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Dan Brown’s Jewish Connection: Some Clues About the New Book

posted by David Klinghoffer

If you think of yourself as anything like a thoughtful person — I can’t use the word “intellectual” without cringing — it’s not generally held to be in good taste to say you’re keenly awaiting the debut of Dan Brown’s latest, The Lost Symbol, on Tuesday. Yet I admit I put in my Amazon order for the book already, to be delivered on the publication date, September 15. I can’t wait.

Part of my anticipation comes from curiosity about the original working title of the novel, The Solomon Key. In the classical medieval Jewish rabbinic sources and earlier, there’s a certain theme of interest in magic, astrology, “nigromancy,” and the like. The latter terms refers to black magic. Certainly there’s no permission to engage in such things, yet neither do the rabbis universally hold them in contempt as sheer foolishness and nonsense. In fact, Nachmanides, the 13th-century Spanish sage, actually cites from a book of black magic, The Book of the Moon, a work that has another name as well, The Key of Solomon. Its authorship is attributed to King Solomon.
Everyone assumes that The Lost Symbol will have Freemasonry and the architecture of Washington, D.C., as its main themes. But some sort of Jewish element would seem to be involved too, unless the working title was a red herring, or unless perhaps the The Solomon Key has nothing to do with The Key of Solomon. The latter seems unlikely. The former, possible.
As for Nachmanides, also known by his acronym Ramban, he comments on the following verses in Deuteronomy (18:9-12): 

When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Ramban is interested in rebutting the claim of Ibn Ezra, Maimonides and other “rationalists” that such magical practices are just hogwash and nonsense. Ibn Ezra held that if they weren’t false, God wouldn’t have forbidden them to us. So Ramban, no less eminent an authority, explains how and why, in fact, sorcery can and does produce non-imaginary results. As other Jewish authorities taught, there is a correspondence between the upper and lower worlds that God created such that His influence is channeled through heavenly bodies down to mortal creatures on earth. 
Human beings who pursue a mature relationship with God are under the guidance of His providence. Other creatures seem to live and die under a more natural order, their destinies in some way guided by the stars. Ramban explains that this natural order can be manipulated — not that it should, but in theory it can. He then quotes and summarizes a long passage by “the author of The Book of the Moon [Sefer HaLevanah], the sage of nigromancy.” The passage has to do with the moon and the astrological sign Aries, with drawing certain magical shapes, inscribing names of hours and angels, burning incense, all with a view to affecting a change in an angel’s disposition, as expressed through the relevant star or stars, to cause harm or good.
I checked out from our local King County public library a translation of what purports to be the book in question, The Key of Solomon. I can’t vouch for it. Gershom Scholem denied that the surviving text is the same as the one known to Nachmanides. Still, both books are highly astrological. The official government architecture of Washington, D.C., is also replete with both astrological and Masonic themes. The Masons, in turn, were obsessed with Solomon’s Temple. Go figure.
Anyway, it’s food for thought for Dan Brown fans, as well as a reminder that Judaism isn’t the pristine “rational” faith that you might have thought, which is one reason I love it.


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Robbie

posted September 12, 2009 at 2:38 pm


David puts “rational” in quotes. Judaism actually isn’t irrational. What he’s doing is criticizing those who seek compromise between Judaism and Darwinism/secular humanism. Many born-Jews believe that Judaism can become more “rational” by compromising with Darwinism/secular humanism. David is pointing out in this post and others that there can be no compromise between Darwinism and Judaism.
Actually, it’s “necromancy,” and it means communication with the dead. And “black magic” is commonly used to refer to rituals and practices associated with the occult.
Calling someone a “liar” is hardly racist. Perhaps it’s rude, but it’s not racist. The president should’ve ignored it and stayed focused on his speech.
And “right-wing” in the United States generally means you want less government involvement in citizens’ lives. The religious right’s reasoning is far from racist. It says that God gives each individual the freedom to obey or disobey Him. That freedom requires certain rights. Therefore, we all (regardless of color) are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. And the government only exists to protect these God-given, not man-made, rights.
You might think it’s cute to call people foolish and racist, but why not address real arguments?



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Your Name

posted September 12, 2009 at 9:14 pm


My understanding is that Judaism teaches that human reason is very limited, and cannot arrive at the totality of truth by itself. There’s more to the universe than can be understood by reason alone.



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Yirmi

posted September 12, 2009 at 10:06 pm


Interesting post — tell us what you think of the book!
The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, was known as a miracle worker, accomplishing his feats through such things as special rituals he had intuitively devised, little sheets of paper with mystical names of God that he had his scribe write for people, and of course just plain prayer. Not even the most rationalist Chassidim, such as Chabad, would dare to criticize this aspect of the Baal Shem Tov, even if it’s not something they would probably ever bring up themselves.
I was surprised to see the argument, in the really delightful book (by a Conservative rabbi) Does the Soul Survive?, that Judaism does actually tolerate some forms of necromacy, speaking to the dead. Apparently the Ashkenazic commentary on the Shulchan Aruch says (I think) in Yoreh Deah that one can communicate with the dead by asking a dying person to come to you and tell you what they will. Such practices supposedly occurred at various times in places in Jewish history, such as among medieval German rabbis. I doubt this means that it’s permissible to associate with modern-day mediums and such, although who knows, some may privately say it’s OK (as the author claims in his book).
In the book about Baba Sali by Rabbi Alfasi, Baba Sali asks a famous kabbalist to tell him whose soul he has, and the kabbalist answered him that he was reincarnated from (I think) Chizkiyahu. The book (which I highly recommend) is full of first-hand accounts of Baba Sali’s miracles, psychic abilities, etc. Few American Jews may have heard of Baba Sali, but he is much revered by many Israelis, not only Sephardic but also by many others.



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Mergatroid

posted September 13, 2009 at 2:45 am

SOLOMON BEN YEHUDA

posted September 18, 2009 at 10:03 pm


WE AS JEWS ARE FORBIDDEN TO DELVE INTO THE OCCULT BY HASHEM, OUR ROOTS ARE IN THE FAITH IN OUR HASHEM THE CREATOR OF ALL THINGS, THESE WRITERS OF BOOKS INCLUDE BITS AND PARTS OF TORAH INTO THERE BOOKS BUT THEY ARE TOTALLY IN ERROR, DAN BROWN IS NOT A JEW, HE DOES NOT KNOW TORAH AND CERTAINLY DOES NOT BELIEVE IN G-D. IT MATTERS NOT WHAT A RABBI WHO CONDONES THE OCCULT- WITCHCRAFT AND SORCERY SAYS, IT IS AGAINST G-DS LAWS



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