New Atheists and the existence of Jesus


Some new atheist writers claim that Jesus did not exist.


Richard Dawkins writes, “It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all.” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Bantam Books, London, 2006, p 97)


Christopher Hitchens writes about “the highly questionably existence of Jesus” and “there was little or no evidence for the life of Jesus”. (Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great, Allen and Unwin, New South Wales, 2008, p 135, 152)


MIchael Onfray writes, “Jesus’s existence has not been historically established” and “The ultra-rationalists – from Prosper Alfaric to Raoul Vaneigem – were probably right to deny the historical existence of Jesus.” (Michael Onfray, The Atheist Manifesto, Melbourne University Press, Victoria, 2007, p 115,117)

Okay, I have no idea who Prosper Alfraic and Raoul Vaneigem were, but name-dropping cannot cover up how weak the new atheists’ arguments against the historical existence of Jesus are.


Bart Ehrman, who describes himself as an “agnostic with atheist leanings” (Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Harper One, New York, 2012, p 2) is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and has written several books critical of conservative interpretations of the New Testament. We can expect him to be neutral and objective. He writes,

“I should say at the outset that none of this literature [denying the existence of Jesus] is written by scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world.) Of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity who do teach at such schools, none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubts that Jesus existed.” (Did Jesus Exist, p 2)

The only academic, which Richard Dawkins cites for Jesus’ non-existence is “Professor G. A. Wells of the University of London.”(The God Delusion, p 97) However, he does not tell his readers that Wells is a Professor of German.

If I have a question about ancient history, a Professor of German is always the first person I would ask.

The fact ,that Dawkins and the other new atheists cannot find a single academic in a history department anywhere in the world who will agree with them, should give us an idea how credible their ideas are. I could find more scientists with Ph.D.s from accredited universities who believe the world was created in six days than the new atheists can find historians who agree with them.

The new atheists seem to “think” that because they do not believe God exists, Jesus also did not exist. This does not make sense. I am not a Muslim or a Buddhist, but I still believe that Muhammad and Buddha existed. I am not aware of any new atheist who challenges their existence, only Jesus.

Not every historian, who believes there was a Jesus of Nazareth who founded Christianity, believes in God or that Jesus was the Son of God who died for their sins and rose from the dead. For over 200 years historians and theologians have been engaged in a quest or search for the “historical Jesus”, trying to determine whether Jesus really said and did the things attributed to him in the Gospels.

If some historians do not believe in the supernatural and do not believe the supernatural events attributed to Jesus happened, they do not conclude that Jesus did not exist, like the new atheists do. They are more likely to assume they were made up by the early church.

I have argued here that the Gospel accounts are historically reliable.

There is early historical evidence for Jesus other than Christian sources, however Michael Onfray says that “we know that most existing documents are skillfully executed forgeries.” (The Atheist Manifesto, p 116)

Onfray may “know” this, but no one who works in an ancient history department in a university does.

Nevertheless, he continues,

“Nothing of what remains can be trusted. The Christian archives are the result of ideological fabrication. Even the writings of Flavius Josephus, Suetonius or Tacitus, who mention in a few hundred verses the existence of Christ and his faithful in the first century of our era, obey the rules of intellectual forgery. When an anonymous monk recopied the Antiquities of the Jewish historian Josephus (arrested and turned into a double agent, a collaborator with Roman power) when that monk had before him the Annals of Tacitus or Suetonius’s Lives of Twelve Caesars (and was astonished to find no mention of the story he believed in), he added a passage in his own hand and in all good faith, without shame and without a second thought, without wondering whether he was doing wrong or committing forgery.” (The Atheist Manifesto, p 117)

Onfray’s account of an “astonished” monk finding no mention of Christ in Jospehus, Tacitus and Suetonius and adding them “without shame or a second thought” exists only in his imagination. It seems that because he does not believe Jesus was a historical figure, then any historical reference to Jesus must be fake.

The only partial truth to his claim is a passage from Josephus which reads,

“Now, there was about this time Jesus,a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:5:2)

Because Jospehus was a Jew, he was not likely to have said Jesus was the Christ, however the majority of historians do not believe this passage is a complete forgery. They believe there was an authentic reference to Jesus by Josephus, but it was altered and made more Christian by a later Christian monk (John Dickson, Investigating Jesus, An Historian’s Quest, Lion Hudson, London, 2010, p 74).

There is an Arabic version of this passage which is not so explicitly Christian and it may be the original,

“At this time there was a wise man named Jesus. His conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to crucifixion and death; but those who had become his disciples did not forsake his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; he was therefore, perhaps, the Messiah concerning whom the prophets had recounted wonderful things.”

Jospehus mentions Jesus in another passage referring to the execution of his brother James,

“He [Ananus the high priest] assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” (Jospehus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:9:1)

Tacitus mentioned Christ when he described Nero’s persecution of the Christians,

“To suppress this rumour, Nero fabricated scapegoats and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called.) Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate. But, in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition broke out afresh, not only in Judaea (where the mischief started) but even in Rome. All degraded and shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital.” (Tacitus, Annals, 15;44)

This passage is critical of Christians and I do not know of any historian who thinks it is a Christian forgery.

Suetonius briefly mentions Nero’s persecution of the Christians,

“Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.” (Suetonius, Lives, Nero, 16)

Suetonius also wrote about Claudius.

“Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city.” (Suetonius, Lives, Claudius, 25)

Some historians think “Chrestus’ is a garbled reference to Christ and it refers to clashes between Jews and Christians in Rome, but it is not conclusive. However, Onfray claims even this passage is a forgery. Surely, if a later Christian copyist were to forge a reference to Jesus, he would make it clearer and spell “Christ” correctly.

There is only one other group I know of which behaves like this towards historical evidence – Holocaust deniers or revisionists who claim the evidence for the Nazi gas chambers is forged, unreliable or misinterpreted. Both new atheists and Holocaust revisionists are motivated by their ideological bias and refuse to accept the evidence.

Onfray further tries to cast doubt on Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius when he writes they are “manuscripts copied several centuries after they were written. (The Atheist Manifesto, p 117)

Our earliest manuscript of Suetonius was copied 800 years after it was written. Our earliest manuscript of Tacitus was copied 1000 years after it was written. However, Tacitus and Suetonius are our main sources for the Roman Empire in the first century. If we were to reject them because of the time between the originals and our earliest copies, we would know very little about that period. Modern historians do not have a problem with Tacitus and Suetonius, only the new atheists.

In contrast, our earliest surviving fragment of the New Testament is from John and is dated to about 30 to 40 years after it was written and our first complete manuscripts are from about 300 years after it was written, but we will not hear any new atheists saying how the text of the New Testament is so much more reliable than Tacitus and Suetonius.

The Gospels, the rest of the New Testament and other early Christian writings also contain evidence for the existence of Jesus. When these are taken into account, there is more historical evidence for Jesus than any other person in the ancient world.

In The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus Gary Habermas and Michael Licona estimate that Jesus or Christ was mentioned by 42 Christian and non-Christian writers within 150 years of the crucifixion, while Tiberius, Roman emperor at the time, was only mentioned by nine writers, including the New Testament’s Luke, within 150 years of his death. (Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel, Michigan, 2004, 127-128)

However, Christopher Hitchens writes,

“Well, it can be stated with certainty, and on their own evidence, that the Gospels are most certainly not literal truth. This means that many of the “sayings” and teachings of Jesus are hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay, which helps explain their garbled and contradictory nature.” (God is not Great, p 142)

Richard Dawkins says about the Gospels,

“Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard The New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened…… The only difference between The Da Vinci Code and the gospels is that the gospels are ancient fiction while The Da Vinci Code is modern fiction.” (The God Delusion, p 97)

I am not sure what Dawkins thinks a “reputable biblical scholar” is, presumably one who agrees with him.

In the last 30 years the “quest for the historical Jesus”, the attempt to work out how historically reliable the Gospels’ portrait of Jesus is, has come to see the Gospels as more accurate than previous generations of scholars. The majority of New Testament historians do not agree with Dawkins’ rhetoric.

The consensus among historians is that the New Testament Gospels are similar to other ancient biographies and were intended to be biographies of Jesus, describing what they believed happened. This consensus is largely a result of Richard Burridge’s What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, Eerdmans, Michigan, 2004.

To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, it can be stated with certainty, and in their evidence, that the Gospels are most certainly literal truth. They are biographies of Jesus and intended to describe what the authors believed actually happened. That is the consensus of New Testament scholarship, as opposed to the dogmatic opinions of the new atheists.

Hitchens’ claim that the Gospels are “hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay” is hardly accurate. Matthew and John were traditionally believed to have been written by eyewitnesses. According to Papias, who wrote around 130 AD, Mark wrote what the eyewitness Peter told him (Eusebius, The History of the Church, 3:39, Penguin Classics, London, 1989, p 103-104).

Most New Testament scholars believe Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. Paul died in the mid 60s and because Luke’s sequel Acts ends with Paul still alive in Rome, it was presumably written before he died, Luke must have been written before then.

Admittedly, many scholars believe Luke and Acts were written later, some as late as the 90s, but this is largely because Luke contains Jesus’ prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem in 70, and they do not believe prophecy is possible. But if an account of someone’s life ends with them still alive, it is safe bet it was written before they died, not 25 years later.

Both Dawkins and Hitchens claim the Gospels contain errors and contradictions which are supposed to mean they are not true. Hitchens claim the Gospels “cannot agree on anything of importance.” (God is not Great, p 132). Is he serious? What about Jesus coming from Nazareth, being the Son of God and Messiah, travelling and preaching, having disciples, performing miracles, offending the Jewish leaders, being arrested, tried and crucified and rising from the dead?

