What Others Say about Evaluating The Da Vinci Code
Bart Ehrman, a professor of early Christian history at the University of North Carolina, was asked by Oxford University Press to write a response to the novel from a scholar's perspective. This he did in Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code. Following are excerpts from this book about why he bothered writing a response to a fictional novel. (Italics are his.) I knew that the book itself was fictional, of course, but as I read it (and for me, as for many others, it was a real page-turner) I realized that Dan Brown's characters were actually making historical claims about Jesus, Mary and the Gospels. In other words, the fiction was being built on a historical foundation that the reader was to accept as factual, not fictitious.
But like many historians who have spent their lives studying the ancient sources for Jesus and early Christianity, I immediately began to see problems with the historical claims made in the book. There were numerous mistakes, some of them howlers, whhich were not only obvious to the expert but also unnecessary to the plot. If the author had simply done a little bit more research, he would have been able to present the historical backdrop of his account accurately, without in any way compromisng the story he had to tell. Why didn't he simply get his facts straight? (p. xii-xiii)
...The reasons for my responding are not just that I happen to be interested in the book (I'm interested in lots of books, and I don't plan on responding to them all) or that I'm concerned about the religious impact on the beliefs of others. My concern is really a bit more prosaic. I know that a lot of people learn about the past from works of fiction or from film.... The ability of film directors and book authors to affect public sentiment and to shift public thinking is neither a good thing nor a bad one; it is simply a reality of the times. But when the images they create for their viewers are erroneous - well, it means people misunderstand history as it really was and substitute fiction for facts. Maybe there's no real harm in that. But for those of us who spend our lives studying the history, it can grate a bit on the nerves. (p. xv-xvi)
I should stress that I am not objecting to Dan Brown's inventing claims about early Christian documents as part of his fictional narrative; the problem is that he indicates that his accounting of early Christian documents is historically accurate, and readers who don't know the history of early Christianity will naturally take him at his word. (p. 100)
It is difficult to reconstruct what happened in Jesus' life. Historians insterested in doing so know that it is not a matter simply of quoting a verse here or there tha randomly occurs in some Gospel or the other, and then taking that verse as historically accurate. Doing history is far more complicated than that. We have to take into account the nature of our sources and to apply rigorous criteria to them in order to separate the facts from the fictions.
...The historical approach to our sources may not be as exciting and sensationalist as fictional claims about Jesus (he kept a lover! he had sex! he made babies!), but there's something to be said for knowing what really happened in history, even if it is not as titillating as what happens in novels. (p. 144-45)