Home I Chapter by Chapter I Topic Index I FAQ I Discussion I Links I Author I Bibliography I Book Shop | Site Search



Chapter by Chapter

This is an index of the chapters in the novel which contain substantial claims about history. Those chapters which contain only action scenes or plot elements have been ommited.

Each chapter is sub-divided into topic headings analysing the claims made in that section of the novel and their associated subjects.

BibliographyBook Shop search



Magdalene in The Last Supper?

The Last Supper

John or Mary Magdalene?

John = Salai?

The Restorations of The Last Supper

Was Mary Magdalene Defamed as a 'Prostitute'?

The Marriage of Jesus and Magdalene

Mirror Images in The Last Supper?

The Mysterious Letter 'M'

Did Jesus Marry?

The Gnostic Gospels

The Gospel of Mary

Mary vs Peter

The 'Disembodied Hand' in The Last Supper

Magdalene the Royal Princess?

Sangraal = 'Holy Blood'?

Magdalene in The Last Supper?

"Which one is the painting?" Sophie asked, scanning the walls.
"Hmmm..." Teabing made a show of seeming to have forgotten. "The Holy
Grail. The Sangreal. The Chalice." He wheeled suddenly and pointed to the far wall. On it hung an eight-foot-long print of The Last Supper, the same exact image Sophie had just been looking at. "There she is!"

Sophie was certain she had missed something. "That's the same painting you just showed me."
He winked. "I know, but the enlargement is so much more exciting. Don't you think?"

Sophie turned to Langdon for help. "I'm lost."

Langdon smiled. "As it turns out, the Holy Grail does indeed make an appearance in The Last Supper. Leonardo included her prominently."

"Hold on," Sophie said. "You told me the Holy Grail is a woman. The Last Supper is a painting of thirteen men."

"Is it?" Teabing arched his eyebrows. "Take a closer look."
Uncertain, Sophie made her way closer to the painting, scanning the thirteen figures - Jesus Christ in the middle, six disciples on His left, and six on His right. "They're all men," she confirmed.

"Oh?" Teabing said. "How about the one seated in the place of honor, at the right hand of the Lord?"

Sophie examined the figure to Jesus' immediate right, focusing in. As she studied the person's face and body, a wave of astonishment rose within her. The individual had flowing red hair, delicate folded hands, and the hint of a bosom. It was, without a doubt... female.

"That's a woman!" Sophie exclaimed.
Teabing was laughing. "Surprise, surprise. Believe me, it's no mistake. Leonardo was skilled at painting the difference between the sexes."

Sophie could not take her eyes from the woman beside Christ. The Last Supper is supposed to be thirteen men. Who is this woman? Although Sophie had seen this classic image many times, she had not once noticed his glaring discrepancy.

"Everyone misses it," Teabing said. "Our preconceived notions of this scene are so powerful that our mind blocks out the incongruity and overrides our eyes."

"It's known as skitoma," Langdon added. "The brain does it sometimes with powerful symbols."

"Another reason you might have missed the woman," Teabing said, "is that many of the photographs in art books were taken before 1954, when the details were still hidden beneath layers of grime and several restorative repaintings done by clumsy hands in the eighteenth century. Now, at last, the fresco has been cleaned down to Da Vinci's original layer of paint." He motioned to the photograph. "Et voila!"

Sophie moved closer to the image. The woman to Jesus' right was young and pious-looking, with a demure face, beautiful red hair, and hands folded quietly. This is the woman who singlehandedly could crumble the Church?

"Who is she?" Sophie asked.

"That, my dear," Teabing replied, "is Mary Magdalene."
(Chapter 58, pp. 242-243)

This long passage is worth quoting in full largely because it is probably the part of the book which has caught most readers' imaginations. Unlike many of the other subjects the novel touches on (the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, the Gnostic gospels) Leonardo's The Last Supper is something with which all Brown's readers would be very familiar. And unlike those more unfamiliar elements, this is one claim which most readers would be able to check. It is not difficult for the average reader to find a copy of The Last Supper in an art book or online and 'see' Mary Magdalene next to Jesus for themselves. Many readers, when they become aware of Brown's many other errors and distortions, often cling to this one 'fact' because they feel they have seen Magdalene in the painting with their own eyes. Once they have read this passage in the novel and then looked at the painting, they find it very difficult that this figure to Jesus' right could be anything other than a woman and anyone other than Mary Magdalene.

Unfortunately for them, they tend to be looking at the painting with an untrained eye. And the commentary on the painting given to them by Brown via Langdon and Teabing is even more full of errors, distortions and misinformation as anything else in the novel and so is an untrustworthy guide to what they are seeing.

Brown's analysis of the painting is lifted directly from Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince's conspiracy theory The Templar Revelation, which is where he gets most of his misinformation about Leonardo, his art and his beliefs. In fact, there is not an art historian on earth who agrees with Picknett and Prince's amateur opinion that this figure is Magdalene.

Back to Chapters

The Last Supper

Leonard began this mural (it is not a 'fresco', as Brown calls it) for his patron Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan in 1495 and completed it in 1498. It measures 880 x 460 cms and covers one wall of the refectory, or dining hall, of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Paintings of the Last Supper were a traditional theme for the decoration of monastic refectories and in many ways Leonardo's work keeps to the traditions of such paintings, though he departs from them in some small but significant ways. On the whole, however, he is faithful to the story of the Last Supper told in the gospel of John (John 13-18).