Hitchens also claims. “The contradictions and illiteracies [?] of the New Testament have filled up many books by eminent scholars, and have never been explained by any Christian authority except in the feeblest terms of “metaphor” and “a Christ of faith.” ” (God is not Great, p 136)

I am not sure how the “Christ of faith”, which usually means the alleged difference between what Christians believe about Christ and the historical Jesus of Nazareth, can explain any supposed contradictions in the Gospels.

Likewise, Dawkins claims, “The resulting contradictions are glaringly, but consistently overlooked by the faithful” and asks “Why don’t they notice these glaring contradictions?” (The God Delusion, p 94)

The truth is there are numerous Christian books devoted to explaining the supposed contradictions in the Bible, e.g.,

Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of BIble Difficulties, Zondervan, MIchigan, 1982

Norman Geisler, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, Baker Books, Michigan, 2008

John Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, Whitaker House, Pennsylvania, 2004

Ken Ham, Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions, Master Boooks, Arizona, 2010

Walter Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible, IVP, Engalnd, 1996

Sometimes these “contradictions” are just different ways of saying the same thing and both can be true. On the subject of the women who visited Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning, Matthew says Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went (Matthew 28:1), Mark says Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Salome went (Mark 16:1), Luke says Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women went (Luke 24:10), John says Mary Magdalene went and she tells the disciples “we don’t know where they have laid Him” (John 20:1,2), suggesting there were more.

These accounts are different, but they can all be true. They only mean the authors only mentioned some of those who went. They also mean that the Gospel writers were not copying each other and we have multiple attestations to the resurrection.

Even if the new atheists could prove there is an unexplainable contradiction in the Gospels, that would not prove the events in the Gospels did not happen and Jesus did not exist. It would only challenge Christian ideas about inspiration and inerrancy.

Historians and others, who deal with eyewitnesses, like the police, lawyers and journalists, know that eyewitnesses can get it wrong, but that does not mean the events they described did not happen. They just made a mistake.


In Gospel Truth, Answering New Atheist Attacks on the Gospels, Paul Barnett gives the example of the siege of Jerusalem in 66-70 AD. Tacitus says there were 6000 Romans. Jospehus says there were 600,000 (Paul Barnett, Gospel Truth, Answering New Atheist Attacks on the Gospels, IVP, England, 2012, p 93). This contradiction does not prove the Roman siege of Jerusalem never happened.

Real historians do not conclude that an event did not happen or a whole book is not true because of a mistake in the details. Again, the only other group, I know of which behave like this, are Holocaust deniers who look for mistakes and contradictions in the eyewitnesses’ accounts of the gas chambers and the extermination of the Jews and use these mistakes to argue that the eyewitnesses are wrong and the Holocaust did not happen.

Paul Barnett also makes an interesting point in that although Matthew and Luke are believed to have used Mark and sometimes said things differently than Mark, they did not accuse him of getting it wrong, while in the cases of other ancient historians contradicting each other, they often claimed they were right and the others were wrong (Gospel Truth, p 84-85). This suggests that although Matthew and Luke may have said things differently, they did not think Mark was wrong. It is possible for two or more people to describe the same event differently and all be true.

Some of the mistakes and contradictions which the new atheists raise are nothing of the sort.

Dawkins, citing Tom Flynn, argues that Luke made up the “worship by kings” at Jesus’ birth because of “Luke’s desire to adopt Christianity for the Gentiles.” (The God Delusion, p 94) While it is true that Luke appears to have been writing for a Gentile audience, the visit of the magi (wise men or astrologers, not kings) only occurs in Matthew, the most Jewish of the Gospels.

Hitchens claims that “all four Gospels were based on a lost book known as Q by scholars.” (God is not Great, p 133)

Q is a hypothetical source which many scholars believe was used by Matthew and Luke who also relied on Mark. No one (apart from Hitchens) thinks Mark and John used Q. Personally, I believe Q was an oral tradition of Jesus’ sayings, rather than a written source. Many modern scholars seem to assume that because they rely on written sources, so did the Gospel writers.

Onfray claims the Gospels were wrong to call Pontius Pilate a procurator,

“That same Pilate could not have been a procurator as the Gospels call him, for the title of procurator was first used around the year 50 of our era. Pilate’s title was prefect of Judaea.” (The Atheist Manifesto, p 128)

The only problem is Pilate is not called “procurator” in the Gospels, but by the more generic term “governor” or “hegemon”.

Onfray also claims that Jesus could not have been crucified because “History again bears witness: at that time Jews were not crucified but stoned to death.” ( The Atheist Manifesto, p 128)

I looked up “crucifixion” in the index of my Penguin Classics edition of Josephus’ The Jewish War and found eleven references to Jews being crucified. If Onfray has not consulted Josephus, what “history” does he think “bears witness” that Jews were not crucified?

If these are the sort of arguments which atheists out forward for the non-existence of Jesus, are their arguments for the non-existence of God any better?


There is no such thing as a Gnostic Gospel

In 1945 an Arab peasant discovered a collection of papyrus books in a jar buried near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. They included the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip and other “Gospels” which are not found in the New Testament. These manuscripts had been written in Coptic (Egyptian) during the fourth century AD, and were translations of earlier Greek texts. Their authors were part of a religious movement known as Gnosticism.

Historians cannot agree on the origins of Gnosticism. It was a combination of Christian, Jewish and pagan beliefs. Gnostics did not believe Jesus was the Son of Jehovah, the Creator God of the Old Testament. They believed the true God was hidden and unknowable, while Jehovah was an evil false god who created the world by accident, trapping  human souls in it. They did not believe Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament who died to save us from our sins and rose physically from the dead. Gnostics did not believe our problem was sin, but ignorance, and Jesus was a spiritual being (some Gnostics did not even believe Jesus had a physical body), who came to reveal the insight or knowledge (gnosis in Greek) about how souls were trapped and needed to escape from this mistake of a world.

The complete Nag Hammadi writings were first published in English by Professor James M. Robinson in 1977. Elaine Pagels, who is now a Professor at Princeton University, introduced them to the general public when her book The Gnostic Gospels was published in 1979. In 2003 The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown claimed the Gnostic Gospels, rather than the New Testament, contained the truth about Jesus. Then, in 2006, National Geographic published another Gnostic work, the Gospel of Judas, which had been found at Amber in Egypt around 1978.

When lay people hear that there are Gospels of Thomas, Philip, Judas and others, they may get the impression that they were written by Thomas, Judas and Paul, in the same way that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are believed to have been the authors of their Gospels. They may assume that the Gnostic Gospels contain historically reliable information about Jesus and the New Testament does not give the complete picture of Jesus.

This impression is encouraged by some of Gnosticism’s modern supporters. For example, the back cover of the DVD of the National Geographic documentary The Gospel of Judas reads,

“Hidden for nearly two thousand years, an ancient Gospel emerges from the sands of Egypt that tells a very different version of the last days of Jesus and questions the portrait of Judas Iscariot as the evil apostle.”

In his book, The Lost Gospel, Herbert Krosney refers to the Gospel of Judas as the “words of Judas” (Herbert Krosney, The Lost Gospel, National Geographic, Washington DC, 2006, p 165). He also writes,

“The Gospel of Judas provided a fresh witness to one of history’s defining events, leading up to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was as close to a contemporary account of what had happened as many other accounts of Jesus. It was supposedly the gospel, or good news, of one of the chief actors in the epic account of the last days of Jesus.” (The Lost Gospel, p 48)

They make it sound like the Gospel of Judas is on a par with the New Testament Gospels. In other words, between betraying Jesus and hanging himself, Judas found the time to write a Gospel full of Gnostic ideas which probably did not exist at the time.

Students of Christian history used to believe that the orthodox Christians were the original Christians and the Gnostics were heretics who later deviated from the truth. However, the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels supposedly shows that early Christianity was more diverse. In The Gnostic Gospels Elaine Pagels writes,

“According to Christian legend, the early church was different. Christians of every persuasion look back to the primitive church to find a simpler, purer form of Christian faith. In the apostles’ time all members of the Christian community shared their money and property, all believed the same teaching, all revered the authority of the apostles. It was only after that golden age that conflict, then heresy emerged: so says the author of the Acts of the Apostles, who identifies himself as the first historian of Christianity.

But the discoveries at Nag Hammadi have upset this picture. If we admit that some of these fifty-two texts represent early forms of Christian teaching, we may have to recognize that early Christianity is far more diverse than anyone expected before the Nag Hammadi discoveries.” (Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Books, London, 1990, p  20-21)

In his book Lost Christianities Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, writes,

“In the second and third centuries, there were, of course, Christians who believed in one God. But there were others who insisted there were two. Some said there were thirty. Others claimed there were 365.”

“In the second and third centuries there were Christians who believed that Jesus’ death brought about the salvation of the world. There were other Christians who thought that Jesus’ death had nothing to do with the salvation of the world. There were yet other Christians who said that Jesus never died.” (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities ,Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003, p 2)

This may sound confusing to Christian readers until one realises that Ehrman is grouping Gnostics together with orthodox Christians and referring to them all as Christians.

Christians do not have to agree on everything. Modern Christianity is diverse with thousands of denominations. Baptists and Presbyterians have some different beliefs, but they still regard each other as Christians and agree on the essential core doctrines. On the other hand, there are groups, like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, which go too far and deny the essential doctrines about the nature of Jesus and should be considered as heretics.

The early church was not as unified as Pagels suggests. In Galatians and Acts 15, we can see that the early Christians also did not agree on everything. Paul and some Jerusalem Christians did not agree on whether or not Gentile Christians had to obey the Law of Moses, yet they both agreed that Jesus died for their sins and rose from the dead.

