Although met poorly by critics and some audiences, The Da Vinci Code is now one of the biggest movies to hit the theatres in recent history, second only in opening sales to Star Wars III. The book has sparked a new set of controversies with its groundbreaking premise and shocking release of new historical data and theories...
NEW? SHOCKING? GROUNDBREAKING? WHAT?!? This is old news. Whether we know it or not, most of us are already familiar with this "alternate history," and you don't have to go to seminary school to understand.
Based on all of the research that I'VE DONE, I see it all break down like this:
A guy named Yeshua, rumored to have been born in a barn, had a loving stepdad named Yusef and a sweet mom named Miriam (that's Mary to us) who couldn't give a straight answer as to who the real father was. As it has always seemed to be throughout the history of the planet, the word "God" became virtually synonymous with the phrase "I don't know." Also, when the written accounts of this birth were translated and retranslated, the Greek for "young girl" began to be reinterpreted as "virgin," giving rise to the myth of the immaculate or divine conception and virgin birth. There were genealogies of uncertain origin that traced this baby's genetic heritage to the Judaic royal house of David. The boy was raised protectively, since the threat of a rightful king could incur the wrath of Judaea's Roman Emperor or his arabic puppet-king, Herod, who would be most threatened by an infant possessing a rightful claim to the throne. Although Yeshua's family is generally portrayed as poor, it is more likely that they had extensive ties to aristocracy through his mother's cousin (Joseph of Arimathea) and others. The word in Greek often translated as "carpenter" actually means "master" of a craft and has been used to imply a teacher or mentor. Yeshua obtained a first-rate education of scripture and politics and could quote perfectly from memory. He appears to have studied with a progressive group of Jews called the Essenes, who were heavily influenced by Hindus and Buddhists from farther east. He was aware of his heritage and most likely resented his country's separation from its rightful sovereignty. He was most likely married to "Mary" Magdalene at the wedding at Cana that is described in the Gospels. It has been suggested that Magdalene was a royal descendent of the tribe of Benjamin, a fitting bride for a "lost king." In Jewish society in those times, it was absolutely necessary for a man to be married to be considered an adult... and it would have been unspeakable for the people described in the New Testament to call Yeshua "rabbi" if he were single.
He was also not from Nazareth. The town was not settled until at least the third century A.D, and "Jesus of Nazareth" is an English mistranslation of "Jesus the Nazarean (or Nazorite);" the Nazareans were the socio-politcal group, like a political party, that Yeshua and his followers were generally part of. The Old Testament figure of Samson was a Nazorite.
The word "messiah," which is "christos" in Greek, means "anointed king" and never implied divinity. Every king of the line of David had been a "messiah." After Judaea was colonized by Rome, the term assumed a "liberator" aspect. He was to be a political, military, and spiritual leader that would come do deliver the Jews from their oppression and restore an independent Judaea. Rather than attempt to pronounce "Yeshua," the Greeks and Romans called him Jesu or Jesus. He became known as "Jesus the Messiah" or "Jesus the Christ," mistakenly shortened into a distorted and fictional proper name, Jesus Christ. So don't worry... you've probably never actually "taken the Lord's name in vain." It wasn't until much later that Christians began to morph the messiah into some kind of God-Man.
The original early Christian movements consisted mostly of different groups of basically Judaic Gnostic adherents who shared all community wealth, resources, and spiritual responsibility. Women were often treated as equals in these groups, with all members of the community taking turns with spiritual leadership. Most practices of original Christians were those of all Jews, including the Sabbath, the dietary laws, and adherence to the Torah. The biggest difference between them was that the message was a more progressive one of personal development, tolerance, and peace.
