Thursday, April 27, 2006

Repeat after me: The DaVinci Code is a novel not history.

I have avoided posting regarding The DaVinci Code until now because I have not read it, until now. I could have written a review of the thesis earlier but not the novel itself. And to review this as a piece of history would be silly as it is not history at all. It can only be discussed as a novel since it has very little factional material in the plot.

As a novel with a religious theme it is fitting to discuss on this blog. The most important factor to keep in mind is that it is novel. It is fiction. Where the book gets into trouble, and I presume the film as well, is when it boldly proclaims at the beginning that the main organization in the story, the Priory of Sion, is real along with all the documents and rituals it describes.

Now if you want to know nothing about this story before you read the book or see the film then you better stop reading here.

In a nutshell the story goes like this: there is a secret society, founded in 1099 called the Priory of Sion. They have some information about Jesus that the Church (by which they mean the Catholic Church) wants destroyed. Hidden throughout Western religious art is the truth that Jesus was just a man, that he married Mary Magdalene and that he had a daughter. The daughter and his wife fled to France after the death of Jesus and that the descendants of Christ live to this day. The Priory is meant to protect these people. from the Church. The Church wants them destroyed because they are evidence that the Jesus is God claim is false.

Now I am not a supporter of Catholicism, though it is preferable to the nutty fundamentalism that pervades the US, but a commitment to truth has to underlie all atheism. And this book is rubbish when it comes to history. The Priory was not founded in 1099. It was made up within the last few decades. There is no line of descendants of Christ that we know of.

That the story line is entirely false when it comes to history is different from whether it is accurate as history. As fiction it is a bearable work to read. I can see why it was a best seller. First, the author smartly created chapters that are consistent with the attention span of lot so readers. Often they are less than two pages long. And since we live in a world that is becoming less and less interested in the written word and prefers passive visual learning this increases the readership for the book. It allows readers to think they have accomplished something by finishing two pages. They can delude themselves by saying: “I read a whole chapter yesterday.”

Second, people love violent stories and this one has it’s fair share of violence. It opens with a string of murders. That should be enough for many readers. In addition the entire plot takes place over a short period of time with few flashbacks to clutter things up. Even those that are included are done in a manner that the average reader doesn’t find it too taxing to keep track of what is going on.

The story line is thus not too taxing and one that people can follow. Unfortunately this does not make The DaVinci Code a great book but does help make it a best seller. A friend recommended the book to me because it really let the church have it. True. It does. But it lets the church have it over fictional issues for the most part. There are small sections that get it right but not many. It does argue in places that Christian theology is mainly an adaptation of pagan beliefs. This is most assuredly true. Christianity is not some revealed doctrine from a god but stolen beliefs from various cults and sects that existed long before Jesus. Here the book is on strong ground but this plays only a small role in the book.

I have read the books on which The DaVinci Code builds its theories. In fact I only recently got rid of them from my overly large library. I got rid of them because they are rubbish from start to finish. My impression is that the main book presenting this thesis, Holy Blood, Holy Grail is more than just false. I couldn’t help but get the impression it is dishonest.

And various books and documentaries have exposed the thesis for what it is: wrong. And in this sense I think the book does Christianity some good. When you make a false accusation that is easily refuted your strengthen your opponent in some circles. You do so by discrediting critics of your target. That the main thesis of the Priory is a lie from start to finish, however, doesn’t mean that the counter theory, that Christ was divine, etc., is true. But some will take it that way.

My first commitment is to the truth not to atheism. I am atheist because I believe that is consistent with the facts. Had this book merely presented itself as fiction I would have little problem with it. It is adequately written and the plot does keep one’s attention. It is not particularly well written but then well written books don’t sell to what is called “the reading public”. People have been sufficiently dumbed down by government provided education to avoid well written books --- one reason they elect people like George Bush.

The author, Dan Brown, did an adequate job combining the absurd thesis of the Holy Grail (supposedly Mary and her descendants) into a coherent story albeit a false one. It is mildly entertaining even though I thought some of the plot a bit obviously ---- anyone who didn’t think that Sophie was of the bloodline of Christ wasn’t paying attention even if Brown tries to throw one off the track. If one reads this a purely fiction one could do worse. However, if one reads this as history they are in trouble.

One problem I have with mass market entertainment is that too many people think that “historical” pieces are actually historical. They rarely are. Hollywood in particular is too keen to rewrite history to make it more interesting. You are not getting church history from Brown any more than you learn the truth about the Kennedy assassination from Oliver Stone.

For those interested in some history regarding this matter I recommend this article,
this article,
and finally here.


Blogger Derreck said...

True, it is but fiction. But also based on very real things. Where mr. Brown has drawn the line, I don't know, but it sure does depict very well, the extremes of the Catholic Church. Would you believe this is a true story, based mostly on facts, and that Jesus did have a wife, I wander when you'll go in therapy. If you let yourself be manipulated that easily, you are in great risk of getting into cult life. Which, believe me, is hard to get out.

Was a brilliant book though, fantastic. Hope the movie doesn't turn out too bad.

April 27, 2006

Blogger Derreck said...

By the way, these articles sure are one hell of a lot of noise opver some fiction book. Perhaps they have something to hide?...

April 27, 2006

Blogger CLS said...

I can understand why some are upset about the book. The church won't like the message and neither would historians who want the facts. But just because people complain about their opponent doesn't mean they are hiding something.

April 27, 2006

Blogger Derreck said...

Oh, c'mon; no one was mowning around on Harry Potter, were they? That is all about wickan religion, and also obvious that it is but fiction. Why would "the Church" be in such a state of defence?

April 27, 2006

Blogger CLS said...

Derreck: The difference is that the Harry Potter books said they were entirely fiction, totally fiction and not at all factual. Brown says his book is based on facts when it is not. That is a big difference.

April 27, 2006

Blogger Derreck said...

cls: True, but Dan Brown does not say his book is based on facts which is not true; He says it is BASED on facts, which are true, but BASED does not mean the entire story is true. Sort of like the Bible.

April 27, 2006

Blogger CLS said...

Yes, but the things Brown claims are true are not true. So not only does he claim part is fiction and part is factual but the "factural" is also fictional whether Mr. Brown likes to admit it or not. That is where the controversy comes in -- what he claims is true is not true.

April 27, 2006

Blogger Derreck said...

Allright, wait...

...get my brains realligned; So you say that Dan Brown says parts of his fiction are not fiction at all. Okay, I did not know he said that. Sorry.

April 28, 2006

Blogger Calico Cat said...

The basic premise of the history as told in the DaVinci Code is that Jesus wasn't really the Son of God but just a regular person.

That's the part that Chistians have trouble with.

Surely, the Dan Brown version of history is more likely than the official Catholic version?

May 07, 2006

Blogger GodlessZone said...

I must disagree Calico. You confuse being a "son of god" with being divine. Some Christians says Jesus was the son of god, as they say we all are, but not divine. Many say he was also divine. But even the divinity is not what has the Catholics up in arms. I should note it only the Catholic heirarchy that is upset so far there is no evidence lay people are angry. Many priests and Catholic theologians don't believe Jesus was divine as well. If you read the articles the issue that his their knickers in knot is the story line that Jesus was married and had children. The current celebacy cult (altar boys apparently the exception) that runs the Catholic church is very antisexual. Catholic theology is contemptuous of human sexuality and the idea that Jesus had sex is what has them in a fury.

May 08, 2006


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