Adherents of a religion can be identified by their beliefs. The Gnostics had very different beliefs about the nature of God, Jesus and salvation. The difference between orthodox Christians and Gnostics cannot be compared to the differences between Christian denominations. Orthodox Christianity has more in common with Islam than with Gnosticism. Those academics, who regard Gnostics as Christians, rarely define what they mean by Christian. It looks like anybody, who believes anything about Jesus or claims Jesus for their agenda, is a Christian. Jesus would not have agreed with such a definition (Matthew 7: 21-23). If I say I am a Muslim, but I do not believe in Allah, the Koran or that Muhammad was a prophet, I am not a Muslim. Likewise, someone, who does not believe in the core Christian ideas about God, Jesus and the New Testament, is not a Christian.

The word “Christian” comes from “Christ” which is Greek for the Hebrew “Messiah”. The Jews believed the Messiah would defeat evil and usher in the kingdom of God. Christians believe Jesus had done this through his death and resurrection and the founding of the Church.  Gnostics believed that Jesus had come from the true hidden God to reveal knowledge of the truth. They did not believe he was the promised Messiah or Christ of the Old Testament. They cannot be Christians.

The Nag Hammadi discovery did not prove the Gnostics really were Christians. Historians have always known about the Gnostics and their different beliefs. Around 180 AD, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, wrote a five volume work, Against Heresies, in which he described and rebutted Gnosticism and other heresies. The pro-Gnostic Elaine Pagels admits that Irenaeus “however hostile, nevertheless is accurate.” (Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief, Pan Books, London, 2005, p 138) The Nag Hammadi manuscripts only confirm what was already known about their non-Christian beliefs. They do not somehow prove that the Gnostics really were Christians.

If the Gnostic Gospels were historical accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus written by his contemporaries, but they had not made it into the New Testament, then there would be some basis to the modern argument that early Christianity was more diverse and the Gnostics were actually Christians. This is not the case.

The New Testament Gospels were written by contemporaries of Jesus. Matthew and John were written by two of his disciples. Most theologians believe Mark was the first Gospel to be written and Matthew and Luke relied on Mark. According to Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis, writing around 130 AD, Mark received his information from the apostle Peter (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3:39:15). Peter is believed to have been killed in Rome during the persecution by Nero in 64 AD, meaning Mark’s Gospel must have been written before then.

Luke and its sequel Acts were written by the same person. Luke does not claim to have been an eyewitness, but relied on the accounts of others (Luke 1:1-3). Liberal theologians claim Luke was written around 80-90 AD. However, internal evidence suggests it must have been written before 64 AD. The last half of Acts is an account of the missionary journeys of the apostle Paul. Acts 21-28 describes Paul’s arrest, imprisonment and journey to Rome to face trial. Paul was also killed in Rome by Nero in 64. However, Acts ends with Paul still alive in Rome. If a biography of someone does not mention their death, it was obviously written while they were still alive. I have never heard of a biography written nearly 30 years after the person died but does not mention their death. The logical conclusion is that Acts and its predecessor Luke were written while Paul was still alive, that is before 64, meaning Luke would have been able to rely on contemporaries and eyewitnesses for his information about Jesus. Many theologians believe that one of Luke’s sources for his Gospel was Mark. This again means that Mark must have been written before 64, perhaps in the 50s.

There is no mention of any Gnostic Gospels until the second half of the second century. While Bart Ehrman regards both orthodox Christians and Gnostics as Christians, he has still written that the New Testament Gospels “are our earliest and best accounts of Jesus’ life.” (Bart Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, Oxford University Press, Oxford ,2004, p 110) He says Jesus could not have said the Gnostic teachings attributed to him in Thomas and the other Gnostic Gospels because “we have no evidence to suggest that Gnosticism could be found already in the first two decades of the first century – especially in rural Galilee. These Gnostic sayings must be later traditions, then, placed on Jesus’ lips in some other context (e.g., in the second century, in a place such as Egypt or Syria).” (Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, p 125)

When Ehrman examined the historical evidence for Jesus in his book Did Jesus Exist?, the only Gnostic Gospel, which he refers to, is Thomas, a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus, which he suggests was written around 110-120 AD (Bart Ehrman ,Did Jesus Exist?, Harper One, New York, 2012, p 76) and only when it agrees with the New Testament Gospels (Did Jesus Exist?, p 307, 321, 322). He apparently believes the other Gnostic Gospels tell us nothing about the historical Jesus.

Furthermore, Thomas was probably written later than Ehrman suggests. Around 173 AD, Tatian, a Syrian Christian, complied a harmony of the four Gospels called the Diatessaron. In his book Thomas and Tatian and Thomas, The Other Gospel Nicholas Perrin shows that Thomas is based on the Diatessaron. When Thomas is translated into Syriac, over 500 catchwords can be identified (Nicholas Perrin, Thomas and Tatian, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, 2002, p 169). These are words in a saying which can be associated with a word in a nearby saying, i.e., the same word or a similar sounding word, making to easier to memorize. This suggests that Thomas must have originally been written in Syriac.

Moreover, 51 of the 114 sayings in Thomas contain a textual variant which agrees with the Diatessaron. This means that Thomas and the Diatessaron agree with each other, but not with the Greek New Testament. For example, Matthew and Luke say, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay the head,” (Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:50), but both Thomas and the Diatessaron say, “Foxes have their holes and birds have their nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head and rest.” (Nicholas Perrin, Thomas, The Other Gospel, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2007, p 83) This suggests that Thomas is based on the Syriac text of the Diatessaron, so Thomas must have been written after 173 AD.

In contrast, if the Greek words of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are translated back into Jesus’ language, Aramaic, as much as 80% is rhythmic or poetic, which would have made it easier to memorize (Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Eerdmans, Michigan, 2009, p 158). This means that the words attributed to Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels were originally spoken by an Aramaic speaker and were not the creation of the Greek-speaking authors of the New Testament and they have been recorded accurately.

The Gnostics claimed they had preserved the inner teachings of Jesus which had been secretly passed down to them. Their actions suggest otherwise. They wrote these supposedly secret teachings down and circulated them so they could be read by their orthodox Christian critics.  Furthermore, Jesus told his disciples to teach everything, which he had taught them, to their disciples, the Church (Matthew 28:19-20). The early Church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). Peter based his knowledge and authority on being an eyewitness to Jesus (2 Peter 1:16-18). John also said he was an eyewitness and was passing on what had been revealed to him (1 John 1:1-3). Paul instructed Timothy to pass on to “faithful people” what he had taught him (2 Timothy 2:2). Clement, Bishop of Rome, around 96 AD, wrote that Jesus had given the Gospel to the Apostles who had passed it on to the bishops and deacons (1 Clement 42). In Against Heresies Irenaeus (d. 202) said that the Church’s beliefs had been passed down to them from the Apostles and their successor (3:2:1-2) and these were preserved in the four Gospels (3:11:8). They were the inheritors of Jesus’ teaching, not the Gnostics.

In The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown claims, “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relatively few were chosen for inclusion – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them” and “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.” (Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, Corgi Books, , London, 2004, p 313)

In fact, there are only 24   known so-called Gnostic Gospels, Apocryphon of James Apocryphon of John, Apocryphon of Peter, Book of Thomas the Contender, The Birth of Mary, Book of John the Evangelist, Dialogue of the Saviour, Gospel of Bartholomew, Gospel of Basildes, Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of the Egyptians, Gospel of Eve, Gospel according to the Hebrews, Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, , Letter of Peter to Philip, Pistis Sophia and Secret Treatise of the Great Seth.

The exact number of “Gnostic Gospels” is debatable because none of these are Gospels in the same sense as the New Testament ones. In his 1992 book What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography  Richard Burridge  compared the structure of the Gospels to biographies from the ancient world. Ancient biographies contained little or nothing about the subject’s childhood. They tended to focus on their careers which were usually made up of anecdotes or accounts of events and speeches. There is a lot of attention given to how the person died. Burridge concluded that the Gospels were ancient biographies. Since then most historians have accepted this and they regard the Gospels as biographies of Jesus. (Michael Bird, The Gospel of the Lord, Eerdmans, Michigan, 2014, p 239-240)

None of the Gnostic Gospels are biographies of Jesus. They are not accounts of his ministry, death and resurrection, comparable to the New Testament ones. The Gnostic Gospels consists of Jesus’ supposed sayings with no narrative or context. One would be hard-pressed to tell from the Gnostic Gospels that Jesus even lived in first century Palestine. The only exception is the Gospel of Judas which has a plot about why Judas betraying Jesus was a good thing, but there is still no narrative of his ministry.

“Gospel” means “good news” (euaggelion  in Greek). When we read or watch the news, we expect to learn about what has happened. In the ancient world it was announcing that something good had happened, such as the emperor had won a victory over sin and death. The New Testament Gospels are “good news” because they tell what has happened, what Jesus has done and won a different kind of victory. The Gnostic Gospels are not Gospels, that is, they are not “good news” because their Jesus does not do anything good or great. He purportedly just gives some Gnostic teaching.

The fact that the Gospels were written as biographies shows they were intended to be taken literally and describe what actually happened. The Gnostics do not appear to have had the same concern for historical truth. The Nag Hammadi collection includes Eugnostos the Blessed and The Sophia of Jesus Christ. Eugnostos the Blessed is a letter written by a pagan philosopher to his disciples. It was rewritten as The Sophia of Jesus Christ in which Eugnostos’ words were put into Jesus’ mouth. The Gospel of the Egyptians and the Apocryphon of John are also believed to be Gnostic reworkings of pagan texts (James Robinson (editor), The Nag Hammadi Library in English, Harper, San Francisco, 1990, p 220). Putting a supposed Christian veneer on a pagan text does not make the Gnostics Christian. Rather, it shows their beliefs were pagan in origin. The Gnostics were not interested in preserving the actual words of Jesus. They were looking for figures through which to express their Gnostic ideas.