Leonardo depicts a specific incident in John's account: the moment after the supper itself when Jesus announces one of his followers is going to betray him (John 13:21-32). According to the gospel account Leonardo was following, when Jesus announced this, his disciples were shocked and dismayed. John ('the disciple Jesus loved') was reclining next to Jesus, so Peter 'signed to him' (John 13:24) and said to him 'Ask (Jesus) who he means.' John asks this question of Jesus and Jesus says it will be the man to whom he passes a piece of bread. He then dips some bread in some sauce and gives it to Judas.

This is precisely what Leonardo depicts. In his painting, Jesus sits serenely in the middle of the twelve disciples, who are ranged on either side of him in two groups of three. From the left they are Bartholomew, James the Lesser and Andrew, then Judas, Peter and John. On the other side of Jesus are Thomas, James Major and Philip and then Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot. All are expressing anger, alarm and dismay at Jesus' words, except Judas, who is leaning back into shadow, turned partly towards Jesus and partly away from the viewer.

Directly to Jesus' right are John and Peter. As in the gospel account, Peter is leaning forward, touching John's shoulder to get his attention, pointing towards Jesus with his index finger and asking him to question Jesus. John is leaning back toward Peter, his head down and listening to what Peter is saying. It is also significant that Leonardo groups Judas with these two. It is partly because Judas must be near Jesus if Jesus could hand him the bread, but also because these three represent three different standards of loyalty to Jesus: Judas betrays him, Peter denies him and then repents and John stays with him until his death.

Back to Chapters

John or Mary Magdalene?

So why does this John figure look so much like a woman to the untrained modern eye? This is largely because John was traditionally believed to have been one of the only disciples who lived to an immensely old age; dying, according to Christian traditions, on the island of Patmos in the early Second Century AD. As a result, John was usually depicted as being very young when he was a follower of Jesus in the 30s AD. This comparison of depictions of John from the time shows that John was always shown as a teenager or beardless youth for this reason. In fact, Jacobo Bassano's depiction of the Last Supper goes so far as to show John as a young child.

For this reason, the John in Leonardo's painting is one of only two men in the picture who are beardless; the other being Philip, who was also traditionally depicted as being younger than the others. In Leonardo's time it was fashionable for youths and young men to be clean-shaven and have shoulder-length hair, while older men often wore beards and shorter hair, so John is shown without a beard and with 'flowing red hair'. A comparison with other medieval and renaissance depictions of John also shows that he was often depicted with red or reddish-brown hair (see the link above).

But there are two other reasons Leonardo's depiction of John looks feminine to modern eyes. Firstly, the aesthetics of male beauty in youths in Leonardo's time was decidedly feminine compared to modern tastes. A youth who was considered attractive tended not to be ruggedly handsome and burly, but rather delicately featured, fair and rather girlish. This was particularly the case for Leonardo's depictions of such young men.

Brown has Teabing assure Sophie ' "Believe me, it's no mistake. Leonardo was skilled at painting the difference between the sexes." ' In fact, Leonardo is renowned for painting figures of ambiguous sex. Angels were traditionally depicted as young men, but Leonardo's angels could easily be mistaken for girls. And Leonardo did one painting of another young John - John the Baptist - which, if the viewer did not know who the painting was of, would easily be mistaken for a young woman:

This sexual ambiguity in Leonardo's depictions of young men was partly because of the aesthetic of the time, but it could also have been influenced by Leonardo's own sexuality. Despite Brown having Langdon claim Leonardo was a 'flamboyant homosexual', the evidence about his sexuality is actually unclear. He never married, he kept young men on as apprentices despite their lack of artistic ability and, in one case, he kept one on even though the young man had stolen from him. As a youth in 1476 Leonardo was also accused, with three other young men, of sodomy with a young male prostitute. After two hearings, the charges were dropped because of lack of evidence and there is some speculation the young plaintiff was a scam artist trying to blackmail the accused. That said, there is certainly some evidence Leonardo was homosexual.

If this is the case, it could go some way to explaining the way he liked to depict young men in his art.

Back to Chapters

John = Salai?

Some art experts have actually gone further with this idea. It is well known that Leonardo had a favourite pupil in his studio: one Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, better known by his nickname 'Salai', or 'the little devil'.

He was aptly named. Leonardo took Salai into his home when the boy was aged ten and made him one of his pupils. Salai was not a great artist, but Leonardo cared for him and housed him until the time of the great artist's death, after which he left a vineyard to Salai in his will. This was despite the fact Salai ran away several times, stole from Leonardo on several occasions and was noted for his theivery, bad manners and gluttony. Leonardo himself wrote in exasperation that Salai was 'theivish, lying, obstinate and greedy'.

While there is no clear evidence that Leonardo was gay, it is widely thought that he put up with Salai's behaviour because the pair were lovers. Judging from a drawing of Salai by Leonardo, he was clearly a very attractive, rather girlish-featured young man, with flowing hair and large eyes. In fact, this drawing is so close to the figure of John in The Last Supper in its pose and its features that it is thought Salai was the most likely model for the John figure in the painting. This becomes clear when the two figures are superimposed:

Drawing of Salai by Leonardo

Detail of John, from The Last Supper

Salai and John superimposed 1

Salai and John superimposed 2

The pose, the features and the boy's nose and small, feminine chin are identical in both pictures. In fact, the only differences are that John's eyes are downcast and Salai is smiling, which makes sense considering the circumstances of the gospel scene Leonardo is depicting in The Last Supper.

So a good case can be made that John looks feminine because he is based on the feminine youth, Salai.

Back to Chapters

The Restorations of The Last Supper

Teabing assures Sophie that one of the reasons art experts have not noticed 'Mary' in The Last Supper before is that the painting has been clumsily 'restored', touched up and generally tampered with over the centuries. He states that the recent expert and painstaking restoration work completed in 1954 has revealed 'details …. hidden beneath layers of grime and several restorative repaintings done by clumsy hands in the eighteenth century.' He then declares 'Now, at last, the fresco has been cleaned down to Da Vinci's original layer of paint …. Et voila!"'

