- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 31, 2004

Dan Brown’s bestselling novel “The Da Vinci Code,” whose print run is now in the 6 million range a little more than a year after its release, is probably the only airport-rack whodunnit in history to spawn its own debunking industry.

Although “Da Vinci” is a work of fiction, Mr. Brown has argued that its chief claim — that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and founded a feminist religion which the official Christian church suppressed — is historically accurate and based upon reputable research by leading scholars.

That claim, in turn, has provoked outrage among traditionalist Christians, especially Catholics, at what they believe are the gross liberties Mr. Brown has taken with the core historical beliefs of their faith.

“The Da Vinci Hoax,” by Carl E. Olson, editor of Envoy, a Catholic magazine, and Sandra Miesel, a trained medievalist and veteran Catholic journalist, is the latest and perhaps the most thorough (amply sourced and footnoted) and engrossing of the many anti-Brown books that have emerged as sales of “The Da Vinci Code” itself have soared.

It’s also one of the longest, its 307 pages approaching the length of Mr. Brown’s 457-page novel. If that looks to be too long a read for you, try instead Amy Welborn’s “De-Coding Da Vinci” (published by Our Sunday Visitor), which covers the same ground in a brisk 124 pages.

Mr. Brown’s bestseller rests on its author’s assertion that Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah, the founder of Christianity, the Savior of the world, or the Son of God, as Christians have traditionally believed.

Instead, Mr. Brown claims in his book, Jesus was an ordinary rabbi who married his favorite disciple, Mary Magdalene, and sailed with her from the Holy Land to southern France, where their daughter, Sarah, became the head of the religion Jesus actually founded: a form of goddess-worship centered around the “sacred feminine,” as Mr. Brown calls it.

The reason most Christians know nothing about this is that patriarchal and power-grabbing Christian bishops and emperors conspired to cover it up, squelching writings deemed heretical, turning Mary into a prostitute, and, in the most egregious step of all, voting to turn Jesus from mere human being into the Son of God at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

Nonetheless, Jesus’ offspring and the religion they practiced survived underground in Europe in various forms: Gnostic teaching, the Cathar heresy, a medieval cult in southern France dedicated to Mary Magdalene, the Order of the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, and even the witches of today’s Wicca, as well as their claimed predecessors burned at the stake for practicing not witchcraft, but the true religion of Jesus, says Mr. Brown.

The Merovingian dynasty — the Frankish kings who ruled during the early Dark Ages before the era of Charlemagne — were of the bloodline of Jesus, says Mr. Brown, so the Holy Grail of medieval legend (“sangreal,” or “royal blood” in medieval French, according to Mr. Brown) is also part of the story.

The Grail, however, wasn’t really the chalice of Christ’s blood used at the Last Supper, as authors of the Middle Ages believed, but Mary Magdalene’s own female body, Mr. Brown asserts.

Leonardo da Vinci is a key character in the novel because he painted a famous fresco of the Last Supper that includes a blond and beardless apostle John — who Mr. Brown insists was actually Mary Magdalene. For Leonardo was one of the underground faith’s secret followers too. Hence the name of the novel.

Otherwise, as Mr. Olson and Mrs. Miesel shrewdly observe, Mr. Brown’s novel is essentially high-end chick-lit, a mystery-cum-bodice-buster featuring good-looking cardboard characters, a formulaic plot (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, etc.), and a smattering of erudition to flatter the reader’s intellectual vanity.

The hero, Robert Langdon, is a Harvard professor, specializing in something called “symbology,” whatever that is. He meets lovely French anthropologist Sophie Neveu after the corpse of her uncle, a curator at the Louvre, turns up dead in Chapter One.

The killer has arranged the body to resemble another of Leonardo’s famous artworks, his drawing of a naked man inside a compass circle. As the scholarly pair searches for the murderer, it is revealed that Sophie and her uncle are descendants of Jesus, and that the Roman Catholic Church, in the form of the secretive, sinister Catholic religious order Opus Dei, is determined to squelch this information in order to preserve its hegemony over Christian belief.

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