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Da Vinci Code unlocks controversy
by Graeme J. Davidson, 17 September 2005

Dan Brown is more interested in spinning a yarn that sells than bothering to get facts right. In this, he has been highly successful.

Dan Brown welcomes the controversy generated by his blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code. “Religion”, he says, “has only one true enemy – apathy – and passionate debate is a superb antidote”.

Brown, a former English teacher, has reason to rejoice. The controversy, along with vigorous marketing, has turned his religious thriller into the fastest selling adult novel ever – over 30 million copies in two years. It has spent months at the top of bestseller lists around the globe, including New Zealand, earning Brown an estimated US$76.5 million in royalties in one year alone.

There’s an upmarket illustrated version and special tours to sites mentioned in the book. You need to sign up a month in advance to see the original Da Vinci fresco of the Last Supper on the refectory wall at the Convent of Santa Maria in Milan. The tiny Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh in Scotland has tripled its visitors – and its coffers at £6 a head.

The Da Vinci Code is a fast-paced action story that combines history with modern issues. It also attempts to reveal the human side of Jesus Christ from under the debris of organised religion.

The book’s mixture of art history, religious symbolism, code-breaking, conspiracy, secret societies and cultic practices – including masochism and ritual sex – brings the esoteric into the mainstream.

Even some who stick a knife into Brown for serving up a heady brew of misinformation and half-truths claim it’s ‘a good read – as long as you treat it as pure fantasy’. Others would only recommend it to their enemies.

There are parodies and copycat versions – along with hundreds of articles and nine books debunking The Da Vinci Code. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone expressed a common concern when he said there was “a very real risk that many people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true”.

The film version staring Tom Hanks, scheduled for release May 2006, is already creating waves that have forced director Ron Howard to consult a Catholic theologian on changes to avoid a thumbs-down from the potentially huge Catholic audience.

Westminster Abbey rejected a request to film there, so the crew, along with their reputed £180,000 donation, moved to Lincoln Cathedral.

In answer to those who accused that Cathedral of selling out for an inflation-adjusted 30 pieces of silver, the Dean, the Very Rev. Alec Knight, preached to a divided congregation that, even though The Da Vinci Code is speculative and far-fetched, it “stimulates debate and the search for truth”.

Brown claims his book “is a novel and, therefore, a work of fiction”. Nevertheless, on the first page he provides a list of ‘facts’, suggesting that much of what he wrote is true. This has left many wondering why they didn’t hear these exciting things at Sunday school.

In a rare interview for the National Geographic Channel, Dan Brown reaffirmed his belief in the book’s theme – that Jesus was married to one of his camp followers, Mary Magdalene, and that he had children by her.

This bloodline – not the chalice of the Last Supper – is the Holy Grail, according to Brown. In support of this view, he points to Gnostic texts, written in the early days of Christianity, and blames the male-dominated Church for declaring them heretical.

Brown also argues that all Jewish men married in Jesus’ time, therefore Jesus must have been married. Not so. St. Paul and about 4000 Essene monks at Qumran beside the Dead Sea were single and celibate.

Mary Magdalene is mentioned 12 times in the New Testament, 11 times during the crucifixion and resurrection. In the twelfth instance, she is one of several women out of whom Jesus cast evil spirits.

In Gnostic writings, she is a close confidant of Jesus. But even in these fanciful texts, there is no hint of sexual intimacy.

Brown’s view that Jesus was thought of as purely human until the Council of Nicea in 325 AD is wrong. A strong belief in Jesus’ divinity is at the heart of the earliest Christian writings. The Council of Nicea under Emperor Constantine decided on the nature of this divinity, not whether he was divine.

Despite Brown’s claims, there is no Christian text or mention of Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The book’s villain, the albino Opus Dei monk, Silas, is wide of the mark. Opus Dei is not a religious order of monks, but a Catholic lay movement designed to inspire holiness.

The book’s hero who cracks the code is Robert Langdon, Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard University. Langdon must have cheated in his exams and created a fictitious CV to get that job. In real life, he wouldn’t pass Religion 101.

Dan Brown is more interested in spinning a yarn that sells than bothering to get facts right. In this, he has been highly successful.




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