It is entirely true that the painting was obscured and altered by repeated and often clumsy restoration attempts over the centuries. Contrary to Brown's repeated use of the word 'fresco' in relation to the painting, it is actually painted in an experimental oil and tempera mixture directly onto the stone of the wall; not onto wet plaster, as in a true fresco. This allowed Leonardo to go back and make adjustments to the painting over the four years he worked on it. Unfortunately, it also meant the painting began to deteriorate soon after it was completed. In 1517, Antonio de Beatis noted that The Last Supper was falling apart and in 1726 Michelangelo Bellotti began the first of several attempts at 'restoration'.

Bellotti cleaned it with caustic solvents and then covered it with layers of oil paint and varnish to try to restore and preserve it. In 1770 Giusseppe Mazza removed much of his predecessor's work and then touched it up with oil paints. Then, in 1853, Stefano Barezzi tried to remove the painting from the wall altogether and, when that failed, tried to glue the paint fragments to the base to prevent further decay. These attempts all served to further damage the painting and it was only in the Twentieth Century that more scientific approaches to careful restoration were undertaken.

It was only in 1903 that Luigi Cavengahi finally determined that the painting was not done simply in oil, but in an oil and tempera mix. Between 1906 and 1908 he cleaned the painting carefully and retouched some areas. It was cleaned again in 1924 by Oreste Silvestri.

The Last Supper suffered again in 1943, when it was almost destroyed by bombing. It was protected by sandbags and reinforcing braces, but the bombed-out refectory remained open to the elements for some years before it was repaired. After the War, between 1951and 1954, Mauro Pelliccioli cleaned the painting of mildew and protected it with a shellac-based coating, helping to preserve the damaged work. This is the restoration Brown has Teabing refer to, but it was did not 'down to Da Vinci's original layer of paint' as Teabing claims.

In fact, the most recent, most scientific and most extensive restoration of The Last Supper began in 1979 and was completed in 1999, under the guidance of Pinin Brambilla Barcilon. Rather than simply cleaning and stabilising the painting, Brambilla chose to actually remove the oil-based 'restorative' overpainting from the Eighteenth Century, because it was eating away at Leonardo's original pigments. Brambilla removed the over painting and then repainted critical parts of the work in watercolour in what she thought were the most likely colours and tones used by Leonardo. Many hailed her 20 year project as a triumph of preservation and restoration, but others savagely criticised it. Professor James Beck of Columbia University's Art History department in New York was a trenchant critic, arguing that the removal of the over painting actually served to also remove more of Leonardo's original pigments and that the watercolour additions were effectively repainting the work all over again. Commenting to the BBC when the restoration was unveiled in 1999 he said 'It's taking art lovers for a ride. What you have is a modern repainting of a work that was poorly conserved. It doesn't have an echo of the past.' (The Last Supper Shown, BBC News, Thursday, 27 May, 1999)

Other critics defended Brambilla's choices, but no-one would disagree that, in many significant places, there is actually nothing of Leonardo's original paint at all. Most importantly for readers of The Da Vinci Code, almost none of the pigment on the faces of the central figures is original.

So not only is what Brown has Teabing claim about the most recent restoration wrong, but - more importantly - his assertion that the restored painting now reveals 'Da Vinci's original layer of paint' is pure nonsense.

Back to Chapters

Was Mary Magdalene Defamed as a 'Prostitute'?

"That, my dear," Teabing replied, "is Mary Magdalene."

Sophie turned. "The prostitute?"

Teabing drew a short breath, as if the word had injured him personally.
"Magdalene was no such thing. That unfortunate misconception is the legacy of a smear campaign launched by the early Church.

(Chapter 58, p. 244)

The average reader of The Da Vinci Code may know little about Mary Magdalene, but the idea she was a prostitute before she met Jesus is deeply ingrained in western culture. Painters from the Middle Ages to the Modern Period traditionally depicted her with flowing, uncovered hair (usually red), rich robes and youthful beauty - an image of a wealthy whore. In periods where painters were usually commissioned to paint the Virgin Mary or pious and chaste female saints and martyrs, 'Magdalene the Whore' gave them the license to insert the vaguest hint of sex into their works. Modern depictions of her in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and The Last Temptation of Christ reinforce this traditional image in the public mind, so Brown's 'revelation', via Teabing, that this was simply part of a Church 'smear campaign' has caught many readers' imaginations.

In fact, the idea that she was a prostitute was never at any time part of the doctrine of the Catholic Church or any other churches - it was simply a popular folk-belief. Brown seems to have got the idea that it was a deliberate 'smear campaign' from the fact that, on September 21, 591, Pope Gregory the Great gave an influential sermon where he declared that Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, 'the woman taken in adultery' described in John 8:3 and the woman who anointed Jesus' feet in Luke 3 were all the same person. The word Gregory used to describe this composite character was peccatrix, or 'sinner', but he did not use the Latin word for 'prostitute' - meretrix. The popular idea that Magdalene's 'sin' was sexual and that she was, therefore, a prostitute certainly did arise from Gregory's preaching indirectly, but neither Pope Gregory nor any other Church leader ever maintained that she was a prostitute as a matter of faith and doctrine.

In 1969 the Second Vatican Council clarified the Church's teaching on Mary Magdalene, correcting Pope Gregory's assertion that Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the other two unnamed women were all the same person. It also assured Catholics that the popular folk-belief that Magdalene was a prostitute was without foundation. The media and some of Brown's supporters have claimed this was some kind of belated reversal of Pope Gregory's 'smear campaign', but it is clear that Gregory's official Church doctrine never claimed Magdalene was a prostitute in the first place and this was never taught by the Catholic Church at any time.