Elaine Pagels acknowledges their Gospels are not historical,

“Gnostic authors, in the same way, attributed their secret teachings to various disciples. Like those who wrote the New Testament gospels, they may have received some of their material from early traditions. But in other cases, the accusation that the gnostics invented what they wrote contains some truth: certain gnostics openly acknowledged that they derived their gnosis from their own experience.

How, for example, could a Christian living in the second century write the Secret Book of John? We could imagine the author in the situation he attributes to John at the opening of the book: troubled by doubts, he begins to ponder the meaning of Jesus’ mission and destiny. In the process of such internal questioning, answers may occur spontaneously to the mind; changing patterns of images may appear. The person who understands this process not in terms of modern psychology, as the activity of the imagination or unconscious, but in religious terms, could experience these as forms of spiritual communication with Christ. Seeing his own communion with Christ as a continuation of what the disciples enjoyed, the author, when he casts the ‘dialogue’ into literary form, could well give to them the role of the questioners. Few among his contemporaries – except the orthodox, whom he considers ‘literal-minded’ – would accuse him of forgery; rather, the titles of these works indicate that they were written ‘in the spirit’ of John, Mary Magdalene, Philip or Peter.” (Beyond Belief, p 47)

This may leave readers wondering how some academics can believe the Gnostic Gospels represent a valid alternative form of Christianity when they know they are not historically reliable. This is because their opinions are not so much a result of historical research, but of their worldview. They appear to subscribe to a philosophy of postmodernism which says there is no absolute truth and all beliefs are equally true. Texts, such as the Gospels, do not have one true meaning. All interpretations by the reader are equally valid. What the author actually meant is irrelevant. Thus, what Jesus meant, his identity and purpose, are irrelevant to the postmodernist. All ideas about Jesus, orthodox Christian or Gnostic, are equally valid, not whether or not one group has accurately recorded Jesus’ life, teachings and purpose. There is no true Christianity and heresies which have got it wrong. There are many “Christianities”.

Another postmodernist assumption is that “History is written by the winners.” This means the orthodox Christians won, their Gospels were accepted and the Gnostics lost. If the Gnostics had come out on top, they would have become the true Christians and the orthodox Christians would be the heretics. Again, the issue of which side better represents the real historical Jesus is irrelevant.

It may be true that the winners often write history. If Hitler had won World War II and we were all Nazis, our history books would not portray Hitler as an evil dictator. However, it is not always the case. The American lost the Vietnam War, yet they have written numerous books about the conflict. Likewise, Athens lost the Peloponnesian War with Sparta in the fifth century BC, but our knowledge of the war comes from the Athenian historian Thucydides (c. 460-c.395 BC).

The New Testament Gospels were not written by winners, but by a despised and illegal religious minority who were disempowered and persecuted for what they had written and believed. There were a few exceptions but in general, the Roman authorities did not persecute the Gnostics, which suggests the Romans understood what some postmodernist academics do not, that the Christians and Gnostics were two different groups.

The early Christians were persecuted because they refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods. They believed to do so would deny the uniqueness of Jesus. The fact, that the Gnostics were not usually persecuted, suggests they must have compromised, denied Jesus’ uniqueness and sacrificed to the pagan gods.

Postmodernists tend to side with the underdog, those oppressed by the powerful. Thus, they favour the Gnostics whom they see as oppressed by the orthodox Christians. On the other hand, if the Gnostics had “won” and Constantine became a Gnostic, these postmodernist academics would presumably be supporters of orthodox Christianity.

Dan Brown says that Constantine decided which Gospels would be included in the New Testament at the Council of Nicea in 325 (p 313-314, 317).  This is not true. In Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code Bart Ehrman writes,

“The historical reality is that the emperor Constantine had nothing to do with the formation of the canon of scripture: he did not choose which books to include or exclude, and he did not order the destruction of the Gospels that were left out of the canon (there were no imperial book burnings). The formation of the New Testament canon was instead a long and drawn-out process that began centuries before Constantine and did not conclude until long after he was dead. So far as we know, based on the historical record, the emperor was not involved in the process.” (Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, p 74)

The early Church had already decided by the end of the second century. When it was still powerless and persecuted, that there were only four genuine Gospels. As already mentioned, around 173 AD, Tatian compiled a harmony of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John called the Diatessaron. He did not use any other “Gospels”. In Against Heresies, written around 180 AD, Irenaeus argued that there could only ever be four Gospels because there were four zones of the world, four principal winds, four covenants between God and Man and the cherubim had four faces (AH 3:11:7) . Irenaeus’ reasoning is admittedly dubious but it does show he believed there were only four Gospels. Around 200 AD a list of the Christian canon was drawn up, known as the Muratorian Canon which included the four Gospels. Origen (184-254) wrote, “The Church has four Gospels. Heretics have many.” (Homily on Luke 1:1)

Orthodox Christians did not agree on all of the New Testament books by the end of the second century. The New Testament canon was not finalised until 367. However, the four Gospels had already been accepted for about 200 years. There had only been doubts about whether the General Epistles, Hebrews, James, 2 and 3 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation, should be included.

Eusebius records how around 200 AD Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, leaned some Christians in Rhossus had been using the Gospel of Peter. At first Serapion accepted it However, when the realised it was not orthodox and could not have been written by Peter, he rejected it and warned others about it (Ecclesiastical History,6:12:2-6). The fact, that Serapion had been previously unaware of the Gospel of Peter, suggests that it was not well-known nor widely distributed, and it was not on a par with the New Testament Gospels. Eusebius does not mention other incidents of Christians being deceived by false Gospels so it sounds like an isolated case. The Gospel of Peter is not even Gnostic in its theology. No Gnostic Gospel was ever considered as canonical and authentic by orthodox Christians.

The Gnostic manuscripts from Nag Hammadi are a significant archaeological discovery in that they show what the Gnostics of the second century, and later, believed. However, they do not challenge or undermine the New Testament’s portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth. The New Testament Gospels were written first and were intended to be biographies of Jesus and record his teachings and achievements. They are Gospels. “good news”, because they tell what Jesus has done for us.

The Gnostic Gospels were written later. Even Gnosticism’s modern academic supporters agree the historical Jesus was not a Gnostic and he did not say the things attributed to him in the Gnostic Gospels. They may be alternative versions of Jesus, but so is Jesus Christ Superstar. They are not reliable historical sources for Jesus of Nazareth. The Gnostics were simply using Jesus as a mouthpiece for their Gnostic beliefs which there is no evidence existed during Jesus’ lifetime.

The Gnostics may have called some of their writings “gospels”, but unlike the New Testament Gospels, they are not biographies of Jesus, concerned with the “good news” of what Jesus has done. The truth is there is no such thing as a “Gnostic Gospel”.





The Da Vinci Code Deception Part Three

This is part three of an article I wrote in 2005 about The Da Vinci Code.

(4) The Priory of Sion Hoax

In The Da Vinci Code Sophie Neveau learns that her murdered grandfather Jacques Sauniere was the Grand Master of a secret society, the Priory of Sion, which Dan Brown believes really exists. The following supposed information about the Priory of Sion can be gleamed from The Da Vinci Code;

The Priory “was founded in 1099 by a French king named Godefroi de Bouillon.” (1) Godefroi’s family had been in possession of a secret since the time of Christ, so he founded the Priory to pass down the secret to succeeding generations. The Priory believes Mary was pregnant at the time of the crucifixion and afterwards she went to France and gave birth to a daughter Sarah (2). Their descendants married into the Merovingian dynasty. After the last Merovingian king Dagobert was assassinated, his son Sigisbert escaped and the line survived through him down to Godefroi de Bouillon who founded the Priory of Sion (3).

Documents found in the National Library in Paris are supposed to confirm the existence of the Priory of Sion and identify its Grand Masters. Dan Brown writes,

“After all, previous Priory Grand Masters had also been distinguished public figures with artistic souls. Proof of that had been uncovered years ago in Paris’ Bibliotheque Nationale in papers that became known as Les Dossiers Secret… [The] Dossiers Secrets had been authenticated by many specialists and incontrovertibly confirmed what historians suspected for a long time: Priory Grand Masters included Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, and more recently, Jean Cocteau, the famous Parisian artist. “ (4)

The Priory is a “pagan goddess worship cult” and “has a well-documented history of reverence for the sacred feminine” (5) and “believes that Constantine and his successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever.” (6)

The Priory practice the hieros gamos or sacred marriage ritual which believes that man can only achieve knowledge of the divine through intercourse (7).

“The Priory of Sion, to this day, still worships Mary Magdalene as the Goddess, the Holy Grail, the Rose and the Divine Mother.” (8)

“Theirs is a threefold charge. The brotherhood must protect the Sangreal documents. They must protect the tomb of Mary Magdalene. And, of course, they must nurture and protect the bloodline of Christ – the few members of the Merovingian bloodline who have survived into modern times.” (9)

None of this is true. Before The Da Vinci Code was published, it had already been established that the Priory of Sion was a hoax. This chapter will show how the Priory of Sion hoax developed and how the case of a French country priest trafficking in Masses got turned into a story about Jesus and Mary Magdalene having descendants.

The Case of Berenger Sauniere


Berenger Sauniere was a French priest who was born in 1852. The name of the character Jacques Sauniere in The Da Vinci Code is based on him. In 1885 he was appointed parish priest of Rennes-le-Chateau, a village in southern France. The church and village were run-down and in 1888 Sauniere began a rebuilding program. He renovated and redecorated the church, gave the village a proper water supply, built a new access road and built a new house for himself, the Villa Bethany, including the Tower of Magdala which contained his library.


