The Da Vinci Code issue – A Muslim interpretation

Combining the detective, thriller and conspiracy fiction genres, the book is part two of a trilogy that started with Brown's 2000 novel Angels and Demons, which introduced the character Robert Langdon. In 2006, a film adaptation, The Da Vinci Code, was released by Columbia Pictures. The novel is based on the controversial premise that there is a conspiracy within the Catholic Church to cover up the true story of Jesus. According to this premise, the Vatican knows it is living a lie, but continues to do so to keep itself in power.

However, the aim of this paper is not to do a book review, rather some sensitive religious matters touched by this book will be our main concern. As the author himself says, this book is a novel, is a work of fiction, but the documents, artworks, secret societies all exist, something we are going to deal with. This book, he adds, is not anti-Christian, it’s only an effort to explore certain aspects of Christian history.

Defining the problem

Before any more detailed discussion takes place, we’d like to briefly answer some questions concerning this issue. In a nutshell the situation is as follows: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, who carried the bloodline of Christ. This automatically rejects the Divinity of Jesus. Therefore the history of Christianity is questioned. The Da Vinci Code popularizes the idea that the fourth century Roman emperor Constantine invented the doctrine of the divinity of Christ for political reasons. Some of the names involved in this discussion are: Vatican or the Roman Catholic Church who created a divine Christ and an infallible Scripture - both novelties that had never before existed among Christians; the Priory of Sion, a loyal group of people whose mission was to protect the bloodline of Jesus and to pass that knowledge secretly to his heirs; Opus Dei an extreme branch of the church, whose members-monks are involved in murdering, lying, drugging people and thinking that it is justified for the sake of God and the Church. This discussion is taking place mostly in the Catholic world, like Vatican where the Pope himself declared to be against the ideas raised by Dan Brown, it has also been a major topic in the United States and elsewhere where the members of Opus Dai operate, as well as in other countries where the majority of population belong to the Catholic denomination. This problem has been debated since 2003 when the book was published. However, Da Vinci Code became a hot issue when it was converted into a two and a half hours motion picture, hence bringing thousands of people to protest in the streets, with the message given by the catholic clerics to boycott this movie. And finally why this issue became such problematic, I believe is the statement given by the author himself that this book reveals the Greatest Conspiracy of the last 2000 years. By conspiracy he alludes on the fact that Christianity is a product of a person and unfortunately that person is not Jesus as he should be, rather it’s a work of some bishops gathered in a council to bury the truth and make something new that would match with the politics of the Roman Emperor of that time, Constantine the Great.

Basically, judging from a Muslim point of view, there are some things that I’d partly agree with the book, as there are some issues which we categorically reject, such as the intimate relationships of Jesus with Mary Magdalene. Muslims believe in the premise that all prophets of God were infallible and enjoyed the protection of God from major sins. However, the aim of this paper is not to challenge the novel entirely, because there are a lot of issues raised in the novel, nor we pretend to engage in a debate with the author. In line with the limited nature of this paper, we’d like to focus mainly in the Council of Nicea, for we believe that knowing the truth about it, enables us understand why Christianity has been a religion of debate and why its authenticity has been questioned by numerous scholars, even among its adherents such is the latest case of Dan Brown.

Historical Jesus or Religious Jesus

In Christianity, Dan Brown said, if you ask three people what it means to be Christian, you will get three different answers. Some feel being baptized is sufficient. Others feel you must accept the Bible as absolute historical fact. Still others require a belief that all those who do not accept Christ as their personal savior are doomed to hell. The reason why there is such confusion in this religion is its manipulated history, which has been altered from time to time.

The more people have tried to discover who Jesus really was the more it has been found how little is known about him. There are limited records of his teachings and some of his actions, but very little is known about how he actually lived his life and how he dealt with people. The focus of Qur’an is on miraculous conception and birth of Isa emphasizing the moment when he spoke in his cradle to defend the purity of his mother. The bible, on the other hand speaks about the genealogy of Jesus (a man who had no father at all!!!), and contrary to Quran, Bible focuses mainly on his death, or what is known today as his Passion.


