Dismantling The Da Vinci Code
103, 2005 July)
Langdon said, "is symbolic of the lost goddess. When Christianity came
along, the old pagan religions did not die easily. Legends of chivalric
quests for the Holy Grail were in fact stories of forbidden quests to
find the lost sacred feminine. Knights who claimed to be "searching for
the chalice" were speaking in code as a way to protect themselves from
a Church that had subjugated women, banished the Goddess, burned non
believers, and forbidden the pagan reverence for the sacred feminine."
(The Da Vinci Code, pages 238 239)
Grail is a
favourite metaphor for a desirable but difficult to attain goal, from
the map of the human genome to Lord Stanley's Cup. While the original
Grail — the cup Jesus allegedly used at the Last Supper — normally
inhabits the pages of Arthurian romance, Dan Brown's recent mega best
seller, The Da Vinci Code, rips it away to the realm of esoteric
history. But his book is more than just the story of a quest for the
Grail — he wholly reinterprets the Grail legend. In doing so, Brown
inverts the insight that a woman's body is symbolically a container and
makes a container symbolically a woman's body. And that container has a
name every Christian will recognize, for Brown claims that the Holy
Grail was actually Mary Magdalene. She was the vessel that held the
blood of Jesus Christ in her womb while bearing his children.
Grail keepers have been guarding the true (and continuing) bloodline of
Christ and the relics of the Magdalen, not a material vessel. Therefore
Brown claims that "the quest for the Holy Grail is the quest to kneel
before the bones of Mary Magdalene," a conclusion that would surely
have surprised Sir Galahad and the other Grail knights who thought they
were searching for the Chalice of the Last Supper.
Da Vinci Code
opens with the grisly murder of the Louvre's curator inside the museum.
The crime enmeshes hero Robert Langdon, a tweedy professor of symbolism
from Harvard, and the victim's granddaughter, burgundy haired
cryptologist Sophie Nevue. Together with crippled millionaire historian
Leigh Teabing, they flee Paris for London one step ahead of the police
and a mad albino Opus Dei "monk" named Silas who will stop at nothing
to prevent them from finding the "Grail."
despite the frenetic
pacing, at no point is action allowed to interfere with a good lecture.
Before the story comes full circle back to the Louvre, readers face a
barrage of codes, puzzles, mysteries, and conspiracies.
principle, "Everybody loves a conspiracy," Brown is reminiscent of the
famous author who crafted her product by studying the features of ten
earlier best sellers. It would be too easy to criticize him for
characters thin as plastic wrap, undistinguished prose, and improbable
action. But Brown isn't so much writing badly as writing in a
particular way best calculated to attract a female audience. (Women,
after all, buy most of the nation's books.) He has married a thriller
plot to a romance novel technique. Notice how each character is an
extreme type — effortlessly brilliant, smarmy, sinister, or psychotic
as needed, moving against luxurious but curiously flat backdrops.
Avoiding gore and bedroom gymnastics, he shows only one brief kiss and
a sexual ritual performed by a married couple. The risque allusions are
fleeting although the text lingers over some bloody Opus Dei
mortifications. In short, Brown has fabricated a novel perfect for a
ladies' book club.
seriousness shows in the games he plays with his character names —
Robert Langdon, "bright fame long don" (distinguished and virile);
Sophie Nevue, "wisdom New Eve"; the irascible taurine detective Bezu
Fache, "zebu anger." The servant who leads the police to them is
Legaludec, "legal duce." The murdered curator takes his surname,
Sauniere, from a real Catholic priest whose occult antics sparked
interest in the Grail secret. As an inside joke, Brown even writes in
his real life editor (Faukman is Kaufman).
his extensive use
of fictional formulas may be the secret to Brown's stardom, his anti
Christian message can't have hurt him in publishing circles: The Da
Vinci Code debuted atop the New York Times best seller list. By
manipulating his audience through the conventions of romance writing,
Brown invites readers to identify with his smart, glamorous characters
who've seen through the impostures of the clerics who hide the "truth"
about Jesus and his wife. Blasphemy is delivered in a soft voice with a
knowing chuckle: "[E]very faith in the world is based on fabrication."
