The feminist mystique
Haaretz Daily (Jerusalem) // Aviad Kleinberg
7 november 2003
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Doubleday, 2003, 454 pages, $24.95.
Translated into Hebrew by Nurit Levinson, Modan Publishers, 446 pages, NIS 84.
The Da Vinci Code is a thriller that deals with cracking a code. The beginning is
promising: A person who is keeping an important secret - the director of the Louvre Museum - discovers that he has only moments left to live. The secret cannot be revealed to just
anyone, and the dying man has to create a code quickly that will be understood only by the person for whom it is
The rest of the book is less successful.
The novel moves rapidly from cliche to cliche, is full of logical and psychological improbabilities and culminates in a saccharine
denouement. The business with codes is quite disappointing. The initial message is supposed to be understood only by the murder victim's cryptologist
niece. Therefore it includes the following sophisticated elements: The dying man strips and lies down with his arms and legs stretched out inside a
circle, like Leonardo Da Vinci's famous
Vitruvian Man (the clue: Leonardo). He writes down numbers from the Fibonacci series (in which each number is the sum of the two preceding
numbers, a series that even a mathematical ignoramus like me would identify
immediately). These numbers will turn out to be the code to a safe in a Swiss bank. There are also two sentences in the message that need to be read with changes in the letters.
When the beautiful, daring niece and her partner, an equally handsome and daring American professor
(who is also an expert on religious symbols) solve this difficult riddle, they discover another riddle that is equally
difficult: another sentence that needs to be read with changes in the letters! Later on this becomes even more complicated and
mysterious. The two, for example, have to decipher something that is written - you aren't going to believe this - in mirror
writing! Brilliant. Or at least this is what the characters think. The remaining mysteries in the book are just as
It seems that the reason for the success of this book is neither the sophistication of the riddles in
it, nor the very modest quality of the writing. What thrills many of the readers is its pretension to a revealing and daring interpretation of authentic materials from Christian history and the Christian
The Da Vinci Code purports to reveal a Catholic conspiracy and show us its
The author does not, of course, claim that his book is not a novel, but he does say that the novel is based on genuine materials that at least give rise to
questions. According to Brown, in early Christianity there was a continuation of the cult of the Great
Mother, a cult of femininity that existed alongside the cult of masculinity. Femininity was symbolized by Mary
Magdalene, Jesus' spouse and the mother of his children. Jesus was a prophet and teacher
who, among other things, brought this message of Yin and Yang to his followers.
These facts were repressed and concealed by the church establishment, especially since the days of
Constantine. This pagan emperor became a Christian for political reasons, and at the Council of Nicea succeeded in transforming Jesus into a god and concealing Mary
Magdalene. Since then femininity has gone underground. Mary Magdalene's remains and the secret documents that tell the real story were found on the Temple Mount when Jerusalem was conquered in the First
In 1099 the Priory of Sion was established and the aim of this order was to keep the
secret. It set up an internal military branch called the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of
Solomon, or the Templars. The order flourished until 1307, when many of its members were arrested at the initiative of the French
king, Phillip the Fair, and Pope Clement V. In 1312 the order was disbanded by the
papacy, but the secret treasure was saved. It had been transferred well before then to the members of the Priory of Sion, who kept it underground and acted to plant secret hints in the culture about the concealed
truth. Among the heads of the order were Isaac Newton (a Protestant), Sandro Botticelli (a Catholic penitent), Victor Hugo (a republican
atheist), Leonardo Da Vinci and Jean Cocteau.
Da Vinci's paintings are sophisticated codes. The Mona Lisa, for
example, is no less than an androgynous self-portrait. More importantly, in the painting of the Last Supper in Milan, the secret is revealed almost
entirely. Even though the ceremony that is depicted is ostensibly the moment of the establishment of the rite of the mass and the consecration of the Grail
(which the Catholic tradition identifies as the sacred chalice), there is no special chalice on the
table. Next to Christ is a woman - his honorable lady wife Mary Magdalene - whose womb is the sacred goblet that carries within it the living blood of
Jesus. The two form the letter M, which indicates matrimonium (marriage) or Mary Magdalene's name. The descendants of our Yin and the Yang end up in France in the Merovingian royal dynasty and they live in wealth and happiness to this very
What is correct in this tale?
