The Da Vinci Code is “a museum of errors,” says Elizabeth Lev. The art history professor at Duquesne University’s Italian campus is only one of several experts who have contributed to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ new Web site, Jesus Decoded.

The Web site is an attempt to provide a solid Catholic response to the false statements made about the Church in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, soon to be released in theatres as a feature-length film.

The Web site includes contributions from historians, an Opus Dei priest, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, the U.S. bishops’ communications office and other experts. Its purpose is to communicate the truth about the Church and the Catholic faith in light of the film’s upcoming May 19 release.

“Along with trashing Christianity, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is a veritable museum of errors where Renaissance art is concerned,” writes Lev.

Lev’s informative essay focuses on the artist at the centre of Brown’s story, Leonardo Da Vinci, and his renowned work, The Last Supper. She methodically debunks each claim Brown makes about the Renaissance artist’s work and life with historical evidence.

“Art historians have been slow in responding [to The Da Vinci Code], mostly because it is difficult to know where to start,” she says. “The novelist’s imaginative notions of iconography may make for best-selling fiction, but they are wildly at variance with what is known about the life and work of Leonardo.”

She demonstrates Brown’s ignorance through his mistaken interpretation of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Virgin on the Rocks, and The Last Supper.

“Brown’s appetite for desecration reaches its pinnacle when he comes to Leonardo’s finest masterpiece, The Last Supper,” she writes.

She calls Brown’s theory that the figure of the Apostle John is really Mary Magdalene “preposterous” and explains how Da Vinci’s soft-featured, long-haired and beardless depiction of John was a typical artistic style used in Renaissance art to depict young men.

Lev also points out that “Brown’s throwaway assertion that Leonardo was ‘a flamboyant homosexual’ remains unsubstantiated…. The simple fact is that Leonardo lived a Christian life.”

Church historian Alan Schreck takes readers through the first four Church councils — Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon — and the conclusions they reached, namely that Jesus was both human and divine, born of Mary, the Mother of God. Schreck is a professor of theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville.

Amy Welborn, author of De-coding Da Vinci, also contributes to the Web site. She points out the historical fallacies that Brown puts forth and questions his historical sources. She observes that Brown did not refer to any of the scores of texts, from the mid-1st century to the 4th century, which have survived and which indicate very clearly what early Christians believed. Instead, he refers to Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation, which do not reflect serious historical scholarship, she says.

Welborn also traces the origin of the Priory of Sion and shows that Brown’s depiction of this and his claim that Leonardo Da Vinci belonged to it are false.

“The Priory of Sion was a small group of disaffected right-wing anti-Semitic monarchists founded in 1956 in France. They forged the documents Brown describes in this book, and snuck them into French libraries. The fraud was widely exposed in the early 1970’s in France,” she states. In other words, the Priory of Sion did not exist in Da Vinci’s era.

The Web site addresses other issues, which are misrepresented in Brown’s book, with great clarity, such as the Gnostic writings, the celibacy of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and her role in Jesus’ life, Opus Dei and women in the Church.

The Web site has a page that addresses readers’ questions and promotes a television documentary, titled Jesus Decoded, which also seeks to debunk the myths about the Church put forth by The Da Vinci Code.

The documentary was produced by the USCCB and has been made available to all NBC affiliates. The Web site has a finder that lists when and on what channel the documentary will be shown in each state.

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