Brown has his
limits. To dodge charges of outright bigotry, he includes a climactic
twist in the story that absolves the Church of assassination. And
although he presents Christianity as a false root and branch, he's
willing to tolerate it for its charitable works. (Of course, Catholic
Christianity will become even more tolerable once the new liberal pope
elected in Brown's previous Langdon novel, Angels & Demons,
abandons outmoded teachings. "Third century laws cannot be applied to
the modem followers of Christ," says one of the book's progressive
Where Is He Getting
All of This?
cites his principal sources within the text of his novel. One is a
specimen of academic feminist scholarship: The Gnostic Gospels
by Elaine Pagels.
others are popular
esoteric histories: The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the
True Identity of Christ by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince; Holy
Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry
Lincoln; The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine
and The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy
both by Margaret Starbird. (Starbird, a self identified Catholic, has
her books published by Matthew Fox's outfit, Bear & Co.) Another
influence, at least at second remove, is The Woman's Encyclopedia
of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker.
unreliable sources belies Brown's pretensions to intellectuality. But
the act has apparently fooled at least some of his readers — the New
York Daily News book reviewer trumpeted, "His research is
scholarly airs, a writer who thinks the Merovingians founded Paris and
forgets that the popes once lived in Avignon is hardly a model
researcher. And for him to state that the Church burned five million
women as witches shows a willful — and malicious — ignorance of the
historical record. The latest figures for deaths during the European
witch craze are between 30,000 to 50,000 victims. Not all were executed
by the Church, not all were women, and not all were burned. Brown's
claim that educated women, priestesses, and midwives were singled out
by witch hunters is not only false, it betrays his goddess friendly
A Multitude of Errors
laden is The
Da Vinci Code that the educated reader actually applauds those rare
occasions where Brown stumbles (despite himself) into the truth. A few
examples of his "impeccable" research: He claims that the motions of
the planet Venus trace a pentacle (the so called Ishtar pentagram)
symbolizing the goddess. But it isn't a perfect figure and has nothing
to do with the length of the Olympiad. The ancient Olympic games were
celebrated in honor of Zeus Olympias, not Aphrodite, and occurred every
four years. Brown's contention that the five linked rings of the modem
Olympic Games are a secret tribute to the goddess is also wrong — each
set of games was supposed to add a ring to the design but the
organizers stopped at five. And his efforts to read goddess propaganda
into art, literature, and even Disney cartoons are simply ridiculous.
is too dubious
for inclusion, and reality falls quickly by the wayside. For instance,
the Opus Dei bishop encourages his albino assassin by telling him that
Noah was also an albino (a notion drawn from the non canonical I Enoch
106:2). Yet albinism somehow fails to interfere with the man's eyesight
as it physiologically would.
far more important
example is Brown's treatment of Gothic architecture as a style full of
goddess worshipping symbols and coded messages to confound the
Walker's claim that "like a pagan temple, the Gothic cathedral
represented the body of the Goddess," The Templar Revelation asserts:
"Sexual symbolism is found in the great Gothic cathedrals which were
masterminded by the Knights Templar ... both of which represent
intimate female anatomy: the arch, which draws the worshipper
into the body of Mother Church, evokes the vulva." In The Da Vinci
Code, these sentiments are transformed into a character's
description of "a cathedral's long hollow nave as a secret tribute to a
woman's womb ... complete with receding labial ridges and a nice little
cinquefoil clitoris above the doorway."
remarks cannot be
brushed aside as opinions of the villain; Langdon, the book's hero,
refers to his own lectures about goddess-symbolism at Chartres.
interpretations betray no acquaintance with the actual development or
construction of Gothic architecture, and correcting the countless
errors becomes a tiresome exercise: The Templars had nothing to do with
the cathedrals of their time, which were commissioned by bishops and
their canons throughout Europe. They were unlettered men with no arcane
knowledge of "sacred geometry" passed down from the pyramid builders.
