Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Dan Brown, the "evil" Catholic Church and the "Sacred Feminine"

My friend Fred recently lambasted the Catholic Church and I was shocked to see every single one of his arguments coming straight from Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code. To separate this from the other discussion, I'm starting this post to focus exclusively on "Da Vinci" topics. I'll start things off by citing what can be found over at Wikipedia on the criticisms of the "facts" in this novel (and these are just the tip of the iceberg, I might add):


Because of the book's opening claim:

"Fact: (...) All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."

many have viewed The Da Vinci Code as a genuine exposé of orthodox Christianity's past. As a result, the book has attracted a generally negative response from the Christian, Jewish and Italian communities, as well as from historians dismayed by the way Brown has, in their view, distorted – and in some cases fabricated – history, and other readers complaining of sloppy research.

Moreover, the book is arguably very poorly written: for example, contradictions such as "... the curator froze, turning his head slowly" abound.

Criticisms include:

  • The claim that, prior to AD 325, Christ was considered no more than a "mortal prophet" by his followers, and that it was only as a consequence of Emperor Constantine's politicking and a close vote at the First Council of Nicaea that Christianity came to view him as divine: This has been debunked with extensive reference by various authors to the Bible and Church Fathers, sources that pre-date the First Council of Nicea. (See this example, or Olson and Meisel (2004), who refer to The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325–1870 (1964) by Philip Hughes.) At the Council, the central question was if Christ and God were one, or whether instead Christ was the first created being, inferior to the Father, but still superior to all other creatures (see Arianism).
  • The claim that Mary Magdalene was of the tribe of Benjamin (Chapter 58): This is not supported by any historical evidence. The fact that Magdala was located in northern Israel, whereas the tribe of Benjamin resided in the south, weighs against it.
  • The idea that the purported marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene would create a "potent political union with the potential of making a legitimate claim to the throne" (Chapter 58): According to the Gospels, Jesus clearly stated that his kingdom "is not of this world"; if, on the other hand, Jesus was merely a "mortal prophet" seeking to establish only a political kingdom, he failed.
  • The assertion that "the sacred feminine" has been suppressed by Christianity: In Roman Catholicism, for example, Mary (of Nazareth), the mother of Jesus, is specially venerated as the "Mother of God," the "Queen of Heaven," the spiritual mother of all mankind, and is believed to be free of sin. (It is hypothesized that Mary's Virginal nature does not accord with Brown's ideals.)
  • The allegation that "the Church burned at the stake an astounding five million women" as witches (Chapter 28): Olson and Miesel (2004), referring to information at Gendercide.org, state that the most reliable current estimates – including those not executed at the Church's recommendation, not killed by burning, and not female – range from 30,000 to 50,000.
  • The assertion that the original Olympics were held "as a tribute to the magic of Venus" (Chapter 6), i. e. apparently Aphrodite: actually, they were celebrated for Zeus Olympias.
  • The theory that Gothic architecture was designed by the Templars to record the secret of the sacred feminine: historians note that Templars were not involved with cathedrals of the time, which were generally commissioned by European bishops.
  • The depiction of the Templars as builders, guild-founders and secret-bearers: Templar historians point to abundant evidence that Templars did not themselves engage in building projects or founded guilds for masons, and that they were largely illiterate men unlikely to know "sacred geometry," purportedly handed down from the pyramids' builders. If architecture owes anything to the templars, it is their fortresses.
  • The portrayal of the Priory of Sion as an ancient organization: While the Priory is a genuine organization claiming to have been the Templars' driving force, most historians suspect it originated in the aftermath of World War II, on the grounds that it was registered with the French government in 1956, and only became widely-known in 1962 (see Pierre Plantard). However, according to claims made by the Priory, it was founded in 1090.
  • The suggestion that all churches used by the Templars were built round, and that roundness was considered an insult by the Church: Some churches used by the Templars were not round, and those that were round were so in tribute to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Moreover, there is quite a number of round churches, and no account that the Church considered this an insult.
  • The contention that the Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci as a self-portrait: Art historians are almost unanimous in holding the painting to be of a real woman, Madonna Lisa, wife of Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo. However, other researchers have concluded, using "morphing" techniques, that the resemblance to Leonardo is striking (Lillian Swartz of the Bell Labs and Digby Quested of the Maudsley Hospital in London).
  • The depiction of Opus Dei as a monastic order. In fact, it is a personal prelature with primarily lay membership. There are no monks in Opus Dei, (although members of Opus Dei do practice mortification of the flesh).
  • Mary Magdalene is said to have been labelled a whore by the Church (Chapters 58 and 60); in fact, there is no Biblical correlation whatsoever between the whore that Christ saves from being stoned to death and Magdalene . This common misunderstanding was initiated by Pope Gregory I, who proclamed this, based on a false analysis of Luke 7 and 8. He "integrated" three different women into one. (See Pericope Adulteræ.)
  • The suggestion that the Tetragrammaton is "an androgynous physical union between the masculine Jah and the pre-Hebraic name of Eve, Havah" (Chapter 74). It is generally believed that the four Hebrew letters that form the Tetragrammaton (Yud, Hay, Vav, Hay) represent the tenses of the Hebrew word for to be -- Quoting Exodus 3:14-15, "And God said to Moses, "I am who I am [...]". Actually, the phrase in Hebrew is "eh-yeh asher eh-yeh", which in English translation would really be, "I will be who (or what or that) I will be." Therefore, The Verb emphasizes God's absolute being.
  • Venus is depicted as visible in the east shortly after sunset (Chapter 105) which is an astronomical impossibility. This was corrected to "west" in some later editions, like 28th printing of British paperback, ISBN 0552149519 and apparently current printing of the US hardback too - [1].
  • Brown characterized the cycle of Venus as "trac[ing] a perfect pentacle across the ecliptic sky every four years", and from there claimed this as the basis for four-year Olympic period (Chapter 6). The fact is, Venus completes five cycles in eight years [2] [3], a fact well known to the ancient Greeks and Mayans. This eight-year cycle is one of the factors in predicting the transit of Venus. This was changed to "eight years" in some later editions such as the British paperback and at least the April 2003 printing of the US hardback - [4].

In view of its popularity and widespread acceptance as being factually correct, some have held the novel's historical defects to be so serious and numerous as to warrant separate works debunking its claims. Among others, this includes Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel's The Da Vinci Hoax .

On March 15, 2005, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa and former second-in-command of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (and then seen by many as a potential successor to Pope John Paul II), castigated the book and those who sell it because of his claims of anti-Catholic bias. "This seems like a throwback to the old anti-clerical pamphlets of the 1800s," he said. It is a "gross and absurd" distortion of history full of "cheap lies." He also made a strong defense of Opus Dei, the Catholic organization which is a major antagonist of the book.


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