As appealing as it may be to some readers of the novel, the idea that Magdalene was declared a prostitute by the Church as a smear is totally without foundation. In an interview with Dan Burstein, Katherine Ludwig Jansen - author of The Making of the Magdalene: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages - was at pains to reject the idea of any deliberate 'smear campaign':

In my view, "cover-up" and 'conspiracy" are not useful ways to understand the historical confusion about Mary Magdalene's identity .... it would be a gross misinterpretation of history to view it as a conspiracy or an act of maliciousness on (Pope Gregory's) part.
(Dan Burstein (ed.), Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorised Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code, p. 49)

Back to Chapters

The Marriage of Jesus and Magdalene

The Church needed to defame Mary Magdalene in order to cover up her dangerous secret--her role as the Holy Grail."

"Her role?"

"As I mentioned, "Teabing clarified, "the early Church needed to convince the world that the mortal prophet Jesus was a divine being. Therefore, any gospels that described earthly aspects of Jesus' life had to be omitted from the Bible. Unfortunately for the early editors, one particularly troubling earthly theme kept recurring in the gospels. Mary Magdalene." He paused. "More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ."

"I beg your pardon?" Sophie's eyes moved to Langdon and then back to Teabing.

"It's a matter of historical record," Teabing said, "and Da Vinci was certainly aware of that fact.

(Chapter 58, p. 244)

This is one of various points in the novel where Brown, through Teabing and Langdon, assures the reader that the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is 'a matter of historical record. Here Teabing asserts that the gospels excluded from the canon of the Bible rejected 'earthly' aspects of his life (such as this supposed 'marriage') and only accepted a 'divine' being.

In fact, quite the opposite is true. Despite Brown's various claims to the contrary, the Gnostic gospels and others rejected from the canon tended to depict Jesus as a purely spiritual, purely divine being who, at best, only had the appearance of humanity. These texts had little interest in or detail about his life, his actions, his friends and family or anything human and concentrated almost exclusively on his teachings or teachings they attributed to him. The canonical gospels, on the other hand, depicted a much more rounded picture of Jesus. This makes sense, considering they were written within a few decades of the life of the man himself, before it became fully encrusted with legend. In those Biblical gospels Jesus not only has companions and family, enemies and debates and journeys and miracles, but he also gets angry, expresses frustration, insults his enemies, rejoices, eats and drinks and weeps at the death of a close friend. Far from presenting some remote divine figure, the Jesus of the canonical gospels is often, for modern Christians, rather uncomfortably and authentically human. And, far from presenting a more human Jesus, the later Gnostic texts actually depict him as a one dimensional abstraction who is above and beyond any man.

Dan Brown's characters actually get the story completely backwards.

In this passage Brown has Teabing lead into the idea that the Gnostic gospels make it clear that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that, therefore, this is 'a matter of historical record', but this is totally incorrect on several levels.

Back to Chapters

Mirror Images in The Last Supper?

"It's a matter of historical record," Teabing said, "and Da Vinci was certainly aware of that fact. The Last Supper practically shouts at the viewer that Jesus and Magdalene were a pair."

Sophie glanced back to the fresco.

"Notice that Jesus and Magdalene are clothed as mirror images of one another." Teabing pointed to the two individuals in the center of the fresco.

Sophie was mesmerized. Sure enough, their clothes were inverse colors. Jesus wore a red robe and blue cloak; Mary Magdalene wore a blue robe and red cloak. Yin and yang.

(Chapter 58, p. 244)

This is one of several places where Brown has Teabing insist that the marriage of Magdalene and Jesus is 'a matter of historical record'. In fact, there is no evidence at all that Jesus married Mary Magdalene or anyone else.

Nor is there any evidence that Leonardo was 'certainly aware of the fact' of such a marriage. The entire thesis that he believed in this idea is based on his supposed membership of the 'Priory of Sion', but the evidence clearly shows that the 'Priory' was a Twentieth Century hoax, so there is no way Leonardo could have been a member of a secret society which did not exist in his time. All the evidence we have about his religious beliefs indicates that they were entirely unremarkable and we have zero evidence that he held any unorthodox ideas or had any particular interest in Mary Magdalene.

As for the claim that John and Jesus are a 'mirror image' of each other, there are several figures in The Last Supper wearing similar shades of red and blue, including one (Philip) who is also wearing both colours. This is simply a matter of compositional balance. Leonardo grouped the disciples into four trios, with Jesus as an isolated focal point in the middle. The three disciples to the right of Jesus lean in close to him, but John, Peter and Judas lean away. In order to tie those three on the left of Jesus into the composition, Leonardo made the colours of John's robes similar to those of Jesus (not identical), but this choice has no significance other than this.

Back to Chapters

The Mysterious Letter 'M'

"Venturing into the more bizarre," Teabing said, "note that Jesus and
His bride appear to be joined at the hip and are leaning away from one another as if to create this clearly delineated negative space between them."

Even before Teabing traced the contour for her, Sophie saw it-the indisputable V shape at the focal point of the painting. It was the same symbol Langdon had drawn earlier for the Grail, the chalice, and the female womb.

(Chapter 58, p. 244)

The 'focal point' of the painting is actually Jesus himself, not any 'negative space' to his right. Leonardo used composition and colour to actually link John's side of the painting to Jesus and any supposedly V-shaped 'negative space' was simply part of his composition.

