Observations on ...
The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code
Bantam Press 2003
The following should be read only by those who have already read the
book because it discloses important plot developments.
My personal opinion is that it was a thoroughly enjoyable, fast-paced
novel in which we are drip-fed information at a pace sufficient to hold
our attention. I was left wondering "just how much of it should we take
To approach an answer we must review the "claims" implicit in the story
while granting that, althought various fictional characters treat them
seriously, we have no information as to whether the author does.
Ultimately of course, that doesn't matter. The deconstructionist
approach to literature is that we don't need to speculate as to what
the author had in mind and we are free to treat his work in any way
we please. Cavalier? yes, but quite liberating!
The Plot Line
The plot claims that Mary Magdalene played a
important role in early Christianity and an enduring
this day. The story claims that Mary Magdalene (Mary from Magdala,
the "Magdalene") was married to Jesus and was appointed by him ahead of
Peter to carry on his mission. Furthermore she was pregnant to Jesus
at his death and started a line of successors which emerged as the
Merovingians in France, descendants of which survive to the present.
The "official" church, favouring Peter, suppressed this information
but medieval Knights Templars have kept documentary evidence in
safe-keeping and they are in a permanent standoff with the Roman
None of the above am I competent to assess, except on a "commonsense"
intuitive basis and, on that count, the story is no less credible than
the official version. But credibility is not the same as certainty.
The Jesus Seminar
They assign maximum probability to these statements:
- Mary Magdalene was among the early witnesses to the
resurrection of Jesus (Gospels of Matthew and John).
- Mary Magdalene was considered a leader in the early Jesus
movement along with Peter and Paul.
... in his Born of a Woman (1992) on pages 188-198, notes:
"the negativity towards the idea [that Jesus might have been
married to Mary Magdalene] is increasingly strange in our age."
- A suggestion in I Cor 9 that it was common for wives to accompany
preaching apostles. The only other common categories were as mothers or
prostitutes. Given the pre-eminence of MM is listing which cite her,
"prostitute" is unlikely. Hence, maybe, wife of Jesus?
- In the wedding at Cana (Jn 2), Mary mother of Jesus is so concerned
at the disrupted proceedings that maybe it was her son's wedding
maybe, given other evidence to MM?
- MM has a starring role in the pre-Resurrection events of Jn 20. The
use of "my lord" before resurrection points to the possibility of
the title "my lord" meaning "husband".
Bruce Boucher, Curator at the Art Institue of Chicago
He is somewhat skeptical of the author's homework:
"... the author's grasp of the historical
Leonardo is shaky. One small but telling point comes in Mr. Brown's
references to Leonardo as "Da Vinci," as if that were the painter's last
name, yet it is no surname but simply a reference to the fact that he was
the illegitimate son of Ser Piero of Vinci, in the Florentine territory.
Like other great artists, with or without last names, Leonardo is
invariably referred to by his given name and not by da Vinci."
"The nomenclature suggests a lack of familiarity with the copious
bibliography on the painter, as do Mr. Brown's references to Leonardo's
"enormous output" of Christian art and "hundreds of lucrative Vatican
commissions." Leonardo was, in fact, notorious for his meager production
and spent little time in Rome. Neither, for that matter, is it accurate
to call Leonardo a "flamboyant homosexual": despite a charge of sodomy
against him as a young man, the evidence of his sexual orientation
remains inconclusiveand fragmentary. It is also breathtaking to read that
the heroine, Sophie Neveu, uses one of Leonardo's paintings, "The Madonna
of the Rocks," as a shield, pressing it so close to her body that it
bends. More than six feet tall and painted on wood, not canvas, the
"Madonna" is unlikely to be so supple."
Issues for Christianity
The value of a story like this lies not in its technical competence nor
its literal truth, even if that could be established. This is a story to
be dealt with like the science fiction genre in which we are permitted to
look for "truths" of a non-literal kind.
Some examples: "Star Wars" deals well with some Jungian concepts; "The
Matrix" dramatises the classic "brain in a vat" thought experiment;
"Frankenstein" considers the "mind-body" problem and "The Lord of The
Rings" is wall-to-wall heroics by decent chaps fighting some thoroughly
We can be comfortable, deconstructionism notwithstanding, in treating the
story thematically because the author isn't obviously trying to "sell" us
the thesis that is central to the story.
Although "The Da Vinci Code"
is not offered as a "myth" (remembering that in
theological circles a myth is a perfectly respectable genre
something like "metaphors gathered together in narrative form") we can
give it the same sort of attention. In other words, we can exempt
it from the obligation of providing a literal account of
the actual events and look for value elsewhere, as we already
do in the case of works of fiction, "science-" and other.
One way in which such a story can be valuable is to provoke discussion
and provide tentative answers to the question "what difference would it
make" if it were literally true. In what follows I will set out
what I take to be fruitful lines of such a discussion. I have graded the
questions according to the degree of departure from the status quo that
- Was the RC church, and especially Opus Dei, treated fairly?
- Do we have confidence that the New Testament record of first century events, is broadly speaking accurate? How much of it is historical chronicle
and how much "interpretive overlay"?
- Is there room, in the historical events as we understand them,
for a cover-up as the story suggests?
- Is the "classic-Christian" view of sexuality a healthy one? What about homosexuality?
- What would have to change if it became known that Jesus was as much a sexual creature as other males of his day? How probable do you rate this?
- What is the justification for celibate clergy in the RC tradition? Is this the same as chastity?
- Paul is quoted in Galatians 3:28 as saying that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Does traditional Christianity deliver on that vision?
- Is the status of women in Christianity satisfactory? If not, what ought to be done?
- If a "blood descendant" of Jesus could be identified today, how ought we treat her/him?
- What are the implications of the assertion in the story that Jesus appointed Mary Magdalene as his successor?
Appendix: Themes in the Novel
- Atbash Cypher 303, 318-321
- Baphomet 316
- Bible, composition of 231ff
- Chalice, as metaphor 162
- Christian symbolism, derivative 232ff
- Church, the: bad behaviour 125, 407
- Crosses 145
- Cryptix 198
- Cryptography, especially anagrams 43ff, 199
- Divine Proportion 93
- Electronic bugging 365-366, 372
- Emperor Constantine 232, 234
- End of Days 268, 401
- Fibonacci Sequence 60
- Golden Section 93
- Heiros Gamos 125, 141, 307-309, 311
- "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" book 253
- Holy Grail as person, 236ff, 243
- Kaballa 98
- Keystone 13, 203
- Knights Templar 158, 316, 338, 346
- Leonardo da Vinci 45
- Leonardo's art containing hidden messages 169
- Les Dossiers Secrets 206
- "Madonna of the Rocks" painting, 138
- Malleus Maleficarum 125
- Mary Magdalene, importance of 243ff, 261, 444, 454
- Masonic temples 436
- Merovingians 257ff
- Mirror writing 298-301
- Mona Lisa 101
- "Mona Lisa" painting 114, 118-121
- Opus Dei 28, 279
- Pentacle 35
- Priory of Sion 113, 157, 267, 326
- "Q" document, authored by Jesus 256
- Religious Symbology 7, 434
- Rose Line 105, 452
- Rose symbolism 201ff, 254
- Rosslyn Chapel 432ff
- Sacred Feminine 24
- Sangreal = San greal = Holy Grail 160ff, 230ff
- Sangreal = Sang real = Holy Blood 250
- Sex and Christianity 309-310
- Symbols 434
- Tarot 92
- "The Last Supper", painting 235, 243, 261
- Vatican Bank 416
- Vitruvian Man 45
- Westminster Abbey 395