All indicators point to Yeshua's early adulthood being spent rallying support for his political and religious movement. He sought the support of the masses through charity work, etc. As a messiah, he would need to garner economic, spiritual, and, of course, military backing. He made friends with aristocrats, a tax collector, agriculturists, and warriors. Some of these characters are hard to sort out and separate. Most of his early "disciples" had more than one name for secrecy's sake. "Peter" is a nickname for Simon which means "stone" or "rock." If this Simon were the same as Simon the Zealot mentioned in the Gospels, the nickname "Peter" probably denoted a battle-hardened personality. There is mention of a Zealot named Judas as well, and the Judas who supposedly betrayed Yeshua is also known as Iscariot. Judas "Iscariot" probably is derived from a nickname the Zealots were called-- Sicarius, which is derived from the type of dagger they often carried, the sica. The Zealots were a revolutionary group of guerilla resistance fighters struggling to politically and physically sabotage and fight off the yoke of Roman rule. It is no surprise that the upstart king would have had military men as part of his entourage and closest advisors. I'm told the newly discovered Gospel of Judas seems to shed some light on the actual relationship between Judas and Yeshua as among the closest in the discipleship. In the canonically accepted Gospels, the story of the Last Supper tells us the king identified Judas as the betrayer right before he went out to sell him out to the Romans for only thirty pieces of silver. Why was he not restrained, especially by a bully like Peter? Because he was doing as commanded, rather than betraying his master, and Judas may have set the stage for something more like an escape than an execution. There was also a Thomas and a Judas Thomas. From Hebrew, Thomas means "twin," and there are legends and paintings of a madonna with two identical babies. Could it be that Yeshua's brother, Judas, was also Judas Thomas, or "Judas the Twin?" Could there have been a twin who was also the "doubting Thomas?" The texts identifying Jesus's twin brother were widely used and taught throughout Egypt, Syria, Spain, and Ireland. At one time the idea of the Holy Twin was not blasphemous at all, but rather an integral part of the faith.
We do know that Yeshua had two older step- or half brothers and two younger brothers, as well as two sisters. They, along with other family members were deeply involved in his exploits. An ossuary (memorial box containing bones) of Ya'akov (known to us as Jesus's eldest brother James) was recently found in Jerusalem. Its inscription reads "Ya'akov, son of Yusef, brother of Yeshua." Researchers also claim that John the Baptist was more likely the son of Yeshua's mother's good friend, rather than an actual cousin. There are so many vague references to different characters that it is impossible to sort it all out, but likelihoods based on the time and situations can be quite suggestive.
All through the stories told in the canonical Gospels, Yeshua/Jesus never refers to himself as the son of God. He does however call himself "son of Man" and refers to God as his heavenly Father... which anyone could, especially when speaking through a gender specific language in which, like the Romance languages, one uses the male pronoun by default when there's no clear gender. The early Jews believed that God was the union of male and female duality in one deity. It is all too convenient that the first time he is called the "son of God" it comes from a Roman soldier present at the Crucifixion.
There are alternate stories about the cross that raise my eyebrow, as well. One is of a young man named Simon of Cyrene, who was one of the followers. This Simon is said to have been a dead ringer for Yeshua and may have been a substitute on the cross. This would have created a situation where the Romans could be appeased and the royal bloodline could survive. There is also the possibility that Yeshua himself was crucified, and survived. It normally took at least a day or two for a man to die from being crucified. All accounts of the matter say that he was only on the cross for several hours. If brought down in time, one could definitely survive the flagellation, nail wounds, and the spear wound. The Koran and other sources claim the Crucifixion was a hoax, but why? Perhaps it's because the Roman government needed the rightful king to be removed from public sight and believed dead. Although historical accounts claim Pilate was actually more brutal than he is portrayed in the Christian Bible, the Gospels characterize him as a man who doesn't want to kill the messiah. He offers him many chances to recant and even tries to allow the crowd to substitute Barrabas, a thief/murderer in his stead. Historically speaking, Barrabas is hard to pin down. Some accounts say he was another Zealot who was arrested for killing Roman authority figures, as were the other two men crucified with Yeshua that day. An early manuscript of the Book of Matthew gives his name as Jesus Barrabbas, which could be a corruption of "Jesus bar Rabbi," meaning "Jesus son of the Rabbi." This could be interpreted several ways, one of which being that Barrabas was Yeshua's own son (if Yeshua were at least 30 and Jewish boys are, through bar mitzvah, men at 13, this is entirely possible). A crowd of conscientious Jews would perhaps choose to sacrifice the king in order to save his son, and thus preserve the bloodline.
