has been The da Vinci
code by Dan Brown, and now the story has been made into a film.
One of the most obvious errors in The da Vinci code
concerns St Mary Magdalene, one of the three Holy Myrrhbearers and
Equal to the Apostles. Dan Brown tries to give the impression that the
Church has somehow tried to suppress all information about her, and to
portray her as a prostitute.
We should be quite clear that the
Orthodox Church has never tried to portray St Mary Magdalene as a
prostitute. She was healed by Jesus and became one of his disciples.
She was a witness to his burial, and was the first witness of his
resurrection, bearing the news to the other disciples (for this reason
she is called Equal-to-the-Apostles).
After our Lord’s bodily
Ascension she continued to bear witness to the resurrection, and it is
said that she once met the Roman Emperor, and was holding an egg in her
hand. When she told him of the resurrection of Christ, the Emperor was
sceptical, and said if someone rose from the dead, the egg in her hand
would turn red, and it promptly did – hence the custom of blessing red
eggs at Pascha.
St Mary Magdalene worked with St John the
Theologian in Ephesus, where she died and was buried, and in the 9th
century her incorrupt relics were removed to the Church of the Monastery
of St Lazarus in Constantinople.
In the West a very late and
quite unfounded legend arose at the time of the translation of her
relics that she had gone with Martha and Lazarus to the south of France
by sea and was buried there. In his novel, Dan Brown treats this legend
There is no evidence that St Mary Magdalene bore a child
to Jesus, as Dan Brown asserts, or that the descendants of this line
were the Merovingian kings of France. Of course The da Vinci code is
fiction, and a novelist can make his characters say or do anything he
Dan Brown got most of his ideas on church history from books that are
not novels, but claim to be serious and factual. They are Holy blood and
Holy Grail and The messianic legacy by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh
and Henry Lincoln.
Since so much of the "factual" material in The
da Vinci code is taken from The Messianic legacy, it too needs a
review, and the question is, is it history or fiction?
theme of The messianic legacy
appears to be the way in which a small semi-secret society, the Prieuré
de Sion, is seeking to achieve its objective of restoring a Merovingian
monarch to the throne of France. The Merovingians apparently claimed
descent from the Old Testament House of David, and in an earlier work,
The holy blood and the holy grail, the authors put forward the
hypothesis that this decent was through Jesus or his immediate family.
Merovingians (descendants of Merovech) were kings in what is now France
from the 5th to the 8th century, and they conquered the Visigoths who
had sacked Rome in AD 410, bringing away treasure reputed to include the
treasures of the temple at Jerusalem, which had itself been sacked by
the Romans in AD 70.
Baigent et al. have written the book in
three parts. The first, "The Messiah" deals with the idea of the Messiah
in Judaism and early Christianity. The second, "The quest for meaning",
deals with faith and symbolism in modern Western society. The third is a
bewilderingly detailed account of contacts and connections between the
Prieure de Sion and various national and international figures and
organisations in the twentieth century.
is simply a gross distortion of history, and shows that the authors did
not do their homework. The majority of Egyptian Christians did not
accept the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but for
precisely the opposite reason that Baigent & Co hint at. They
thought the Council was too Nestorian, they and preferred the teaching
of their own former bishop Cyril, who was utterly opposed to Nestorius.
The reason the Nestorian leaders were exiled to Egypt was quite simple:
The Egyptian church was so opposed to Nestorianism that if they tried to
preach it there, there would be no danger that anyone would believe
them. So whatever was exported from Egypt to Ireland or anywhere else,
it was not Nestorian/Ebionite teaching, but the exact opposite.
missionaries did go to France, and Christian monasticism was first
developed in Egypt. Monasticism was exported to most other parts of the
Christian world, and thus provided the chief instrument for the
evangelisation of Europe and part of Asia. Between 500 and 1500 most
Christian missionaries were monks. Baigent et al., however, make some
astoundingly naive statements - for example that the monastic movement
in Egypt "represented a form of opposition to the rigidly hierarchical
structures of Rome", and that the monks were "tolerant" as opposed to
the "intolerant" urban church. In fact the reverse was true. The
Egyptian monks regarded the urban church as lax and effete, and they
kept out of the cities for that reason.