Dan Brown: Part the First

May 7, 2006 at 8:07 pm (Uncategorized)

We had heard quite a bit about Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. We have even read a book that straightens out a lot of the fiction he included in his book and explained what Christianity traditionally taught and what Gnosticism taught, how they are different, and why this matters.

Anyone who has studied about pseudepigraphia and/or alternative “Christian” groups would be quite aware of a number of “facts” that Brown’s main character allegedly “exposes.” These arguments are very old, perhaps going as far back as the Primitive Christian Church – the Church of the Apostles or those right after them. In the New Testament, one can already see the formation of schismatic and heretical sects, which the Apostle Paul was trying to weed out.

The same phenomenon, to a limited degree, happened with Judaism. The difference, of course, was that the Gnostics then used Judaism and Jewish-seeming pseudepigraphs.

We should explain what a pseudepigraph is. A pseudepigraph (pronounced as “syoo-deh-pih-graf”) is a text written by someone but said to be written by someone else. This someone else is some significant figure. An example would be someone (named Jeremias Matthias) writing a text and then saying that the text in his hands was written by none other than Judas Iscariot or the Apostles Thomas or Mary, the Mother of God. A Jewish pseudepigraph would use Jewish figures such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel, or any one of the many prophets. It is the opposite of plagiarism: instead of stealing another’s words and claiming it as one’s own, one puts one’s own words in another’s mouth. A contemporary example would be Democrats alleging that Thomas Jefferson (He of the Many Volumes) wrote that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. (This is a loose example: Democrats have yet to produce a book by Mr. Jefferson written on the idea they accuse him of. If Kerry produced a tattered volume entitled Dissent, allegedly written by Thomas Jefferson but whose style is eerily like Kerry’s, then one would have an excellent example of a pseudepigraph.)

We find it somehow annoying when people jump in exhiliration at the possibilities and truths that Brown’s novel supposedly uncovers. This is a work of fiction. Brown has masterfully mixed truth and fiction: a bit too well, perhaps, as people have difficulty telling the two apart.

We were aghast when we watched a documentary on The Discovery Channel (or The History Channel, or something along these lines) concerning whether Leonardo da Vinci could have produced the Shroud of Turin. Leonardo da Vinci? This is the first We heard of this theory. We were aghast not because of what was proposed (and what the documentarians attempted to verify) but because they used arguments that sounded eerily similar to strains of thought, if not actual arguments, found in The Da Vinci Code.

We were also quite aghast when We learned that people, spurred and motivated by The Da Vinci Code, protested outside Opus Dei’s headquarters in The United States (which is in New York). We had done some research on Opus Dei before We had even heard of The Da Vinci Code and its sinsiter insinuations against this organization. True, they are secretive. True, they are quite conservative. True, they use methods of sanctification that seem outlandish if not primitive and uncivilized to modern people. True, they involve a person’s entire life and day. But this is precisely why Opus Dei was established: to make saints (in the Catholic interpretation) of everyday people. The method to attain this, according to them, is quite rigorous and involved. But joining and staying in this organization is voluntary. It is true that their unquestioning and unquestioned loyalty to conservative Catholicism and to The Magisterium/The Holy See makes this organization an enemy of liberal, progressive, and otherwise non-conservative Catholics (and We are sure Opus Dei makes even conservative Catholics somewhat wary), but it is certainly nothing like the conniving, manipulative, and utilitarian organization as depicted in The Da Vinci Code. However, We do understand why non-conservative Catholics would be alarmed. Pope John Paul the Great canonized its founder, Josemaría Escrivá, and elevated Opus Dei to a personal prelature. Pope Benedict XVI’s right-hand man, Georg Gänswein, is a member of Opus Dei. The Director of the Press Office of The Holy See, Joaquin Navarro Valls, is also a member of Opus Dei. Is this because they infiltrate the top ranks or because The Holy See trusts them and feels comfortable around them?

Every religion as some form of Gnosticism. “Gnosticism” refers to two things: a specific religious movement (now extinct, although there seems to be a resurgence of sorts) and a spiritual tendency. The latter refers to a theory that obtaining certain knowledge will secure one’s salvation. This is where the “gnosis” of “gnosticism” comes from: “gnosis” means “knowledge.” The specific movement refers to that which sprung from Christianity and even competed with Christianity (in that heretics were undermining Christian leaders and leading Christians astray) until this heresy was refuted and put down. Of course, force was used as well as persuasion, but such was the world then.

Indeed, We wonder what different there is, if any, between Gnosticism (as “knowledge will grant you salvation”) and mystery schools (“this hidden knowledge only this organization can tell you will grant you salvation”).

In any case, hybrid forms of Gnosticism seem to be rising, particularly as part of the New Age Movement. Gnosticism is also popular in today’s “tear down authority” culture as Gnostic documents (many of which still exist today, especially thanks to the Nag Hammadi Library) viciously attack standard, traditional, and organized Christianity.

A central argument of The Da Vinci Code and of some Gnostics is that The Church (although referring to organized Christianity, one should understand that in today’s terms this refers to The Roman Catholic Church; the East-West Schism and the Protestant Reformation had not occured before Gnosticism was neutralized, so for Gnostics there was only one Church to speak of, about, and to) knows the truth and deliberately hides it. This is utterly ridiculous. We are sure The Holy See has Gnostic texts. This is not to supress them but out of historical curiosity. Just because The Holy See has it does not necessarily mean there’s an ulterior motive involved.

We congratulate Brown for his skill and for his success, but We are disheartened at what impact it has had on the gullible minds of many seeking some excuse to tear down what they see as oppressive and authoritarian structures, without regard to actual truth. It is frustrating when complex issues are exposed to people, changing their opinions, thoughts, beliefs, and behavior, while experts know the actual situation was and is different than what was protrayed. For a work of fiction, The Da Vinci Code does influence a large number of people.

inna naHnu-l-a’lam.


1 Comment

  1. Elzbth said,

    I read an article today about bizarre things tourists are doing, and purchasing, at various sites in Europe which are featured in the story. People are strange.

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