Since Romans were mostly the founders of the modern version of Christianity, rather than the Christ or his followers, the Gospels are written and rewritten in such a way that favors the Roman cause and places the blame for the Crucifixion on the Jews. As for the miracles-- who knows? You can make your own judgements. Just know that the Gospels found in the Bible were written at least 65 years after Yeshua's death and relied heavily on heresay and word of mouth.
Much of the responsibility for the perversion/adulteration of true Christianity falls squarely on the shoulders of Saul of Tarsus. The Sadducees were the priestly cast of the Jewish temple that presided over many civic and temple functions. Due to their need to operate within the confines of Roman occupation, they were flexible and sympathetic to Greco-Roman values and resigned themselves to accepting and accommodating Roman rule. They were considered by many to be traitors to the Jewish faith and the state of Judaea. As a Sadducee lapdog, Saul participated in the persecution of Nazareans in Jerusalem and was involved in the stoning death of Stephen, a pious Jew who is still considered to be the first Christian martyr. Shortly after, Saul of Tarsus leaves for Damascus with a company of armed men to find and destroy Nazareans there. While on the road to Damascus, Saul is struck by sunstroke, or a seizure, or the "light of heaven" which knocks him from his horse. A voice supposedly identifies itself as Jesus the Nazarean and asks Saul why he is persecuting him. The voice tells him to continue to Damascus and receive his instructions there. Saul goes blind, but his sight is restored by a Nazarean there. He interprets the voice as that of Jesus, who he never met, changes his name to Paul and becomes a Nazarean, after much suspicion and a lot of drama with Yeshua's oldest brother. He eventually goes on a 14-year missionary quest throughout most of the Mediterranean world. He begins preaching a Romanized message that is very different from that of the Nazareans, and is ordered back to Jerusalem to explain himself. To cause such friction with the Nazarean followers of Yeshua, Paul must have been communicating a message that was rather offensive to Yeshua's followers and their form of Judaism. After much argument and a hasty peace with "James," Paul gets himself arrested and is ultimately sent to Rome. Through all of this, Paul betrayed his mission to convert people to Jesus's form of Judaism, and he, more or less, created the worship of Jesus as the "God-Man." He blended in his own pagan Roman traditions and abandoned the Jewish dietary laws, Saturday Sabbath, and circumcisions. He created his own cult of Jesus and laid the foundation for the lie that was to become the backbone of the brand of Christianity that the world is dominated by today. He is commonly referred to as the "First Heretic", but more commonly called "St. Paul the Apostle."
Simon Peter, commonly known as the "First Bishop", had been constantly at Yeshua's side... almost as if he were his chief of security. He is not portrayed as brilliant, but rather fiercely loyal; and after the Crucifixion he remains faithful to the Nazareans for some time, adhering to the devout Judaism of Yeshua and his followers. But after the Apocalypse and liberation of Judaea did not come as he expected, Paul managed to sway Peter to preach his trans-Judaic message and help establish Jesus as the new God and way to salvation. In his desperation to continue to serve his old master, Peter sold out to a new one and eventually went to his martyrdom in style. It is this event that put the cap on Paul's triumph and establishes Peter's reputation as the "rock that the church is built on."
Legend has it that the Holy Grail accompanied Joseph of Arimathea, after the Crucifixion, out of the Middle East and on to Ireland. Much more compelling evidence suggests that Yeshua's wife and daughter, Sarah, landed in southern France. A cup or chalice has long been used to represent the feminine, while the male is represented by "the blade." Called "the cup that carried Christ's blood," Magdalene, pregnant at the time, escaped by sea and is believed to have visited Egypt, Ethiopia, and a few other places before finally settling in hiding in a Jewish community in a French area called the Languedoc. There are still yearly festivals that commemorate her arrival and a lot of art and artifacts that support this. Local historians believe that they preserved the line of David, living in secrecy until marrying into an ancient French royal family, the Merovingians. The Merovingians were later targeted for destruction by what had become the Roman Catholic Church. Symbology is important, since metaphor and allegory have been used to describe the trials of the bloodline for centuries. Some of the symbolism in the Arthurian legends, fairy and folk tales, and even modern Disney cartoons are believed to actually chronicle aspects of the legacy of Yeshua.
