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Judging the code
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 16 - 03 - 2006


By Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Dan Brown has been basking in Blockbuster heaven since his international thriller, The Da Vinci Code, was first published in March 2003. For three years the world has puzzled and pondered over its stunning revelations, a few have condemned and castigated it, but they have not deterred its myriad admirers. Fourty-four million copies have been sold worldwide, propelling author Brown's three previous novels to the bestseller lists, film rights were sold for a cool $6 million, and the film is slated to premiere on May l7, opening night at the Cannes Film Festival. Suddenly however all plans came to a screeching halt. Release of the movie was suspended, pending resolution of plagiarism law suits against Brown and his publisher, both in the US and the UK.
In the first US lawsuit, author Lewis Perdue claimed that Brown based his Code on two of his novels: The Da Vinci Legacy (l980), and Daughter of God (1983). Perdue sought $150 million in damages, and an injunction barring release of the movie. On November l7, 2005, Judge George B Daniels, finding "no substantial similarities," dismissed the case, stating that "general ideas are not protected under copyright law."
The UK suit filed in London on behalf of Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of the non-fiction book Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982) is still pending. Both authors accuse Brown of using their theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, and that their bloodline survives presently in France. A third author of the book, Henry Lincoln, is not involved in the suit. Three years of celebrity and prosperity, controversy and contention, and the lawsuits are only now filed, prior to the film's release. Does the prospect of a mega-blockbuster make them all salivate? If the Holy Grail thesis is the reason for the Code 's success, why did it not register a similar success of its own? The Grail has sold two million copies in 24 years compared to the Code 's unprecedented 44 million in just three: "the best selling adult novel of all time within a one-year period."
Brown and his publisher have been attacked mainly for one page in the book's preface, stating that everything was based on facts, hence the ire of historians, theologians, academicians and scholars.
The novel is a muddled medley of multiple murders, secret societies and twisted conspiracies centering around the very history and origins of the Christian Church. Adopting the theories of Arianism, raised at the Council of Nicea in 325, Brown questions the divinity of Jesus, alleging that the Catholic Church has gone to great lengths to conceal the fact that Jesus was a mortal man, a husband and a father. Brown asserts this speculation to be the truth, and his hero, Harvard professor Robert Langdon, uncovers the key to this mystery in the history of Christianity, thereby becoming a hunted man by the Roman Catholic organisation, 'Opus Dei'...
'The Council of Nicea' (now Turkey), is considered one of the defining events in the history of Christianity, summoned by newly-converted Roman Emperor Constantine I, because the church had reached a theological juncture. Arius, a priest of Alexandria, challenged the doctrine that Jesus of Nazareth was of equal divinity as God himself, quoting from the gospel of St John,14:28, among others, 'the Father is greater than the Son'. Still, the Council of Nicea condemned Arius and issued the Nicene Creed, stating that Jesus and God are One, and of equal divinity.
The central theme of Dan Brown's Code, is the 'divine feminine' concept -- the deity of Mary Magdalene, suppressed by the church. Where does Leonardo Da Vinci figure in all this tangled web of religious intrigue? The Renaissance artist is supposed to have been one of the many heads of a secret society guarding the myth of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. In the novel, Da Vinci plants various codes, clues, and symbols, particularly in his famous painting The Last Supper, where John the Evangelist seated by Jesus, is in fact Mary Magdalene.
The great plot, plan or purpose of the book is not academic, but entertaining and stimulating. Dan Brown, a former English teacher, has written a book of fascinating interest and was rewarded the usual acclaim and fortunes bestowed upon those who dare propagate new ideas. His work would lose none of its magic as fiction. All good fiction is thoroughly researched and essentially accurate. Why did he have to invite a deluge of dissent by claiming his hypothesis to be fact? It is an incomprehensible act, more mysterious than the book's darkest mystery. Were his claims true, would that not prove that all Christianity is based on falsehood? Notwithstanding the factual or fictional aspects of the Code, many of us readers are pathetically too anxious to seek truth in lies. We develop a strong personal attachment to our author, readily turning his foibles and follies, even his falsifications, into indisputable truths. The fault may well lie within us, and our natural inclinations to hanker after sins, secrets and scandals of others to improve our own self-image. We believe simple explanations for our doubts, modest meanings for our beliefs, and dubious realities for our faiths.
Dan Brown's objective was to convince, and he convinces by his breathless pace, his glowing heat, his captivating rhetoric, and his brilliant imagery. He engages our attention, excites our minds, enhances our fancy. He convinces - the heart before the reason, and therefore he succeeds. Is that not the object of a great book?
What was the intention of parading fiction in the robes of fact? Was Mr Brown more desirous of being known as a scholar, a historian, or a theologian rather than a novelist? Why would Random House and Doubleday, both seasoned and experienced publishers, allow such a folly? Perhaps both author and publisher were guilty of greed, an instinct as old as man himself, which has often been his downfall.
To treat your facts with imagination is one thing,
To imagine your facts, is another.
-- John Burroughs (1837-1921)


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