SPidge Tales

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The DaVinci Code: my book review

All too often while teaching religion, I receive excited queries from some of my students asking me if I “knew” that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that the Church has been covering it up all these years because it does not want people to know about Mary Magdalene. Riiiiight. The Church wants to hide Mary Magdalene. That must be why she is present at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday in all four Gospels. The reason why I am told these “facts” is my students have heard these facts either from reading or hearing about The DaVinci Code. I always replied that I had not yet read the book, so I cannot rightfully make comments about the claims of either Dan Brown or his fictional characters. Now that I am done with comprehensive exams, and no longer need to spend my non-work waking hours studying, I have time for free reading. I just completed The DaVinci Code, and I have a few comments.

To criticize the book for offering one dimensional characters, silly plot twists, and predictable discoveries about conniving figures who we thought were good-guys would be disingenuous on my part, since I particularly enjoy entertaining fluff without much depth. Curator Jacques Sauniere is murdered in the Louvre, and professor Robert Langdon, innocent yet the primary suspect, and cryptologist/granddaughter of the victim Sophie Neveu go on a wild adventure running separately from the cops, the tall limping albino Opus Dei monk who really committed the murder, and the secret “Teacher” orchestrating the crime, while at the same time trying to figure out the mystery behind the hidden secret Sauniere was killed for. We find out that Sauniere was part of a secret society, the Priory of Sion, that has and protects the true identity and nature of the Holy Grail. The Albino monk is Silas, a member of spooky Catholic organization Opus Dei, working for his mentor Archbishop Aringarosa and the unknown Teacher, to seek out the Grail for ad majorem dei gloriam. French police chief Bezu Fache seems too religious, and arouses suspicion about his motives in pursuing Langdon. Luckily, Langdon knows Sir Leigh Teabing, a prominent Grail scholar eager to help in their search, in the hopes of revealing the “truth” of the Grail to a world that has been denied it by the “evil” Church. But, would Sauniere really have wanted the truth revealed?

It would be simple if this work of fiction were really just a lighthearted work of fiction. However, Brown offers a disclosure stating that certain parts of the book are true. Yes, he is sure to point out that, while the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei exist, the main characters who are members are fictional, and while pointing out that descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals are true, he never makes any claims about the historical theories put forth by the characters. Yet, it is these claims by the characters that have excited the popular imagination and must be confronted.

Both Langdon and Teabing refer anachronistically to “the Vatican” when criticizing past historical actions of the Church. Whether or not the claims made about the Church are true, it is incorrect to refer to the actions of “the Vatican” in the 15th century, much less the 3rd and 4th century. Vatican Hill, the location in Rome where St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City are located, has only in the last few centuries been the seat of Church governance. Before then, the Pope’s home base (and still the official Cathedral Church of the diocese of Rome) was the Cathedral of St. John Lateran in Rome. The 4th century, the era most derided in the book, the Pope was not in practical terms “in charge” of the Church, and East and West were still more than half a millennium from splitting. The Catholic Church as we know today, and Teabing loves to bash, was not around then. There was a Catholic Church, but it included both West and East, Latin and Greek, unlike today, where it is just Latin and few Eastern Rite Churches.

Spoiler Alert!! I will be giving away some important plot twists and book secrets. Skip if you do not want to know.

Teabing and Langdon’s major theses involve the idea that the Holy Grail is not the chalice of the Last Supper, but the blood line of the children of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, a 2000 year old secret that would shock the world. We learn in the book that the Priory of Sion heroically protects the secret by meeting and having Eyes Wide Shut style orgies. But, why keep this fact a secret? Why not tell the whole world that Mary Magdalene and our homeboy JC got….it….on? Then we can all have orgies.

Constantine made Jesus divine. But you see, Teabing tells Sophie when Langdon and she seek refuge in his mansion, the Church has suppressed this truth. All the early Christian followers “knew” that Jesus was just a swell guy, descended from the royal blood of David who married Mary Magdalene of the royal line of Benjamin to make a super royal bloodline. But, Emperor Constantine ruined all the fun. He had the JC—MM marriage written out of the Bible, and decided to “make” Jesus divine at the Council of Nicea in 325, in what turned out to be a real close vote. Now, since Jesus is divine, no one can challenge the Christian religion of the Empire. A divine Jesus could not have a wife, so Mary Magdalene gets hush-hushed. From then on out, Christianity phased out the pagan practices of goddess worship, cut out the divine feminine, and the world started sucking.

