The Da Vinci Code – Gnosticism & Conspiracy Theories

Gnosticism and Conspiracy Theories

The Da Vinci Code is a best-selling novel by Dan Brown. (Note: this entry includes spoilers).

Brown’s latest thriller (after Angels and Demons) is an exhaustively researched page-turner about secret religious societies, ancient coverups and savage vengeance.

The action kicks off in modern-day Paris with the murder of the Louvre’s chief curator, whose body is found laid out in symbolic repose at the foot of the Mona Lisa. Seizing control of the case are Sophie Neveu, a lovely French police cryptologist, and Harvard symbol expert Robert Langdon, reprising his role from Brown’s last book. The two find several puzzling codes at the murder scene, all of which form a treasure map to the fabled Holy Grail.

As their search moves from France to England, Neveu and Langdon are confounded by two mysterious groups-the legendary Priory of Sion, a nearly 1,000-year-old secret society whose members have included Botticelli and Isaac Newton, and the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei. Both have their own reasons for wanting to ensure that the Grail isn’t found.

Brown sometimes ladles out too much religious history at the expense of pacing, and Langdon is a hero in desperate need of more chutzpah. Still, Brown has assembled a whopper of a plot that will please both conspiracy buffs and thriller addicts.
– Source: Publishers Weekly, cited at

The book is a publishing sensation, with more than 40 million hardcover copies sold worldwide (Mar. 26, 2006).

However, while Publishers Weekly considers the book to be “exhaustively researched”, its controversial plot – suggesting Jesus was married and that the Christian Church hid this information – relies heavily on discredited gnostic writings and conspiracy theories.

Spoiler alert: the book’s big secret is that the Holy Grail isn’t a cup, but a code, of sorts, for the lineage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Magdalene, it turns out, wasn’t a prostitute, but a close companion of Jesus. Her real identity was concealed by early church leaders who feared the truth would undermine church teaching on celibacy (which, of course, hasn’t been questioned since). “The church, in order to defend itself against the Magdalene’s power, perpetuated her image as a whore and buried evidence of Christ’s marriage to her,” one character explains breathlessly, “thereby defusing any potential claims that Christ had a surviving bloodline and was a mortal prophet.”
– Source: Breaking the Code, by Maurice Timothy Reidy, Commonweal, Sep. 13, 2003. Last accessed online on March 28, 2006.



Brown’s scenario of conspiracies and codes treats the Catholic clergy like a pack of sinister liars who covered up truth. He recycles propaganda from folks who dislike orthodox Christianity and favor the ancient world’s rival secret-knowledge (“Gnostic”) sects.
– Source: Was Jesus married? Network tapped fiction, by Richard Ostling, Associated Press, Nov. 22, 2003

Gnosticism Defined

In order to evaluate the information Dan Brown worked into his novel, it is helpful to understand what Gnosticism is:

Gnosticism as a philosophy refers to a related body of teachings that stress the acquisition of “gnosis,” or inner knowledge. The knowledge sought is not strictly intellectual, but mystical; not merely a detached knowledge of or about something, but a knowing by acquaintance or participation. This gnosis is the inner and esoteric mystical knowledge of ultimate reality. It discloses the spark of divinity within, thought to be obscured by ignorance, convention, and mere exoteric religiosity.

This knowledge is not considered to be the possession of the masses but of the Gnostics, the Knowers, who are privy to its benefits. While the orthodox “many” exult in the exoteric religious trappings which stress dogmatic belief and prescribed behavior, the Gnostic “few” pierce through the surface to the esoteric spiritual knowledge of God. The Gnostics claim the Orthodox mistake the shell for the core; the Orthodox claim the Gnostics dive past the true core into a nonexistent one of their own esoteric invention.

To adjudicate this ancient acrimony requires that we examine Gnosticism’s perennial allure, expose its philosophical foundations, size up its historical claims, and square off the Gnostic Jesus with the figure who sustains the New Testament.
– Source: Gnosticism and the Gnostic Jesus by Douglas Groothuis. Last accessed online on March 28, 2004.

This post was last updated: Mar. 28, 2006