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A Highlander and his Books

Reviewed by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA.

One of the great joys of writing this column in each issue of The Family Tree is being able to select what I want to read and what I want to review. Hear this - they are not one and the same! I read a lot of books that I do not review. I work for a great editor, Beth Gay, who has never told me to review a particular book. It doesn’t get much better than that! This is part of the material I used in a recent speech to The Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, Commandery of Jacques de Molay in Atlanta, Georgia. My apologies to those present at that meeting who now find themselves having leftovers. Once was enough!  
The Da Vinci Code debuted as #1 on The New York Times’ Bestseller List and has since sold over six and a half million copies. It was recently replaced as #1 on the Times’ Bestseller List by John Grisham’s latest book, but as I write this article, The Da Vinci Code has since outsold Grisham’s book to once again become the #1 bestseller! Interestingly, the only book to outsell The Da Vinci Code since its debut is the latest Harry Potter book by Scotland’s richest and most recently designated billionaire, J. K. Rowling.
Why review a book that has been #1 on every bestseller list in the world? You heard me right, every bestseller book list on the face of this planet. One reason is that I do not know how many of our readers subscribe to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Sun Times, or The Sydney Morning Herald down under, much less the major newspapers throughout the European Union.
But I do know this much - Dan Brown can write a good story, one you do not want to end, and when it does, you wish there was more. But take notice, you who are faint of heart, more is on the way as a sequel is currently being written about another mysterious society, the Masons, that will take us through more hypnotic events by Harvard’s Professor of Religious Symbology, Robert Langdon, the hero of the book.
This is an absorbing and fascinating book about intrigue, mystery, secret codes, religion, deception, murder, and naturally, sex - not necessarily in that order. It is the age-old story of the search for the Holy Grail. It is also a story about Jesus and his lover. According to the author, the question is not “Where is the grail?” but rather “What is the grail?” We are taken one step further by being told it is a “who” and not a “what” or a “where” that we should be seeking. The Da Vinci Code reveals in no uncertain terms that the grail is not a silver chalice but a sarcophagus and four boxes of papers removed from Solomon’s Temple by a group of knights from the religious order of Knights Templar.
Off to France, the knights fled with The Holy Grail intact and eventually they made their way to Scotland, just a few miles out of Edinburgh. The problem is not can we find the boxes and the sarcophagus, but whose body is it? Believe it or not, the author tells us what many have known for years – the sarcophagus is a female! According to religious tradition but not the Bible, she is one of ill repute engaged in the oldest profession on earth. Go figure. This female is none other than Mary Magdalene. The Da Vinci Code says Mary was married to Jesus, was loved more by Jesus than he loved any of the apostles, was pregnant with the child of Jesus when he was crucified, fled to France (Gaul, then) for her safety, and gave birth to a daughter who was named Sarah. Dan Brown says there is a family tree of Jesus from then until now and that the Priory of Sion has worked to protect the bloodline of Jesus and Mary. If you want to know how the book reaches its unusual and very intriguing climax, you must read it. Suffice it to say, the book has an explosive beginning as well as ending.
No book has kicked up as much fuss or furor in the church since Nikos Kazantzakas wrote The Last Temptation of Christ over 40 years ago which was condemned by the Catholic Church and placed by the Pope on the Roman Catholic Index of Forbidden Books. A request for the body of Kazantzakas to lie in state in Athens before final burial in his native Crete was refused. Who is Kazantzakas? Think Zorba the Greek. What did this author, who did not begin writing novels until he was over 60 years old, do to warrant condemnation? He humanized Jesus and even suggested that Jesus might have stood in line to pay his fee to have time with the harlot Mary Magdalene in the sack!
The Da Vinci Code has created an even bigger storm for both conservative and liberal, Protestant and Catholic, from Jerry Falwell to Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George. They have all had a say in trying to decipher and discredit the book. It seems they waited almost a year (Were they asleep?) before they realized what was going on right under their noses in the church. People were reading this book by the hundreds of thousands, and women were forming groups for discussion, striving to ascertain their rightful place in the church and demanding that the church hierarchy hear what they had to say. What will be the outcome of all this controversy? As an old saying goes, “Lord only knows!” It is simply an exciting time to be alive to see if this has any modicum of truth or if it just evolves into a three-ring circus that Ringling Brothers would love to roll into town to showcase. This book, more than any other in modern times, actually has people talking about Jesus!
Dan Brown does not currently give interviews. Some say he has withdrawn to work on his sequel to “Da Vinci” while others insist he cannot take the heat and is trying to avoid the onslaught of the many rebuttals he is getting from the church at large. I prefer the former explanation. But, I am sad to say there will be no “Chat with the Author of The Da Vinci Code” in this issue of The Family Tree since he is not currently doing interviews. However, if you want to learn more about Brown or The Da Vinci Code, and if this type of information rattles your cage or pulls your chain, just go on line to Google and type in Brown’s name or the name of the book. You will find enough on the Internet to keep you busy for a month of Sundays.
In conclusion, the reader should keep in mind that The Da Vinci Code is a novel, nothing more, and in my opinion, a very good one. But as a historical novel, in my opinion, it is a very poor one. When one mingles fiction, myth and fact, I question if the father of the historical novel, Sir Walter Scott, would consider it a historical novel. As my very good friend, Betty Conley says concluding her emails, “Happy Trails.” (3-8-2004)

Return to April/May 2004 Index Page  |  Visit Frank Shaw's Page


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