Hardly anything. Brown's main contentions are taken from a series of forgeries that were concocted in France in the 1930s and 1940s by a group of believers in esoteric doctrines, extreme
leftists, anti-Semites and supporters of Petain. This nonsense later garnered publicity and was circulated in a number of
books, the best-known of which is
Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which was published in the 1980s and was hugely
successful. All of these forgeries (about the Priory of Sion and the spurious list of its
heads) were exposed long ago, including the dossiers secrets, which Brown mentions as authentic documents from the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. The national library in Paris, like the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem and the Library of
Congress, does hold such documents. It is not responsible for their contents or
What are the facts?
In the ancient world of Christ's time there was no cult of a primary female
deity. There were various female deities that were popular to one extent or
another. Christianity, like Judaism, did choose a male deity, but in fact it did not try to repress the
female. In the four Gospels (which are the earliest evidence of the life of Christ and not something that was forced on Christianity by
Constantine) there is no central female figure. Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Martha play marginal though positive
roles. In later periods, Gnostic cults tried to give a central role to Mary Magdalene as the spiritual partner of Christ - the idea that Jesus would have sexual relations would shock any cult member more than it would shock a Catholic
The Great Mother cult
The church did indeed reject these ideas, but it never tried to repress
femininity. On the contrary. Instead of a penitent spouse, the woman chosen was the virgin
mother, "she who was born without sin," the great "intermediary," the "Queen of
Heaven," the "mother of God." Mary mother of God attracted such an intensive cult that sometimes she even overshadowed her divine
son. Most cathedrals (built by the bishops of cities and not by the Templars) are dedicated to her, as are hymns of
praise, prayers and visions.
Catholic theology went very far, and very daringly, in the direction of the cult of the Great
Mother, the mother of God. The church was not free of prejudices that were common in that
period. Women were sinners and foolish, but on the spiritual plane, the church behaved very respectfully toward
women. There were and there are many female saints and mystics who garnered and are still garnering respect and
worship. The church authorities have never said that Mary Magdalene was a whore
(this is a popular conception, in fact). She continues to be considered a key and important saint who politely gave center stage to a figure more important than
During Constantine's time, Christianity was not a religion on the rise, but a persecuted cult whose very existence was in
danger. At the Council of Nicea it was not decided that Jesus was divine - this is already hinted at in the New Testament and has been accepted by most Christians since the beginnings of
Christianity. It was decided at the Council to reject the Arian position, according to which the Father preceded the Son. The results of the vote were not
balanced, as Brown says, but were determined by a vast majority against the
There was never a secret order called the Priory of Sion. The Templar order was established in 1119 in
Jerusalem; it was a military order that had no esoteric or special spiritual
pretension, and with the conquest of the Holy Land by the Muslims it devoted itself to money
matters. What aroused the envy of the French was not any secret doctrine but rather the order's enormous
wealth. The confessions that were extorted from the Templars in the first show trial in history
(mainly a French rather than a papal production) were wicked: acts of sodomy, conversion to Islam, sorcery and
Satan-worship. There was nothing said about any mother cult, great or small.
There is no evidence that the order continued to exist in any way. This legend cropped up in the 19th
century, when the Freemasons were enchanted by the order's connection to Solomon's
Temple, a connection that the Freemasons also claimed.
The Mona Lisa is not a self- portrait. She is a real woman, the wife of Francesco da
Giocondo. The painting of the Last Supper (which incidentally is not a fresco, but rather a tempera painting on
stone) does not depict the moment of the blessing of the wine, but the moment when Jesus announces that one of his disciples will betray
him. This is the reason the painting does not stress the goblet. This is not unusual in paintings of the
period. The figure to Christ's right is his beloved disciple John. He is always depicted as a handsome youth with long
hair. He is not a woman, and it is difficult to believe that the Dominican friars for whom the picture was painted and the thousands of clerics who looked at it would have accepted such a scandalous departure from the norm.
The claim that the descendents of Jesus married into the Merovingian royal dynasty is based on a figure called Giselle de Razes who married King Dagobert II in the 7th
century. Giselle de Razes never existed, but was invented in the 20th century.
What more can be said?
That this is only a sample of the nonsense that appears in the book. All this does not stop
The Da Vinci Code from being a huge best-seller in the United States. Why? God
(or the Godess) knows.
Aviad Kleinberg is a professor of history at Tel Aviv University.
Copyright Haaretz Daily, 2003.