A wave of religious books is coming to bookstores to cash in on The Da Vinci Code movie in May, including a book saying Jesus survived crucifixion and an Evangelical novel with a modern-day Mary Magdalene heroine.
Americans are finally able to buy Dan Brown's best seller in paperback yesterday, three years after it was first published, and with Da Vinci Code fever as strong as ever, it's never been so profitable to write about Christianity.
After Brown's book sold 40 million copies worldwide, books that once might have been released in a limited print run will be stacked at the front of bookstores this spring.
Even Michael Baigent, who sued Brown in a London court this month for plagiarism, is riding on the "Code's" coattails, publishing his latest book, The Jesus Papers, yesterday.
Baigent's previous book examined the controversial idea Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and had children — a key plot element in The Da Vinci Code. His new book suggests Jesus did not die on the cross and lived on for years.
The new batch of Da Vinci Code spin-offs comes ahead of the May 19 release of the movie starring Tom Hanks.
Ehud Sperling, publisher of Inner Traditions, already owes a lot to Brown, who credited several of the publisher's books as sources, fuelling a jump in sales for unlikely titles.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, one of the so-called Gnostic Gospels not included in the New Testament, has sold more than 100,000 copies. "That's amazing for a translation from the Coptic," said Sperling, who has several new releases.
Evangelical Christian publisher Tyndale wants to do more than sell books — it aims to defend the faith. It has created a campaign titled "Da Vinci Didn't Convince Me" aimed at some 2,300 stores in the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA).
"The church needs to equip itself to answer the questions that this movie will raise," said Les Dietzman of CBA member Berean Christian Stores, an Ohio-based chain of 17 bookstores.
Erwin Lutzer's The Da Vinci Deception has sold some 300,000 copies. He likened the movie to a "spiritual tsunami."
"The Da Vinci Code is the most serious assault against Christianity that I have ever witnessed," Lutzer said.
Lutzer, an Evangelical minister in Chicago, has prepared discussion packs for churches in the Tyndale package.
"The majority of people in our churches are going to see the movie and we're not telling them not to," he said, adding that he plans to see it so as to be able to discuss it.
Karen Kingsbury, a Christian fiction writer whose books have sold more than 4 million copies, has written a new book called Divine, a parable about a modern Magdalene figure.
"There's different ways you can go after reading The Da Vinci Code. You can just take it as entertainment and walk away or you may say 'I need to learn more about the history."
"But maybe even bigger is going to be that our society has a very strong curiosity about Mary Magdalene," Kingsbury said.
Amy Welborn, the Catholic author of De-Coding Da Vinci who has written a new book about Magdalene, says she is wary of giving credence to a work of fiction by protesting too much.
"What The Da Vinci Code says about Jesus and Mary Magdalene is silly," she said.
On the more academic side, Oxford University Press is publishing Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene, by Bart Ehrman.
Ehrman, author of the 2004 book Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, said most such books were by Evangelical Christians or Catholics worried about defending the faith.
"That wasn't my concern at all. I'm just interested in the historical issues that The Da Vinci Code raised."
Still he may be popular among such Christians because he says there is no evidence for the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and he dismisses the more controversial theories put forward by Baigent and others.
"There's not a single scholar on the face of the Earth who buys any of it," Ehrman said.