Thanks, Steve! (I finished *The DaVinci Code*)

My friend Steve from Detroit sent me a copy of The DaVinci Code. It was an enjoyable read, and I can see what all the buzz is about.

It’s not that the book is an especially gripping detective story. Cabinet of Curiousities by Preston and Childs is much tauter. I’m also not convinced by the characters. Dan Brown seems to have gone to some effort to flesh them out, but often resorts to having the narrator TELL us about the characters, instead of letting them SHOW us who they are.

That’s okay. I still didn’t want to put it down. It was well paced, and I DID want to see how it ended. The story it tells about the history of Christianity is both interesting and largely true… and that’s where the buzz comes in.

Not many Christians fully appreciate how divergent modern Christianity is from the original Church founded by Christ. Mormons do (we believe that it was SO divergent that God had to appear to a prophet in our day and restore that Church), but Dan Brown’s take on things is decidedly different than the doctrine of the Apostasy commonly accepted by Mormons. In the book his characters reveal to us that Christ was married to Mary Magdalene, and that the Roman Emperor Constantine and later the Catholic Church worked hard to expunge any record of that. There are also the examples of the adoption of pagan holidays into the Catholic calendar, and the vilification of women in general.

That last bit is by far the most interesting. Brown postulates that Christ intended that Mary lead the Church after His death, and that the “Holy Grail” is actually the tomb of Mary Magdalene and the accompanying ancient literature supporting the claim for a matriarchal order. The divinity of Christ is refuted outright, and modern, patriarchal religions (especially Catholicism) are cast as having been established through a series of well-meaning mistakes built on a set of ancient, carefully crafted lies and misdirections.

I’m not going to fault Brown’s research. He’s gotten a lot of things right, and he’s wrapped a good story around it. I’m glad I read the book.

The book does beg the question, though… what of modern Christianity?

Religion is a personal thing for me. I belong to a faith that is more organized, orthodox, and heirarchical than pretty much any other Christian faith save the Catholics (and only because they’ve had more time to steep in bureaucracy ), but it’s also a faith that has as one of its fundamental tenets the principal of personal revelation. Authorities, be they ecclesiastical or scholarly, are not going to alter my relationship with God because it is *my* relationship with God. This relationship allows me to find truth in all sorts of apocryphal sources, while not having to swallow the untruth or inaccuracy it’s often embedded in.

I’d be interested to know Brown’s take on actual revelation from God. Having experienced it, I know it happens. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe it HAS to happen in order for some truths to be uncovered or understood.

Ultimately, The DaVinci Code is good fiction, made believable by really, really thorough research. I found some fascinating truths in the book, but I’m not about to sign up for Brown’s lecture circuit.


16 thoughts on “Thanks, Steve! (I finished *The DaVinci Code*)”

  1. As a Jew, I find the idea that there is one “true way” an interesting and foreign concept. You can’t find two Jews who agree on anything. I mean, simple business transactions:

    Tevye listens to some friends who are debating whether a given business transaction concerned a horse or a mule. One of them turned to Tevye to support his side and Tevye replies, “you’re right!” The guy on the other side of the argument indignantly pressed his case. Upon reflection Tevye relented and replied, “you’re right!” Another friend heard that and said, “Tevye, they can’t both be right!” Tevye chewed on that for a moment and exclaimed, “you’re also right!”

    –From “Tevye The Dairyman,” which became “Fiddler On The Roof,” by Shalom Aleichem.

    And when you get to the Rabbis, who sat up all night playing “can you top this” with the Plagues of Egypt (in the Hagaddah; it’s a laugh riot–sorta)…You get the idea.

    But as to The Da Vinci Code, I have major issues with his characterization, and it’s not the best of writing–smacking more of “thrillers” like Vince Flynn or his ilk. What it did do that is worth mention is it put the history, all of the little details, in a format that meant a lot of people would read it.

    A friend of mine said, “I do laugh at how everyone talks about how shocking it is. Yes, it was shocking, in 1983 when it was called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and in 1998 when it was called The Hiram Key.” My response is that people would pick up The Da Vinci Code who wouldn’t pick up the earlier versions.

  2. Cabinet of Curiousities

    I just picked up Cabinet of Curiosities and Still Life With Crows, since they both feature Agent Pendergast, a character I first encountered in Preston and Child’s Relic.

