Sunday, November 2, 2003

The United States, nominally, is a Christian land; peace unto Jews, Muslims and folks of all other faiths.

So what is ABC News doing by airing an hour-long television special tonight, “Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci,” which promotes the thesis that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children?

This thesis plays a key role in the best-selling tome, “The Da Vinci Code” (with more than 3.5 million copies sold to date) by Dan Brown (also booked today on the network’s “Good Morning America”).

Very early in this documentary, Mr. Brown states “Jesus was a man and this idea to somehow elevate him to the status of a god really implied he couldn’t partake of the human aspects of life: marriage, love, sex.”

It should be noted that this view — essential to the novel — has created scarcely a ripple so far among either critics or the public. The book ascended to the top of the best-seller lists within its first week of publication and remained there for nearly six months.

As for the critics, just check out Mr. Brown’s Web site ( The New York Times’ Janet Maslin exploded with, “Wow. Blockbuster perfection. An exhilaratingly brainy thriller.” On the other hand,’s Web critic was one of the rare people amid the overall giddiness to note that the book happened to be an “anti-clerical screed.” (In the interest of full disclosure, the present writer published an article: “Novel Gods” in the Weekly Standard on Sept. 22 that strongly criticized the book.)

As for “Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci,” airing at 8 tonight, the program opens with a woman sweetly singing in folk-style, “My name is Mary, Mary Magdalene” as pretty pastoral images roll across the screen. ABC News correspondent Elizabeth Vargas conducts the various interviews in hushed, respectful, non-skeptical tones, wandering about in the streets of Jerusalem, Provence and sundry photogenic landscapes throughout the Middle East and Europe.

Author Brown says he started out a skeptic, but ended up a believer that Mary Magdalene not only sat at the right hand of Jesus at the Last Supper — as portrayed in Leonardo Da Vinci’s 15th century masterpiece — but also was Jesus’ wife. We also see Miss Vargas and Jack Wasserman, identified as an art historian, inspecting the original fresco in the church of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan. “No,” says Mr. Wasserman, “that’s not a woman, that’s John.”

Miss Vargas pouts in disbelief, “Well, the hair is longer than that of the others and there’s no beard.” Yet Mr. Wasserman stands firm, patiently explaining that John, reportedly, was barely more than an adolescent at the time.

We leave Miss Vargas still pouting.

Overall, “Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci” wants to promote the heavily feminist view expounded by Mr. Brown in his book that Mary Magdalene was no prostitute. That opinion, however, as the Rev. Richard McBrien — a plump, kindly looking Catholic priest at Notre Dame University — explains was put forth by the Catholic Church in early centuries to discredit the role of women in those days. The Vatican, the priest adds, rectified that misunderstanding in 1969.

Meanwhile, the program also offers various scholars mulling whether Jesus was married. It’s pointed out that Saint Peter was anti-woman — and also that Mary, according to one authority, was the victim of a power struggle in the early Church.

Another authority picks up the notion that the pope, known as Gregory the Great in 591 A.D., wanted to destroy female authority in the Church by declaring Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.

What a difference it would have made, says yet another authority, if Jesus had had a wife and children. Father McBrien opines that Jesus of Nazareth broke down barriers of cultural bias; that he was centuries ahead of his time. Mary Magdalene, he says, was as much a disciple as any of the other male disciples. And he asserts emphatically that she was the greatest saint in the history of the Church.

Miss Vargas, after touching on the Holy Grail, the secret society of the Priory of Zion, and the Templars leads viewers onto the Hammadi texts known as the Gnostic Gospels, discovered in Egypt in 1945. “Who knows what other secret documents may come to light,” she breathily inquires. These scrolls, she states, were hidden away in the desert by a monk in the fourth century, preserving Gospels that the Church of the day did not want to accept and considered heretical.

Toward the end of this “news” documentary, a priest notes the reason, or one of the reasons, for the Church supporting the idea of a celibate Jesus for the ages, was the feeling the Church fathers had that sex was not so nice — and was, indeed, bad and wrong.

Another observation:The concept of the Resurrection and Eternal Life don’t come in for even a mention. An interesting, if heretical thought if there ever was one.

What we now are faced with, as it were, is the concept that the story of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is in fact a beautiful love story. Says Karen King of the Harvard Divinity School as the program’s final images roll: “Today we have a need to take responsibility for the kind of religion we create.”

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