In 1909 the local bishop Monseigneur Paul-Felix Beauvain de Beausejour wondered where Sauniere got the money to afford all this and he began to investigate him for trafficking in Masses.

Sauniere would advertise in newspapers or write to people offering to say Mass for them for a fee, however he did not say all the Masses he was paid for. Rene Descadeillas writes,

“Moreover, at certain periods, the cure of Rennes received a large number of postal orders each day – as many as 100 or 150 – for small amounts of cash ranging from 5 to 40 francs. Some of these were postal orders paid to him in Rennes; many were addressed ‘poste restante’ to Couiza, where he went to convert them to cash. Others were in the name of Marie Denarnaud. In fact, one of the postmistresses who cashed them was still alive in 1958. These postal orders were very diverse in origin. Many of them came from France, but there were also many from Belgium, the Rhineland, Switzerland and Northern Italy. A large number were from religious communities. These postal orders were intended to pay for ‘mass intentions’. Abbe Sauniere was trafficking in masses.” (10)

Some of Sauniere’s records of his trafficking still exist. It has been calculated that between 1893 and 1915 he received a minimum of 100,000 requests for Masses (11).

In July 1910 Sauniere was found guilty of trafficking in Masses by an ecclesiastical court. The authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail claim, “Sauniere appealed to the Vatican which exonerated and reinstated him.” (12) This is not true. He did appeal but in October 1910, he was found guilty again. He was investigated again and in December 1911 he was suspended as a priest until he would account for his income, which he never did. He remained suspended until he died in 1916 (13).


Sauniere’s housekeeper Marie Denardaud inherited his estate. In 1946 she sold the Villa Bethany to a business man Noel Corbu who turned it into a hotel. In 1956 Corbu invented the story that Bernard Sauniere had discovered a lost treasure which he used to finance his building program. Corbu told a local newspaper that while Sauniere was renovating the church, he found some parchments in wooden tubes inside a pillar supporting the altar. These led him to a treasure worth 50 billion francs. (14).

This story cannot be true because the pillar, which is now in the local museum, is not hollow. There is a hole, but it is only 7 cm deep, too small for the wooden tubes to fit. (15). There is no mention of Sauniere finding any parchments before 1956 (16). Everyone attributed Sauniere’s wealth to his trafficking in Masses. Corbu appears to have made up the treasure story as a publicity gimmick for his hotel (17). Judging by the number of people visiting the Rennes-le-Chateau area ever since looking for the lost treasure, he succeeded. One of these visitors was Pierre Plantard who added the next piece of the hoax.

Pierre Plantard

Pierre Plantard was born in Paris in 1920. In the 1960s Plantard would begin to claim to represent a powerful and influential secret society, the Priory of Sion, which was almost 1000 years old and had over 900 members. However, it is clear from French police investigations of Plantard carried out in the 1940s that he had a tendency to invent phantom organisations to make himself appear influential and important.

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(Pierre Plantard in 1982 in The HolyBlood and the Holy Grail, photo by Michael Baigent)

In 1940 France surrendered to Germany and the southern half of France was administered by Vichy France, a German puppet government headed by Marshall Henri Petain. In December 1940 Pierre Plantard wrote to Petain claiming there was a Jewish Masonic conspiracy and that the Jews had started World War II, which sounds like the sort of thing the Nazis said. (18)

The French police investigated Plantard. Their report, dated 8 February 1941, described Plantard as “anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic” and concluded, “In fact, Plantard, who boasts of having links with numerous politicians, appears to be one of those dotty, pretentious young men who run more or less fictitious groups in an effort to look important.” (19)

In 1941 Plantard attempted to set up an organisation called French National Renewal. A police report on this organisation, dated 9 May 1941, says that it “seems to be a ‘phantom’ group whose existence is a figment of the imagination of M. Plantard. Plantard claims 3245 members, whereas this organisation currently only has four…” (20)

In 1942 Plantard founded another organisation called Alpha Galates with a similar structure to the future Priory of Sion (21). Its journal Vaincre contained articles about chivalry and the renewal of France, as well as theosophical, esoteric and anti-Semitic themes (22). One of the influences on Plantard’s thinking appears to have been the Italian fascist philosopher Julius Evola (23). Part of a 13 February 1945 police report on Alpha Galates says,

“Plantard seems to be an odd young man who has gone off the rails, as he seems to believe that he alone is capable of providing French youth with effective leadership…… According to the information we have gathered, this organisation had not up to that time engaged in any activity. It has had about 50 members, who resigned one after the other as soon as they sussed out the President of the association and worked out that it was not a serious enterprise.” (24)

On December 17, 1953 Plantard was sentenced to six months in prison for fraud and embezzlement (25)

In 1956 Plantard and three others founded the Priory of Sion. This was not a secret society, but a tenants association, and was named after a hill in France, not Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Plantard was the treasurer. Its first president was Andre Bonhomme. Paul Smith writes,

“Andre Bonhomme definitely existed – I have spoken to him myself – as have many other researchers – and he has constantly confirmed that the original Priory of Sion had nothing to do with Berenger Sauniere, Rennes-le-Chateau, politics or secret societies – the story goes that one day, when someone commented on the state of the lodgings – it was decided to form a society devoted to the cause of Low-Cost Housing: and the Priory of Sion was created! It was actually named after the hill of Mont Sion located outside the town of St-Julien-en-Genovoise. They produced an amateur journal called “Circuit” devoted to the cause of Low-Cost Housing, that simply comprised of A4 ages stapled together, and containing a crude text that was both stencilled and printed.” (26)

The Priory of Sion’s statutes, which were registered in 1956, stated that all Catholics over 21 were eligible for membership (27). This does not sound like the “pagan goddess worship cult” with the secret, which could destroy its enemy, the Catholic Church, described in The Da Vinci Code.

In October 1956 the Priory’s journal reported that the Priory was now in the business of transporting children by bus to nurseries and schools. Then, in December 1956 Plantard was sentenced to 12 months in prison for “abuse of a minor” (28). The first version of the Priory of Sion disbanded after that.

In the late 1950s or early 1960s Plantard and a friend Phillipe de Cherisey visited the Rennes-le-Chateau area, met Noel Corbu and heard his story about the parchments and treasure supposedly found by Berenger Sauniere (29). Plantard had already come up with idea of claiming to be a descendant of the Merovingian kings (30) and in the early 1960s he reformed the Priory of Sion which was now supposed to be a secret society founded in Jerusalem in 1099. Plantard and de Cherisey decided to build on Corbu’s story of the coded parchments, which Sauniere was supposed to have found, and fabricated their own versions of them (31). One of these parchments contained the hidden message, “TO DAGOBERT II, KING, AND TO SION BELONGS THIS TREAURE AND HE IS THERE DEAD.” (32) This apparently connected the treasure Sauniere had supposedly found to the Merovingian king Dagobert II.

They also fabricated the documents, which became known as Les Dossiers Secrets or the Secret Dossiers. These consisted of articles, letters and genealogical charts and were intended to supplement and explain the coded parchments and to substantiate Plantard’s claims about the Priory of Sion and the Merovingians. Between 1964 and 1967 they planted these documents in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. (33)

One of these documents, Genealogy of the Merovingian Kings, says that the Merovingian king Dagobert II (676-679) had a son Sigisbert IV who was the ancestor of Godefroi de Bouillon and the Plantard family. (34). Godefroi supposedly founded the Priory of Sion in Jerusalem in 1099. Sigisbert IV is clearly the link in Plantard’s plan, connecting Godefroi to the Merovingian kings. However, Sigisbert IV and his mother Giselle de Razes never existed (35). Plantard invented them and falsified the genealogy in order to claim to be a descendant of the otherwise apparently extinct Merovingian line.

Godefroi was not a French king as The Da Vinci Code claims (36), but only the Duke of Lower Lorraine. The Order of Our Lady of Zion was established at Mount Zion in Jerusalem around 1099, but Godefroi does not appear to have had anything to do with it (37). This was supposed to have been the Priory of Sion, which survived to the present, but it was simply a Catholic monastic order, not a secret society, and was disbanded in 1617 (38).

Another of these documents The Secret File of Henri Lobineau contains a list of the supposed Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion including Leonardo da Vinci. Dan Brown claims that the Dossiers “inconvertibly confirmed what historians suspected for a long time” about the Priory’s Grand Masters (39). This is not true because no one had ever heard of the Priory of Sion and its Grand Masters before these documents were “discovered”. In fact, this list of Grand Masters appears to have copied from a list of the supposed Grand Masters of an esoteric society called the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC), a branch of the Rosicrucians, founded in the United States in 1915. Plantard simply added a couple of French names like the artist Jean Cocteau (40).

At first, Plantard and de Cherisey intended to use the coded parchments for a radio program, but this did not eventuate (41). Then, Plantard attempted to write a book on the subject but he could not get it published (42). They approached an author Gerard de Sede to write the book for them and showed him the documents in the Bibliotheque Nationale which de Sede believed were authentic (43). In 1967 Gerard de Sede’s book The Gold of Rennes was published.

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail

In 1969 Henry Lincoln an English scriptwriter, whose credits included three Doctor Who stories, read de Sede’s book and decided to make a series of documentaries about Rennes-le-Chateau for the BBC series Chronicle. These were The Lost Treasure of Jerusalem in 1972, The Priest, the Painter and the Devil in 1974 and The Shadow of the Templars in 1979. While he was working on the third documentary, Henry Lincoln met Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. They went on to write The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail which was published in 1982. This book contained the earlier themes of Rennes-le-Chateau, the Secret Dossiers and the Priory of Sion. However it did not mention how in 1971 there was a dispute over royalties for The Gold of Rennes and both Plantard and de Cherisey had said that the coded parchments were forgeries (44).

