A Humerous Review of _The Da Vinci Code_
by Laura Miller at Salon.com

Perhaps because it is such an easy target for debunking, Ms. Miller has quite a bit of fun in this review of _The Da Vinci Code_, and while some of it might be considered over the top, several of her points are quite apt. The fact that it is a clear rip off of _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_, though not unknown, is one that is likely to get considerably more attention, as the authors of the latter seem prepared to take the case to court. But here I would like to offer a few of the gems I found in this review, as it is my hope that anyone reading this book remains open to valid arguments against many of its claims.

"Fortunately, Bart D. Ehrman, who chairs the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has just published "Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code" (Oxford University Press), a book-length expansion of his list of 10 errors in Brown's novel, first circulated widely on the Internet. Ehrman's specialty is the ancient history of the Christian church, and he is the author of two books, "Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew," and "Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament" (both Oxford University Press), so he can hardly be accused of participating in a coverup of the unorthodox and heretical early Christian texts that the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" and Brown claim support their theories.

"Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code" is written in eminently clear, basic English (a pleasant surprise, because Ehrman's previous books can be pretty heavy sledding), and its tolerant, "more in sorrow than in anger" tone is probably more effective than the annoyance to which most of the novel's critics (including this one) succumb. It's a little repetitive, but given the many relatively unsophisticated readers Ehrman is addressing, that's probably justified.

Ehrman methodically demolishes a sizable chunk of the conspiratorial claims in "The Da Vinci Code," which are mostly cribbed from "Holy Blood, Holy Grail." To hit some of the high spots: Early Christian texts excluded from the New Testament did not depict Jesus as human rather than divine; in fact, quite the opposite. The emperor Constantine was not involved in establishing the New Testament's canonical texts; it was a process that began before his reign and continued after his death. Jesus' experiences and teachings were not recorded by "thousands" of his followers during his lifetime, as nearly all of them were almost certainly illiterate. It was not unheard-of for a Jewish man of Jesus' time to be either single or celibate, particularly if he was part of the apocalyptic prophetic movement of the day, as Jesus most likely was.

Some of Brown's mistakes are minor but telling. For example, his "Grail expert," Leigh Teabing, smugly declares that "any Aramaic scholar will tell you" that the word "companion" used in the uncanonical Gospel of Philip in describing Mary Magdalene's relationship to Jesus, "in those days, literally meant spouse." But, as Ehrman explains, the Gospel of Philip is written in Coptic, not Aramaic, and the word in question is borrowed from yet another language, which is also not Aramaic, but Greek. And it does not mean "spouse" or "lover," but "companion," and is "commonly used of friends and associates."

Even more damning is the exposure of the fraud behind the "Priory of Sion".

"The Priory of Sion did exist -- sort of -- but not in any form even remotely resembling the fantastical claims of the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" or Brown. (In one of his few unqualified claims to nonfiction, Brown includes the sentence "The Priory of Sion -- a European secret society founded in 1099 -- is a real organization" on a page labeled "Fact" placed before the prologue of "The Da Vinci Code.") In reality, the Priory of Sion was the invention, in the 1950s, of a man named Pierre Plantard who had a history of fraud, embezzlement and membership in ultra-conservative, quasi-mystical and virulently anti-Semitic Catholic groups. These tiny extremist groups sought the reunification of Europe under the dual leadership of an orthodox Roman Catholic Church and a divinely ordained monarch, somewhat like the Holy Roman Emperor and preferably French.

Plantard learned of rumors surrounding a town in southern France, where the late priest's unexplained affluence led to talk of buried treasure in the local church. (The priest's wealth actually came from charging superstitious Catholics to have Mass said on their behalf, and he was censured for it by the church.) Plantard capitalized on the "mystery" of Rennes-le-Château by insinuating into the grapevine further rumors: that the priest had discovered evidence of an explosive secret and was being bribed to keep it under wraps.

Plantard wanted to pass himself off as the descendant of the Merovingian dynasty, a family of medieval French kings and, ultimately, of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. (In reality, he was the son of a butler and a cook.) With his accomplice, a genuine but dissolute aristocrat and expert forger, Phillipe de Chérisey, he produced a set of fabricated parchments full of encoded and suggestively prophetic verse alluding to this Merovingian fantasy. With a restaurateur interested in drumming up tourist business for his establishment (located in the priest's former villa), they disseminated a story that the priest had discovered these parchments in the church, inside a hollowed-out pillar of Visigoth origins. (The pillar was later determined to be solid.)

The parchments and a variety of other faked documents pertaining to the Priory of Sion and the Merovingians -- including that list of past Grand Masters, featuring Leonardo and Newton -- were planted in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. This institution, alas, cannot be said to run a tight ship, and there are apparently no records indicating who exactly deposited the infamous "dossiers secrets" in their collection. However, investigators eventually determined that the printing press used to produce them was the same press used by Plantard to print his right-wing newsletters and broadsides.

The entire case for the existence of the Priory of Sion and the bloodline of Jesus extending into the French monarchy rests on this cache of bogus documents. There is no other "proof" anywhere that the Priory of Sion ever existed. A third confederate of Plantard and de Chérisey's, Gérard de Sède, who seems to have bought the story initially, published a lurid bestseller about the "mystery" of Rennes-le-Château. At this point, once a truly interesting sum of money entered the picture following the book's success, the three men fell out, quarreling over who deserved how much of the proceeds."
(Ms. Miller links to a web site that provides documentation exposing the fraud of the Priory of Scion found here)

Finally, much is made, by Dan Brown, of the fact that Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper includes a very feminine looking John sitting next to Jesus. Ms. Miller correctly points out that this is typical of the paintings of the Da Vinci's time, but adds something that I did not know about Da Vinci's style in general.

"If there's no real reason to suspect Leonardo of believing in a special relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ, why should we see that figure as a woman? Yes, the figure looks somewhat feminine but, in addition to following established conventions in representing the disciple John, Leonardo was quite fond of painting androgynous-looking young men."

She then links to a rather startling portrait of John the Baptist done by Da Vinci, and found here.

Needless to say, I had a lot of fun reading this review, and hope others here find it both amusing and informative as well.




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