"Finally," Teabing said, "if you view Jesus and Magdalene as compositional elements rather than as people, you will see another obvious shape leap out at you." He paused. "A letter of the alphabet."

Sophie saw it at once. To say the letter leapt out at her was an understatement. The letter was suddenly all Sophie could see. Glaring in the center of the painting was the unquestionable outline of an enormous, flawlessly formed letter M.

"A bit too perfect for coincidence, wouldn't you say?" Teabing asked.

Sophie was amazed. "Why is it there?"

Teabing shrugged. "Conspiracy theorists will tell you it stands for Matrimonio or Mary Magdalene. To be honest, nobody is certain. The only certainty is that the hidden M is no mistake. Countless Grail-related works contain the hidden letter M - whether as watermarks, underpaintings, or compositional allusions. The most blatant M, of course, is emblazoned on the altar at Our Lady of Paris in London, which was designed by a former Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, Jean Cocteau."
(Chapter 58, p. 244)

The perfection and obviousness of this 'flawless' (actually, rather lop-sided) letter 'M' seems to lie purely in Brown's imagination. This supposed 'M' is not a 'certainty at all, and - like finding shapes in clouds - it is not hard to 'find' several letters in the composition of The Last Supper if you try hard enough.

Jean Cocteau was not a 'Grand Master' of the so-called 'Priory of Sion' because the hoax 'Priory' was not invented until some years after he died in 1963. The 'M' on the altar of Our Lady of Paris actually stands, not surprisingly, for 'Mary' - the Virgin's name.

Back to Chapters

Did Jesus Marry?

Sophie weighed the information. "I'll admit, the hidden M's are intriguing, although I assume nobody is claiming they are proof of Jesus' marriage to Magdalene."

"No, no," Teabing said, going to a nearby table of books. "As I said earlier, the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record." He began pawing through his book collection.

"Moreover, Jesus as a married man makes infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as a bachelor."

"Why?" Sophie asked.

"Because Jesus was a Jew," Langdon said, taking over while Teabing searched for his book, "and the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son. If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible's gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood."

(Chapter 58, p. 245)

This assertion that Brown makes through Langdon has convinced many of his readers that Jesus would have had to have been married. In fact, holy celibacy was not universally 'condemned' in Jesus' time at all - we have many examples of Jewish holy men from that time who were celibate. One branch of Jewish tradition - the rabbinical branch of the Pharisees - seems to have frowned on the practice and, when it came to dominate Judaism after Jesus' time, made marriage a religious duty, but they and their teaching on the matter did not dominate Judaism in Jesus' time.

The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, makes it clear that the elite of one of the four major Jewish sects of the time, the Essenes, practiced holy celibacy:

Although (the Essenes) are Jews by birth, they love one another even more than the others. They avoid pleasures as a vice and hold that virtue is to overcome one's passions and not be subject to them. Marriage is disdained by them. But they adopt the children of others while still young, leading them like kin through their studies and impressing them with their customs.
(Jewish Wars, 2:120)

Josephus' own spiritual mentor, Bannus, was also a celibate hermit:

I was informed that one, whose name was Banus, lived in the desert, and used no other clothing than grew upon trees, and had no other food than what grew of its own accord, and bathed himself in cold water frequently, both by night and by day, in order to preserve his chastity, I imitated him in those things, and continued with him three years.
(The Life of Josephus, 2:11)

The Jewish historian Philo also described another Jewish sect he called the Therapeutae, who lived in celibate communities in the desert. Like Bannus, the Therapeutae and the Essenes, John the Baptist lived alone in the desert and it seems that he too was celibate. Finally, the Christian apostle Paul - a rabbi trained by the famous Pharisee Gamaliel - states clearly in one of his letters that he is celibate and encourages unmarried Christians in Corinth to avoid marriage if they can:

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
(1Corinthians, 7:9)

So holy celibacy was not common in Jesus' time, but it was far from unknown or even highly remarkable. Later in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions (1Corinthians 9:5) that 'all the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas (Peter)' were all married but, significantly, he does not mention Jesus in this list. Finally, Jesus himself had very little to say in his reported teaching about marriage, but he is reported as praising holy celibacy:

"For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
(Matthew 19:12)

It is clear that Jesus was not married but, like some other Jews of his time, chose to be celibate for spiritual reasons.

Back to Chapters

The Gnostic Gospels

Teabing located a huge book and pulled it toward him across the table. The leather-bound edition was poster-sized, like a huge atlas. The cover read: The Gnostic Gospels. Teabing heaved it open, and Langdon and Sophie joined him. Sophie could see it contained photographs of what appeared to be magnified passages of ancient documents - tattered papyrus with handwritten text. She did not recognize the ancient language, but the facing pages bore typed translations.

"These are photocopies of the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls, which I mentioned earlier," Teabing said. "The earliest Christian records. Troublingly, they do not match up with the gospels in the Bible."

(Chapter 58, p. 245)

It is strange that Teabing has a book which reproduces the Dead Sea Scrolls under the title The Gnostic Gospels, since none of the Dead Sea Scrolls are 'gospels', Gnostic or even Christian. Contrary to Teabing's assertion that the Dead Sea Scrolls are 'the earliest Christian records', they are purely Jewish works which not only have nothing to do with Christianity but which were, for the most part, composed about 150 years before Jesus was even born.

Similarly, Teabing seems to be under the impression that the Nag Hammadi texts, which definitely were Gnostic Christian works, were 'scrolls', when they were actually codices - an early form of folded and sewn book.

Flipping toward the middle of the book, Teabing pointed to a passage. "The Gospel of Philip is always a good place to start." Sophie read the passage:

And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, "Why do you love her more than all of us?"

