Decoding ‘Da Vinci’

Authors rush to debunk it; readers flock to discuss it

After more than 65 weeks on The New York Times’ best-seller list, The Da Vinci Code is still stirring up controversy.

Roughly 15 books have been published that promise to help readers “crack,” “decode,” “break” or “solve” Dan Brown’s top-selling novel.

The Da Vinci Code

So error-laden is The Da Vinci Code that the educated reader actually applauds those rare occasions where Brown stumbles (despite himself) into the truth. […] In the end, Dan Brown has penned a poorly written, atrociously researched mess.
Source: Dismantling The Da Vinci Code By Sandra Miesel, Crisis, Sep. 1, 2003

Joseph-Beth Booksellers’ regular $30-a-plate Da Vinci Code dinners sell out quickly — packed by readers who sip Da Vinci Tuscany chianti and speculate about religion and the meaning of life.

Other groups are gathering at churches to discuss a story that mixes art history and theology with conspiracy theories and the “sacred feminine.”

With a Da Vinci Code movie due out in 2005 and a new novel in the works, Brown is a hot commodity.

“He’s clearly struck a nerve,” said Dan Burstein, editor of Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind the Da Vinci Code. “Nine million hardcover books have been sold in the United States, and now it’s becoming a worldwide phenomenon.”

That’s good news for Burstein and a host of Da Vinci debunkers who are trying to piggy-back on Brown’s success.

Why is a work of fiction causing a facts-driven firestorm?

Because of the disclaimer at the front of the book.

Brown writes, “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” But critics say the book is riddled with errors and should be viewed as fiction, not fact.

Brown’s success has alarmed many evangelical and Catholic leaders, who worry that the book’s claims about Jesus Christ, the Bible and church history will sway spiritually illiterate readers.

But Sandy Stone, associate rector at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Lexington, thinks the book is having a positive effect.

“People who have been questioning and wrestling with their faith find in this book different views,” she said.

“It’s bringing people into conversations about their beliefs and faith in God,” she said. “They’re hungry to wrestle with those existential issues — that meaning-of-life thing.”

Joseph-Beth’s Lexington store originally planned to have one Da Vinci Code dinner forum, but the event sold out so quickly that store officials started adding dates. About 400 people have attended nine dinners, and demand remains high. Additional dinners have been scheduled for Aug. 24 and 26.

“People are very interested in these issues that Dan Brown has raised in this book, and the interest doesn’t seem to be waning,” said Joseph-Beth’s fiction manager, Steve Turnbull. The bookstore has sold 7,000 copies of Brown’s books in the past year, Turnbull added.

At a recent Da Vinci Code dinner, 10 men and 22 women ate a Da Vinci-inspired dinner: vichyssoise, three-cheese fusilli pasta with Italian sausage, and chocolate-walnut torte.

Noisy conversation filled the room until Secrets of the Code author Burstein took the floor. He told the group The Da Vinci Code is a novel, not a “gospel book.”

“Whatever Dan Brown wants to say, it’s fiction, it’s entertainment. It’s a great story,” Burstein said. “None of these are holy truths. None of these are pure facts the way he portrays them.”

Burstein, a venture capitalist and author who read the New Testament for the first time in January, pointed out factual errors in The Da Vinci Code. But, he said, Brown “has it right in terms of the broad themes of history.”

The audience seemed to agree with that assessment and gave the evening positive reviews.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to talk about values and beliefs and truth,” said Steve Nohe, 56, a Unitarian Universalist from Lexington.

Alanna Ryder, 72, a member of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Lexington, said the book is just “a good read” and hasn’t changed her spiritual outlook. “It doesn’t shake the foundations of my faith. I already know what I believe.”


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Lexington Herald-Leader, USA
July 10, 2004
Frank E. Lockwood, Herald-Leader Staff Writer
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday July 12, 2004.
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