They did not wield tools themselves on their own projects, nor did they
found masons' guilds to build for others. Not all their churches were
round, nor was roundness a defiant insult to the Church. Rather than
being a tribute to the divine feminine, their round churches honored
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Gothic churches and their predecessors deflates the idea of female
symbolism. Large medieval churches typically had three front doors on
the west plus triple entrances to their transepts on the north and
south. (What part of a woman's anatomy does a transept represent? Or
the kink in Chartres's main aisle?) Romanesque churches — including
ones that predate the founding of the Templars — have similar bands of
decoration arching over their entrances. Both Gothic and Romanesque
churches have the long, rectangular nave inherited from Late Antique
basilicas, ultimately derived from Roman public buildings. Neither
Brown nor his sources consider what symbolism medieval churchmen such
as Suger of St. Denis or William Durandus read in church design. It
certainly wasn't goddess worship.
above seems like a
pile driver applied to a gnat, the blows are necessary to demonstrate
the utter falseness of Brown's material. His wilful distortions of
documented history are more than matched by his outlandish claims about
controversial subjects. But to a postmodernist, one construct of
reality is as good as any other.
approach seems to
consist of grabbing large chunks of his stated sources and tossing them
together in a salad of a story. From Holy Blood, Holy Grail,
Brown lifts the concept of the Grail as a metaphor for a sacred lineage
by arbitrarily breaking a medieval French term, Sangraal (Holy Grail),
into sang (blood) and raal (royal). This holy blood, according to
Brown, descended from Jesus and his wife, Mary Magdalene, to the
Merovingian dynasty in Dark Ages France, surviving its fall to persist
in several modern French families, including that of Pierre Plantard, a
leader of the mysterious Priory of Sion.
Priory — an actual
organization officially registered with the French government in 1956 —
makes extraordinary claims of antiquity as the "real" power behind the
Knights Templar. It most likely originated after World War II and was
first brought to public notice in 1962. With the exception of filmmaker
Jean Cocteau, its illustrious list of Grand Masters — which include
Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Victor Hugo — is not credible,
although it's presented as true by Brown.
doesn't accept a
political motivation for the Priory's activities. Instead he picks up The
Templar Revelation's view of the organization as a cult of secret
goddess worshippers who have preserved ancient Gnostic wisdom and
records of Christ's true mission, which would completely overturn
Christianity if released. Significantly, Brown omits the rest of the
book's thesis that makes Christ and Mary Magdalene unmarried sex
partners performing the erotic mysteries of Isis. Perhaps even a
gullible mass market audience has its limits.
both Holy Blood,
Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation, Brown takes a
negative view of the Bible and a grossly distorted image of Jesus. He's
neither the Messiah nor a humble carpenter but a wealthy, trained
religious teacher bent on regaining the throne of David. His
credentials are amplified by his relationship with the rich Magdalen
who carries the royal blood of Benjamin: "Almost everything our fathers
taught us about Christ is false," laments one of Brown's characters.
Christology that's false — and blindingly so. He requires the present
New Testament to be a post Constantinian fabrication that displaced
true accounts now represented only by surviving Gnostic texts. He
claims that Christ wasn't considered divine until the Council of Nicea
voted him so in 325 at the behest of the emperor. Then Constantine — a
lifelong sun worshipper — ordered all older scriptural texts destroyed,
which is why no complete set of Gospels predates the fourth century.
Christians somehow failed to notice the sudden and drastic change in
reasoning, the Old Testament can't be authentic either because complete
Hebrew Scriptures are no more than a thousand years old. And yet the
texts were transmitted so accurately that they do match well with the
Dead Sea Scrolls from a thousand years earlier. Analysis of textual
families, comparison with fragments and quotations, plus historical
correlations securely date the orthodox Gospels to the first century
and indicate that they're earlier than the Gnostic forgeries. (The
Epistles of St. Paul are, of course, even earlier than the Gospels.)
and the testimony of the ante Nicean Fathers confirm that Christians
have always believed Jesus to be Lord, God, and Savior — even when that
faith meant death. The earliest partial canon of Scripture dates from
the late second century and already rejected Gnostic writings. For
Brown, it isn't enough to credit Constantine with the divinization of
Jesus. The emperor's old adherence to the cult of the Invincible Sun
also meant repackaging sun worship as the new faith. Brown drags out
old (and long discredited) charges by virulent anti Catholics like
Alexander Hislop who accused the Church of perpetuating Babylonian
mysteries, as well as l9th century rationalists who regarded Christ as
just another dying savior god.