The Roman Emperor Constantine is given undue credit for his role in the development of Christianity. Followers of Pauline Christianity were multiplying like crazy, and Constantine began to see the futility of putting down such a movement. In fact, he embraced the Christian faith in order to increase his support in the opposition of Maxentius, his greatest rival for the throne. In 312 A.D, Maxentius was defeated, and Constantine remained unchallenged. He remained faithful to his own sun-worshipping religion, the Cult of Sol Invictus, until he was baptized on his deathbed in 337 A.D. He is responsible for changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, the celebration of Christmas at the time of the celebration of the Rebirth of the Sun (Dec. 25), and established the dating of Easter. He convened the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D, where the divinity and status of Jesus as God, rather than a mortal prophet, was decided by a fairly close VOTE. The Council created the rules that established the authority and hierarchy of bishops and priests and decide which of the hundreds and hundreds of gospels and letters would be established as the approved New Testament. In 331 A.D. he commissioned and financed new copies of the Bible, and he ordered and sanctioned the confiscation and destruction of all texts and teachings that were contrary to the Bible that he had established in the interests of state control.
The early Roman Catholic Church, from whom nearly all Christian tradition of today comes, edited and omitted from the Gospels available to make the religion palatable to Roman government and convertible citizens. Once adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire, it gained influence and access to a massive audience and began focusing its efforts to manage the masses. Other early Christian sects were rooted out and labeled heretical in order to impose uniformity and control. Eventually these other groups were mostly persecuted and/or destroyed. It became illegal to disagree with the Catholic (which means "universal") Church. By 435 A.D, laws threatened any heretic in the Roman Empire with death. Pagan temples were pillaged and destroyed. Symbols of pagan worship were reinterpreted as demonic symbols of evil (Neptune's Trident became the Devil's Pitchfork, etc). Jews were isolated and harassed, and eventually the story of the Crucifixion was altered to shift the blame for Jesus's execution away from the Romans. Mary Magdalene, originally one of the most influential and vital disciples, was labeled a whore and reviled by the Church to undermine the possibility of feminine divinity and authority in a male-dominated Europe. Hygiene, science, and medical knowledge were considered to be sinful and against the divine. Christians burned down the world's greatest libraries in Alexandria and elsewhere, destroying centuries of irreplaceable knowledge in favor of monastic libraries which held little other than books of Christian theology. Architecture, statues, and art of all kinds were destroyed. The Church sought to become the only source of education available. Later, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the witchhunts would serve as vehicles for the destruction of heresies. Even today, there is so much money, power, and "faith" at stake that this information could cripple the Church. Also, as Dan Brown said in his novel, there are too many people in the Church and out in the world who so earnestly believe in the Catholic version of the story to know or accept that they've been mislead. A lot of basically good people could be shaken to the soul by such revelations.
The Church has not been totally successful in its mission to rid the world of "the truth." The Eastern Orthodox traditions still hold a great place of respect for Magdalene, and depictions of her as the "black Madonna" can be found all over the world. Many churches and ancient artworks contain depictions of the Christ Twins. Obviously, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gnostic Gospels, and the Gospel of Judas have survived (with much care and luck!). The mother of Yeshua is still revered and praised as a saint, even in the Protestant and Catholic churches, as her supposed virgin motherhood is difficult to tarnish without denying the Godhood of Christ. Clues to the truth still exist in the architecture and folklore all over Europe, as well as in the recurring architypes used in literature and entertainment. A number of secret societies tracing their origins to the Knights Templar, still claim to know "the secret." The Priory of Sion claims to have access to the actual proof supposedly found by the Templars, themselves, and have existed in Mediterranean Europe for centuries. Enough actual historical documentation has been spared us to rival and debunk a lot of the canonically accepted Bible, and all of these wonderful books have been written by earnest researchers trying to connect the dots and find the truth about the most influential man to walk the earth, as well as his legacy. Dan Brown's research isn't always completely solid, but, for the most part, the factual content in his fiction fantasy is soundly rooted in history, tradition, and new discovery.