The words surprised Sophie, and yet they hardly seemed conclusive. "It says nothing of marriage."

"Au contraire." Teabing smiled, pointing to the first line. "As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse."

Langdon concurred with a nod.
Sophie read the first line again. And the companion of the Saviour is
Mary Magdalene.

(Chapter 58, p. 246)

What Teabing and Langdon neglect to tell Sophie is that the Gospel of Philip was written around 138 AD at the very earliest (possibly much later still) and so was written a whole century after Jesus' time. This, on its own, makes it an unreliable source of accurate biographical information about Jesus' life.

The writer of Philip actually seems to have had little interest in Jesus' life - the 'gospel' is actually a collection of sayings attributed by the Gnostic teacher, Valentinus (c. 100-153 AD), to Jesus. It contains little biographical detail, probably because the Gnostics did not believe Jesus was a human at all and (contrary to Teabing and Langdon's claims) were not interested in the human details of his life.

There are also several problems with the passage Sophie reads. It should actually read like this:

And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her […]. The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?"
(Philip, 59)

The manuscript is badly damaged in places and has a number of holes caused by ants. This means several of the key words in the passage are actually missing and the text Sophie reads contains possible guesses as to what the missing words were. 'Mouth' is a possibility, for example, for where Jesus (another guess) kissed Mary Magdalene.

That aside, there are several reasons this text cannot be used as 'evidence' Jesus married Magdalene. Teabing claims 'any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse'. In fact, the opinion of any Aramaic scholar on the matter would be irrelevant, since Philip is written in Coptic, not Aramaic. And the word in question - 'koinonos' - is a Greek loan-word anyway. In Greek, 'koinonos' meant 'companion', 'travelling partner', 'business partner' or 'associate'. It is not used to mean 'spouse', 'wife' or 'sexual partner' in any of its many examples of usage in Greek, and it is not as though Koine Greek lacked words for those concepts. There is no reason, therefore, to assume it has those meanings here.

And the objection of 'rest of the disciples' where they ask why Jesus loves Magdalene more also argues against the idea the two were married. If Magdalene were Jesus' wife, the answer to that objection would be clear - he loves her more because he is married to her. The objection does not make much sense if Brown's claims about this passage are true.

Modern readers associate a kiss, especially one on the mouth, as a sign of sexual love. But ancient people used such kisses as a greeting and as a sign of fellowship. More importantly, the Gnostics also used such a kiss as a symbol of the passing and sharing of secret gnosis - the hidden 'knowledge' that gave their sect its name. Brown neglects to mention that Philip depicts Jesus discussing this symbolic kiss earlier in the text:

[Grace comes] forth by him from the mouth, the place where the Logos came forth; (one) was to be nourished from the mouth to become perfect. The perfect are conceived thru a kiss and they are born. Therefore we also are motivated to kiss one another- to receive conception from within our mutual grace.
(Philip, 35)

Other Gnostic texts make it equally clear that this initiate's kiss was symbolic, not sexual. In the Second Apocalypse of James, Jesus is depicting exchanging such a symbolic kiss with his brother, James:

And Jesus kissed my mouth. He took hold of me saying, 'My beloved! Behold, I shall reveal to you those things that the heavens nor the angels have known. Behold, I shall reveal to you everything, my beloved. Behold, I shall reveal to you what is hidden. But now, stretch out your hand. Now, take hold of me'
(Second Apocalypse of James)

Clearly there is nothing sexual about this kiss or his addressing his brother as 'My beloved'. Brown has Teabing ignore this context and therefore misinterprets the kiss in Philip with an anachronistically modern understanding of the meaning of such a kiss.

Back to Chapters

The Gospel of Mary

Sir Leigh Teabing was still talking. "I shan't bore you with the countless references to Jesus and Magdalene's union. That has been explored ad nauseum by modern historians. I would, however, like to point out the following." He motioned to another passage. "This is from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene."

Sophie had not known a gospel existed in Magdalene's words. She read the text:

And Peter said, "Did the Saviour really speak with a woman without our knowledge? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?"

And Levi answered, "Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like an adversary. If the Saviour made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Saviour knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us."

(Chapter 58, p. 247)

Teabing does not 'bore' Sophie with these 'countless references to Jesus and Magdalene's union', because they simply do not exist. This also means these non-existent 'countless references' cannot have been 'explored ad nauseum by modern historians'. This is yet another example of vague assurances of expert agreement and general references to unnamed sources are used by Brown to bolster the credibility of the 'information' his characters impart.

The Gospel of Mary is not a gospel 'in Magdalene's words' because it dates, at the earliest, to the late Second Century AD; or over 120 years after Magdalene would have died. It reflects the religious politics of that time - with Peter and Levi representing the Gnostics' orthodox opponents and 'Mary' representing the Gnostic's belief in direct revelation from God rather than the passing down of traditions about Jesus from his original followers. The gospel itself does not make it clear that the 'Mary' it mentions is Magdalene rather than Mary of Bethany or any of the other Marys mentioned in early Christian texts, but it seems a reasonable hypothesis.

Back to Chapters

Mary vs Peter

"The woman they are speaking of," Teabing explained, "is Mary Magdalene. Peter is jealous of her."

"Because Jesus preferred Mary?"

"Not only that. The stakes were far greater than mere affection. At this point in the gospels, Jesus suspects He will soon be captured and crucified. So He gives Mary Magdalene instructions on how to carry on His Church after He is gone. As a result, Peter expresses his discontent over playing second fiddle to a woman. I daresay Peter was something of a sexist."

Sophie was trying to keep up. "This is Saint Peter. The rock on which
Jesus built His Church."