misses no opportunity to criticize Christianity and its pitiable
adherents. (The church in question is always the Catholic Church,
though his villain does sneer once at Anglicans — for their grimness,
of all things.) He routinely and anachronistically refers to the Church
as "the Vatican," even when popes weren't in residence there. He
systematically portrays it throughout history as deceitful, power
crazed, crafty, and murderous: "The Church may no longer employ
crusades to slaughter, but their influence is no less persuasive. No
Goddess Worship and
all, in Brown's
eyes, is the fact that the pleasure hating, sex hating, woman hating
Church suppressed goddess worship and eliminated the divine feminine.
He claims that goddess worship universally dominated pre Christian
paganism with the hieros gamos (sacred marriage) as its central rite.
His enthusiasm for fertility rites is enthusiasm for sexuality, not
procreation. What else would one expect of a Cathar sympathizer?
claims that Jews in Solomon's Temple adored Yahweh and his feminine
counterpart, the Shekinah, via the services of sacred prostitutes —
possibly a twisted version of the Temple's corruption after Solomon ( I
Kings 14:24 and 2 Kings 23:4 15). Moreover, he says that the
tetragrammaton YHWH derives from "Jehovah, an androgynous physical
union between the masculine Jah and the pre Hebraic name for Eve,
any first year
Scripture student could tell you, Jehovah is actually a 16th century
rendering of Yahweh using the vowels of Adonai ("Lord"). In fact,
goddesses did not dominate the pre Christian world — not in the
religions of Rome, her barbarian subjects, Egypt, or even Semitic lands
where the hieros gamos was an ancient practice. Nor did the Hellenized
cult of Isis appear to have included sex in its secret rites.
to yet another
of Brown's claims, Tarot cards do not teach goddess doctrine. They were
invented for innocent gaming purposes in the 15th century and didn't
acquire occult associations until the late l8th. Playing card suites
carry no Grail symbolism. The notion of diamonds symbolizing pentacles
is a deliberate misrepresentation by British occultist A. E. Waite. And
the number five — so crucial to Brown's puzzles — has some connections
with the protective goddess but myriad others besides, including human
life, the five senses, and the Five Wounds of Christ.
treatment of Mary
Magdalene is sheer delusion. In The Da Vinci Code, she's no
penitent whore but Christ's royal consort and the intended head of His
Church, supplanted by Peter and defamed by churchmen. She fled west
with her offspring to Provence, where medieval Cathars would keep the
original teachings of Jesus alive. The Priory of Sion still guards her
relics and records, excavated by the Templars from the subterranean
Holy of Holies. It also protects her descendants — including Brown's
heroine. Although many people still picture the Magdalen as a sinful
woman who anointed Jesus and equate her with Mary of Bethany, that
conflation is actually the later work of Pope St. Gregory the Great.
The East has always kept them separate and said that the Magdalen,
"apostle to the apostles," died in Ephesus. The legend of her voyage to
Provence is no earlier than the ninth century, and her relics weren't
reported there until the 13th. Catholic critics, including the
Bollandists, have been debunking the legend and distinguishing the
three ladies since the 17th century.
uses two Gnostic
documents, the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary, to prove that
the Magdalen was Christ's "companion," meaning sexual partner. The
apostles were jealous that Jesus used to "kiss her on the mouth" and
favored her over them. He cites exactly the same passages quoted in Holy
Blood, Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation and even picks
up the latter's reference to The Last Temptation of Christ. What these
books neglect to mention is the infamous final verse of the Gospel of
Thomas. When Peter sneers that "women are not worthy of Life," Jesus
responds, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male.... For
every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of
certainly an odd
way to "honor" one's spouse or exalt the status of women.