The main sources, the four accepted Gospels have not only been altered and censored thought ages but also are not eyewitness accounts. The earliest Gospel is that of Mark, written about 60-70 A.D. Mathew was a tax collector, a minor official who did not travel around with Jesus. Luke’s Gospel was written much later and it is in fact drown from the same source as Mark’s and Mathew’s. Luke was Paul’s physician and like Paul never met Jesus. John’s Gospel is from a different source and was written later still, in about 100 A.D[1].

St. Paul of Tarsus

Another important figure who had a great influence in Christianity, was St. Paul of Tarsus who was an apostle and not a disciple because he never had any contact with Jesus. For the firs time he called Jesus “Chris”, who was referred before as Master by his Disciples. The Lordship, the Son of God and the Divinity of Jesus were unknown concepts until Paul introduced them. Paul’s ideas and teaching were rejected by Jesus’ Disciples who had been with Jesus and had learned from him directly, whereas St. Paul’s only contact with Jesus was through his dreams and visions.

The Council of Nicea and its impact

In order to solve these disputes, in 325 the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great called for a meeting to settle the disputes concerning Jesus nature. In Nicea (today Iznik, Turkey), 318 bishops gathered to formulate the Nicean creed. These bishops who held their faith earnestly and sincerely, without much intellectual knowledge, were suddenly brought face to face with the most learned exponents of Greek philosophy of that age. This meeting was crucial, for it was the time and place where the ABC of Christianity was established. The Da Vinci Code, to my understanding, rightly emphasized the manipulation of Constantine with unlearned bishops, and so giving his pagan beliefs, rites and rituals only different names and making them Christian symbols. Greek philosophers had such a way of expression that these bishops could not grasp the significance of what was being said. Among the most important issues discussed in this Council was the divinity of Jesus. Up to that moment in history Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet, a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal! The “son of God” was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea. Therefore one may conclude that the divinity of Jesus was the result of a vote.

The Bible on the other hand, is a book of historical records which has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions. History has never had a definite version of this book. Dan Brown uses a rather sarcastic expression when it comes to the Bible, saying that Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven, nor it fell magically from the clouds[2]. But it is a product of man. More precisely, the Bible as we know it today was collected by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great. He commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made him godlike.

As far as the compilation of bible is concerned, Muslim scholars share almost the same view with Dan Brown. At the beginning of the Council, all the existing gospels were put together. According to one source, there were at least 270 versions of the Gospel at that time, while another states there were as many as 4.000 different Gospels.[3] Then it was decided that all of them should be placed under a table in the Council Hall. Everyone then left the room and the door was locked. The bishops were asked to pray for the whole night that the correct version of the Gospel might come onto the top of the table. In the morning the Gospels acceptable to Athanasius were found placed on top of the table. It was decided that all the Gospels remaining under the table should be buried. There is no record of who kept the key to the room that night. Hence it became a capital offence to possess an unauthorized Gospel. Anyone who chose to follow a different version of gospel rather than the Constantine’s one, was deemed as heretic, an attribute never used before.

However, the discovery of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls has thrown new light on the nature of the society into which Jesus was born. The Gospel of Barnabas on the other hand covers Jesus’ life more extensively than the other Gospels. In addition, the Quran and the Hadith further clarify the picture of who Jesus really was.

