Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mad Anthony and Da Vinci

By Sariah S. Wilson

So today I went to a writing conference in Hamilton, Ohio called the Mad Anthony. I expected to go and come back with lots of great writing tips to post about.

But instead I have to write about “The Da Vinci Code.”

It surprised me how often this book came up in conversation. I arrived just before the first class and sat next to a woman who wrote Christian, inspirational type novels. She said she had a goal of debunking what Dan Brown had done in his book.

Then later on that morning I took a class on religious writing and “The Da Vinci Code” came up again, and the workshop attendees discussed how “dangerous” the book was.


The woman from this morning informed me that it somehow diminished Christ’s deity if he was, you know, an actual man. He couldn’t possibly have done something like getting married. I asked why that was so difficult to believe when Jesus Christ had a mortal mother. Just going on DNA alone, wouldn’t that make him half-human? (The only way he could die was through his mortal side. Had he been fully immortal, the crucifixion wouldn't have worked.) I told the woman that in all likelihood Christ was married. It was a ritual of manhood/rite of passage among his culture. He would never have been considered a rabbi or a teacher or someone worthy of preaching in the synagogue if he hadn’t been married (which is a common cultural trait in many ancient civilizations, including the Mayas). It is more likely that if he hadn’t been married his apostles would have commented on it because it would have been so strange.

I just had no idea that people were so churned up about “The Da Vinci Code.” I understood where people who practiced Catholicism might feel upset both in the portrayal of Opus Dei and in the book's fundamental assertion that Christ might not have been celibate. I truly did not expect that people of other faiths might be up in arms about this as well, or that it might shake the foundation of their beliefs if Jesus Christ did in fact get married.

Now, whether he was married to Mary Magdalene or not, I don’t know. But I think Dan Brown makes a compelling argument for why it might have been her and it makes sense considering that she’s the one Christ first appeared to after his resurrection. It makes sense that his wife was the one who would go to Christ’s tomb to administer to him. If he really had been unmarried, wouldn’t that have been the responsibility of his mother?

And I suppose we shouldn’t even get into the whole Mary had children with Joseph thing. That apparently makes people freak out as well. I don’t understand how people who believe the Bible to be true don’t believe Matthew 13:54-56. It starts off with Jesus going into “his own country” to teach them in the synagogue, and everyone was “astonished.” They said:

55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?

So if you believe the Bible, how can anyone disregard the blatant and explicit naming of brothers and sisters of Jesus?

I also remember reading about the ossuary discovered a few years ago that had the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” The timing on it is right and the possibility exists that this is the James spoken of in the scripture, the man who was Jesus’s brother. (Although I should note that scholars debate the authenticity of the box, with an Israeli panel deciding that it was not authentic, and other scientists and archaeologists saying that the Israeli panel ignored some major evidence. I suppose it’s one of those things that the world will never be certain on.)

Why wouldn’t Mary and Joseph have children? It would have been expected of her. I know some people say that Joseph was old and already had children. It sounds like we’re talking about at least six siblings (not knowing how many sisters, but seeing that it’s plural it had to be at least two). Joseph carted all six of those kids and his pregnant wife to Bethlehem? Isn’t it at all possible that those children were born AFTER Jesus? What if Joseph wasn’t old? What if he was only a few years older than Mary (which is how I’ve always pictured him)? I don’t know why that assumption is made - an apocryphal text perhaps? Or is it because we assume that by the time of Christ’s crucifixion Joseph had died (since Christ had to put Mary into the care of John it stands to reason that Joseph had already died, which to me also suggests that Christ was the oldest son and it was his responsibility to make certain his mother was taken care of), so ergo Joseph must have been old? People die young. It happens all the time.

It does not diminish Christ’s divinity for him to have been married and to have lived his life as a man. It only makes his feats all the more miraculous. It doesn’t lessen his teachings or his influence if his mother had other children. It doesn’t lessen Mary’s role to have been a real wife and a mother of many, either.

Regardless, I suppose in the end George Bernard Shaw was right:

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says. He is always convinced that it says what he means.


At 4/24/2006 10:17 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

My Da Vinci comments:

1) I don't really care about it from a religious perspective, because if my belief was shaken by a goofy suspense novel, then it's my own dang fault.