Christian churches have condemned "The Da Vinci Code" as an attack on their faith. An aide of Pope Benedict XVI has called it a "perversely anti-Christian novel." Contrary to claims made by church organizations, I found in his novel no spurious accusations that the Church or its offshoot Opus Dei are actually violent or engaged in any recent wrong doing. It's not necessarily an insult to albinos everywhere, either, to feature one as an evil character that is unforgettable. There was an albino killer in the movie Foul Play, which starred Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn. He used the Church's position from the past to create a couple of desparate characters out to suppress the truth. I might go so far as to characterize inner circles of these organizations as such, but all Dan Brown has done is create a fictional world of treasure hunting, espionage, and fanaticism.
A Catholic group in India admonished Christians to starve themselves to death in protest of the release of "The Da Vinci Code" at cinemas as others burned copies of the novel. The Catholic Secular Forum expressed hopes that thousands of people could attend a protest in Mumbai to burn effigies of Dan Brown. "It's to show the extent that our feelings have been hurt," said the group's general secretary, Joseph Dias, asking others to "fast unto death" if the government fails to ban the film. He denies the hunger strike is irresponsible. "It's a more Christian way of doing things rather than pulling down things and tearing them up," he said. There have been similar protests and publicity stunts all over the world.
In the Philippines, where the majority of citizens are Roman Catholic, the Manila City Council banned The Da Vinci Code. It threatened to issue fines or jail time to cinemas caught screening it or those selling pirated versions for personal viewing, even though Filipino film censors had originally approved the movie, giving it an adult-only rating.
Tom Hanks, star of the film, said, "If you are going to take any sort of movie at face value, particularly a huge-budget motion picture like this, you'd be making a very big mistake." I agree... of course that same attitude should be taken when viewing Jesus of Nazareth, The Passion of the Christ, The Last Temptation of Christ, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, Little Buddha, Samson and Delilah, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and any other movie. Skepticism is healthy.
I am reminded of a careless (and possibly true) remark John Lennon once made, resulting in Christian Fundamentalists all over the U.S. burning Beatles albums.
"What strikes me, as a rabbi, is the remarkable irony that the very theories about Jesus presented by Brown that make the book blasphemous to Christians are concepts that make Jesus far more comprehensible to Jews," writes Rabbi Benjamin Blech, author of The Da Vinci Code and the Jews. "So Jesus was married! Well, why shouldn't he have been? Reared as a Jew, celibacy would have almost certainly been an idea totally foreign to him. 'Be fruitful and multiply' was the biblical creed that all Jews considered sacred. Celibacy as a Christian ideal wouldn't become law until the Council of Elvira (300-306) decreed (Canon 33): It is decided that marriage be altogether prohibited to bishops, priests and deacons or to all clerics placed in the ministry, and that they keep away from their wives and not beget children; whoever does this, shall be deprived of the honor of clerical office." Blech also writes, "The book is making 40 million people question what Jews have long recognized about Christianity's founder: Jesus was not God; he was human."
As for Leonardo da Vinci, it's likely that he would approve. The possibly homosexual inventor, artist, scientist, poet, etc, is infamous for taking remarkably contrary positions to church doctrines and censorship. He was a rebel of his time. Whether or not he was actually the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, there can be found many likely symbolic references in his artwork that support the idea of a "Da Vinci Code." When I looked closely at the prints of the restored "Last Supper," I noticed the small swell of breasts and the feminine face of Magdalene where the apostle John was long thought to have been. His painting "Madonna of the Rocks" is just as Dan Brown describes it. If anyone in history espoused the idea of the "sacred feminine" or could have possessed such valuable secrets, why not him? And with regard to his mirror-writing-- consider that he was left-handed and it may have been easier for him to write backward than to attempt to write like righties. If I could do it, I would, too... I like my privacy!
