Uncracking the Code (again and again)

The Da Vinci Code had been out for a few months before I became aware of it.

Someone asked me what I thought of the plot. Then I noticed piles of the book at Barnes & Noble. I started to hear chatter about whether the plot was “true.”

So I read it. And wrote about it. And wrote about it again. And again.

The Code, which came out way back in 2003, was a true phenomenon — a word that is often used when it doesn’t really apply.

This classic piece of fast-moving pulp fiction got a lot of people thinking about Christian history, often for the first time.

The fact that many people believed the story to be based in truth — the Vatican covered up Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene and the birth of their child — showed how little people know about Christian history.

Of the articles that I wrote, my favorite was about a fundamental flaw in the plot. The Code makes the case that the Vatican whipped up its conspiracy theories at the Council of Nicea in 325. But Rome had very little influence in the church at that point. Most of the bishops present were from the Greek-speaking Eastern churches.

So the Orthodox churches, not the Vatican, would have had to cover up the truth about the Christ household. The Orthodox churches, though, are not mentioned in the novel.

But, hey, it is a novel, not a history text. Dan Brown, the Code’s author, has been very vague about all of it.

“I’ve always said there’s room for different opinions,” Brown told USA TODAY recently. “Controversy is a good thing when it gets people thinking and talking.”

Okay, the new Dan Brown novel, out a couple of days ago, is “The Lost Symbol.” This book focuses, from what I’ve read, on the Freemasons, already a very mysterious group.

Get ready for a lot of new looks at the Freemasons.

Including from me, I hope. I plan to talk to some Masons from these parts about who they are, why they joined and why the Masons have been so controversial for so long.

Maybe the Masons will get an image update, like Opus Dei did after tons of Code-related attention.

USA TODAY’S Bob Minzesheimer writes:

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Brown, 45, has been intrigued by the Masons since his childhood in Exeter, N.H., where his father taught at Phillips Exeter prep school: “Their lodge was above the theater, and the shades were always drawn.”

Much of the pre-publication speculation about the novel assumed it would be critical of the Masons, in the way that many saw Da Vinci as an attack on the Catholic hierarchy.

But that’s not the case. “It’s a reverent look at their philosophy,” Brown says. “I’m more interested in what they believe than all their rituals and conspiracy theories about them. That’s in the novel, but it’s discredited.”

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New York magazine had a fun package about Dan Brown last week, including a not-so-complementary explanation of his amazing popularity.

It starts with this: “The great unsolved mystery at the core of The Da Vinci Code is not whether Jesus had a child (of course!) or whether the Catholic Church is a deadly machine of transhistorical truth suppression (big time!) but something far more interesting: How did an artwork so objectively horrendous manage to conquer Planet Earth? What is the magically addictive spice in Dan Brown’s secret sauce? And is there any redeeming quality to Dan Brown’s work whatsoever?”

That’s mean.