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You have to be careful not to tread too heavily on sour grapes when it comes to Dan Brown, because the wine it creates is foul and bitter, and leaves you rather than the author of The Da Vinci Code with a bloody awful hangover. There is nothing wrong in doing extremely well writing potboilers about lawyers, dinosaurs, or Napoleonic soldiers, or even raptor-riding barristers at Waterloo, but it's Brown's deliberate obscuring of the vital barrier between fact and fiction that is so problematic. He injects a strong political and theological agenda into his writing, and claims to be exposing his readers to truths they otherwise would never know. So it's not that he writes so badly — and every reviewer has listed the stylistic howlers and aching clichés — but that he has a genuinely noxious influence. 

The man is overestimated in that he is, simply, taken extremely seriously by more people than we might like to believe, and has led myriad innocents to question or lose their Christian faith, or embrace entirely   ersatz history. If you doubt it, visit the Temple in London and hear the guides begin their chat with a long correction of Dan Brown's version of medieval Europe. Good Lord, it's why the tourists are there in the first place!

Brown's new novel, Inferno, is simply more of the last book, which was more of the one before that. This time he misunderstands and perverts the writings of Dante, libels the Philippines, pretty much advocates eugenics and strident population control, and mocks anybody who believes in the concepts of sin, salvation and heaven. Oh, and there's plenty of Catholic-bashing and wild conspiracy theories again, of course.

It was The Da Vinci Code that made Brown famous, in which he gave us the hysterical claim that Christ's followers never thought of Him as a messianic figure, and that the earliest written documents substantiate this.

It was only at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, wrote Brown, that Jesus was said to be divine. Not quite. Jesus is called "God" seven times in the New Testament and is referred to as being divine on dozens of occasions. He was crucified not for being a prophet or an ethicist, or for that matter a champion of social justice, but for claiming to be the Son of God. 

There are numerous letters from pagan and thus objective writers from the first and second centuries, long before Nicaea, describing how Christians believe Jesus to be divine, including one written to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who died in AD 180. All the Council of Nicaea did was to affirm that Jesus was in fact the Son of God.

But Brown didn't stop there. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the earliest Christian writings in existence, opined our boy, and the Gnostic Gospels frequently mention Mary Magdalene and her marriage to Jesus. Actually the Dead Sea Scrolls are Jewish writings and have no direct connection with Christianity at all, and as for those much-discussed Gnostic Gospels, they at no time mention Jesus as being married to Mary.

But here's the point, and one that applies equally to the latest book. Dan Brown doesn't expect his readers actually to read the Gnostic Gospels or Dante, any more than he worries that they will know that there are no monks — albino or otherwise — in the largely lay Catholic organisation Opus Dei, or that the Emperor Constantine did not write any of the Gospels. He knows that if you say these things with apparent authority, and also imply that it's esoteric and dangerous knowledge, some of the more credulous out there will drink the unholy blood from the unholy grail. In other words, Brown condescends and relies on mass ignorance, and in the contemporary world there's a lot of it about.

I once debated with a feminist student at a leading Canadian university, who assured me that five million women were killed by the Catholic Church as witches in medieval Europe. I gave her documented evidence that in fact between 30,000 and 100,000 people, men and women, were executed for witchcraft in the period she was describing. When I challenged her to tell me where she found these numbers, she reluctantly admitted that it was in a Dan Brown book. "But," she stressed, "he is quoting from accurate sources." She wasn't stupid, and it's easier than you might think to be taken in by the mingling of thin, commonplace prose with ostensibly reliable historical references.

Dan Brown was once asked if he was a Christian since he claimed to know so much about it. In a rather long and pretentious answer he explained:  "I am, although perhaps not in the most traditional sense of the word. If you ask three people what it means to be Christian, you will get three different answers." Nor is he a novelist, in the traditional sense of the word. But what he is really saying here is that he's not a Christian at all, but prefers to sound enigmatic and mysterious in his response because enigma and mystery sells. I only hope Dan Brown's Purgatory isn't next, but I fear the worst. Perhaps my having had to read him will save me a few years in the real thing.

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Anonymous
October 5th, 2013
2:10 AM
The NT gives many examples of Jesus ambivalent statements about who he was. And his disciples and contemporary audience certainly have were puzzled most of the time. But more puzzling is why a Christian apologist should be concerned about the plot lines of aDan Brown potboiler work of fiction .

Anonymous
July 25th, 2013
6:07 PM
Very enjoyable critique that's right on the money. I liked the last couple of sentences in particular.

Stephen
July 23rd, 2013
7:07 PM
Brilliant! Dan Brown's books are truly awful, and it's ludicrous that he gets the exposure he does when so many other, far better, authors struggle to make a living.

Anonymous
July 20th, 2013
11:07 PM
Sky Don't quite agree with you. John 18:14 "Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people." Caiaphas and those who ran the Temple had no love for Jesus (they would later take advantage of the temporary absence of Roman authority in Jerusalem in the early AD 60s, to kill his brother, James). But the Temple authorities were aware that Jesus was no pretender to Earthly power and had probably heard Jesus preach in previous years and on previous Passovers (John seems to refer to frequent visits to Jerusalem by Jesus). But the Temple authorities were likely to be held responsible by the Romans for disorder at Passover time. Hence the comment in John about Caiaphas i.e. better Jesus be sacrificed than that the Romans see a potential insurrection, panic, and slaughter anyone in sight whilst Jerusalem was crowded at Passover.

MalcolmMcLean
July 15th, 2013
11:07 PM
It's harder than it looks to write a trashy thriller. Maybe not so difficult, but you should try it. After all, not many people would reject a million pounds for a few months' work. The books are trashy thriller, and the historical claims are largely nonsense, and not even original. The Mary Magdalene had Jesus' baby idea is in the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. The authors sued. That's kind of an admission that the theory is nonsense, serious historians don't try to protect their ideas from development and expansion by other historians, or from popularisation.

Sygurd
July 11th, 2013
10:07 PM
Dan Brown's popularity only reflects the abysmal ignorance of our times. If many of us are able to believe that two men or two women can marry one another, they can believe anything, even the poorly written, error-ridden potboilers.

sky
July 11th, 2013
12:07 PM
Anonymous, I think you need to read the Gospel a little closer. Pilate did not want to crucify Jesus for anything. He did so because the Jewish leaders insisted. They persuaded him that Jesus threatened Roman authority but it is clear their real motivation was they saw Jesus as a blasphemer for making Himself equal to God. There is no other interpretation possible. At His trial, the Lord clearly declares His divinity and it is then that the Sanhedrin, that did not for one moment consider His claim might be true, decided He had to die. Enough said.

spudnik
July 11th, 2013
4:07 AM
There are those who want the Catholic Church to be discredited and Christianity disproven. Brown allows them do believe that they have been so that they can feel safe in rejecting the Gospel and encouraging others to do likewise. That the whole enterprise depends on mendacity suggests rather the opposite.

JDJL
July 11th, 2013
1:07 AM
If we go by the Gospel accounts, Pilate had no legal justification for killing Jesus. Having told the crowd he believed Jesus to be innocent of any wrongdoing, Pilate crucified him anyway because that was what the crowd demanded. The question then is, why did the mob want Jesus dead? Not because he claimed to be a king, but because he claimed to be the Son of God.

MSewell
July 10th, 2013
11:07 PM
Anonymous, "King of the Jews" was written on the sign in mockery of Jesus' blasphemous statements in the eyes of the Jewish people. Crucifixion was indeed the Roman punishment of choice, and Jesus was a threat to the kingdom in their eyes, but it went a step further and was caused first and foremost by his claim.

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