Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Da Vinci Nonsense

Critics of The Da Vinci Code hasten to point out the film and the book of the same name are classified as "fiction," that they make no pretense about being history. Its defenders, including the author, state the book is "based on" legitimate "history." Many years ago, an oddball acquaintance asked me to read the book upon which The Da Vinci Code is based. Two items struck your humble narrator about the "non-fiction" book -- Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln: its almost complete lack of historical basis and unrelenting, almost oppressive tedium.

In 400 pages, the book meanders over the history of the Merovingian Dynasty of Gaul. (Now there's a page-turner.) Visigoths! Alamanni! Guys with names like Chilperic and Childeric -- thrill at it all!

From my rusty memory, I recall being struck that the historical section of the book had 1-3 footnotes, all in the early, non-controversial chronology of France. Once it began speculating about the Priory of Sion, sacred bloodlines, etc., no citations were made whatsoever, and even the "logical" connections the authors attempted to forge did not compute. It baffled me how anyone found it the slightest bit convincing.

As one wends his way through literally scores of pages that are at best highly tangential, one realizes: the authors present the entire history of the Merovingian family to distract from the paucity of evidence for the book's thesis. The average reader, buried 'neath a hundredweight of pages on early medieval Gallican history, has lost all bearings and assumes this somehow proves the authors' point. (Or is at least related to the authors' point.) The relating of this minutiae, for some, will establish their "scholarly" status and justify their pronouncements later in the tome concerning the Holy Grail. At a minimum, the modern American reader, faced with such arcane subjects, will shake his head and conclude that he is not equipped to argue with their conclusion.

In other words, if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, bury them in something else.

The conservative wings of several churches have written about the book's fantasies commendably, but their predictable opposition carries less weight in the broader society than it should: after all, what else would the secularists expect of them? Particularly important are the criticisms of secular historians who regard Holy Blood, Holy Grail as "pseudohistory." One of the keys to minimizing the damage the film will do, in addition to the Church assuring the faithful of its ahistorical assertions, is to avoid giving the impression to non-church-goers at home this is a battle between Church and society; we ought to couch it in terms of truth vs. falsehood -- a war we can surely win.

The original book, and its follow-up The Messianic Legacy, got more mileage from this ridiculous fairy tale than deserved -- and that 20 years ago. It is sad to see the book become a bestseller, worse to see it become a major film. Worse yet to see it continue to lead astray the ever-secularizing modern Western faithful.


Blogger Benedictus said...

I think you hit the nail on the head concerning the utter lack of historical merit Holy Blood, Holy Grail has. Secular historians thought it laughable, given that the authors don't show any documentary evidence other than their word for it. As a PhD Candidate in Medieval and Early Modern History, I can say that while history is largely interpretive, you do need a good deal of factual evidence to back up your arguments, and Baigent, et al, came way below the mark in this regard.

Their "documentary" evidence goes something like this: We found manuscript X in the Vatican Library (or some obscure monastic library in Toulouse) that is the "smoking gun" that proves our case. Oh, but you can't verify said manuscript, because it disappeared in a fire, or an earthquake, or the information died with a priest, or because of alien abduction. In other words, all I have to go on is their word for it-hardly responsible historical scholarship.

Actually, two words suffice-utter rubbish. Not even good for toilet reading. Not even good enough to use for toilet paper.

Pax Tecum
Subdeacon Thomas Llizo

10:56 AM  
Blogger Eric John said...

It's like the "Reformed Egyptian" of the Mormons.

The persistence of various pestilences in America such as Mormonism, psychics, freemasonry, Jehovah's Witnesses, occultism, Scientology, the DaVinci Code, Elaine Pagels, the Jesus Seminar, Karen Armstrong, just about any show the National Geographic Channel plays about Jesus, etc. prove that there is a high degree of credulity in our country. It's odd, because many people are quick to disbelieve legitimate history or religion, but at the same time, they fall into falsehood so easily.

I don't know if there's a remedy for this. After all, it's impossible to educate those who are not willing to learn. So, I guess the one thing to do is get these people to eat out of your hand, instead of think for themselves.

A well-written and documented history of the Orthodox Church would hardly sell 100 copies a year in Borders, for example. But a book written from the Orthodox perspective about how the Popes of Rome, since the schism have undermined the Church and have led their billion followers into thinking that they (the popes) are real, legitimate bishops and faithful successors of the Apostles--now THAT would sell, I bet. Especially if you dwell on the juicy details like the Fourth Crusade, Uniatism, Jesuitical spies, etc. You could even uncover something in a secret Vatical archive about the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople being a subversive Cardinal, taking orders from the Pope. It would be a get-rich-quick scheme, especially if you had the book translated into Russian, Greek, etc.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Subdn. Thomas -- welcome to the blog! You're right about the "quality" of the book; it is fiction masquerading as fact with its verification being, "trust me."

Eric John, you've described perfectly which books would sell and why. Care to co-author a book on the secret Vatican assassination squads that have been murdering True Greek Old Calendarist Orthodox monks for nigh unto 80 years now? ;)

1:22 PM  
Blogger Eric John said...

Hmmm. It appears that those secret Vatican assassination squads murdering True Greek Orthodox Old Calendrists would imply that there is indeed an Ecumenical Patriarchate connection, eh? Oh, the joy (and utmost lunacy) of beautifully bizarre and wonderfully weird conniving conspiracies! On such is my penchant for alluring aliterations perfectly peppered. (something like that)

8:06 PM  
Blogger Jean-Michel said...

The book was not as dangerous as the movie. Hollywood can transform any pack of dirt into a mountain of money, and a lie in quasi-truth.

In France, 31% people believe now it's based on the truth. 20% don't know. Only 49% believe it's untrue.

Outside the Church of Greece, with mgr Christodoulos, I'm really sad to see that the initiative of just telling people what they don't know isn't taken seriously in our Church.

We always forget, and it costs us lots, that most of the people of today have as only historical references the movies seen at cinema and on tv. And since the start of the "tv-civilisation" (hum), for the overall majority, "seen on tv" means "true". Also in churches.
We have not to be surprised if in a few weeks after the start of projection of the movie, in our parishes, part of the people don't come anymore, or start arguing against the salvific Faith.
I remember 2 years ago a Greek woman of our friends, speaking of relatives who left the Faith after hearing a speach by Jehovahs Witless. I can also speak of lots of people that, being driver for the priest for house blessings once a year, don't want to see us. Comments of the priest "that one is now evangelical, that one is now Jehovah, that one is now atheist".
Even inside the Church, lots of people have no longer historical culture knowledge. The counter-poison we give is only Liturgy... very often in non-understandable languages (at least here in Continental Europe).
So no roots, no teachings, loads of misinformation polluting their minds via tv, we have not to be surprised if also inside the Church, that new weapon of satan can make packs of victims. I pray for not.



12:11 PM  

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