An unexpected e-mail arrived a couple of days ago:
As a medievalist, I have been bemused and frustrated by the way Brown's novel has been taken as historical fact since I first had the displeasure of struggling through his turgid prose in late 2004. Since then I have found myself in discussions/debates with Da Vinci fans regarding the many and various historical errors in the novel both online and in 'real life'. In many of those online discussions I have pointed people to online resources on the subject as well as to the small library of books on the novel's claims. I have often recommended your The Da Vinci Hoax and several of the online articles by yourself and Sandra Miesel, particularly "The 'It's Just Fiction!' Doctrine: Reading Too Little Into The Da Vinci Code".
Inevitably, the response to these recommendations has often been that you and writers like you are simply "dupes of the Vatican" (something Darrell Bock would, no doubt, find highly amusing) and that you are simply defending your faith because you are scared of the 'revelations about history' that the Code supposedly makes. These people usually assume that I am a Christian as well and are often confused when I explain that I'm an atheist.
Frustrated by this, I set out about 18 months ago to produce an online resource which examines the claims made in the DVC from a purely historical, religiously-neutral perspective. This has been partly to counter the idea that only Christians disagree with this novel's silly claims, partly to show that religious critics like yourself make arguments which are soundly based on historical research and partly to provide a resource that non-Christians can regard as 'unbiased'.
The site is not fully complete, but the 'Chapter by Chapter' analysis of the 'historical' claims made in the novel is up (weighing in at 45,000 words in total), along with other resources.
While I appreciate that your beliefs and mine are diametrically 'opposed', I hope you might find my site useful and would also hope that you might feature it on your blog. I have already received enthusiastic feedback on it from Christians, who have thanked me for the respectful way I have handled sensitive religious subjects. They've also mentioned they've found it useful to direct people to a 'non-religious' site, to counter the regular accusations of 'bias'.
Thanks in advance,
'History vs the Da Vinci Code' Webmaster
In the "Author" section of his site, O'Neill writes:
As a regular contributor to various online fora on history, I soon began to see the impact this novel was having on peoples' perceptions of history. I saw people making claims about the Gnostic gospels, early Christianity, the Emperor Constantine, the Knights Templar and Jesus which were not supprted by the historical evidence but came directly from their reading of this novel. Eventually I got tired of repeating myself in countering these claims and decided that an online resource comparing the assertions in the novel to the evidence could be a useful project.
Be sure to check out this excellent resource, especially the "Chapters" section, which provides a running commentary on the novel's many errors, chapter by chapter. And don't miss the "Fiction?" page, which explains why an atheist would bother to spend time responding to a work of fiction.
BTW, here is part of my response to Mr. O'Neill's initial e-mail:
I especially appreciate your work because I am so tired of hearing that Christians who are responding to TDVC are "angry" or "afraid" or "weak in their faith" or "narrow minded." As Sandra Miesel has noted on many occasions, even if she was atheist and had little or no interest in the theological/religious issues involved, she would still be offended by Brown's novel because of how it purports to be based on fact, has been accepted as a well-researched work by many reviewers and readers, and yet is filled with errors, howlers, and outright falsehoods about verifiable historical facts. And the way that Brown was initially touted as being some sort of great researcher is incredibly pathetic. And the shrugs and "so what?" attitudes that have accompanied the movie have been equally exasperating.
I also appreciate the kind remarks made on your site about our book. Obviously, as you note, we do come from different perspectives and, in a different time and place, we might have a rousing (and civilized, I think) debate about theism and atheism. But just as I know that many Christians do have a blind and poorly informed faith, I also know that many atheists and agnostics do indeed respect and value truth. And so your efforts to educate people about the many historical errors of TDVC is greatly appreciated.