Whether or not Jesus is divine is matter of faith. However, from a historical perspective, it is incorrect to claim that Constantine is the first to call Jesus divine. Since the time of Jesus, there have been many followers who have considered Jesus to be God, to be one with the Father. Yes, there also were followers, such as Arius, who placed Jesus as less than God, and the merits of the decision at Nicea is a much wider topic than a book review, but it is historically false to claim that there were not early Christians who believed in Christ’s divinity. Also, the vote at Nicea was not close. It was an extreme majority that voted in favor of the Creed.

Jesus married Mary Magdalene. It is claimed by Teabing and Langdon that Jesus must have married Mary Magdalene because he loved her, references to kisses he gave her in apocrophal (non-canonical) gospels, and the “fact” that all Jewish men married then. However, in reality there is solid evidence against the view that Jesus married. NOT all Jewish men married. There was always a place for asceticism in Judaism. The Dead Sea Scrolls, just discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945, were not early Christian texts, as mentioned in the DaVinci Code, but rather Jewish religious texts written by the Essenes, one group among a number of Jewish celibate ascetics, the equivalent of later Christian monks. While most Jewish men married, it was not unheard of for some to remain celibate. And, since marriage was looked highly upon, and all the great Jewish leaders from the Old Testament were married and had their wives mentioned, the only reason not to mention a wife of Jesus was that he probably did not have one. After all, at this time, it would have made Jesus look better to have been married. The only reason not to mention it is it is not true.

Sex is sacred. We can see the true colors of the Priory of Sion, the defenders of the “truth” of the Grail, in Sophie’s traumatizing experience that drove her from her grandfather. An orgy to show that sex is sacred? Actually, this is not a “new” idea. All of the ancient pagan religions believed that sex was divine, and many practiced ritualized sex. This is supposedly in contrast to the Church, which through the "fictional" story of Original Sin, has made sex dirty and shameful.

It is true that the Church does not consider sex to be divine. Unlike the straw-man that is set up to be torn down in the DaVinci Code, the Church also does not consider sex to be evil or dirty. Sex is a normal human activity. Not demonic or divine. It is good and a gift of God, but thoroughly human. And, frankly, whether one is someone who believes that sex is only for marriage or that sex is for any two (or more) consenting adults, I think we can all agree that it is kind of creepy and weird to call sex divine or sacred or religious. It does not cure cancer or make you fly or anything. It’s sex. Even animals do it.

No need to reveal the “truth” of the Holy Grail. Let’s pretend for a second that there really was a big cover up, and the Church has kept the Priory of Sion, under threat, from revealing the truth, and that is why they have to keep the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene a secret, only meeting once in awhile to perform some, um, rituals. Teabing is secretly the Teacher orchestrating the murder of Sauniere and seeking out the Grail because he thinks the “truth” that JC and MM married should be shouted from the rooftops. Langdon hedges, because Sauniere, the Grand Master leader of the Sion’s, did not want it told, and, as Langdon says, “if you and I could dig up documentation that contradicted holy stories of…belief, should we do that?” After all, “those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical,” i.e. religious faith is based on fantasy, and it does not matter what one believes if it makes him feel good and he is nice to others. Plus, as we find out from Sophie’s long lost grandmother who is not really dead like we earlier thought, the “truth” about Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ marriage is found in art, historical objects, writings, phallic objects, and nature. Riiiiight. No reason to tell people the truth. We are the enlightened ones who have it.

Obviously, this is very patronizing. It conjures up images of the Grand Inquisitor who “knew” there was no God, but burned heretics to spare people the unbearable truth of a life without hope. If something is true, why not reveal it? And, the idea that the “important” truths are meant to be hidden and only known by the enlightened few is not Christianity, but Gnosticism. True Christianity is for everybody. Jesus did not come for just for the enlightened few. His message is for us all.

If Jesus is just a man, and not divine, what is the point of worshipping him, or Mary Magdalene, or their “sacred” bloodline? The reason why Christians worship Jesus, and do not just revere him as a prophet like Moses or Muhammad, is because we believe him to be the God whose love is stronger than death, who offers us hope for new life after this one. And, far from disgracing Mary Magdalene’s name, the Church honors her. Who but she is revered as the one who is definitively present at the empty tomb to witness the Risen Lord?


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1:59 PM  

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