Analyzing the ‘Code’

Multiple titles look to dissect the best seller for enthralled readers.

If you are among the millions of people who can’t get enough of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” you’re going to love all the “code” books available this summer.

“This is a phenomenon that doesn’t happen every year,” said Renee Hunt, manager of Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Springfield.

Besides the more than 7 million copies of “The Da Vinci Code” purchased since its April 2003 release, book buyers are snatching up other Brown novels, novels that claim to be like Brown’s, books debunking Brown, books supporting Brown, even books by authors who have never heard of Brown.

“When that book took off, (Brown’s) other books took off, too,” said Ron Love, assistant manager at Barnes & Noble.

A previous novel, “Angels and Demons,” has since become a best seller in hardcover despite being available in paperback, Love said.

Nancy McShane is not surprised. She has read Brown’s three other novels — all conspiracy thrillers. As librarian for the First Unitarian Universalist Church, she has purchased copies of books such as the “Gospel of Thomas,” “The Complete Gospels” and Elaine Pagels’ “The Gnostic Gospels,” which contain much of the scholarship Brown used in “The Da Vinci Code.”

The Da Vinci Code

So error-laden is The Da Vinci Code that the educated reader actually applauds those rare occasions where Brown stumbles (despite himself) into the truth. […] In the end, Dan Brown has penned a poorly written, atrociously researched mess.
Source: Dismantling The Da Vinci Code By Sandra Miesel, Crisis, Sep. 1, 2003

A movie, directed by Ron Howard and rumored to star Russell Crowe, is due out next year. So the craze won’t end anytime soon.

Until then, there’s plenty to learn about the history of the Christian church, the role of women — including Mary Magdalenegnosticism, Leonardo Da Vinci and church art and codes.

Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” contends that Mary was not only a favored disciple of Jesus Christ, but was his wife and the mother of his child. That bloodline, which became the Merovingian royalty in France, is the actual “Holy Grail.” The church, the story claims, kept this information under wraps to secure its position on celibacy and the superiority of men.

Linda Pieczynski, director of Call to Action in Chicago, an organization of Catholics that advocates for such church reforms as equality for women, hopes the thirst for more information about the issues raised in the “Code” will send people to the FutureChurch Web site where they can learn about Mary of Magdala.

“We’ve never tried to contend that (Mary) was anything other than a strong leader of the church,” said Pieczynski. “Who knows what her relationship was with Jesus?”

Call to Action and FutureChurch, a coalition of Catholics that also addresses the “systematic inequality of women in the church,” started the Women in Church Leadership series in the late 1990s. St. Mary of Magdala is featured in the series, especially on July 22, the day the church has set aside to celebrate her. A prayer service is available on the Web site.

This year more than 300 groups are planning a Mary of Magdala service, about twice the number of last year.

“‘The Da Vinci Code’ sparked it all,” said Pieczynski. “It’s been terrific publicity for something we’ve been trying to do very quietly in congregations.”

Fascinating ‘nonsense’

Mark Given, a professor in the religious studies department at Southwest Missouri State University, presented “Debunking ‘The Da Vinci Code’: A Historical Approach to the New Testament Canon” Thursday at Drury University.

Links to all his research can be found at http://courses.

Givens is not kind in his characterization of Brown’s scholarship: “For someone who is trained in early Christian history, you can’t help but be amazed at all the nonsense.”

Even the book’s references to the orbit of the planet Venus are “just nonsense,” said astronomer John Nance, a retired SMS professor, who admitted he enjoyed reading it anyway. “My opinion about the science of the book is that there is none.”

Despite the bad science and the “totally bogus” tales of conspiracy in Brown’s book, Givens promises that “the real story is actually quite fascinating.”

There is no evidence of a marriage between Jesus and Mary, Givens said, but he does confirm the role women played in the early church, which it hid.

For example, Paul describes Junia as being his compatriot and an apostle in Romans 16:7. The name is feminine. In later manuscripts it was changed to a masculine name, Junius. Most modern Bibles have returned it to Junia.

“That would show you the lengths to which some proto-orthodox scribes were willing to go to eliminate women having positions of authority and leadership,” he said. “They would even invent a name to write this woman out of her rightful position as an apostle.”

Dr. William Hull, a research professor at Samford University and minister at Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., sees that oppression as an example of how society has treated women through the ages. But using Scripture as a way to support oppression is risky, he said, pointing out that the New Testament also states slaves should remain slaves.

“If you argue literalistically, you would be for women’s subordination and slavery,” he said.

Hull spoke two weeks ago at the Cooperative Baptist General Assembly on the topic of popular culture and Jesus Christ. He addressed Brown’s novel, as well as Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” series and Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ.”

It was “The Da Vinci Code” and the issues of women in the church that drew the greatest interest, he said. People wanted to learn more and take what they learned back to their churches.

“It was a teachable moment,” said Hull.

The errors in Brown’s book may be troubling to a historian, but Hull thinks it will send people to other sources to seek the facts. Sifting through the facts could be a quest as exciting as Robert Langdon’s adventures as he cracks the Da Vinci code.

A great read

Laura Caruso read “The Da Vinci Code” with a book group at the Unitarian church. The members talked about how the church “put down” women and pagans, the nature of God and its own faith.

Caruso, who was raised Catholic, enjoyed the novel and the discussion, but she warns any reader to take the book’s information with a grain of salt.

“Remember it is fiction,” she said. “If it sparks either interest or ire it’s still worth pursuing the topics in other readings and making your decisions for yourself rather than just taking Dan Brown’s word for it.”

Denise Webb, who attended the book group with her 6-month-old son Alexander, said the secrecy implied in the story touches a nerve. “If Jesus is the God of this world, why would we have to piece it together? If God wants us to know, why not just tell us?”

A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Webb said her church encourages members to seek out information for themselves. “If you seek truth, God will give it to you,” she said.

Simply getting people to read may be one of Brown’s greatest feats. Getting people to look further, to think about what they believe and learn what others believe is an added benefit, former educators say.

Jerry Norris, 64, of Ozark, is a retired teacher in both the public school system and at the university level.

“The system doesn’t encourage thinking,” he said, but “The Da Vinci Code” does. “If it stimulates thinking among a population that doesn’t do a lot of that, I think that’s good…”

Charles Gray, 77, a historian and former teacher, enjoyed the book, finding the mixture of fact, fiction and conjecture as “pure balderdash” that helped Brown write a good story.

“The book has stimulated people to think,” said Gray.

Jane Waschick, an artist who just finished the book, found it fascinating.

“It brought things to light that I had always wondered about … I want to learn more…” she said.

But with her feet up in the summer sunshine, it is simply a good book she is hoping to read. “Da Vinci Code” was just that.

“Basically, it was really an exciting book.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Springfield News-Leader, USA
July 10, 2004
Linda Leicht, News-Leader Staff

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