Thursday, May 11, 2006

More Reading

Yes, still flat on my back. I've finished a six-day course of steroids (a prednisone taper, which I remember fondly from my days writing documentation for medical records software—we liked to show off how easy it was to code a macro that would prescribe the gradually decreasing dosage), and I can now stand up easily and remain sitting or standing for short periods of time with only occasional burst of relatively mild pain and a slowly increasing dull ache. Hm. I think I need to go back to the doctor.

In the meantime, I've been doing more reading, in addition to working on the outline for my next novel and playing World of Warcraft (my warlock on Argent Dawn, Dairon, is now 35th level, though my friends on that server are either off on different servers or engrossed in D&D Online right now). Irish Cream by Andrew Greeley was a pretty light read with little in the way of lasting impression, and I'd have to say the same for Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart, though that was a pleasantly amusing fantasy. Then today I finally broke down and read The Da Vinci Code, because I didn't want to see the movie without having read the book. Now I'm not sure I want to see the movie.

So, it was a good story. Even as I was snorting and occasionally yelling about grievous inaccuracies in historical and Biblical scholarship in the book, I kept turning the pages. I read the book in about 5 hours. I can't say it's hugely well-written: there are long sections of exposition, at least three places where characters respond to things that other characters have thought to themselves rather than spoken aloud, and one terribly inconsistent chapter (chapter 63, with the cars). But it kept me turning pages—all 454 of them—so I have to admit that the story was an effective thriller.

Of course, I had problems with it. This is not my first exposure to the elaborate Grail legend that proposes a marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, leading to a bloodline traced down to the Merovingian kings. I don't believe it, but not because I cling to the idea that Jesus was a celibate. Heck, I know Peter (the "first Pope") was married, because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Matt 8:14, Mark 1:30, Luke 4:38), and you can't have a mother-in-law without being married (and why would you want to?). As this book and many others have pointed out, if Jesus had not been married, that would have been strange enough that it would likely have received comment or explanation in our canonical gospels. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. I also know from the Bible and respectable Biblical scholarship that Jesus was hardly ascetic in other aspects of his life—eating and drinking, with whoever would share his table, was a significant part of his ministry, and he wasn't drinking grape juice. 

My problems with the whole Holy Grail—Mary Magdalene thing is twofold (there might be a third, but it's a relatively minor point):

1) According to Brown's version of the legend, Mary was pregnant at the time of the crucifixion and, with the help of Joseph of Arimathea (Jesus' uncle? where did that come from?), fled to France to protect her baby. Hm. Maybe. And yet Jesus' brother, James (Matt 13:55, Mark 6:3) held a position of leadership in the church after Jesus' death (Acts 1:14). The fact that there's a letter of James in the canonical New Testament indicates that his authority was respected, at least partly because of his blood relationship to Jesus. Same thing with Jude. So if the brothers of Jesus didn't flee, but used his spiritual and hereditary authority to take leadership in the Church, why would Jesus' wife and daughter flee rather than claim their own authority?

2) Speaking of Mary's own authority... By some accounts Mary Magdalene is the first witness to the Resurrection (I guess she didn't flee to Gaul until after that, anyway), and "the apostle to the Apostles" by virtue of being the one who told all the men that Jesus was risen (Matt 28:10, John 20:17–18). There's some evidence to suggest that her authority in the ancient church was, in fact, more considerable than any surviving records tell us, and was, in fact, suppressed by the expanding Roman church as it consolidated its power and spread its brand of orthodoxy. But that authority derives from her role as an apostle, not from a role as a wife and mother. The Grail legend, as Brown retells it, subverts her genuine spiritual authority into a consequence of her being Jesus' wife. If anything, the Grail legend as recounted by Brown actually supports the position of the Roman Catholic Church in granting authority to women only in subordinate roles. It continues to deny the spiritual authority of women.

3) The relatively minor one, but I'll mention it anyway. It strikes me as pretty darned Eurocentric to propose that the bloodline of Jesus and Mary linked up with a French royal line. Eurocentric and all pro-monarchy and stuff. That alone doesn't mean it's not true, but it does make me wonder about the political agenda of the people who came up with this stuff.

And quickly: 

• The tetragrammaton (YHWH) is derived from the androgyne name Jehovah? No, "Jehovah" is a clumsy Christian attempt to read the tetragrammaton with the vowels of "Adonai" superimposed on it.
• The Council of Nicea didn't introduce the idea of Jesus' divinity. The only question under debate at that Council was whether the Word that had incarnated in Jesus (the Logos mentioned in John 1:1) was equal with God or was simply the first of God's creations (the Arian position). Nobody at that time questioned that the more-or-less-divine Word had been incarnate in Jesus.
• To argue that the Nag Hammadi texts (and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which to my knowledge are all pre-Christian), all the gospels that were not incorporated into the canon, (a) were earlier than the gospels that were included in the canon, and (b) portray a more human Jesus, is just absurd. Reading those texts, it is often hard to recognize the Jesus they portray as remotely human. In fact, there were gnostic teachers who argued that Jesus was so pure and perfect that he didn't go to the bathroom. The Synoptic gospels we have in the canon (Matthew, Luke, and especially Mark) do a darned fine job of portraying a very human Jesus.
• And while he's busy touting the divine feminine, his one female character—who's supposed to be a great cryptographer, by the way—is pretty stupid and helpless through the whole thing, and her main purpose seems to be being reunited with her family and falling in love with the hero (who completely forgets about the other love of his life somewhere along the way). So much for the divine feminine.
• The discussion of phi was interesting. It makes me want a widescreen PowerBook. (The 1024 x 768 of my 12-inch PowerBook is only 1-1/3:1. The widescreen models are both 1.6:1, much closer to the Divine Proportion.)

So here's the thing. It seems to me that there are two threads that the author is trying to weave together, here. One is the Grail-Magdalene-Merovingian legend, and the other is the importance of the divine feminine. I actually think that those two themes work at cross purposes (no pun intended). He tries to argue that the church suppressed evidence of Jesus' humanity, including his marriage to Mary Magdalene—and he ends up turning Mary Magdalene into a Goddess. And, as I discussed before, he subverts Mary's spiritual authority by suggesting that her only claim to authority was as a wife and mother. I am sympathetic to the need to reclaim a sense of the divine feminine, as well as a more inclusive attitude to the role of women in religious life (but no, not a return to the hieros gamos, except insofar as an actual marriage can be holy, which I think is significant). But I think Brown errs in yoking that agenda to the Grail theory.

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