The Knights Templar
misrepresents the history of the Knights Templar.
oldest of the
military religious orders, the Knights were founded in 1118 to protect
pilgrims in the Holy Land. Their rule, attributed to St. Bernard of
Clairvaux, was approved in 1128 and generous donors granted them
numerous properties in Europe for support. Rendered redundant after the
last Crusader stronghold fell in 1291, the Templars' pride and wealth —
they were also bankers — earned them keen hostility.
ascribes the suppression of the Templars to "Machiavellian" Pope
Clement V, whom they were blackmailing with the Grail secret. His
"ingeniously planned sting operation" had his soldiers suddenly arrest
sodomy, and blasphemy, they were tortured into confessing and burned as
heretics, their ashes "tossed unceremoniously into the Tiber."
initiative for crushing the Templars came from King Philip the Fair of
France, whose royal officials did the arresting in 1307. About 120
Templars were burned by local Inquisitorial courts in France for not
confessing or retracting a confession, as happened with Grand Master
Jacques de Molay. Few Templars suffered death elsewhere although their
order was abolished in 1312. Clement, a weak, sickly Frenchman
manipulated by his king, burned no one in Rome inasmuch as he was the
first pope to reign from Avignon (so much for the ashes in the Tiber).
stone idol that the Templars were accused of worshiping is associated
with fertility in only one of more than a hundred confessions. Sodomy
was the scandalous — and possibly true — charge against the order, not
ritual fornication. The Templars have been darlings of occultism since
their myth as masters of secret wisdom and fabulous treasure began to
coalesce in the late 18th century. Freemasons and even Nazis have
hailed them as brothers. Now it's the turn of neo Gnostics.
Twisting da Vinci
interpretations of da Vinci are as distorted as the rest of his
information. He claims to have first run across these views "while I
was studying art history in Seville," but they correspond point for
point to material in The Templar Revelation. A writer who sees
a pointed finger as a throat cutting gesture, who says the Madonna of
the Rocks was painted for nuns instead of a lay confraternity of men,
who claims that da Vinci received "hundreds of lucrative Vatican
commissions" (actually, it was just one…and it was never executed) is
analysis of da
Vinci's work is just as ridiculous. He presents the Mona Lisa as an
androgynous self portrait when it's widely known to portray a real
woman, Madonna Lisa, wife of Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo. The
name is certainly not — as Brown claims — a mocking anagram of two
Egyptian fertility deities Amon and L'Isa (Italian for Isis). How did
he miss the theory, propounded by the authors of The Templar
Revelation, that the Shroud of Turin is a photographed self
portrait of da Vinci?
centers around da Vinci's Last Supper, a painting the author considers
a coded message that reveals the truth about Jesus and the Grail. Brown
points to the lack of a central chalice on the table as proof that the
Grail isn't a material vessel.
specifically dramatizes the moment when Jesus warns, "One of you will
betray me" (John 13:21). There is no Institution Narrative in St.
John's Gospel. The Eucharist is not shown there. And the person sitting
next to Jesus is not Mary Magdalene (as Brown claims) but St. John,
portrayed as the usual effeminate da Vinci youth, comparable to his St.
John the Baptist. Jesus is in the exact center of the painting, with
two pyramidal groups of three apostles on each side. Although da Vinci
was a spiritually troubled homosexual, Brown's contention that he coded
his paintings with anti Christian messages simply can't be sustained.
end, Dan Brown has
penned a poorly written, atrociously researched mess.
bother with such
a close reading of a worthless novel? The answer is simple: The Da
Vinci Code takes esoterica mainstream. It may well do for
Gnosticism what The Mists of Avalon did for paganism — gain it
popular acceptance. After all, how many lay readers will see the
blazing inaccuracies put forward as buried truths?
more, in making
phoney claims of scholarship, Brown's book infects readers with a
virulent hostility toward Catholicism. Dozens of occult history books,
conveniently cross linked by Amazon.com, are following in its wake. And
booksellers' shelves now bulge with falsehoods few would be buying
without The Da Vinci Code connection. While Brown's assault on
the Catholic Church may be a backhanded compliment, it's one we would
have happily done without.
Previously published in Crisis
Magazine (2003, September) and reprinted in Investigator
103 by permission.
medievalist and Catholic journalist, writes from Indianapolis.