2) However, it annoys me when it's own version of religion contradicts itself: (Spoilers ahoy!) The book states that Christ never claimed he was divine, and that that part of the Bible was added in the third century or so. So the thing is, if Christ wasn't divine, then why the heck would hundreds of people have formed a secret society to protect his bloodline? If he was just another man, albeit a good teacher, then what makes his bloodline special? Kinda lame.

3) I thought the characterization in Da Vinci was kind of poor. But then I read Angels and Demons and can see what happened: A&D was the first book that followed Thomas Langdon, and he's actually an interesting character with a character arc and everything. Unfortunately, Brown fell into the classic sequel trap: having resolved Langdon's character arc, he was unable to provide a new arc in the second book -- and Langdon is flat and shallow. (This is also why Langdon has completely pointless and forgotten background: Brown mentions a couple times in Da Vinci that Langdon is claustrophobic, but then never does ANYTHING with it. It annoyed the heck out of me. But if you read A&D, his claustrophobia actually has a point.)

At 4/24/2006 12:03 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

I would say that from a religious perspective I found it interesting in that it didn't bother my religious perspective in the least. :) Nothing would change for me if Brown's assertions were true and Christ was married to Mary Magdalene. It really surprised me how upsetting this thought was to other people when it's my understanding that many historians and scholars do believe Christ was married for the reasons I mentioned in my blog.

As for Brown's work - yes the characters are flat, but you have to give the man credit for writing a page-turning book and for having an excellent plot and a clever hook that's being mimicked by most of the books in the NYT Top Ten.

I will admit that I studied the book to see how he did what he did - what made this so successful and I incorporated some of his methods into my own first book - having a larger secret that you don't reveal until the end, but revealing a lot of little secrets along the way so that the reader doesn't get too frustrated, and many other technical things that he did that I admired.

And if the writing is flat and shallow, I'm hoping that I can aspire to such flatness and shallowness so that I can laugh all the way to the bank with my tens of millions. :)

At 4/25/2006 12:34 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

You know, I think if you are reading a book for fun, a fictional book, you shouldn't expect it to be historical. I think it is interesting how Dan Brown twists facts to become fiction that seems factual in his book.

As for flat characters, I agree I didn't really remember the main character after reading the book, but I could probably re-tell the story in detail to a friend. And really I think it is nice because if a character is kind of flat, you can almost put yourself in the main character's spot and feel like you are the one having the adventure, at least for me.

At 4/26/2006 9:54 AM, Blogger annegb said...

My best friend (I have five) whose husband was a bishop, who was the Relief Society president, and is now the YW president (how masochistic is this woman), recommended this book to me.

What I recall thinking mostly was "what a gruesome book." I definitely don't think kids under 17 should see it.

I recall thinking it was okay, not compelling to me, but part of that is with my cognitive losses, when books get really complicated in plot, my brain shuts off. No lie.

There is a test for the possibility of Alzheimer's and like every test known to man, I had to take it. And for me it was positive. No lie.

Although I think I'd be a vegetable by now since that was 5 years ago. But I'm not as sharp as I used to be. Aren't you glad?

Any rate, I suppose this will make a really good thriller movie. I don't even care whether it's true or not. But then, I love James Frey.

I'm reading My Friend Leonard, and you know, that guy can write his bum off. He could easily have sold that book as fiction. In fact, if it is fiction, it's a work of genius. I think time will tell on that one.

He writes like Frank McCourt, who won the Pulitzer for Angela's Ashes.

At 4/26/2006 1:27 PM, Blogger G.Ellen said...

When I saw that Tom Hanks was going to do the movie, I decided it was time to read the book. I'd heard all the fuss about it, and kind of laughed - because you know, we've heard this theory stuff before. We live with it - those of us who are LDS. In reading it, i found that he was kind of twisted, and it certainly didn't make me like Da Vinci any better. (grin)
But I had the same take as you - we pretty much figure that Christ was probably married, and it only makes sence that he probably had children. This didn't shake or shatter or make me question my faith at all. I thought it was rather enlightening for those who are Catholics, and I feel sorry for them and the shaky foundation on which their faith is laid. But at least there is always Jesus... Always.


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