"The same, except for one catch. According to these unaltered gospels, it was not Peter to whom Christ gave directions with which to establish the Christian Church. It was Mary Magdalene."

Sophie looked at him. "You're saying the Christian Church was to be carried on by a woman?"

"That was the plan. Jesus was the original feminist. He intended for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene."

(Chapter 58, p. 248)

Here Brown has Teabing again refer to this late Gnostic text as an 'unaltered gospel', when it is actually very much a later development within Second Century Christianity which says more about the beliefs of that time than it does about real events in Jesus' time, over a century and a half before.

Teabing's interpretation of this text and the Gospel of Mary generally is also very strange. Despite what he claims, there is nothing in Mary to indicate that Jesus intended Mary Magdalene to lead the Church, nor is this idea found in any other Gnostic text or anywhere else at all. This wild hypothesis is pure fiction. As for the Gnostic image of Jesus as something of a 'feminist', this idea is based on a highly selective reading of the Gnostic texts. Many Gnostic works actually seem to be highly sexist and openly hostile to women, since the Gnostics saw sex and conception as imprisoning more spiritual souls in the physical world they sought to escape. The Jesus of another Gnostic text, the Gospel of Thomas certainly does not sound like 'the original feminist':

Simon Peter said to him, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life."

Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."

(Thomas, 114)

Back to Chapters

The 'Disembodied Hand' in The Last Supper

"And Peter had a problem with that," Langdon said, pointing to The Last Supper. "That's Peter there. You can see that Da Vinci was well aware of how Peter felt about Mary Magdalene."

Again, Sophie was speechless. In the painting, Peter was leaning menacingly toward Mary Magdalene and slicing his blade-like hand across her neck. The same threatening gesture as in Madonna of the Rocks!

"And here too," Langdon said, pointing now to the crowd of disciples near Peter. "A bit ominous, no?"

Sophie squinted and saw a hand emerging from the crowd of disciples.

"Is that hand wielding a dagger?"

"Yes. Stranger still, if you count the arms, you'll see that this hand belongs to ... no one at all. It's disembodied. Anonymous."

(Chapter 58, p. 248)

The slicing of Peter's 'blade-like hand' across John's neck is another 'detail' Brown has lifted directly from Picknett and Prince's The Templar Revelation. In fact, Peter's hand is neither 'blade-like' nor threatening. He is touching John on the shoulder to ask him to query Jesus as to who is going to betray him. John is leaning towards Peter to listen to his question. The fingers of Peter's hand are curled, not 'blade-like', and the only finger which is extended is the index finger, which is pointing towards Jesus.

This is also nothing like the supposedly 'threatening gesture as in Madonna of the Rocks' - a reference to the protective, open-handed gesture of the Virgin over the head of her son Jesus (Brown muddles Jesus with John and claims this gesture is 'claw-like' and 'threatening'). Peter is merely pointing towards Jesus as he talks to John about him.

The claim that the 'dagger' is held by a mysterious 'disembodied' hand is even more ridiculous. The 'dagger' is actually a bread knife and the hand that holds it is not 'disembodied' or 'anonymous' - it belongs to Peter.

We know this because the preliminary sketch for the figure of Peter that Leonardo made in preparation for the painting still survives and is kept in the Royal collection at Windsor Castle. This sketch clearly shows that it is Peter who is holding this knife; something which is made even more clear when that sketch is superimposed on the (damaged) right arm of Peter in The Last Supper.

Detail of the 'Disemboadied Hand' with the knife in The Last Supper

Leonardo's study of the hand of Peter for The Last Supper

Combined image of the Windsor Castle study and the final painting of Peter's hand

Peter's clutching of the bread knife is a symbolic prefigurement of a later episode in the story - where Peter uses a sword to defend Jesus as Judas betrays him to his captors. Once again, Brown's use of unreliable amateurish 'sources' and his failure to check their claims means he manages to totally mislead unwary readers.

Back to Chapters

Magdalene the Royal Princess?

Sophie was starting to feel overwhelmed. "I'm sorry, I still don't understand how all of this makes Mary Magdalene the Holy Grail."

"Aha!" Teabing exclaimed again. "Therein lies the rub!" He turned once more to the table and pulled out a large chart, spreading it out for her. It was an elaborate genealogy. "Few people realize that Mary Magdalene, in addition to being Christ's right hand, was a powerful woman already."

Sophie could now see the title of the family tree.

"Mary Magdalene is here," Teabing said, pointing near the top of the genealogy.

Sophie was surprised. "She was of the House of Benjamin?"

"Indeed," Teabing said. "Mary Magdalene was of royal descent."

"But I was under the impression Magdalene was poor."

Teabing shook his head. "Magdalene was recast as a whore in order to erase evidence of her powerful family ties."

Sophie found herself again glancing at Langdon, who again nodded. She turned back to Teabing. "But why would the early Church care if Magdalene had royal blood?"

The Briton smiled. "My dear child, it was not Mary Magdalene's royal blood that concerned the Church so much as it was her consorting with Christ, who also had royal blood. As you know, the Book of Matthew tells us that Jesus was of the House of David. A descendant of King Solomon - King of the Jews. By marrying into the powerful House of Benjamin, Jesus fused two royal bloodlines, creating a potent political union with the potential of making a legitimate claim to the throne and restoring the line of kings as it was under Solomon."

(Chapter 58. p. 248-249)

Brown's claim, via Teabing, that Mary Magdalene was 'of royal descent' would be news to historians. Even taking the much later information in the non-canonical gospels into account, the data we have on Magdalene is miniscule and none of it indicates anything about her origins other than the fact she was from Magdala in Galilee. There is absolutely nothing in any of the source material about her family, let alone her ancestry.

