The DaVinci Code: Some Observations

Has anyone else read The DaVinci Code? What did you make of it?

I just finished reading it myself. I plan on saying a lot more about the whole DaVinci phenomenon as the publicity avalanche for the movie – both pro and con – begins to build momentum in a month or so. In the meantime, here are a few assorted observations:

– For a guy like me, who is generally not into fiction, it was genuinely entertaining. Dan Brown does a masterful job of slowly unraveling the elaborate conspiracies thath are at work, revealing each piece of the puzzle at the most dramatically appropriate point in the narrative. The plot twists itself up like a pretzel at the end. I saw one twist coming about two chapters in advance. Another one took me completely by surprise.

– The trailer for the movie looks really good. Ian McKellan and Tom Hanks are perfectly cast in their roles. And it looks like the movie will be faithful to the basic plot of the book, though I suspect it may water down the backstory considerably to keep protest to a minimum.

– Much of what makes the book so intriguing is the way its factual, questionably factual, and fictional elements are seamlessly integrated. Unless you are well-informed on the particular subjects at issue, you have no idea where the widely accepted history ends and the kooky conspiracy theories begin.

– As a result, the book tends to generate a lot of curiosity. Does DaVinci’s The Last Supper really portray this? Did DaVinci really believe that? The Dead Sea scrolls didn’t reveal this, did they? How realistically are the various religious organizations portrayed?

– Because of the “feel” that Brown is basing the book’s backstory on solid, historical evidence, I can see why it is so threatening to some Christians (especially Catholics). These people are fearful that readers and moviegoers will assume that the questionable and fictional elements are factual.

– In short, the controversial backstory involves the following claims: (1) Jesus was married to Mary Magdaline, (2) Jesus and Mary Magdaline had children togehter, and their lineage survives to this day, (3) the above facts were known to and supressed by Constantine during the fourth century in an effort to quash the practice of goddess worship within early Christian communities, thus establishing a false, male-dominated form of Christianity, (4) the remains of Mary Magdaline survive to this day, as does incontrovertible documentary proof of these claims, and (5) even today, an ultra-secret society (which carries on the same alleged, pagan-like traditions that were quashed by Constantine) works to preserve this evidence, while hiding it from powerful forces (associated with the Catholic church) which seek to destroy it.

– Although it is clear that certain gnostic/pagan-like traditions were suppressed during the Constantine era, the rest of this is – of course – the stuff of whacko conspiracy theories that are unaccepted within academic circles – both secular and religious.

– If you read the book carefully, you will find that Brown backs off of the “truth” of these claims at several points. In fact, by the time you reach the end of the book, he has left the reader with (a little) room to doubt the veracity of the backstory. Clearly, the main characters buy into it, but – even in the fictional world of his book – there is no incontrovertible evidence of its truth.

– The reason the book has attracted such a large audience is, I think, because people have a strong sense of several truths that do carry a lot of legitimacy: (1) that many Christian religious institutions cannot be trusted to tell the truth about Jesus, (2) that those institutions have consciously distorted the real teachings of Jesus to support their own ends, and (3) as a part of that process, the prominence/importance/spirituality of women and the feminine has been marginalized.

– In discussing this book with the unchurched and the non-believers, I think believers will have a great opportunity to have conversations about what Jesus really said, why some institutions have gotten it wrong (though, for the most part, not intentionally), and why women were important to Jesus. But…

– Get ready. Mainstream evangelicals will respond to the movie in exactly the wrong way: they will wage a media war against Brown and the filmmakers, complete with protests outside of theaters, protecting their perceived doctrinal “turf.” It will be ugly, and it will only serve to reenforce the very point the book seems to make about the Christian establishment.

– A final note: even Brown can’t help himself as he tries to spin a story about pagan cults and a Jesus who is much different than the person who is portrayed in the New Testament. Ultimately, the story becomes one of reconciliation and (I would even say) redemption. Shades of the gospel truly can be found in even the most unexpected of places.

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