    The reason I bring them up is to recommend Relic to those who haven’t read it. Please don’t judge it by the movie adaptation. The novel itself is a science fiction/horror detective story, while the movie gives away the mystery and the twist ending before the credits roll, turning the story into a formulaic B-grade monster flick. It also collapsed two interesting and distinctive characters (Pendergast and D’Agosta) into a single cheesy stereotype who doesn’t much resemble either of them.

    The sequel, Reliquary, isn’t bad, but it’s a little more over-the-top than the first book. I’m interested in seeing how Cabinet and Crows hold up.

    The new book, Brimstone, reuinites all three protagonists of the first two books. If I like these two, I’ll pick it up.

    As for DaVinci Code… as scifantasy says above, I read it back in the ’80s when it was Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

    1. Re: Cabinet of Curiousities

      The female lead character in Cabinet first puts in an appearance in another Preston/Childs offering, Thunderhead. There are, actually, a lot of self-referential offerings in Cabinet. And the reporter from Relic shows up in Thunderhead.

      There is a chart on the Preston/Childs website that shows all the cross-pollination.

      Personally, I love these books; if you like Pendergast, there is a twist at the end of Brimstone that will have you panting for the next one . . .

  3. From what I recall, the early proto-Christianity of the type practiced before it was formally adopted by the Roman Empire was a culture of equality as far as gender went, with a more personal relationship with God, and little structure. When Paul and his successors helped codify it, following its adoption by the Romans, they changed it to be more socially acceptable to Roman mores and beliefs – the idea of paterfamilias was instituted, and I suspect some of Paul’s misogyny became embedded in the religion to judge by its restrictions on women’s roles in the faith. Being honest, early Christianity reminds me more of the Mormon culture in Utah as under Young and Smith more than any other currently extant sect, branch, or creed of Christianity currently in existence.

    The current version of it, including Catholicism, tends to embody many of the Roman attitudes and beliefs which existed before Christianity itself did. It’s become somewhat ossified, depending on which branch you’re looking at, because it’s effectively a ‘dead faith’ – it believes that all there is to know is already written, and new revelations will not come about, nor do understandings change. This attitude began during the late Dark Ages, IIRC, when the Catholic Church began to draw more temporal power to itself after establishing itself among the landowners and nobility in order to preserve itself from the ravages and persecutions which characterized the early and middle Dark Ages. What began as a survival measure (preservation of learning and of the Church against outsiders) became law within several generations. Hence, splinters from the Church have been persecuted heavily, at least historically, because of both the idea that everything is written and because it was required to preserve the Church’s temporal power – see what happened to the Cathars, amongst others.

    I recall the Mormons had similar problems later on, though the Catholic Church was more discreet in how it moved – attacks on practice to incite outrage, rather than openly agitating for troops.

    It’s amazing how little modern Catholicism has to do with the original Christianity, though – it’s honestly closer to Islam or Judaism than it is to the original ideas of the first Catholics… though with Islam, that’s not exactly a coincidence.

  4. In an earlier book (Deception Point), Dan Brown decided that a little club I belong to, with only a few dozen members, is an evil organization of billionaires manipulating Presidential elections and threatening the country.

    He takes pains in his inside cover to explain that it is a real organization. Yes, it’s “real” — it’s “real” different from what he portrays. ]:-/

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  5. I loved Da Vinci Code. It only took me 38 days to read it.

    Actually, I read slow, but I finished it in a week. My friend who recommended it to me claimed that you can’t catch everything on the first read. I can see why. He takes the time to build layers and layers and layers-that-aren’t-layers-but-deceptions. It takes a lot to get me twisted around, but he managed.

    Though I have to admit, I’m a dead sucker for “detective” style novels, and this had a strong noir feel to it.

  6. From Jesus to Christ

    I hate to even stick my toe into this kind of subject, but…

    A while back, Frontline had a miniseries titled From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians that discusses this very issue. They put the times that he Gospels were written into historical context.

  7. Fadupinator

    I guess I hate puppies and kittens, too, but I just can’t stand Dan Brown.

