Author's note: While I have seen the 2006 film adaptation, I've never personally read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code or its source book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln.
The other day I heard this statement:
You have an enormous range of people out there in the secular world who are hostile to, skeptical of, institutional Christianity in such a profound way that they are willing in some ways to swallow a version of events that is just demonstrably false, but nevertheless, they find that more appealing and in some ways more credible than the story that is being peddled by officialdom. And therefore I think the kind of examination of conscience would have to go on within institutional Christian churches is, 'Why is that?’"
It is from the 2006 documentary Secrets of the Code and is said by journalist John Allen, who covers the Vatican. Secrets of the Code is about the controversies provoked by Dan Brown's 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code which is based on the idea that the Catholic Church is covering up the true history of Jesus in order to preserve its own power and wealth.
The Da Vinci Code wasn't just a best-seller, it was a phenomenon and eventually sold over 80 million copies worldwide. It was heavily influenced by the 1982 non-fiction best-seller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (aka Holy Blood, Holy Grail). Its thesis is that the historical Jesus of Nazareth had at least one child with Mary Magdalene. After the crucifixion, she fled to southern France with her child(ren) and was an ancestor of the Merovingian Dynasty (5th-8th centuries C.E.). These kings, through Jesus, would have been of the bloodline of Israel's King David.
Holy Blood itself, however, relied on forged documents and at least one of the Holy Blood authors knew it. Also, one of the forgers, Pierre Plantard, established the Priory of Sion in 1956 to re-establish the Dynasty while claiming it dates back to 1099.
The Priory, itself a con job or a hoax (which may have evolved into a delusion of Plantard), had the dubious, far-right-wing goal of establishing a theocratic monarchical reign over Europe. But not even Plantard had thought up the Mary Magdalene theory; that was made up by the Holy Blood authors.
But is only some blood "holy?" Are we humans not created equal?
Even if the fabrications of Holy Blood and Da Vinci turn out to be true, would even the descendants of Jesus have the Divine Right to rule over us? Did not Jesus say "But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant?" Did he not model that behaviour?
And if the Church falsified the Gospel stories of Jesus to emphasize love and service when the "real" Jesus was a claimant to earthly kingship, then how do we even know he existed at all? What sources or claims can we plausibly trust?
This brings us back to John Allen's quote above. Da Vinci was released in March 2003. This was only a year after The Boston Globe began publishing its Pulitzer Prize-winning spotlight investigation of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston and just three months after the resignation of its archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Francis Law.
The scandal went national and global as more priests in more dioceses were investigated. The Da Vinci Code hit the market at the right time because it cast the Catholic Church as the villain when the public was already angry with it. Even though the idea of royal bloodlines is ridiculous to the modern mind, just about anything seemed more credible than, as Allen put it, "the story that is being peddled by" the Church."
The sex abuse scandal pointed to internal corruption, and if you believe an institution is corrupt, you will believe that it lies. And it's not as if child sex abuse is the first and only stain on the Church with its longstanding record of collusion with bloodthirsty tyrants and its own moralistic and spiritual authoritarianism that creates many a traumatized "recovering Catholic." The 2002 scandal just further exposed the hypocrisy of it all.
This is not to say the 80 million book buyers and millions more moviegoers actually agreed with the doubtful historical claims of Da Vinci. If nothing else, however, the novel provoked food for thought. What if the Catholic Church has been nothing but a racket the entire time? If it is, then what is true about the ancient past?
Secrets of the Code is an interesting time capsule. When it was made, podcasting and social media were in their infancy. Smart TVs were uncommon if they existed at all. There wasn't a lot of accessible, alternative media discussing these issues.
As of today, however, countless independent researchers have posted their content not just in blogs, but in audio and video formats. Exploring the mysteries of Jesus, the Bible, and the occult is a hobby for many. And for a lot of us, we must credit The Da Vinci Code for making us wonder.
And I, for one, have concluded that more than ancient wonders such as the Great Pyramid or Stonehenge, the greatest mystery of the past is the Bible itself. What in the Bible is actual history? What is allegory? Why does it describe many ugly events, yet seem to hold great spiritual wisdom?
And, can we believe what we've been told about how it was put together?
Would scholars who suggest that Jesus never actually existed get blackballed?
I still find enrichment in the Bible as metaphor and allegory. Who hasn't needed a Red Sea to part? Who doesn't have their own Goliath to face? Who doesn't need forgiveness?
Meanwhile, I'll continue to learn from "fringe" researchers, from those who believe Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, to those who claim the Bible is all about the Zodiac, to those who claim "God" mentioned in Genesis 1:1 should really be translated as "the Shining Ones."
They each help me learn new things even as they add to the mystery.