No critique of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code can be made without initial reference to his main source material. He has acknowledged “reworking” passages from an earlier book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln and this complicates matters because the breadth of this tortuous work is such that a good precis of it would be a lengthy work in itself.
Very briefly, Baigent Leigh and Lincoln start their thesis with a mystery set in the south of France concerning a certain 19th century priest, Saunier. During the investigation the plot moves through 2,000 years of history involving the Gospel stories of Jesus, his family and followers. We see the Knights Templar discovering secret “evidence” in Jerusalem spawning secret societies like the Masons, the Priory of Scion and involving enigmatic Grail legends, Cathars and a Merovingian bloodline deriving from Jesus himself - all very entertaining, enthralling and thought provoking but, like much of the Bible itself, a recycling of old ideas and hardly the result of serious academic research.
When first released in the early 80’s The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail caused a few ripples and murmurings but nothing like the outrage spawned by Dan Brown. The reason is obvious on comparing the two works. Brown has incorporated the basic “blood line of Jesus” idea in an easy to read, fast moving piece of “chewing gum for the brain”: a thriller that requires little effort from the reader and is pitched at the masses in a highly successful manner.
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, however, provides a challenge to the reader to refer to the substantial reference section in order to confirm or dispute the many claims. One is often compelled to dive for the nearest Bible and other referenced material to check on some of the quotes and the context in which they reside. It fails in the mass popularity stakes by requiring the reader to actually think.
The major contentious “secret” gleaned by Brown is the marriage status of Jesus and the identity of a possible wife and children.
The Gospels, of course, do not explicitly state Jesus’ marital or parental status. There are hints however. The “… disciple that Jesus loved”, the wedding at Cana and other references have caused many to postulate that Jesus was indeed married. To those who consider Jesus wholly historical and wholly human it seems that a 30-plus Jew in the first century and a rabbi no less must, according to the traditions of the age, have been married and expected to have children.
Whether or not there is basis to this speculation the question remains as to why this proposition causes so much offence. The church has steadfastly held to the view that Jesus was not married. There are, of course, serious theological implications if indeed he was found to be married, but in spite of the singular lack of definitive evidence either way the outrage remains unrelenting. Is it simply about this lack of evidence and a shaky piece of theology or, more likely, is it that such enquiry in the realm of popular literature may cause other equally embarrassing questions to be exposed publicly to those who rarely consider such questions?
That the general population at large live in abysmal ignorance of matters theological is easily determined.
Well known journalist Jill Singer recently published a book called Immaculate Conceptions, a contentious work about non-traditional means of creating a family. Singer seemed to be totally unaware that the term “Immaculate Conception” had nothing at all to do with creating babies or “virgin birth” but in fact was the Roman Catholic Church’s description of Mary, mother of Jesus. This misuse of quaint 19th century Catholic doctrinal terminology had also slipped past the editors, publishers and reviewers.
Every Christmas the non-canonical “Three Wise Men” are trotted out in nativity scenes and plays worldwide. It seems to bother nobody that the quantity of wise men is unknown, nor is it recorded that they were present at the birth. The Jehovah’s Witness, at my door recently, seemed convinced the Gospel writers are well known and were all disciples of Jesus. When asked to demonstrate this, using biblical reference, he quickly changed the subject to assure me that a full one third of Uniting Church ministers were homosexual.
Ignorance on theological matters abounds as the only contact most people have with religion is instruction in dogma and doctrine. It is also a sad fact that most “academic” students of theology are believers of different hues suffering various degrees of non-objectivity. May this all be changing? What other lines of enquiry from the previously disinterested public may be waiting in the wings?
Jesus was a carpenter … wasn’t he?
Jesus invented the Eucharist … didn’t he?
Jesus died on the cross … didn’t he?
Paul knew all about the life and work of Jesus as described in the Gospels … didn’t he?
Emperor (St) Constantine was a Christian … wasn’t he?
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