Click here to read reviewer Mary B. Stuart's take on The Da Vinci Code.
The concept of this story is fascinating. There is no doubt The Da Vinci Code challenges the traditional dogma of Christianity based on Roman Catholic theology, as Protestant theology is also based on the Catholic concept of the holy trinity—a celibate Christ, a virgin mother and the Holy Ghost. Again, in the resulting controversy his plot raises, people and scholars are fighting over literal words and interpretations as they did when the theory of evolution challenged the biblical representation of the earth’s origins. Even his editor has written a book defending the authenticity of his research. If Dan Brown were writing nonfiction, then of course his research would have to present airtight facts, and I would understand the debate. But Dan Brown’s novel is a work of fiction, and fiction is based on make-believe. When writing a novel, we look to history to give us gaps in records that we can fill with “what if” possibilities to create a plot in the same way as a lawyer looks for loopholes in the law to win a case. As a result, I don’t see why he has to defend his research. To create a mysterious plot, all he has to do is unearth sufficient historic questions, which could be based on myth or folklore as well, to play with possibilities. And that’s what he has done in The Da Vinci Code. He has achieved a masterful suspension of disbelief, which makes him the supreme artist.
Dan Brown’s ideas wake us up to different perspectives. He stimulates our curiosity, and curiosity drives new investigations based on new premises. That’s good, not bad. I would further add that challenging traditional theologies does not weaken our faith. If anything, challenge strengthens faith because the search for truth widens knowledge and brings us closer to the miracle of life in our vast universe and to our spiritual connection. In the Sixties, I found it very interesting that, after the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered, the Vatican fought tooth and nail to prevent their disclosure to the public. Again, these scrolls do not threaten faith. They enrich our understanding of the time in which Jesus lived. So, Dan Brown’s questioning Vatican control of early church teachings, beliefs and rituals is natural and the progression to possibilities that rock those foundations is what makes this a remarkable enigmatic thriller. He leaves behind the “done-to-death” schemes of bio-terrorism and nuclear disasters to go after the greatest stake of all — the world’s reliance on structured (you could also read programmed) religion.
Brown’s challenge begins with the selection of books in the New Testament. Of the over two hundred writings collected, how did Roman Church representatives decide on the ones we know in the Bible today? As Dan Brown points out, many pagan rituals and symbols were used to establish new Christian customs. This is fact, not his conjecture. His tale goes into the search for the chalice, which represents the original scrolls recording Jesus' life. In the tenth century, Templar knights were charged with finding the “chalice” and when they found these scrolls in Jerusalem, they established a secret group to keep them safe. His main character is a professor who unlocks the symbols that lead to the chalice. When DaVinci's painting was restored back to its original layer, it was found that the picture Da Vinci originally painted was not the picture we've seen for centuries. Instead, one of the disciples is a woman, and Jesus is gesturing to her that he is leaving the church in her care at the protest of Peter. The woman's hair is long and dark red. According to research Dan Brown dug up, Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute but his wife, because Jesus was born a Jew, and Jews, in Brown’s view, do not believe in a monastic life -- it is abnormal and prevents the procreation of the chosen people.
From my own research earlier in my life, the Dead Sea Scrolls present the possibility that Jesus was the “Teacher of Righteousness” and thus an Essene. This may explain why Jesus chose twelve disciples. They withdrew from the materialistic and political control Jewish elders established in the synagogues to return to a simpler expression of faith in a Qu'rum -- the first commune. Men and women lived together in this “retreat” in the desert. They farmed only what they needed to eat to sustain themselves, and the tables in the dining room were built to accommodate twelve people each -- thus one reason why Jesus chose twelve men to work with him. Another theory, which Brown skirts, is that the number 12 symbolizes the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and Jesus is a Pisces (the most evolved spiritually of all the signs).
According to Brown's story in The Da Vinci Code, after Jesus died on the cross, Mary Magdalene had his child, a daughter, and Joseph of Arithamea is supposed to have removed her from Jerusalem to save her life and the child's. He took her to Spain where nomadic Jews protected her and her resulting descendants. This direct line back to Jesus still exists today, and a secret organization continues to protect them. That's the premise of the story. The mystery plot is the search for the original “chalice”, and people are killed in the battle between the Church (which wants to destroy the challenging scrolls contained in the chalice -- hiding place) and the secret society, which is working to preserve the “truth.” That's it in a nutshell. Dan Brown is a master plotter who doesn't take his foot off the gas pedal. He uses ideas to create an amazing puzzle the reader races to find the answer, and yet you can't skip anything to get to the answer or you will lose the thread. This is a book that defines new frontiers for the mystery thriller genre: the ultimate risk when embracing unconventional ideas.