Dan Brown’s novels The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons are, at the same time, very popular and highly controversial. The author’s main concern in both of the novels is to point to the possibility of an alternative view of history and religion. His claims are very daring as they undermine the fundamental ideas of Christianity. Both novels have as their main character the Harvard professor of “religious symbology” Robert Langdon who engages in a quest for the historical truths that, according to Brown, have been withheld by the conspiracies of the Roman Catholic Church.
The main plots in both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons revolve around symbolic murders of religious representatives and their link to secret conspiracies, such as the Priory of Sion in The Code and The Illuminati in Angels and Demons. What matters is actually the belief in the existence of an alternative view of history and religion. Dan Brown has actually used theories that were already circulated like the theory about Jesus having been a married to Mary Magdalene and having had a child by her.
In Angels and Demons the conclusion of the intricate plot is also connected with the church’s banishment of marriage and sexuality, as at the end the Pope who is murdered in the book is found to have been married and having had a child. The pattern of the plot is also similar in the two novels with regards to the encoding of the secrets: in The Da Vinci Code the secret in contained in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, while in Angels and Demons it is connected with the Altars of Science in Rome.
Thus, both novels are concerned mainly with the importance of the quest for truth and knowledge which can be withheld by some institutions, like the church, for reasons of power and domination. The principal contention of both books is that the religious symbols have been taken as facts by the believers and used as weapons by the church. The Da Vinci Code is centered on a sort of modern quest for the Holy Grail. The discoveries are quite overwhelming, as Langdon eventually identifies the Holy Grail with Mary Magdalene herself.
Traditionally the Grail was supposed to contain the blood of Christ. The quest for this sacred object has always raised questions as to it being just a symbol or something material. Dan Brown subverts in his book the main principles of Christianity, by proposing an entirely different version of the main historical facts: “What's at stake in The Da Vinci Code is nothing less than traditional Christianity itself. The Holy Grail, we are told, is not a holy cup but rather holy blood, the lineage of Jesus of Nazareth: The founder of Christianity had a daughter, Sarah, by Mary Magdalene.
If true, this theory would overturn some of the central beliefs of Christians. ”(Klinghoffer, 48) It seems that Brown’s idea is based on the belief that the church has been conspiring from the start and modified the historical reality to suit its own interests of dominance over society. The church is thus, one of the “winners”, who, according to Brown, have written history: “History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe.
As Napoleon once said, 'What is history, but a fable agreed upon? '”(“Da Vinci Code”, 312) The author supports his theory with examples (some of them unfounded, as his critics state) from the appropriation of Pagan symbols by Christianity, like the cult for the sun that the Catholic Church seems to have used as a basis for the celebration of Sunday: “The vestiges of pagan religion in Christian symbology are undeniable. Egyptian sun disks became the halos of Catholic saints.
Pictograms of Isis nursing her miraculously conceived son Horus became the blueprint for our modern images of the Virgin Mary nursing Baby Jesus. And virtually all the elements of the Catholic ritual - the miter, the altar, the doxology, and communion, the act of "God-eating" - were taken directly from earlier pagan mystery religions. ” (Da Vinci Code, 299) The wealth of information provided by Brown’s books has been repeatedly attacked by some of the critics for its lack of accuracy.
While it is hard to identify all the strictly correct facts and the fictitious ones, the claim that Brown makes is what really matters. According to him, Christianity bases its claims of supremacy among the other religions as well as its historical truth, on false assumptions. He tries to demonstrate that many of the main symbols used in the Christian religious rites also existed in many other religions that predate Christianity: “Nothing in Christianity is original.
The pre-Christian God Mithras - called the Son of God and the Light of the World - was born on December 25, died was buried in a rock tomb, and then resurrected in three days. By the way, December 25 is also the birthday or Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus. The newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Even Christianity's weekly holy day was stolen from the pagans. ”(Da Vinci Code, 308) The main religious symbol that Brown discusses is, as already mentioned, that of the Holy Grail, which in his view represents in fact the sacred feminine: “Legend tells us the Holy Grail is a chalice - a cup.
