"The Da Vinci Hoax"

I took some of my own advice and decided to read one of the many, many books debunking The Da Vinci Code (TDVC). I chose The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code by Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel as it was recommended by Catholic sources and seemed to get good reviews.

As I have mentioned before, I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code nor seen the movie, nor do I care to. But like anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave lately, I have heard plenty about it and about the ridiculous “facts” that Dan Brown based his book on. What has concerned me enough to take the trouble to read a book on the subject is the influence that TDVC seems to be having on people. Not only has it been read (and now seen) by tens (hundreds?) of millions worldwide, but readers are accepting Brown’s outlandish statements as fact. All around me I see intelligent, educated people protest that the book is “just fiction” and with the same breath repeat some element of the book as if it were true.

It is not entirely the reader’s fault if he or she falls for some of Brown’s theories (which in fact are not his, but we all know how that lawsuit turned out). Brown goes out of his way to give the impression that his book is based on extensive scholarly research. In reality, most of Brown’s theories (and even some exact phrases) are copied from just three books: Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Goddess in the Gospels, and The Templar Revelation. The authors of these books are obsessed with conspiracy theories, the occult, neopaganism, and attacking the Catholic Church, and they have long ago been discredited by bona fide scholars. As the authors of The Da Vinci Hoax put it, these books (and TDVC itself) fail the “desk encyclopedia test.” In other words, they contain factual errors that even a simple encyclopedia can refute. Sadly, readers of TDVC are not reaching for the encyclopedia, and the errors are left to stand. The notorious “fact page” has apparently succeeded in switching off the B.S.-detectors in millions of his readers. There is a swindle going on here, but it is most certainly not being perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Unlike The Da Vinci Code and the books it is based on, the authors of the The Da Vinci Hoax refer to a wide variety of authoritative sources, giving the proper citations. In the face of real, verifiable information and sound logic, the theories about Mary Magdalene, Constantine, the Templar Knights, the Priory of Sion, and Leonardo da Vinci fall apart. The authors don’t just expose the factual errors, but also the faults in logic that are so common among conspiracy theorists (e.g., a lack of evidence somehow becomes iron-clad evidence of a cover up). They also expose the vain, rebellious, “gnostic” mentality that seems to underlie TDVC and its sources.

I definitely recommend that readers (or viewers) of The Da Vinci Code innoculate themselves against Dan Brown’s “factifiction” by reading one of these debunking books. Although The Da Vinci Hoax certainly does a good job of refuting Brown’s claims, the writing in some chapters sometimes disjointed. I get the impression that parts of it were put together in a hurry and they didn’t have time to pull all the pieces together into a coherent statement. There are also a few instances of anti-feminist reaction that Catholics would likely be immune to but which might be quite off-putting for those not familiar with the issues and code words involved. (The book is otherwise quite strong in showing that Christianity is not inherently misogynistic.)

I do wish the book had gone more into why the public has latched on to this book the way it has. They certainly touched on it, particularly in their chapter on gnosticism, but there is much to say on the subject. For me, the problem with TDVC is not that it is wall-to-wall B.S., but that so many people are entranced by it. They seem to want to believe it. Why? What are the consequences, both for them and for Catholics? Why do so few object to lies and accusations that would not be tolerated if they were directed at Jews, Muslims, or any other group? Why is the Catholic Church fair game?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not having a pity party here. There would be something wrong if the Church were not being persecuted*. Dan Brown has done nothing new, but he has done it with wild success, and I am fascinated by its workings.

*”If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

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7 comments on “"The Da Vinci Hoax"

  1. Stefanie says:

    It is so weird that a work of fiction needs books of nonfiction to tell people that the fiction is made up. I can understand people being interested in the whole thing if it was because the mystery and the puzzling was fun. But to start believing that fiction is true? Mind boggling.

  2. Wil Cone says:

    FWIW, I read most of TDVC (couldn't quite finish it), and it was always clear to me that TDVC was a work of fiction.
    According to TDVC website (I don't have the book anymore to double-check this), the “fact page” states that “the documents, rituals, organization, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist.” Thus, the characters, the characterizations, the theories, etc. are all speculative fiction.
    This whole thing kind of reminds me of the Salman Rushdie “Satanic Verses” controversy.

  3. Milan says:

    On “why the public has latched on to this book the way it has”
    I would suppose that most of the popularity relates to a desire that people have for reasons to set themselves in opposition to the Catholic Church. Of course, you don't need to dig into the ancient past to find them. It's more that arguments that seem to strike at core beliefs of a group feel like a more satisfying kind of response than those based on external values.

  4. Sylvia says:

    Even the “fact page” is erroneous because the Priory of Sion is a 20th century fraud, not a centuries-old organization as described in the book. I also saw a news piece about how there is no Star of David under the rug at one church in the book, so some of the architecture described in the book doesn't exist either. (Apparently there are also anachronisms in the book involving the Star of David, a tenth century innovation.)

  5. Dana Huff says:

    Took me about five minutes online to find out the truth about the book. I have to admit it was a page-turner, but ultimately, I was turned off by the wooden characterization and shoddy research. He does present his work of fiction as if the underpinnings were fact. I don't blame him much for that — it would make him more money. The folks who really make me angry are the Holy Blood, Holy Grail guys. Pierre Plantard testified before the French gov't that he made up the Priory of Sion in the 1950's and planted its fictional history in the library, but those HBHG folks act, on every program I've seen lately, as if this fact was not known to all. It looks delusional. I also think it was stupid of them to sue Dan Brown — how many copies of their book do you think he sold? I say don't bite off the hand that feeds you.
    Why do people want to believe it? I guess for the same reason they want to believe in UFO's. It's interesting.

  6. Quillhill says:

    Science fiction is based upon fact as well. If there is not a factual basis to support it logically, the book will not (generally) be published. Midnight's Children has a basis of fact. To suggest the Holy Grail is the womb and ultimately the bloodline of Jesus and build a story around it shouldn't be considered any more horrible than to suggest the Holy Grail is the FIFA World Cup trophy. There may be seven-year-old children reading this blog who will believe your writing, just as there may be another who believes Brown's writing. Unless someone knows “The Truth” without any doubt, how can someone know what Brown suggests isn't the truth?

  7. Sylvia says:

    I think there are two issues involved with TDVC: what are the historical facts, and what are the philosophical issues? The former are more easily dealt with than the latter. Books like The Da Vinci Hoax can handily refute the theories about Mary Magdalene etc., but as I alluded to above, it doesn't really go into the philosophical issues raised in the book and by the book. (It does, however, point out the irony of a book that espouses the value of scepticism yet which seems to accept the most outlandish (and weak) theories without argument.) I would be interested in reading a book that went into the neognostic / relativist / nihilist / postmodern tendencies that the book reflects and affirms.

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