2016-06-30
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Reprinted from Cracking Da Vinci's Code with permission of Victor Books.

Dan Brown wants us to believe that the church has, throughout history, conducted a "smear campaign" to malign the character of Mary Magdalene. It is, according to Brown, part of the church's overall effort to remove the "goddess" from our worship. He shows this through a bizarre speculation into Da Vinci's Last Supper fresco, as well as wrong teachings about the church's portrayal of Mary Magdalene.

Robert Langdon and Leigh Teabing are teaching Sophie Neveu about the Holy Grail as they examine a reproduction of da Vinci's Last Supper in a book:

Sophie scanned the work eagerly. "Does this fresco tell us what the Grail really is?"

"Not what it is," Teabing whispered. "But rather who it is. The Holy Grail is not a thing. It is, in fact, a . person" (236).

Langdon and Teabing go on to explain to Sophie how Da Vinci, in his famous fresco, allegedly depicted Mary Magdalene as one of the disciples. From this, and other sources they quote, they deduce that Mary was Jesus' companion ("the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse," says Teabing) and the two had a child together. Thus, from this hypothesis it is presented that Mary herself is the Holy Grail, the recipient of the seed of Jesus. From this scenario, Brown weaves his code-the return of goddess worship into our culture.

Earlier, Professor Langdon tellingly contemplates: "A career hazard of symbologists was a tendency to extract hidden meaning from situations that had none." Unintentionally, this statement aptly describes the fantasies of The Da Vinci Code with regard to Mary Magdalene. Teabing explains to Sophie Neveu, "The Church needed to defame Mary Magdalen in order to cover up her dangerous secret-her role as the Holy Grail." Thus, the thinking follows, the church engineered a smear campaign to portray her as a prostitute. Langdon was right that "everyone loves a conspiracy." Brown, using discredited sources, tells a conspiracy tale like no other. Not only was Mary Magdalene Jesus' companion, but their relationship produced a child. And that bloodline lives today. Brown draws much of this conjecture from Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The authors of this 1982 non-fiction book go even further in their depiction of Mary as the Grail.

According to Brown's Leigh Teabing, "the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record."

There is no credible historical record that Jesus was married. None. We will not even enter the debate as to whether Jesus was married or not. This is simply, from a biblical and historical perspective, a non-issue, despite even the patently false supposition that Jews in Jesus' time were somehow forbidden to remain unmarried.

Was Mary Magdalene a Prostitute?

There is no evidence that the early church tried to tarnish Mary Magdalene's reputation by making her out to be a prostitute. Any reference to her as a prostitute does not come from the Bible. Here is what we do know of Mary from the biblical record:

  • Seven demons were cast out of her by Jesus (Luke 8:2);
  • She witnessed the horror of the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:32-56);
  • She was present at the burial of Jesus (Matthew 27:57-61);
  • She, along with the two other women, went to anoint the body of Jesus (Mark 16:1);
  • She was the first person to see Jesus in His resurrected body (John 20:10-18).
  • Some have surmised that since her name and story appear immediately following the account of a prostitute, the two are one and the same woman (see Luke 7:36 through 8:2). But there is not biblical support for this conclusion. (Most historians agree that the reference to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute was started in the sixth century by Pope Gregory I.) Still others have conjectured that she is the anonymous woman caught in adultery. There is not evidence to support that assumption, either. Some have guessed that she might have been a prostitute simply because she came from Magdala, which was often associated with prostitution. Once again, the Bible says no such thing. Any association of Mary of Magdala with either of the above-mentioned anonymous women would have been merely a result of conjecture-or very careless scholarship-probably dating to the Middle Ages, as opposed to a smear campaign.

    We do know that Mary Magdalene was a follower of Christ. We also know that Jesus ministered to her, as He did to hundreds-perhaps thousands-of men and women. And-most important-we know that she was the first person ever to report that Jesus was risen from the dead. Instead of questioning her reputation, the Bible assigns to her one of the highest honors of all time: announcing the single most important event in history, the resurrection.