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Dan Brown says in The Da Vinci Code that the Priory of Sion believes that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and that the Priory’s purpose is to protect their descendants (45). However, before The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was published, neither Noel Corbu, Pierre Plantard, Gerard de Sede, the Secret Dossiers nor Henry Lincoln’s documentaries had said anything about Jesus and Mary Magdalene being married and their descendants. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail introduced the idea that Jesus and Mary were married and their descendants, symbolized by the Holy Grail, married into the Merovingians, but they did not get these ideas from Pierre Plantard and there is no evidence that the Priory of Sion believes this.

In fact, Plantard said he did not believe it. In a 1983 article, “Jesus Christ, his wife and the Merovingians”, by de Cherisey, Plantard said,

“I admit that “the Sacred Enigma” [The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail] is a good book, but one must say that there is a part that owes more to fiction than to fact, especially in the part that deals with the lineage of Jesus. How can you prove a lineage of four centuries from Jesus to the Merovingians? I never put myself forward as a descendant of Jesus Christ.” (46)

If someone were to write a non-fiction book, saying Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and were the ancestors of the Merovingians, I would assume they would have some historical evidence to base their claims on. However, as we have seen, the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail have openly said that there is no evidence Jesus and Mary Magdalene had any children. I have read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail several times and I cannot see how they could have logically come to their conclusions and made the jump from a story about the Merovingians, lost treasure and a secret society to believing that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and the ancestors of the Merovingians. There is no evidence which could have led them to that conclusion.

The ideas about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Holy Grail and a secret society which knows the secret can be found in a novel about the prophet Nostradamus, The Dreamer and the Vine, by an astrologer Liz Greene, published in 1980, two years before The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. This is significant because Liz Greene was the girlfriend of Michael Baigent and the sister of Richard Leigh (47).

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Henry Lincoln had not mentioned the supposed marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene in his documentaries about Rennes-le-Chateau. It was only after he joined forces with Baigent and Leigh that it became part of the Rennes-le-Chateau/ Priory of Sion legend. It looks like they got the idea that Jesus and Mary were married from Liz Greene’s novel and added it to the story for The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, presumably in order to make it more interesting and controversial and sell more books. It worked. Pierre Plantard had only claimed to be a descendant of the Merovingians. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail had made him into a descendant of Jesus Christ.

Although Dan Brown says that the Priory of Sion worships Mary Magdalene and the sacred feminine and practices the hieros gamos sex rite, there is nothing in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, the Secret Dossiers and the claims of Pierre Plantard to suggest this. These ideas come from Margaret Starbird who read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and built on their claims by adding her feminist ideas about the hieros gamos, the sacred feminine and Mary Magdalene as the goddess in her 1993 book The Woman with the Alabaster Jar.

    In 1997, The Templar Revelation by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince claimed that the Priory of Sion were Mary Magdalene goddess worshippers (48). They even wrote, “The Priory of Sion believe that Mary Magdalene is one and the same as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, and the one who anoints Jesus’ feet.” (49). How do they know the Priory of Sion believes the two Marys were the same person, especially since, as we shall see, four years before The Templar Revelation was published, Pierre Plantard had admitted in court that the Priory of Sion was a hoax? Picknett and Prince appear to have read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and thought that the Priory of Sion believes Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married – something which they never said. Because Picknett and Prince argued that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany were the same person in order to make their claims Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a sexual relationship more convincing, they seem to have assumed that the Priory must also believe this.

Like Margaret Starbird, Picknett and Prince wrote that Jesus and Mary practiced the hieros gamos (50), but they did not explicitly say that the Priory of Sion does. However, Dan Brown read their books and appears to have assumed that the Priory of Sion also practices the hieros gamos. These authors have no evidence the Priory of Sion believes these things. They are reading their own speculations into this fictitious secret society and assuming that because they believe them, the Priory of Sion must also believe them.

The Decline and Fall of the Priory of Sion

In The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail the authors wrote how they suspected someone with their own vested interest had been leaking information about Rennes-le-Chateau and the Merovingians. This turned out to be Pierre Plantard (51). They describe when they met Plantard in a Paris cinema in 1979 and he told them that the Priory of Sion had the lost treasure from the Temple in Jerusalem. They do not appear to have questioned this claim. (52)

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail does not mention how Plantard originally told them in this meeting that the coded parchments were forgeries. They do acknowledge this in the sequel The Messianic Legacy,

“In 1979, when we first met M. Plantard, we were told both of the ciphered texts were in fact forgeries concocted in 1956 by the Marquis de Cherisey for a short television program. We challenged this assertion. The staggering effort required to devise the ciphers seemed inappropriate, indeed ridiculous, for such a purpose. M. Plantard conceded that the forgeries were based very closely on the originals.”(53)

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Plantard had already said the parchments were forgeries in 1971. Based on his past attention-seeking behaviour, it seems that because of the interest the authors were showing in him and the Priory of Sion, he decided to now claim there still were authentic documents.

Jean-Luc Chaumeil, an associate of Plantard, who arranged the meeting with the three authors (54), says he also told Henry Lincoln the coded parchments were fakes. Paul Smith writes,

“I first met Jean-Luc Chaumeil in Paris in September 1982 – and the meeting was an eye-opener! There he showed me a lot of evidence that the Priory of Son was a hoax, that the parchments as allegedly discovered by Sauniere were really Philippe de Cherisey fakes, and that Plantard was an outright charlatan. Not only this, but Chaumeil had actually informed Lincoln of all this prior to the publication of ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’. Jean-Luc Chaumeil was a very disappointed man.” (55)

Plantard gave Chaumeil the original coded parchments. In a 1996 BBC documentary The History of a Mystery, Chauneil showed that Plantard had written across one of the parchments in red ink, “This is the original document, faked by Philippe de Cherisey, which Gerard de Sede used in his book the Gold of Rennes.” (56) The parchment, with the writing saying it is a fake is also shown in the 2004 documentary The Real Da Vinci Code (57).

Philippe de Cherisey has also said that he told Henry Lincoln that the Secret Dossiers were fakes (58).

Thus, even before The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was published, the authors should have at least been suspicious about the Priory of Sion and the coded parchments. At worst, they knew it was all a hoax, but published it anyway. (59)

A split developed between Plantard and Chaumeil presumably because Chaumeil knew the Priory of Sion, which was now receiving so much publicity after the publication of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, was a hoax, and also because Chaumeil had become aware of Plantard’s criminal record which he began to publicise. (60)

In July 1984, apparently as a result of Chaumeil’s activity, Plantard announced that he had resigned as Grand Master of the Priory of Sion for health reasons and the actions of “our English and American brethren” who most likely only existed in Plantard’s imagination. In The Messianic Legacy, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln add, “And there was one other motive which, he stated, contributed to his decision – namely, the publication, ‘in the press, in books and in duplicated pamphlets deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale’ of various ‘false or falsified documents’ pertaining to him.” (61) Plantard appeared to be saying that the Secret Dossiers were forgeries.

After Plantard resigned, the Priory of Sion disappeared. (62)

Philippe de Cherisey died in 1985. The Templar Revelation reports that in 1984 de Cherisey again said that he had faked the coded parchments (63). He had also written an unpublished manuscript called Stone and Paper in which he explained how he faked them (64).

In 1988 Gerard de Sede also said that de Cherisey had faked the parchments and claimed that he had known it when he wrote The Gold of Rennes in 1967 (65).

Although Dan Brown claims that the Secret Dossiers “had been authenticated by many specialists” (66), both Plantard and de Cherisey have acknowledged that they forged the Secret Dossiers and the coded parchments.

Even Lynn Picknett, one of The Da Vinci Code‘s main sources, now believes they are fakes. In her 2003 book, Mary Magdalene, Christianity’s Hidden Goddess, she wrote,

“Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that Sauniere was a member of the Priory of Sion, or even its hapless tool, for research shows that the organisation has only existed since the 1950s. And the coded parchments that the priest was believed to have found were, it has been revealed, fabricated by two of its founders. Indeed, the Priory as a whole seems to have a penchant for fakery and elaborate practical jokes, which even includes smuggling faked documents into the Bibliotheque Nationale in order to impress the likes of Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln.” (67)

Readers of The Da Vinci Code will not learn this, but in 1989 Plantard returned with a third version of the Priory of Sion, distancing himself from the earlier versions and the Merovingians. This time he said the Priory of Sion had been founded in 1681, not 1099, and he made the strange claim that the Priory’s secret was a black rock of immense energy (68). He repeated his earlier statement that the coded parchments had been forged by Philippe de Cherisey (69).

Plantard produced a new list of the Priory’s supposed Grand Masters. One of these was Roger-Patrice Pelat who was a friend of French President Francois Mitterand.

In 1993 Pelat was involved in an insider trading scandal and committed suicide. Because there appeared to be a connection between Plantard and Pelat, Judge Thierry Jean-Pierre, who headed the inquiry into the scandal, ordered a search of Plantard’s house. The police found documents which said that Plantard was the true king of France. Plantard subsequently admitted that he made the whole thing up. The judge let him go with a severe warning. No one in France took the Priory of Sion seriously after that. Plantard died in Paris in 2000. (70)

It is interesting to see how the Rennes-le Chateau story grew. It started out with a priest trafficking in Masses. Noel Corbu added the coded parchments and lost treasure. Pierre Plantard added the Secret Dossiers, the Merovingians and the Priory of SIon. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail added the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The Woman with the Alabaster Jar added goddess worship, the sacred feminine and the hieros gamos.