The reason we highlighted the Council of Niceae among other issues discussed in The Da Vinci Code, is the significance this council played in the history of Christianity. This was the moment when the history of this religion began. In order to examine something properly we have to learn its history first. Medical people say that taking the history of a patient is no less important than the physical examination. The existence of the three denominations Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism, and the numerous sects within them, we believe, is the result of the bias, partial and unfair stand of the Emperor who supervised this significant meeting. The disputes between the followers of Arius and the followers of Athanasius or those we believed in the prophet hood of Jesus and those we believed in Trinity had deadly consequences. As a result over a million Christians were killed in the years following the Council’s decision. This was how the Athanasius tried to achieve unity among the Christians. The point is, this Council was held for political reasons, and the churches which came out of it, continued to oppose each other for political dominance, and not to clarify the teaching of Jesus. The famous Thirty Years War between the Protestants and the Catholics was yet another indication that these Churches’ battles were not fought with the intention of establishing the true guidance of Jesus in the land. Speaking of denominations and sects, we have noticed that Dan Brown’s interpretation of Christianity was strongly opposed by Catholics and openly condemned by the Pope himself. On the other hand, some Christian groups who had bad experiences throughout history with the Papacy and the politics of Vatican may even associate themselves with Dan Brown.

Opus Dei

Take the case of Opus Dei, the catholic conservative sect, who has been a secret hand of Vatican during the last century. The author describes it as a deeply devoted catholic sect, quite wealthy but quite dangerous as well, who has been involved in brainwashing, coercion, and a dangerous practice known as 'corporal mortification'. Although the name Opus Dei literally means “God’s Work” media refer to them as “God’s Mafia”[4]. The character of the book, which is controlled by and works for this church, kills four innocent people during one night aiming to please God. No matter how fiction this novel is, the secret sects controlled by the church have played a destructive role throughout the history. The members of these sects, whose life is strictly controlled, with their limited freedom of movement, have often been involved in sexual scandals, rapes and other deadly crimes, facts that can’t be easily denied. Some of them have finally escaped from such institutions, unable to adjust with the mystical life which is actually against the true nature of man.

Judging from a Muslim point of view

We cannot deny the effects of this book on some Muslim readers who have been asking questions about many issues touched by this book, particularly the relationship of Jesus with Mary Magdalene. For a Muslim the final and the ultimate source of knowledge remains the Quran. We believe that Jesus did not marry while he was on earth, but he did not forbid it. Even in the gospels there is no passage which states that a follower of Jesus must take the vow of celibacy. Nor there is any authority for the establishment of single-sex communities such as monasteries or convents.

Moreover, the prophets of God sent to humanity, including Jesus, served as a role model for the society, who lived with high moral and ethical principles. They enjoyed the protection of God against sins and wrongdoings with an immediate correction and intervention from God if the situation required. Therefore, for Muslims is unacceptable the way Dan Brown portrayed Jesus, as a man highly committed to Mary Magdalene, a woman who according to Christian myth was a prostitute, and now there is the move to see her as wife and mother. Jesus, a prophet of God, was not a sexually oriented person; rather he was a Messenger whose guidance and teachings were a reaffirmation and extension of the guidance which the prophets before him had brought.

Muslims, like many Christians, believe in a religious Jesus, and not a historical Jesus. In this context, The Da Vinci Code rightly attempts to reveal the role of Church in shaping the true mission of Jesus on earth, despite of its claims to be the interpreter and the guardian of Jesus’ message. The church was not instituted by Jesus. He did not establish a hierarchy of priests to act as mediators between God and man. From where did the church derive its authority? “There is no salvation outside the Church”, is a phrase, in my opinion, that has always manipulated the humanity. Its teaching about the original sin automatically makes a man feel bad, hence making Christianity the religion of the broken heart.

The present day Christianity is a “mask” on the face of Jesus, a mask worn for a long time and accepted as such. The Muslim believes in the religious Jesus and refuses to accept this mask. This, in a nutshell, has been the point of difference between Islam and the Church for the last fourteen hundred years.

August, 2006 IIUM


[1] Muhammad Ata Ur Rahim in his book Jesus Prophet of Islam, elaborates in more details the development of gospels. He also speaks about the Gospel of Barnabas and the Dead Sea Scrolls, whom he consider as authentic sources as far as the early history of Christianity is concern.

[2] Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, p. 312

[3] Muhammad Ata Ur Rahim, Jesus Prophet Of Islam, p. 101

[4] TIME Magazine, April 24, 2006 published an article regarding Opus Dei, its evolution as a catholic secret sect as well as its connections with Vatican.

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