    For that matter, the Bible does record that many so-called people of disrepute did believe and follow after Jesus. Indeed, the apostle Matthew himself was called from the ranks of "sinners," being a traitorous tax collector, arguably lower in Jewish social standing than a prostitute (Matthew 9:9-12). So even if Mary Magdalene could have been proven a prostitute, how could there have been any "smearing" on the part of biblical Christians? To the frustration of the "righteous" religious leaders of the time, Jesus' way was to associate with and bring into his fold those who were considered outcasts and socially unacceptable.

    On the surface, The Da Vinci Code is about the search for the hiding place of the Holy Grail. At its core, there is a much greater message-a code we are attempting to crack. But let us look now to this quest for the Holy Grail. Is the church really suppressing knowledge of such an item through means that include extortion and murder?

    Most of us, if we were familiar with the Holy Grail at all before The Da Vinci Code, probably associated it with the Monty Python or Indiana Jones movies in which the heroes were on a Grail quest. Some will associate it with Arthurian legends. But there are few who know its origins.

    The Grail lore came about in the latter part of the 12th and early part of the 13th centuries. It varied from a simple dish a hermit saw in a vision to fantastic tales of miracles done by a cup or dish. One story holds that Joseph of Arimathea took the Grail with him when he was imprisoned. Food miraculously appeared each day in the Grail for the next 42 years. Other stories promote similar magical qualities. The stories that tell of the quest for the Grail became intertwined with legends of King Arthur, but they all disappeared after the 13th century, later reappearing in the 19th century in a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson (Idylls of the King) and music by Richard Wagner. And, of course, the latest manifestations have been in several 20th-century films.

    The Roman Catholic Church did not originate the idea of the Grail, nor does it promote the Grail as a sacred relic. Yet [the book's main character, Robert] Langdon claims, "The Grail is literally the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church."

    In Brown's code, the church is actively suppressing the identity of the Grail. This could not be further from the truth. The hard reality is, the Grail remains-as it has always been-an inconsequential legend to Christians of the real church: at best a novelty, but to most an aberration.

    Is there a real Holy Grail? No, there is no physical Grail. There is not a magic dish like the one mentioned in the medieval stories, nor is there the simple wooden cup Indiana Jones chooses in The Last Crusade. And we can say for certain that the Holy Grail is not, as Brown would have you believe, Mary Magdalene or her offspring.

    But there is a spiritual sense in which the Holy Grail might be said to be real.

    The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail unknowingly hit on a truth in the legend of the Grail. They write that the Grail is "the receptacle or vessel that received and contained Jesus' blood." They are absolutely correct, but they are looking for this vessel in all the wrong places. In fact, this Grail can be seen clearly in Leonardo da Vinci's fresco, The Last Supper. Listen to Jesus' words during that meal:

    While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28).

    The Holy Grail is the receptacle of Jesus' blood, shed on the cross by a sinless man to provide forgiveness for sinful men and women. But this Holy Grail is not a limited biological or ethnic reality (the physical seed of Jesus, as Brown contends); rather, it's a multi-ethnic, global, spiritual fellowship made up of all kinds of forgiven sinners. In other words, those who receive forgiveness through the blood of Jesus are the Holy Grail. The real church, made up of forgiven sinners from every gender, race, nation, and socioeconomic group, is the spiritual Holy Grail.

    What kind of church does Brown advocate? He tipped his hand in the book he wrote just prior to The Da Vinci Code. Brown introduced Robert Langdon in Angels and Demons, another exciting, fast-paced novel with a religious theme underneath the action. In this book, Langdon is working side by side with Vittoria Vetra to prevent a disaster in the Vatican. During one of their conversations, the topic turns to faith. Brown undermines the biblical picture of the church and substitutes his own vision in its place. Contrast Jesus' church (one in which sinners are saved through the blood sacrifice of God-become-man) with Brown's vision of the ideal church: one in which everyone is doing what feels good at the time; one in which there is acceptance of all beliefs without distinction. It is another part of his code.

    So, in place of the church Jesus formed, made from those who confess His name and claim Him as their Savior and Lord, The Da Vinci Code proposes an up-to-date model made from all kinds of faiths where neither the real Jesus nor true salvation can be found.

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