This information and sets of theories have been available in easily digestible forms for a long time! Never mind 1500 years of art, folklore, and reasonably reliable history. Since the early eighties, you've been able to read about it in the same source that Dan Brown draws heavily on, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and the sequel, The Messianic Legacy, co-written by Michael Biagent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. I bought these books several years ago-- I had actually seen one on my mother's bookshelf in the eighties and was curious. I didn't know then that it was a nonfiction research piece, as the cover and title, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, had given me the impression that it was some sort of grail-gone-bad horror novel. But when I finally got my own copy, I was doing a lot of my own research and going through a lot of material. I bought a lot of books, and here's the list of titles I currently own that are relevant to this topic:
Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Biagent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln
The Messianic Legacy by Michael Biagent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln
The Nag Hammadi Library (1600 year old manuscripts found hidden in a cave in Egypt in 1945)
Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics by Jean Doresse
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels
Secret Societies by Arkon Daraul
Rule By Secrecy by Jim Marrs
Dark Majesty by Texe Marrs
Those Incredible Christians by Dr. Hugh J. Schonfield
The Dark Side of Christian History by Helen Ellerbe
And let's not forget The Bible and The Koran.
Those are the ones I have. I couldn't actually list all of the library material and websites I've perused on the subject. I also have a number of Hindu and Buddhist texts, Dianetics, Scientology, The Book of Mormon, several handbooks of Greek and Roman mythology, The Life of Christ, AntiChrist, Prince of Darkness, Chariots of the Gods, Not of This World; and many more books on faith, religious history, magick, psychic phenomena, and extra-terrestrial intelligence.
I haven't read them, but Dan Brown suggests The Templar Revelation, The Woman With The Alabaster Jar, and The Goddess In The Gospels.
For someone who has no actual religious faith, I seem to spend a lot of time talking about religion. I started doing all of this reading after a deep foray into The Bible after my first marriage. I was married in the Catholic Church to a Catholic girl, and I realized that many of the Catholics I was meeting didn't really buy a lot of the doctrine they subscribed to. I was fascinated by the strange ritual ceremonies-- and dogma that was often at odds with itself. As I delved into the New Testament, I found even more conflict. I met my Jehovah's Witness neighbors and began having conversations with people of any faiths I could encounter. What I learned is that almost no one actually agrees with any other living person on the nature of God, the religious impulse, the importance of scripture, or the "divinity" of Jesus. I also discovered that Atheism is an actual faith which requires a tenacious belief in the absence of the supernatural. Furthermore, science is a faith, as well. What most people accept as scientific fact is actually just theory that has, over time, fit patterns that appear to be measurable by human perception. Unfortunately, when you break both science and religion down to their most basic components, you get unprovable attempts to explain the unexplainable. We humans are limited by the power of our perception and sensory experience, which amounts to less than one millionth of plausible reality, just based on what we think we know about the radioactive spectrum, the elements, and the rest of the universe. Whether or not the Church has told us the truth about the history of Christ, or the world, they have been honest with us about one thing: we are incapable of actually understanding the universe/God/nature-- whatever you decide to call it.
I have been attempting to understand the religious impulse in humans for 20 years now, and I suppose I have satisfied my own with the academic approach to agnosticism. I don't know and won't ever claim to know what's out there, but I can try to sort out the evidence here on earth. I will not believe or disbelieve anything blindly or completely, and I consider that a strength of openness that separates me from the religiously faithful, the atheistically faithful, and the scientifically faithful. Call me a heretic. Call me a blasphemer. I am those, definitely, but it is in earnest pursuit of an unattainable truth, I suppose.
Read and learn all you can, and figure it out for yourself. I'm supremely thankful to my parents for not trying to force a doctrine on me that I would later discover an enmity for. The Christian Gnostics seemed to have it right with the notion that one can find more of the divine within oneself and others than in any church, doctrine, or book.
The commentary in this article is in part speculation and opinion based on my understanding of my own research, and should not be construed as concrete fact. I have drawn largely on the sources indicated earlier, and I have paraphrased and reprinted parts of my previous article entitled "Selective Scriptural Support."
You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free copy of the United States Constitution. You can also tell me there what kind of American you think I am.
Copyright 2006, Jonathan DownardSend us your comments on this article