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May - June 2004

THE DAVINCI CODE
- A Book to Try Men's Souls

Since its publication last year, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown has become a runaway best-seller. The story is an unlikely concoction of murder, chases, mystery and "history", shaken not stirred, to appeal to the pseudo-intellectual, conspiracy-theory-loving and post-literate tastes of our generation. Orthodox Christians would do well to let this cup pass without drinking. Why? The book, which purports to be a thriller, just isn't very thrilling, and it is also quite poorly written. According to Peter Millar, in his review in The Times:

"This is without doubt, the silliest, most inaccurate, ill-informed, stereotype-driven, cloth-eared, cardboard-cutout-populated piece of pulp fiction that I have read. And that's saying something."

A reader disappointed by the book's literary quality, might nevertheless believe that she has learned something by reading it. After all, the book begins with a note claiming that "all descriptions of ... documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." Such a reader, however, would be sorely disappointed, if only she took the trouble to check Brown's claims and sources. In fact, his work is full of inaccuracies, hyperbole and distortions. Very little of his "history" can be taken seriously.

Two of the distortions of history are particularly offensive to Orthodox ears. First, while claiming constantly that the early church de-feminized religion, the book never once mentions Mary, the Mother of God (in the words of the Divine Liturgy, the "Theotokos, ever blessed, most pure, and mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim"). Of course, the Theotokos is unpopular with many feminists, but surely they should be equally offended by Brown's picture of the "goddess", whose only quality, apparently, is fertility.

The book also claims, several times, that the early Church tried to discredit Mary Magdelane by portraying her as a prostitute. In fact, this was an error propagated only in the West. In the East, Mary Magdelane was always (and is) remembered as the "Holy Myrrh-Bearer & Equal to the Apostles". The East never remembered her as a reformed prostitute.

Some Orthodox Christians might be tempted to read The Da Vinci Code to help expose the book as a fraud, particularly if friends and relatives are in its thrall. And it is disheartening to see just how seriously the book is taken by so many readers. What is worse, some Christians -- the kind who appear never to have met a trend in the popular culture they didn't like -- have embraced the book as an opportunity "to engage" with that culture. Rather than resting content with a denunciation or two and getting on with more important things, these Christians do the book the courtesy of taking it seriously, a courtesy it does not deserve.

The wiser course would be to heed the old saying "Never wrestle with a pig: you'll both get dirty, and only the pig will enjoy it". If you are truly concerned about the state of a friend's "post-Code" soul, you can refer him or her to the many sources on the Web that set the record straight. A Web search using the terms "da vinci code debunked" should do nicely.

(John Loukidelis, the author of this review, is a member of All Saints of North America Orthodox Mission)

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