by Dan Brown
Originally posted May 2004
Thanks to Don, who was right when he told me I really should read this book! ;-)
There is detailed plot information in this review. Please do not read if you don’t like spoilers!
If the subject matter of The DaVinci Code interests you, you might also enjoy my Firestarter titled: Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene really married? or “Is the premise of ‘The DaVinci Code’ really true?” which will start posting on August 10th
Ancient Mental Coping Strategies
Years ago I was in a class about the literary and historical aspects of the Old Testament. As always happens when reviewing the Bible in any sort of thoughtfully analytic fashion, a point came where due to collecting oral histories over a span of at least centuries, the inherent contradictions within the texts became painfully obvious.
As is also common in such situations, some members of the class amusedly mocked the extremely rough “justice” and obviously biased favoritism shown by Yahweh, as dictated by these verses.
A few of the class members, however, had an interesting take on this issue. As one of them put it, “primitive-bashing” was too easy. Wouldn’t it be far more interesting to try and figure out the environmental and cultural causes of these contentious and excruciatingly awkward verses?
So we tried. I don’t know how successful we were, but I was pleased to be part of the effort. It’s always easy to be mockingly critical; it’s harder (and I believe far more rewarding) to try comprehending how another thinks, to understand puzzling aspects of their behavior.
Years later I was idly browsing the web and stumbled across a site debunking many of the Catholic saints. As most folks probably know by now, there’s a definite process to the creation of saints in the Catholic church, which starts with re-creating and re-writing the life story of the to-be-sainted individual — whether they are entirely fictional or not.
Also, through the medieval time period there was a surge in stories of saints who went through some of the most gruesome, horrific, unnatural tortures to prove their dedication to god. Needless to say, many also ended up as patrons of some of the oddest things.
There was a place on one of the web pages which allowed folks to write in, and as expected there was a contingent of folks making fun of the often peculiar and wildly dissimilar things which saints are patrons for.
However, there was a note from another person who said, in effect, they found it far more interesting to try to figure out why there was a need at that time for those saints — why the medieval people so desperately wished to have someone to pray to on such diverse (and often wildly taboo) issues such as abortion, caterpillars, asses, and sexual temptation.
In what painful context, for what harshly unforgiving environment, were these saints created and so desperately needed? Are the contrived, often preposterously convoluted stories of the saints just capital-producers for a greedy Catholic church?
Or, more likely, was there indeed some deep emotional need in people for such mythic creations? If so, what sorts of societal dissonances were alleviated by these fabrications?
Modern Mental Coping Strategies
I think we have a similar social/emotional situation today. There is still a deeply felt need in society for a particular, reassuring meme — of a spiritually gentle, forgiving mother figure, to turn to and pray to when the pressure of the constantly petulant, jealous, demanding, hierarchical father figure becomes too much to bear.
Or perhaps there’s simply a need for a female divine as well as a male one, and however it is personally interpreted, it remains a constant through time.
As that need grows (either through societal repression or just heartfelt desire), people rise to it, creating answers to those questions and desires. It is my belief, in fact, this need has existed as long as people have been capable of religious thought.
There are powerful divine females in many religions, of course — Freya, Syf, Athena, Aphrodite, Sophia, Lilith, Kwan Yin, Tara, Amaterasu, Uzume, Lakshmi, Draupadi, the dakinis… these all spring to mind off the top of my head.
Interestingly, the Holy Spirit is always described in exclusively feminine terms in the Hebrew Old Testament, as Sophia or Shekinah.
However, once Christianity comes along, the holy spirit gets firmly neutered through language in the various versions of the Greek New Testament. Later she is always referred to with male and neuter terms in English translations of the Bible. We don’t have any divine, or even very powerful, women in Christianity, or Islam, its derivative “Religion of the Book.” The closest we have is Jesus’ mother Mary, and maybe Mary Magdalene.