    He does enough good research to make you ignore all the blatant BAD research… almost all of his theories vis-a-vis the Holy grail and Mary Magdalene are nothing new, they’ve been published in a highly controversial (and rightly scathingly reviewed) book called _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_ that was published back in the 80’s. Brown’s contribution is putting this theory in a popular venue for the non religious-conspiracy/apologetics junkie (like me) to consume.

    I get a lot of flack for being a “fundamentalist” Christian. But believe me, for every Jack Chick acolyte that’s tried to cram a cross down your throat – and I hate the bad name those people give to the rest of us Christians trying the best we can to represent the church – I have ten skeptics telling me I’m an ignoramus for believing in the supernatural.

    Here’s how I see things on the whole ‘fundamentalist’ bent, using the word not in it’s contemporary sense but in its etymological sense. I think a good working definition of “fundamentalist” is anyone holding a doctrnie roughly equivalent to “the truth is less important than what I already believe.” This goes for sketpics as well as certain pinheaded right-wing religious nuts. I think the minute a man compromises his intellectual integrity just to reinforce an idea he already WANTS to believe (be that for OR against a faith), he is justly called both a fundamentalist and a moron.

    Dan Brown is in my opinion a fundamentalist skeptic. Now, granted, a lot of his research is correct. The Catholic church has a very hard time defending its history. The Catholic church has a very spotted history with regards to its upholding of scriptural commands, and an even more spotted one with regards to contradicting and defying the word of god for its own political interests. Note that I’m mostly speaking of the Catholic church of the middle ages and renaissance, though the modern catholic church has it’s problems, too. I’m not a Lutheran for nothing (and I will readily admit that even Luther had his own spotted history).

    Dan Brown can write a good yarn, but his research is laughable. The “merovingian theory” (that Jesus married magdalene and their offspring moved to then-Gaul and now-France to found the Merovingian royal bloodline, the supposed holy grail) is rooted in one major problem… there is no mention anywhere in church history of the holy grail until many, many centuries after the church’s founding. It was a legend and a myth that started with a popular story and grew from there. Also, I doubt that Catholic church, for all its influence, could be so successful in completely extirpating history, especially in light of the state of modern apologetics on early church history and documentation (that’s PRE-constantine, mind you).

    Sorry for the rant, I know religion is something that bothers a lot of people. I just can’t stand bad research. If any of you honestly enjoyed the book, more power to you.

    If you have any other questions about this kind of stuff and if we Christians really are as stupid as we sound :), I refer you to (believe it or not, the forums there are about half christian and half skeptic, and from my observation both are equally intelligent and civil when it comes to the debate. Civil conversation about religion on the internet? I take it back… maybe the Holy Grail does exist after all!)

    Lars A. Doucet

    1. Re: Fadupinator

      I’ll be short.

      Until the Vatican opens up its libraries COMPLETELY to historians, we probably won’t know much. The one thing that the Catholic church did do is store documents obsessively.

      However, having the documents, and getting use out of them, is two separate things.


      1. Re: Fadupinator

        Unfortunately even that won’t really help.

        “The Church” didn’t actually start collecting documents until the middle/dark ages.

        What we really need are documents from the first hundred years or so of the christian church. Sadly, as most of these documents (and their supporters/believers) were purged around the year 500, or so, in the name of organizing christianity.

        It’s too bad we can’t find a hidden cache of those records in some cave in the Middle East like the Dead-Sea-Scrolls.

  8. On “The DaVinci Code” and Catholicism

    Being a Roman Catholic, I have to say that the moment I realized that this book was simply fiction was when they described the Pope (assuming they meant Pope John Paul II) as a liberal Pope.

    It was a very good book, and a very compelling story. Compelling in the sense that you didn’t want to put the book down. I completely understand why it topped the NY Best Sellers List for so long.

    But in the end, it is just fiction, no matter how hard Dan Brown tries to spin it otherwise. These theories are not new. He just put them out there for the world to see in the spotlight.

    1. Re: On “The DaVinci Code” and Catholicism

      Being a Roman Catholic, I have to say that the moment I realized that this book was simply fiction was when they described the Pope (assuming they meant Pope John Paul II) as a liberal Pope.

      That’s the thing…they don’t mean John Paul II. They mean the pope that got elected in Angels And Demons, who is rather liberal. The Pope before him, the one who dies fifteen days before A&D starts, was more liberal still.

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