Ten years before The Da Vinci Code was published, the Priory of Sion had been exposed as a hoax, yet Dan Brown still claims it is a real secret society. In fact, many people in the English speaking world still believe there is some secret to Rennes-le-Chateau or that the Priory of Sion is real. A documentary Did Jesus Die?, which was shown on the ABC’s Compass program on April 11, 2004, still claimed that Berenger Sauniere found coded parchments which made him rich (71). Two books published about The Da Vinci Code in 2004, Cracking the Da Vinci Code by Simon Cox and Da Vinci Decoded by Martin Lunn still claimed that the Priory of Sion was a real secret society and the Dossiers Secrets were authentic and said nothing about Pierre Plantard’s 1993 admissions (72).Their only excuse is that most of the research debunking the Rennes-le-Chateau story and the Priory of Sion is in French and has not been published in English. I read several books about the supposed bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene during the 1990s and did not hear that Pierre Plantard had admitted the Priory of SIon was a hoax in 1993 until 2004.


(1) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 21

(2) Ibid., p 342

(3) Ibid., p 345

(4) Ibid., p 280

(5) Ibid., p 15

(6) Ibid., p 172

(7) Ibid., p 409-410

(8) Ibid., p 342

(9) Ibid., p 345-346

(10) Jean-Jacques Bedu, “Rennes-le-Chateau – Autopsie d’un mythe (1990) pp 115-148”

(11) Ibid.

(12) The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, op cit., p 30

(13) Bill Putnam and John Edwin Wood, The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, Sutton Publishing, UK, 2003, p 16-17

(14) Ibid., p 10-13

(15) Ibid., p 92

(16) Ibid., p 9

(17) Ibid., p 16, Paul Smith, “Priory of Sion Parchments and Steven Mizrach”,

(18) Paul Smith, “Pierre Plantard’s Letter to Marshall Petain dated 16 December 1940”,

(19) Paul Smith, “Police Report on Pierre Plantard dated 8 February 1941”,

(20) Paul Smith, “Police Report on ‘French National Renewal’ dated 9 May 1941”,

(21) Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, The Messianic Legacy, Corgi Books, London, 1987, p 390

(22) Ibid., p 387-389

(23) Robert Richardson, “The Priory of Sion Fraud”, New Dawn, July-August, 2000, p 59

(24) Paul Smith, “Police Report on the Statutes of the Alpha Galates dated 13 February 1945”,

(25) Paul Smith, “The Real Historical Origin of the Priory of Sion”, , Paul Smith, “Pierre Plantard’s Criminal Convictions – A Chronology”,

(26) Paul Smith, “Priory of Sion Debunked”,

(27) The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, op cit., p 210

(28) “Pierre Plantard’s Criminal Convictions – A Chronology”, op cit

(29) The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, op cit., p 119, “Priory of Sion Parchments and Steven Mizrach”, op cit.

(30) The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, op cit., p 117,119

(31) Ibid., p 118-122, “Priory of Sion Parchments and Steven Mizrach”, op cit.

(32) The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, op cit., p 26

(33) The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, op cit., p 236-237

(34) Ibid., p 101-102, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, op cit., p 237-281

(35) The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, op cit., p 77, “The Priory of Sion Fraud”, op cit., p 59

(36) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 217

(37) The Real History Behind The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 95

(38) The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 48, The Da Vinci Hoax, op cit., p 232-233

(39) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 280

(40) Paul Smith, “Pierre Plantard Profile”, , Massimo Introvigne, “The Da Vinci Code FAQ, or Will the Real Priory of Sion Please Stand Up?”,

(41) The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, op cit., p 120-121

(42) “Priory of Sion Parchments and Steven Mizrach”, op cit.

(43) The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, op cit., p 123, “Priory of Sion Parchments and Steven Mizrach”, op cit.

(44) Patricia Briel, “Pierre Plantard, founder of the Priory of Sion, an oddball in search of royal descent”,, “Pierre Plantard Profile”, op cit.

(45) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 342, 344-345

(46) Philippe de Cherisey, “Jesus Christ, his wife and the Merovingians”,

(47) Cracking The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 73

(48) The Templar Revelation, op cit., p 197,215, 257, 341, 475

(49) Ibid., p 307

(50) Ibid., p 348, 398

(51) The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, op cit, p 94-95, 230

(52) Ibid., p 235-236

(53) The Messianic Legacy, op cit., p 301

(54) The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, op cit., p 115

(55) Paul Smith, “Debunking the Mysteries of Rennes-le-Chateau”,

(56) The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, op cit., p 124

(57) The Real Da Vinci Code, op cit.

(58) “The Da Vinci Code FAQ, or Will the Real Priory of Sion Please Stand Up?”, op cit.

(59) Ibid.

(60) “Pierre Plantard Profile”, op cit., “Priory of Sion Debunked”, op cit.

(61) The Messianic Legacy, op cit., p 371

(62) Ibid, p 378

(63) The Templar Revelation, op cit., p 25

(64) Jean-Luc Chaumeil, “The Message of a Sacred Enigma”,

(65) “The Da Vinci Code FAQ, or Will the Real Priory of Sion Please Stand Up?”, op cit.

(66) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 280

(67) Mary Magdalene, op cit., p 110

(68) Paul Smith, “The Secret of the Priory of Sion”,

Paul Smith, “The 1989 Plantard Comeback”,

(69) Noel Pinot, “An Interview with Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair”,

(70) Paul Smith, “Pierre Plantard, Judge Thierry Jean-Pierre and the End of the Priory of Sion in 1993”,

(71) Did Jesus Die?, ABC Video, 2004

(72) Cracking The Da Vinci Code, op cit, p 49-51, 130-133, Martin Lunn, Da Vinci Decoded, Disinformation, New York, 2004, p 23-47

(5) The Art of Leonardo da Vinci

Dan Brown does more than simply get Leonardo’s name wrong. The Da Vinci Code makes several false claims about Leonardo and his art.

He says that “Da Vinci has always been an awkward subject for historians, especially in the Christian tradition.” (1) Judging by the approximately 5000 books which have been published on Leonardo, he is only “an awkward subject for historians” in Brown’s imagination. (2)

Brown writes that Leonardo produced “an enormous output of breathtaking Christian art” and accepted “hundreds of lucrative Vatican commissions” (3). In fact, there are only seventeen paintings by Leonardo and four of these were not finished. He only accepted one commission from the Vatican (4).

He writes that “Leonardo was a well-documented devotee of the ancient ways of the goddess.” (5) There is no such documentation. Leonardo’s notebooks do not say he believed in the “goddess”, but suggest he was an agnostic or atheist (6). Other historians have suggested that while Leonardo was clearly critical of some practices of the Catholic Church, he may have been nominally Christian or simply believed in a Creator God (7). Smart as Leonardo was, I doubt he, or anyone else during the Renaissance, would have understood what the New Age feminist term “goddess” meant.

In a newspaper article “Breaking the Code” Hillel Italie refers to books debunking The Da Vinci Code as “anti-Da Vinci books” (8). This is misleading, not simply because such books are not anti-Leonardo (get his name right), but also because there is no evidence Leonardo believed Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, so he would not have hinted at it in his art. There is no “Da Vinci Code”.

Dan Brown apparently believes Leonardo was a goddess worshipper and believed Jesus was married because he believes Leonardo was a Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. As we have seen, when Pierre Plantard invented the Priory of Sion, he came up with a list of its Grand Masters largely by copying it from a list of the supposed Rosicrucian Grand Masters. This list included Leonardo da Vinci, however Leonardo was not a Rosicrucian either, because the Rosicrucians first appeared in 1614 and Leonardo died in 1519. In 1982 the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail made up the idea that the Priory of Sion believed Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had descendants. Readers, who believed the book, would have assumed that Leonardo, being a Grand Master of the Priory, believed Jesus was married. Other books, like The Templar Revelation and The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, added their own ideas about goddess worship and the sacred feminine. So, Dan Brown assumed that Leonardo was a Priory Grand Master who, as well as believing Jesus was married, was a goddess worshipper and believer in the sacred feminine, and he described him as such in The Da Vinci Code. Brown’s claims about Leonardo’s art have been taken largely from The Templar Revelation, especially the first chapter entitled, “The Secret Code of Leonardo da Vinci” (9). Its authors believed Leonardo was a Priory Grand Master, so he must have had heretical beliefs about Jesus and goddess worship, so they projected these ideas into his art.

There is no historical evidence Leonardo believed any of this. It all started with Pierre Plantard claiming to be a descendant of the Merovingians and his fake list of Grand Masters.

The Last Supper

In discussing The Last Supper, Brown has Teabing say, “Our preconceived notions of this scene are so powerful that our mind blocks out the incongruity and overrides our eyes.” (10) In fact, it looks like Brown is trying to plant his own “preconceived notions” in his readers’ minds, so they will hopefully now interpret Leonardo’s paintings in a way they would have never considered without reading The Da Vinci Code.


Brown claims that in Leonardo’s The Last Supper, the figure between Peter and Jesus, which is believed to be the Apostle John, is actually a woman, Mary Magdalene (11). It is true that the figure to Jesus’ right does look somewhat feminine, although Brown’s “hint of a bosom” (12) is actually caused by a crack in the wall (13).

