Sunday, February 13, 2005

How much of The Da Vinci Code is fact?

I finally got round to reading Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code". What a ripping yarn. I haven't got much time to read fiction these days, but got stuck into this and spent Saturday morning glued to each page.

SPOILER WARNING: If you intend to read the book, some of this blog entry may give details that will spoil your reading

I guess the reason the book is the bestseller that it is, is that it makes a number of debates accessible to the masses. I was not aware of the theories that Mary Magdalene was a disciple, Jesus' wife and that she had authored her own version of the Gospel. Fascinating.

I studied art and so was aware of Da Vinci and the divine proportion (PHI=1,618 not to be confused with PI), but every time I am reminded of it, it blows me away. The story behind PHI is that it is a recurring ratio in nature. It is the ratio of each loop of a spiral of a Nautilus shell to the next. It is the ratio of the distance between a person's shoulder to their fingertips and the distance between their elbow and their fingertips. It is the ratio of the distance between a person's hip to the floor and their knee to the floor. It is the ratio by which the female bees in a hive outnumber male bees in a hive. Etc. Etc. It is the basis for the perfection of Da Vinci's depiction of the Vitruvian Man.

But I was either unaware or had forgotten about the controversy regarding the possible female disciple to Jesus' right in Da Vinci's Last Supper. Brown highlights the theory that this is Mary Magdalene.

"Detail of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. As explained by Leigh Teabing to Sophie Neveu, the figure at the right hand of Jesus is supposedly not the apostle John, but Mary Magdalene, who was (according to the book) his wife and pregnant with his child. The absence of a chalice in the painting indicates that Da Vinci knew that Mary Magdalene was actually the (the bearer of Jesus' blood). This is reinforced by the letter "M" that is created with the bodily positions of Jesus, Mary, and the male apostle (Saint Peter) upon who she is leaning. This interpretation would mean that the work was missing an important apostle."

Brown also highlights the theory that Mary Magdalene was one of the key founders of the Christian church - as opposed to the traditional credit being given to Peter. Further, he outlines the tension / jealousy Peter has for Mary.

But central to the book is the chase of the Holy Grail - a grail which turns out to be - rather than a goblet - Mary Magdalene and today, literary evidence that the New Testament was constitued by Constantine to suit political objectives rather than fact. The literary evidence consists of four chests of documents rescued from below the ruins of Soloman's temple by the Templar knights and guarded ever since by the Priory of Sion.

But further to mere literary evidence, the book also shows the Priory of Sion to be a group (that has included as its grand masters, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton and Walt Disney) that has protected the bloodline of Christ and Mary - as husband and wife.

Supposedly, the church is fully aware of this evidence and has sought to suppress it, fearing the questioning of the fundamental tenants of the Christian faith.

I won't go into any more details. Huge debate has raged around the book. The book makes no claims regarding divulging new historical facts. It merely cleverly strings together many fascinating views and facts into a thrilling account of history, deception and theory. Aspects have appeared in many other accounts and are referenced in the book (for example, worship of God through sexual union as seen in the ceremony shown in "Eyes Wide Shut"). You'll recognise these. Brown ties them together in a way that knits theories together in a compelling challenge to historical account.

There have been many criticisms of the book - some of the criticisms can be seen on the Wikipedia analysis of the book. (Wow, isn't Wikipedia the most fantastic resource?!)

Whatever you believe, the book will no doubt spark interest and debate. You'll probably pick up an art book and examine "The Last Supper" when you're next in a bookshop. You may examine the very real documents found that challenge the conventional account of the Gospel - the Nag Hammadi and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

And that can only be good for those who believe in healthy debate as the basis for faith - or not.


Some interesting links

The author, Dan Brown's website

Wikipedia on The Da Vinci Code

Wikipedia on Mary Magdalene

Wikipedia on Gospel of Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene and the Disciple Jesus Loved

Syncretic View of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene

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