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It has been said that any publicity is good publicity. I think that is true–as long as what you are publicizing is worth publicizing. Last night (Sunday, December 13), I spent a few moments (about fifty-eight seconds) trying to publicize the truth about The Da Vinci Code (and, yes, my book on the same topic) on "At Large with Geraldo Rivera" on FOX News television. Whatever else it was, it was entertaining–if not for viewers, than at least for me.

My brief appearance to discuss The Da Vinci Code was part of a larger segment on anti-Christian bigotry–or "Christianophobia" (give or take a vowel)–that opened with a breathless report from the Vatican and some comments by Jerry Falwell. Then Geraldo cut to a prerecorded segment about Dan Brown’s novel, in which his voiceover pointed out that The Da Vinci Code has now sold eighteen million copies worldwide, including nine million in the United States. There was mention of priests selling copies of the novel at the site of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous masterpiece, The Last Supper. I’d not heard of this sad commercial enterprise, but I do hope that someone at the Vatican hears of it and takes a drive and makes a surprise inspection.

The segment’s description of the contents and claims of The Da Vinci Code was rather curious. The novel, viewers were told, politely hints that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a relationship and may have "even married." But in the novel the character Leigh Teabing, an English historian, actually states, "As I said earlier, the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record" (p. 245). The FOX piece went to say that the person of the Apostle John in Leonardo’s painting is, according to Brown’s novel, actually a "disguised MM." But The Da Vinci Code states that it is a woman: "It was, without a doubt…female" (p. 243).

Small potatoes, I suppose, and not worth to much fuming. A far more egregious error was the statement, also made by Geraldo in the voiceover, that the novel claims "the Holy Grail is actually a collection of documents that prove this mystery"–a reference to the relationship of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This is quite incorrect. The novel insists repeatedly that the Holy Grail is a person: Mary Magdalene. "The Holy Grail is a woman," thinks Sophie to herself. Teabing helpfully adds, "It is not I who claim she is the Grail. Christ Himself made that claim" (p. 242).

After the segment, Geraldo asked me to quickly explain why I think the novel is a problem. I pointed out that many readers obviously believe it is an authentic, viable guide to Church history and the "truth" about Jesus. Cut to commercial. On the other side of the break, Geraldo turned to Dan Burstein, the head of a venture-capital firm who edited Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind the DaVinci [sic] Code, a book that is nearly as misleading as Brown’s novel (and one that I’ve reviewed here). Which is why Geraldo rightly described it as a "kinder" look at the The Da Vinci Code; he then asked Burstein why he thinks the novel has been so popular.

Burstein replied that there is "a huge fascination in the Mary Magdalene story," especially since she is "possibly one of the founders of Christianity and possibly the sexual partner of Jesus." That last bit was a sly, sick touch, probably aimed at the politically correct, inclusive, progressively minded crowd. "Dan Brown, in The Da Vinci Code," Burstein continued, "has taken the cover off these issues that have been at the center of Christianity and much of Western thought for two thousand years." He went on to note that Brown throws the entire esoteric kitchen sink at the accommodating wall of popular culture: Egyptian mystery religions, Greek mystery religions, Jewish mystery religions–you get the picture.

Burstein is interesting because he exemplifies, I think, those readers—who he describes as "average sophisticated, educated readers"—enamored with The Da Vinci Code and really think it offers a wealth of heady, spiritually rich materials. In his introduction to Secrets of the Code, he admits that after reading the novel, "I was as intellectually challenged as I had been by any book I had read in a long time." Uh-oh.

Burstein admits that he has "no academic, religious, or artistic credentials," but it doesn’t stop him from sharing his thoughts on topics he knows little or nothing about. This is readily evident in his ridiculous and completely unsubstantiated claim that "there was no prohibition against women being priest in the early years of the church." He is correct–or partially correct–when he later notes in his book that "Dan Brown has left mainstream scholarship behind. He has plunged into the world of the medieval and New Age myths." The problem (only one of many, of course) is Brown doesn’t correctly communicate those myths, especially the medieval ones. But that is part of the appeal of Brown’s work: it’s about creating your own customized mythology and not being beholden to facts and evidence.

Anyhow, at that point of the program Geraldo asked me what I thought the problem was with the novel. I had forty-six seconds to explain that the novel's claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married is baseless and not accepted by any biblical scholars (even liberal ones), that the claim that no one believed Jesus was divine until A.D. 325 was completely false, and that all of Brown's claims about Leonardo da Vinci are taken from The Templar Revelati–oops, time’s up!

Geraldo then asked Jerry Falwell if The Da Vinci Code was "attacking the character of Jesus Christ?" Falwell’s answer was intriguing: "Well, if it says that Jesus had a relationship with a prostitute, I think that’s a pretty serious attack on Jesus Christ…" Except that one of the very few things Brown is correct about is that Mary Magdalene was probably not a prostitute. Besides, the novel states they were married. And so, not surprisingly, the more vital issue of Jesus’ marriage to the Church and the meaning of celibacy was passed over (I know, I know–it’s Geraldo, not Charlie Rose).

Falwell added that he doesn’t give the novel "much credence." "The fact that it’s sold nine million copies in the United States," he said, indicates nothing special since "Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series have sold fifty-five million." This was, I think, a huge blunder, but one that likely comes from not being too familiar with the topic and also attempting to plug your best friend’s books.

One problem is that the math is not on Falwell’s side. The twelve Left Behind books have sold fifty-five million copies, which is about 4.6 million copies of each book. But The Da Vinci Code has sold twice that in the United States alone and four times that in the world–and in only eighteen months. Besides, if it’s "just a novel," as Falwell indicated at one point, then shouldn’t it be said that the Left Behind books are "just novels"?

They are, of course, much more than "just novels." Both Brown and LaHaye have used fictional narrative to promote and propagate their religious beliefs. Ironically, although they differ sharply about the identity and nature of Jesus, they have much in common, as I pointed out in a National Review Online article earlier this year:

In the Left Behind books . . . an apocalyptic mythology about the future has been created based on interpretations of the Bible, using a unique and recent form of theology called premillennial dispensationalism. In The Da Vinci Code, a radical feminist mythology about the past is created via an interpretation of selected Gnostic writings that relies on esoteric, neo-pagan premises. In the Left Behind series, humanity is utterly depraved and history spirals downward into chaos and inevitable collapse; salvation can only come through a personal act of faith and complete renunciation of "the world." In The Da Vinci Code, humanity suffers from a lack of the "sacred feminine" and the world tilts ominously towards a male-dominated future; freedom from this imbalanced state requires the healing touch of the "goddess."

I appreciate the invitation to be on FOX News and I’m glad that I was able to get in my two cents worth. But I’m inclined to agree with a recent amazon.com "reviewer" of The Da Vinci Hoax who complained, "I would like to see this topic debated by real supposed experts in an open forum debate...now that would be entertainment." Indeed. And good publicity as well.

Find out more about The Da Vinci Hoax at www.davincihoax.com.

Carl Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com. He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He resides with his family in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California.


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