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Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine Hardcover – November 1, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0195181401 ISBN-10: 0195181409

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ehrman, chair of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, has written widely on the subject of early Christian documents and the formation of the biblical canon. While acknowledging that Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is an exciting mystery novel, Ehrman questions some of its historical claims. Focusing on 10 areas of concern, including the role Constantine played in the formation of the both the church and the Bible and the evidence for Jesus' personal involvement with Mary Magdalene, Ehrman reviews the historical record and demonstrates that Brown's history behind the mystery is seriously flawed. Ehrman is not concerned with theology; he has no interest beyond that of the professional historian who wants to arm the everyday reader with sound research and helpful historical perspective. His is a documentary approach, avoiding speculation and theory. This tone distinguishes the book from many other responses to Brown's novel that uphold a particular theological agenda. Ultimately, Ehrman believes that readers should not try to learn history from speculative fiction. This is a very readable treatment of some difficult themes, such as the reasons for the exclusion of some early gospels from the canon and the enormous influence of recent archeological discoveries. Readers at every level will appreciate this book.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* There are have been several books debunking Dan Brown's enormously popular Da Vinci Code; often the rebuttals have been coated with hostility. Ehrman, a biblical historian, does it better. Using the novel as a jumping-off point, he offers a highly readable introduction to the historical Jesus as well as a brief primer on biblical exegesis. Not an easy task to provide such complex material for a pop-fiction audience, but Ehrman succeeds brilliantly. He immediately gives Brown's book its due; it's a page-turner, and there is no need to refute that. But the book is filled with many historical inaccuracies, everything from claiming the Dead Sea Scrolls were Christian documents to the idea that all the Jewish men of the era were married. (The assumed writers of the scrolls were celibate.) Ehrman uses each inaccuracy as an opportunity to explain how biblical scholarship works. The topics he touches on include how historians assess documentation, the Gnostic gospels in Christian thought, the role of Constantine in the formation of a Christian empire, and the role of women in the early church. Everyone loves conspiracies and secrets, which makes it a bit melancholy to watch Ehrman remove the veil from the Jesus story. Even the most devoted Da Vinci Code fan, however, will be forced to agree that Ehrman succeeds at separating historical fact from literary fiction. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195181409
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195181401
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 1.1 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #623,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestselling Misquoting Jesus and God's Problem. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus. He has been featured in Time and has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, the History Channel, major NPR shows, and other top media outlets. He lives in Durham, N.C.

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Customer Reviews

This book - by prominent New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman - is among the best.
Stephen Triesch
In my opinion, this book by Professor Ehrman is absolutely essential reading for anyone who has read Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code."
Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty
Naturally, I recommend this book to anyone who has read the novel and wants to get the facts straight.
G. Poirier

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

371 of 387 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty on October 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Bart D. Ehrman is the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a recognized authority on the early Christian church and the life of Jesus Christ, has appeared as an expert on the History Channel, the A&E Channel, and other broadcast venues, and has authored a number of books within his area of scholarship. In response to the popularity of "The Da Vinci Code," a bestselling novel by Dan Brown, which claims to be based on "historical truth," Dr. Ehrman has written "Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code" as a means of setting the known historical record straight. Brown's novel is in fact not at all accurate in most of its basic religious assertions. That is, Brown's claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, produced a child, and created a royal ancestral line which still exists is "fiction" not "fact," and is not supported by historical records. In my opinion, this book by Professor Ehrman is absolutely essential reading for anyone who has read Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." It challenges the alleged historical "facts" upon which Brown's novel is based and clears the air, so to speak, about the many controversies which "The Da Vinci Code" has initiated.

In the interest of full disclosure and in case some reader may be critical of this review, let me make the following declarations. Yes, I have read Dan Brown's novel and, being an aficionado of mystery thrillers, I thoroughly enjoyed it and, like Professor Ehrman, found it to be a real page-turner and I would recommend it to all who enjoy this genre.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on November 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Bart Ehrman is one of the most lucid scholars around on the New Testament. He is very good at making the events of the first and second century AD both intelligible and interesting. If you've read other Ehrman books much of what this book says is recycled -- and somewhat simplified -- from his other writings.

I didn't like Dan Brown's novel, "The Da Vinci Code." It was too far-fetched, too anti-Catholic (and I'm not a Catholic), and the plot was too mechanical. Notions of 2000 years old conspiracies are just too far outside the bounds of reality. But "Da Vinci" did inspire in me a desire to learn more about early Christianity.

Ehrman debunks 10 errors which Brown makes as they relate to the New Testament. Ehrman is persuasive. For example, he says there is no assertion in any ancient source -- of which there are quite a number in addition to the books of the New Testament -- that Jesus was married and had children. Ehrman opines that Jesus was probably single and celibate, as were many Jewish mystics in his day. Ehrman doesn't attempt to go outside his area of expertise to discuss the medieval and modern day conspiracies described in "The Da Vinci Code." Thus there is little in this book about "Sion" and "Knight Templars" and the "Grail" and other people and organizations that figure in the Brown book.

So, if you choose to read "The Da Vinci Code" don't swallow it whole, but also read this book to get a more accurate picture of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and early Christianity. Truth, or at least the informed speculation of Ehrman, is more interesting than the fiction of Dan Brown.

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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Lauchlin Chisholm on August 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The author, Bart Ehrman, acknowledges right at the beginning of his book that he liked Dan Brown's thriller, describing it as "a terrific page-turner". And he has not been alone in his praise. The book has everything - good guys, bad guys, murder, police pursuits, even a hint of romance - that a mystery thriller requires, including a surprise ending that reveals the identity of an unlikely villain.

Still, Ehrman, the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, felt that he should separate fact from fiction in Brown's book and present what is known about early Christianity from an intellectual and historical perspective.

Ehrman's book requires more concentration than the escapist fiction of The Da Vinci Code. However, it presents a fascinating account of what historians have compiled about the early Church. It covers a wide range of subjects, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the role of the Emperor Constantine (much different from Brown's account), the sources of various gospels and the role of women in the earliest days of Christianity.

Ehrman points out that "people who read a book like The Da Vinci Code have no way of separating the historical fact from the literary fiction. The author himself won't help you out by telling you which historical claims are just as fictional as the characters and the plot of the novel. And in many places, he himself may not know. He's a novelist, not a scholar of history".

Ehrman's hugely informative book is no "terrific page-turner". But it puts the Da Vinci Code in perspective
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96 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Bobby Newman on November 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As with his other histories of the time periods that were crucial for the development of the New Testament, Bart Ehrman gives us a balanced and persuasive analysis of the historical facts. Some might question why such a book is needed. After all, the Da Vinci Code was meant to be fiction. Are we just beating up on a fiction author who takes "poetic license" with history? Few people were particularly concerned that some of the charcters in "Braveheart" actually lived years apart. In the case of the Da Vinci Code, though, it is necessary. The popularity of the Da Vinci Code or The Passion of Christ (ironically, another Mel Gibson project), make these works more than mere pieces of fiction. Such a calm consideration of actual history should be required reading for anyone who will base their religious opinions upon the fictional works. While we're at it, someone also please send copies of all Dr. Ehrman's work to Mr. Gibson.
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