Monday, September 10, 2012

Summer Reading


“The Da Vinci Code,” by Dan Brown, 2003

Well, this is a summer read and Gramsci would be proud that we even took the time off to look at this historical murder mystery.  But it is not just a period piece or a whodunit.  It is a ‘who will find it?”  The object of desire is, of all things, the “holy” Grail.  Now, before you stop reading about such a hackneyed subject, let me explain.  This book is a bit subversive and it reached a mass audience, especially women.  

Brown’s harrowing chase between cops, innocent accused killers and the dark forces of the Catholic Church’s Opus Dei and the ‘Priory of Sion’ engender sweat-inducing escape after escape, into un-believability.  A possible love affair burbles in the heat of the chase, but goes nowhere.  Famous European sites in France, England, Scotland & Italy make their appearance.  Intricate puzzles are solved by historical knowledge, common sense and code-breaking.  But the heart of the book, to my mind, are the historical and cultural arrows shot at Christianity and the Catholic Church. 

In 2003 the Church had a somewhat more pleasant mien.  Today, the Church is led by Pope Ratzinger, elected in 2005, who headed the Church’s Office of the Inquisition, and who was also a former Nazi youth (don’t these seem to go together?).  Ratzinger has purged and continues to purge all liberal and left-wing elements in the Catholic Church, and blocked with American fundamentalist Protestants to oppose gay and women’s rights on a visceral, political basis.  He also continues to cover-up the biggest organized child abuse scandal in history. 

Brown brings to the surface the centuries-long issue of the ‘divine feminine’ principal that the Church under Peter, and under the first “Christian” Roman Emperor  Constantine attempted to extinguish – through blood and censorship.  The Gnostic verses – or gospels the official church left out of the Bible as being ‘heretical’ like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Coptic Scrolls - are part of that history. They were cut out of the Bible by Constantine at the Council of Nicaea, which voted on the principals of the Church, including announcing Jesus’ divinity. Brown claims the Priory of Sion is a real organization, which attempted to preserve an alternative story to the official line of the Church.  Dove-tailing a bit with a key part of Brown’s book is James Cameron’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” presented on the Discovery Channel.  It claimed, through linguistic, biblical, forensic, archeological, historical and scientific means, that ossuaries filled with bones found in a family crypt below a Jerusalem apartment block contained the bone remnants of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, a brother … and a son.  And the DNA in the bones of the young man matched those of both Jesus and Mary. To my mind, this is a better explanation than the Bible.

Brown litters his book with the cultural artifacts of the battle between Church orthodoxy and a perhaps more profound truth.  The real issue is the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth – was he human or divine? 

Brown’s fictional interpretation is that the Priory of Sion – peopled by Leonardo Da Vinci, Bottincelli, Victor Hugo and Issac Newton  – were busy protecting an actual ‘Grail” from the Church.  The Priory was connected to the Knights Templar and the Masons.  The Grail in this version is not a ‘drinking chalice’ but actual proof that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife, and they had a child.  The "Grail" is a woman, in essence.  And furthermore, that child went on to have bloodlines in France, the Merovingians.  Most people think the Priory is a hoax, used by a Merovingian dynasty to gain power.  But that, to me, is not the relevant issue. 

The real issue is the more materialist background to this story.  Brown describes a wonderful collection of historical details that escape most of us.  “Friday the 13th” is supposedly named after a Friday the 13th in which a Catholic Pope attempted to kill off the Knights Templar in one fell swoop.  The devil has horns because the goat was a pagan symbol of fecundity, and so the Church turned it into its opposite.  The person sitting to Jesus’s left in the “Last Supper” is a woman – not a man.  Her long red hair and clothing with matching colors to Jesus’ own mark her as Mary Magdalene – who was not a prostitute, but a high-born Jewish woman.   Note that Peter is putting his hand across her neck like … he’s going to cut her head off. Brown wants to show that DaVinci really understood what the Grail was.  Some of the Gnostic verses attribute a very close relationship between Magdalene and Jesus – even intimating she could become the new head of the “Christian” movement.  The cross – and the word ‘crucifix – come from Hebrew words meaning torture.  Think about that next time you put one around your neck.  Mithras, a pre-Christian god, was born on December 25 – which is also the birthday of Osiris, Adonis and Dionysius.  The newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Sunday is the Christian ‘holy’ day because the pagan god’s holy day was ‘Sun” day too.  Even Eve’s ‘apple’ is a fantasy.  There were no apples in the Middle East.  However, there were pomegranates, a large, red fruit.  The book is chock full of this kind of thing.

At the end of the book, Brown cannot finally ‘pull the trigger’ on the Catholic Church by releasing the evidence of the real “Grail” – I think out of timidity.  He even makes one of the ostensible ‘good guys’ become the prime evildoer, just to hedge his bets.  If he had done so, the book would have ended in a period of future science fiction – as no one to date has produced more documentation than has already been released.  And that might have been a stylistic problem as a writer.

The "DaVinci Code" film was a somewhat cowardly and dull remake of the book.  Tom Hanks plays a professor who doesn't believe some of the 'divine feminine' stuff he has just written a book about (!). He argues with one character in the key scene in the book about the 'Grail" theory.  This argument is not in the book, nor are other parts of the film, which eventually goes on to portray a 'counter-mythology' that actually goes beyond the book.

However, the impact that Brown’s book itself had was to further undermine idealist Christian mythology before a mass audience – partly through introducing a new myth, but partly through a more historical version of Christianity and the fabrications of the Bible.  Due to fundamentalist religion’s hostility to women’s issues – and certainly the Catholic Church is a proud reminder of that – a book putting a woman at the center of Christian history, which just by accident restores sex to a place of honor, not repulsion, and finally gives a factual, scientific interpretation to Christian history over an idealist fantasy – seems a bit subversive, don’t you think?

P.S. - In the 9/18/2012 Huffington Post, Michael D'Antonio, a religion writers, cites a new document that has just been analyzed by scientists and others.  The ancient Coptic document includes the phrase, "Jesus said to them, my wife..." using a term that undoubtedly references a woman who was his spouse and not some metaphorical partner." Of course, this is not news, except perhaps to D'Antonio.  But D'Antonio's conclusions are very perceptive about what this would mean for the Christian faith and the Catholic Church.  I.E. the ideological patriarchy of the Church and Christianity would collapse.

And I got it from a co-worker…
Red Frog
September 10, 2012

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