Brown seems to have got his idea that Magdalene was 'of royal descent' and came from the Jewish tribe of Benjamin purely from a book by 'Margaret Starbird' called The Woman with the Alabaster Jar.

'Starbird' (her full real name is unknown, but her first name seems to have been 'Maureen') was originally a Catholic, but she departed from Catholicism and mainstream Christianity when she read Holy Blood Holy Grail. Without realising that this amateur book was based on the whole 'Priory of Sion' hoax, she separated from her Catholic faith and began pursuing research regarding Holy Blood Holy Grail's claims about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Drawing on much later medieval legends which seemed to indicate that Magdalene fled to France after Jesus' crucifixion, 'Starbird' developed a complex 'history' of Jesus and Mary's marriage which she published, in 1993, as The Woman with the Alabaster Jar.

Her book was welcomed by some feminists, New Agers and elements on the fringe of liberal Christianity; including, oddly, the otherwise scholarly and sensible American Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong. Historians, on the other hand, regarded her speculations and hypotheses as amateurish nonsense.

Convinced of Holy Blood Holy Grail's claims Jesus married Magdalene, 'Starbird' asked herself why he would have chosen this particular woman. Judging from the tiny amount of information available about her, there seemed nothing special about Magdalene. 'Starbird' decided that, since Jesus was supposedly a descendant of the distantly ancient Jewish royal house of David, Magdalene must also have been of royal birth. There was nothing in the evidence to indicate this at all but, despite this, 'Starbird' decided that Magdalene 'must have been' of the house of Benjamin, which was the tribe of the earlier Jewish king Saul.

Both the house (and tribe) of David and that of Benjamin were distant historical concepts in Jesus and Magdalene's time. All Jews traced their distant ancestry to one of the original twelve tribes of Israel - the descendants of the legendary twelve sons of Jacob, the son of Abraham in the early history of their people. But the idea that someone of the 'house of Benjamin' or the 'house of David' in the First Century AD was actually a direct lineal descendant of Benjamin or David was as unlikely as someone in the Twenty-first Century with the Scottish surname 'McDonald' being a linear descendant of an ancient Scotsman called 'Donal'.

That aside, the idea that Magdalene was a member of the tribe of Benjamin is supported by no actual evidence at all - it is purely a series of hypotheses and leaps of imagination piled up by 'Margaret Starbird' because it fitted with her ideas about Jesus and Mary. In fact, the tribe of Benjamin's descendents tended to be from the south of Judea, whereas Magdala - the village of Mary's origin - was far to the north: on the south coast of the Sea of Galilee. 'Starbird' claimed Magdalene was not from Magdala at all but was actually the same person as Mary of Bethany, but Brown ignores this (historically unlikely) technical detail.

The idea from 'Starbird' that Magdalene was from 'the house of Benjamin', that she had 'royal blood' and that her supposed union with Jesus was therefore religiously and politically significant is based on no evidence at all - it stems purely from the speculations of an amateur enthusiast.

Back to Chapters

Sangraal = 'Holy Blood'?

Sophie sensed he was at last coming to his point. Teabing looked excited now. "The legend of the Holy Grail is a legend about royal blood. When Grail legend speaks of 'the chalice that held the blood of Christ'... it speaks, in fact, of Mary Magdalene - the female womb that carried Jesus' royal bloodline."

The words seemed to echo across the ballroom and back before they fully registered in Sophie's mind. Mary Magdalene carried the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ? "But how could Christ have a bloodline unless...?" She paused and looked at Langdon.

Langdon smiled softly. "Unless they had a child."

Sophie stood transfixed. "Behold," Teabing proclaimed, "the greatest cover-up in human history. Not only was Jesus Christ married, but He was a father. My dear, Mary Magdalene was the Holy Vessel. She was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ. She was the womb that bore the lineage, and the vine from which the sacred fruit sprang forth!"

Sophie felt the hairs stand up on her arms. "But how could a secret that big be kept quiet all of these years?"

"Heavens!" Teabing said. "It has been anything but quiet! The royal bloodline of Jesus Christ is the source of the most enduring legend of all time - the Holy Grail. Magdalene's story has been shouted from the rooftops for centuries in all kinds of metaphors and languages. Her story is everywhere once you open your eyes."

"And the Sangreal documents?" Sophie said. "They allegedly contain proof that Jesus had a royal bloodline?"

"They do."

"So the entire Holy Grail legend is all about royal blood?"

"Quite literally," Teabing said. "The word Sangreal derives from San Greal--or Holy Grail. But in its most ancient form, the word Sangreal was divided in a different spot." Teabing wrote on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to her.

She read what he had written.

Sang Real

Instantly, Sophie recognized the translation. Sang Real literally meant Royal Blood.
(Chapter 58, p. 249-250)

Actually, the French for 'royal blood' would have been 'le sang royal', as Sophie should have known, as a French speaker. Even in Old French, 'Sang Real' does not mean 'royal blood'. Brown's claim, via Teabing, that the word 'Sangreal' apparently should have been two words comes directly from a contrived argument by the authors of Holy Blood Holy Grail, who took one late manuscript which copied the word as two words and constructed this idea of 'royal blood' from that one error.

The actual word used in most versions of the story was 'Sankgreall' and the last part of that word derived from the Latin 'gradale' - meaning 'a serving platter'. It was only later that the 'grail' became a cup and Brown's assertions about 'holy blood' are a contrived modern misinterpretation.

Back to Chapters | Back to Home | Back to Topics


powered by FreeFind



History vs The Da Vinci Code is copyright Tim O'Neill 2006. All rights reserved.