However, we know this person is a man because Leonardo said it is a man. Leonardo’s notes, which he made planning The Last Supper, still exist. He wrote about Peter and John, “Another speaks in the ear of his neighbour, and he who listens turns towards him and gives him his ear.” (14)

Brown has Teabing say, “Believe me, it’s no mistake. Leonardo was skilled at painting the difference between the sexes.” (15) This is a rather silly statement if you think about it. Any artist, who is not skilled enough that viewers cannot tell if he has painted a man or a woman, should get another job. It is also not applicable to Leonardo. The subjects of his paintings were sometimes sexually ambiguous. When I first saw Leonardo’s St John the Baptist, I thought the curly haired, smooth faced figure was a woman until I noticed the hairy chest. Likewise, anyone looking at the angel Uriel in Virgin of the Rocks would think it was female unless they knew Uriel was male.


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Dan Brown says Leonardo was “a flamboyant homosexual” (16). This is an exaggeration. He was accused of sodomy and probably was gay, but he was hardly “flamboyant” (17). Leonardo’s suspected homosexuality is a more likely explanation for the effeminate-looking young man in The Last Supper and other paintings, not that it is really a woman, let alone Mary Magdalene.

Rather than being “skilled at painting the difference between the sexes”, in some case, the only way to tell if the figure in Leonardo’s paintings is a man or woman, like the angel in the Virgin of the Rocks, is to know who it is supposed to be. The Last Supper portrays the scene after Jesus has just told his disciples one of them would betray him. The Gospel of John records,

“When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” “(John 13: 21-25

We can tell from this passage that the Apostle John, who wrote it (John 21: 20, 24), was sitting next to Jesus with Peter apparently on John’s other side. If Dan Brown is right and the figure is Mary Magdalene, then where is John? The Last Supper shows the scene in verse 24 where Peter has motioned to John to ask him to ask Jesus who will betray him. John has leaned over from Jesus to Peter who is asking him.


While Brown claims that “The Last Supper practically shouts at the viewer that Jesus and Magdalene were a pair” and “Jesus and His Bride appear to be joined at the hip” (18), Lynn Picknett interpreted the painting very differently. She argued that “Mary” leaning away from Jesus reveals a rift between them over Jesus’ supposed role in the death of John the Baptist (19). John is simply leaning over to Peter so he can ask him to ask Jesus who will betray him. Clearly, these writers are just reading their own theories into the painting and claiming it says whatever they want it to say.

Dan Brown claims The Last Supper reveals Peter’s hostility to Mary Magdalene who Jesus wanted to be the head of the Church instead;

“You can see that Da Vinci was well aware of how Peter felt about Mary Magdalene… In the painting Jesus was leaning menacingly towards Mary Magdalene and slicing his blade-like hand across her neck. The same menacing gesture as in Madonna of the Rocks!” (20)

In fact, Peter has placed his hand on John’s shoulder while asking him to ask Jesus who will betray him. Judging by John’s peaceful expression and the way he is leaning towards Peter, John did not find Peter’s hand at all “menacing”.

Earlier, Dan Brown described the Madonna of the Rocks, better known as the Virgin of the Rocks,

“The painting showed a blue-robed Virgin Mary sitting with her arm around an infant, presumably Baby Jesus. Opposite Mary sat Uriel, also with an infant, presumably baby John the Baptist. Oddly, though, rather than the usual Jesus-blessing-John scenario, it was baby John who was blessing Jesus …. and Jesus was submitting to his authority! More troubling still, Mary was holding one hand high above the head of the infant John and making a decidedly threatening gesture – her fingers looking like eagle’s talons. Finally, the most obvious and frightening image: Just below Mary’s curled fingers, Uriel was making a cutting gesture with his hand – as if slicing the neck of the invisible head gripped by Mary’s claw-like hand.” (21)

davinci code_0008

Brown’s suggestion that there is something suspicious or heretical about the baby John the Baptist blessing Jesus is a result of his getting the babies mixed up. The baby John is not blessing Jesus, but as Brown said it should be, the baby Jesus is blessing John (22). Admittedly, the babies do look alike, but in the second version of this painting, the baby John is holding his John the Baptist staff to clearly identify him.

davinci code_0013

The “most obvious and frightening image” of Uriel “making a cutting gesture with his hand” is simply Uriel pointing to John the Baptist with his index finger. It is nothing like Peter’s whole hand resting on the Apostle John’s shoulder in The Last Supper, although Brown claims they are “the same menacing gesture.”(23)

davinci code_0008


Brown’s main source for his claims about Leonardo’s art, The Templar Revelation, suggests that a raised index finger in Leonardo’s art is the “John gesture” and symbolizes John the Baptist, as in his painting St John the Baptist (24). Thus, when Uriel is pointing at the baby John the Baptist, it is simply a horizontal version of the “John gesture” identifying the baby.

None of the hand gestures, which Brown describes in Leonardo’s art, are menacing or threatening. Brown is trying to persuade his readers there is something sinister in these paintings when there is none, or maybe he has a phobia about hand gestures and regards them all as threatening.

The Mona Lisa

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Brown claims there is a “hidden message” in the Mona Lisa and it is “in fact, one of the world’s most documented inside jokes. The painting’s well-documented collage of playful allusions had been revealed in most art history tomes, and yet, incredibly, the public at large still considered her smile a great mystery.” (25) According to Dan Brown, the Mona Lisa is supposed to be a self-portrait of Leonardo in drag (26). A poster advertising The Da Vinci Code consists of a picture of the Mona Lisa with the caption, “Why is this man smiling?” The Mona Lisa must be the most looked at painting ever. How many of the millions, who have seen it, though they were looking at a man? Actually, it looks like more like Dan Brown with a wig and dress on than Leonardo.

Lillian Schwartz, a computer graphics expert, first suggested that the Mona Lisa was Leonardo in 1987 when she noticed the similarity in the positioning of the facial features with a self-portrait of Leonardo. The simple explanation for these similarities is that Leonardo used the same art principles of proportion, known as the Golden Rectangle, in both pictures (27).

No art expert or historian believes the Mona Lisa is a man. “Most art tomes” do not reveal “the painting’s well-documented collage of playful allusions.” Like his claim that historians have written books, saying Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, Brown is again passing off the opinions of unqualified lay people and esoteric writers as those of academic experts.

There is no mystery about who the Mona Lisa is. Art historians believe it is a portrait of Lisa del Gherhardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine merchant who commissioned the painting. “Mona” is a contraction of “Madonna” meaning “Madame”. In Italy the painting is still called La Gioconda. (28)

Furthermore, there are several paintings, The Naked Giocondo or Mona Lisa Nude, by Leonardo’s students which may be copies of a lost original. They appear  to be of the same woman, Lisa del Giocondo, but she is topless, has breasts, and is definitely not Leonardo or any other man in drag.


Brown also claims the name Mona Lisa is an anagram of AMON L’ISA, the Egyptian god Amon and goddess Isis “whose ancient pictogram was once called L’ISA” so the name is “an anagram of the divine union of male and female” (29).

However, Europeans did not learn to read Egyptian hieroglyphics until the Nineteenth Century, so Leonardo did not know what the ancient pictogram for Isis was. Another anagram of Mona Lisa is “no salami’, so we should not read too much into the meaning of anagrams.

Brown’s theory that the name Mona Lisa reveals Leonardo’s interest in “the divine union of male and female” cannot be true, because Leonardo never called it the Mona Lisa. He never named any of his paintings. It was given the name Mona Lisa by Giorgio Vasiri in 1550, 31 years after Leonardo’s death (30)


(1) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 72

(2) The Da Vinci Hoax, op cit., p 245

(3) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 72

(4) The Da Vinci Hoax, op cit., p 246

(5) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 135

(6) Douglas Mannering, The Art of Leonardo da Vinci, Optimum Books, London, 1981, p 40

(7) The Real History Behind The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 58-59, The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 64-65

(8) Hillel Italie, “Breaking the Code”, The Sunday Examiner, March 20, 2005, p B5

(9) The Templar Revelation, op cit., p 21-42

(10) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 328

(11) Ibid., p 327-328

(12) Ibid., p 327

(13) Laurence Gardner, The Magdalene Legacy, Harper Collins, London, 2005, p 263

(14) Edward MacCurdy, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, George Brazilller, New York, 1939, p 1015

(15) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 327

(16) Ibid., p 72

(17) Charles Nicholl, Leonardo da Vinci, The Flights of the Mind, Penguin, London, 2004, p 115-124

(18) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 329

(19) Mary Magdalene, op cit., p 234

(20) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 334

(21) Ibid., p 191

(22) The Da Vinci Hoax, op cit., p 254-255

(23) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 334

(24) The Templar Revelation, op cit, p 31

(25) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 165

(26) Ibid., p 167

(27) The Magdalene Legacy, op cit., p 239-240

(28) The Art of Leonardo da Vinci, op cit., p 52, The Da Vinci Hoax, op cit., p 260-261, The Real History Behind The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 173

(29) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 168

(30) The Truth Behind The Da Vinci Code,
op cit., p 67


The chain of evidence in The Da Vinci Code and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail is a chain of broken links.

There is no historical evidence Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child.

The only evidence Mary Magdalene went to France are legends which originated over 1000 years after it was supposed to have happened and do not mention any child of Mary called Sarah.

There is no historical evidence that her descendants, which no evidence says existed, married into the Merovingians.

There is no genealogical link between the Merovingians and Godefroi de Bouillon and Pierre Plantard because the supposed link Sigisbert IV never existed.

The Priory of Sion is a modern invention, not a 1000 year old secret society, and did not believe Jesus was married and had descendants, and did not believe in the sacred feminine and goddess worship. Leonardo da Vinci could not have been one of its Grand Masters.

Dan Brown has admitted one of the goals of his novel is to promote his religious ideas about the sacred feminine. In The Da Vinci Code, he writes, “Sophie, every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith – acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove.” (1) This definition definitely applies to the beliefs in The Da Vinci Code.


(1) The Da Vinci Code, op cit., p 451


Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.