But the Grail's description as a chalice is actually an allegory to protect the true nature of the Holy Grail…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. ”(Da Vinci Code, 244) Thus, the symbols of Christianity are reinterpreted by Brown and shown to mean very different things from what is generally supposed. He thus shows that the traditional idea that the chalice held Jesus’ blood might have referred to Mary Magdalene as the female who carried Jesus’ bloodline:
"When Grail legend speaks of 'the chalice that held the blood of Christ'…it speaks, in fact of Mary Magdalene - the female womb that carried Jesus' royal bloodline. "(“Da Vinci Code”, 249) The main statement that Brown makes here is, besides his claims to factual truth, the fact everything in religion is in fact made up of symbolism and metaphors that hide the initial historical truth: "When the Church outlawed speaking of the shunned Mary Magdalene, her story and importance had to be passed on through more discreet channels…channels that supported the metaphor and symbolism." (Da Vinci Code, 261)
Another great claim that Brown makes in his book besides the one related to fact that religious symbolism is used to cover reality, is the fact that Jesus was also used by the church to prohibit sexual relations between men, which served as a great instrument for it to consolidate its power over society.
The figure of Jesus was used, according to Brown, because of its power and influence as a leader: “Jesus Christ was a historical figure of staggering influence, perhaps the most enigmatic and inspirational leader the world has ever seen . . . Understandably, His life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land . . . More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them . . . The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great. ”(Da Vinci Code, 255) As Brown suggests, historically it makes more sense for Jesus to have been married simply because for a Jew marriage was something sacred, while celibacy was condemned:
“Jesus as a married man makes infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as a bachelor…Because Jesus was a Jew…the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son. If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible's gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood. ”(Da Vinci Code, 258)
The arguments that Brown brings are not very string though, in spite of the fact that his spectacular plot coheres. The reinterpretation of the Bible is at least a very courageous attempt, that cannot be taken for granted very easily. The author’s main discontent is though not with Christianity as a doctrine but with its interpretation by the church that always tried to control the truth, according to him: “Behold the greatest cover-up in human history. Not only was Jesus Christ married, but He was a father. My dear, Mary Magdalene was the Holy Vessel.
She was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ. She was the womb that bore the lineage, the vine from which the sacred fruit sprang forth! ”(Da Vinci Code, 412) After proposing his theory Brown signals that it can be effectively backed up by some facts, among which the most important would be the code behind Da Vinci’s paintings found at Louvre. As the writer indicates, Leonardo had known about the Grail, and its meaning is hidden in some of his pictures like that of the Last Supper in which, he is supposed to have represented Mary Magdalene among the apostles:
"Leonardo knew where the Grail resided during his lifetime. That hiding place had probably not changed to this day. For this reason, Grail enthusiasts still pored over Da Vinci's art and diaries in hopes of unearthing a hidden clue as to the Grail's current location. " (“Da Vinci Code”, 169) Also, the Priory of Sion, the main historical secret organization in the book, is supposed to have known the truth about the Grail and to have hidden the documents that prove it: "They call themselves the Prieure de Sion - the Priory of Sion.
They're based her in France and attract powerful members from all over Europe. In fact, they are one of the oldest surviving secret societies on earth…'The Priory's membership has included some of history's most cultured individuals: men like Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton Victor Hugo. ' He paused, his voice brimming now with academic zeal. 'And, Leonardo da Vinci. '" (Da Vinci Code, 113) The conspiracy plot is rounded by the assumed existence of these documents that are hunted by the church as they are able to decipher the mystery around the Holy Grail:
"During their years in Jerusalem, the Priory learned of a stash of hidden documents buried beneath the ruins of Herod's temple, which had been built atop the earlier ruins of Solomon's Temple. These documents, they believed, corroborated Godefroi's powerful secret and were so explosive in nature that the Church would stop a nothing to get them. " (Da Vinci Code, 158) Also, in a somewhat improbable way, the female character that assists Langdon in his quest is found to be a direct descendant from the line of Jesus and Magdalene:
"And so Langdon had remained, standing beside Sophie and listening in mute astonishment while Marie told the story of Sophie's late parents. Incredibly, both had been from Merovingian families - direct descendants of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ. "(Da Vinci Code, 442) Thus, the main claim of The Da Vinci Code is that, as the Bible is a human creation, just like everything else, it is not impossible for it to have been compiled in such as way by man that it has changed the historical truth to a great extent, leaving only symbols and metaphors behind: “The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven…The Bible is the product of man, my dear.
Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book. ”(Da Vinci Code, 431) The ending of the book that reveres Mary Magdalene as being the Holy Grail is very significant. It has of course, been considered as blasphemous by many of the readers as well as the critics, but the bottom line idea behind Brown’s statement is that men have been too much constrained by the church in what regards their humaneness which should not be considered a sin:
"The quest for the Holy Grail is the quest to kneel before the bones of Mary Magdalene. A journey to pray at the feet of the outcast one. With a sudden upwelling of reverence, Robert Langdon fell to his knees. For a moment, he thought he heard a woman's voice…the wisdom of the ages…whispering up from the chasms of the earth. (Da Vinci Code, 454) Angels and Demons, is in many respects very similar to The Da Vinci Code, starting from the pattern of the plot to the ideas. A main difference is though the fact that this novel is also concerned to a great extent with the age old war between religion and science.
The plot also mixes the religious with the scientific, as the Illuminati try to destroy Vatican with the aid of an antimatter canister, that they connect to a wireless camera and leave to explode. Langdon, the same Harvard professor is thus engaged this time in a mission that will save the Vatican cardinals and Pope from the imminent terrorist threat. The conclusion of the plot is significant and very similar to the conclusion of The Da Vinci Code: the pope, who had been murdered by the Illuminati is discovered to have been married and to have had a child, namely the Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca, who kills himself when he discovers the truth.
Thus, in Angels and Demons, as the title indicates there is again a battle between evil and good, but most importantly one between science and religion. Science has been, according to Brown, another division of the human knowledge that Christianity has tried to control to gain absolute power. The author’s idea is the religion is like dress, that is a set of symbols used to hide the true reality: “Religion is like language or dress. We gravitate toward the practices with which we were raised. In the end, though we are all proclaiming the same thing. That life has meaning. That we are grateful for that created us.”(Angels and Demons, 122)
As the female character, Vittoria indicates, faith is universal and only understanding is arbitrary: “Faith is universal. Our specific methods for understanding it are arbitrary. Some of us pray to Jesus, some us go to Mecca, some of us study subatomic particles. In the end we are all just searching for truth, that which is greater than ourselves. ”(Angels and Demons, 189) In the book, one of the main characters is Kohler, the mad scientist that is also Janus, the leader of the Illuminati and that argues for the progress of science which has been stopped by religion many times:
“Faith does not protect you. Medicine and airbags… those are things that protect you. God does not protect you. Intelligence protects you. Enlightenment. Put your faith in something with tangible results. How long has it been since someone walked on water? Modern miracles belong to science… computers, vaccines, space stations… even the divine miracle of creation. Matter from nothing… in a lab. Who needs God? No! Science is God. ”(Angels and Demons, 199) As opposed to his opinion the religious representatives argue that science has never actually kept its promises, but has actually led to massive destruction over the ages:
“Science, you say, will save us. Science, I say, has destroyed us. Since the days of Galileo, the church has tried to slow the relentless march of science, sometimes with misguided means, but always with benevolent intention. […] The promises of science have not been kept. Promises of efficiency and simplicity have bred nothing but pollution and chaos. Who is this God science? Who is the God who offers his people power but no moral framework to tell you how to use that power? What kind of God gives a child fire but does not warn the child of its dangers? The language of science comes with no signposts about good and bad.
Science textbooks tell us how to create a nuclear reaction, and yet they contain no chapter asking us if it is a good or a bad idea. “(Angels and Demons, 223) Thus, in Angels and Demons Brown investigates trough another complicated plot the problem of the dominance of religion over science and knowledge in general. As with the quest for historical truth in The Da Vinci Code, this book tackles the dominance of the church over human knowledge. As such, Brown shows that “all questions were once spiritual”, that is, the human mind might have used religion and its symbols to cover the initial gaps of knowledge merely:
"Mr. Langdon all questions were once spiritual. Since the beginning of time, spirituality and religion have been called on to fill in the gaps that science did not understand. The rising and setting of the sun was once attributed to Helios and a flaming chariot. Earthquakes and tidal waves were the wrath of Poseidon. Science has now proven those gods to be false idols. Soon all Gods will be proven to be false idols. Science has now provided answers to almost every question man can ask. There are only a few questions left and they are the esoteric ones.
Where do we come from? What are we doing here? What is the meaning of life and the universe? " (Angels and Demons, 235) Thus, Brown’s novels investigate mainly the influence of religion over human knowledge and belief in general, and try to demonstrate that in fact, it might have altered many of the historical truth. Although his claims are not well supported and mainly spectacular, the books can be said to be effective in what regards the relativity of human knowledge, as influenced by a number of subjective reasons.