May 28, 2006

Da Vinci Q & A

I've finally done my civic duty. I read The Da Vinci Code, and saw the movie. Reading the book was an anti-climax: I have nothing add to Geoff Pullum's deconstructions (look at the bottom of this post for a list). The cinematic signs and portents were ambiguous: on one hand, the theater was nearly deserted; on the other hand, a sophisticated fourth grader of my acquaintance thought the movie was better than X-Men, though not as good as The Terminal. But I agree with Geoff Pullum that traditional media are generally "Behind the Da Vinci Curve", and as further evidence of the superiority of the new-media coverage, I'd like to draw your attention to a recent post on The Medicine Box ("The Internet Theologian Explains The Da Vinci Code" 5/17/2006).

It begins:

As the responses to my helpful guide on Christianity show, when theological controversies arise, many people wisely turn to an anonymous crank with a web log. Or, as I prefer, to a Big-Time Internet Theologian.

These are good days for us Big-Time Internet Theologians: religious controversies are in the news daily, and many people have probing, searching questions that cannot be answered by relying on traditional, "second wave" sources like books, professors, or subway graffiti. People want answers, and they want them to come with hyperlinks to Wikipedia entries compiled by embittered teenagers.

The first few (questions and) answers:

Q: Who is Dan Brown and what is "The Da Vinci Code"?
A: Dan Brown is the biggest-selling, and therefore best, author of our times, and "The Da Vinci Code" is his masterpiece: a thrilling, shocking journey across thousands of years of history all packed within a pulse-pounding chase across scenic Europe, leading up to the greatest conspiracy of all.

Q: What is the greatest conspiracy of all?
A: The 1954 NIT point-shaving scandal.

Q: What does all this have to do with Jesus? Or, for that matter, Leonardo Da Vinci?
A: The premise of the book is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that the two had children, who passed along Jesus' bloodline through generations of French people. Leonardo was the member of a secret brotherhood of painters who protected this secret by painting pictures of men that look like ladies.

This is Language Log, after all, so there is an obligatory linguistic hook:

Q: Why does the dialogue in the book which is supposed to be in French include French words alongside the English translation, like, "Pain is good, monsieur" and "Le capitaine is happy you decided to stay overnight"?
A: That is how the French speak. There is no French language per se, just a few words they throw into English sentences to make themselves seem superior to Americans.

You should read the rest of it for yourself, but I can't help quoting a few more:

Q: The book goes into detail about a group called the Knights Templar. Can you explain what they were?
A: They were the basketball team of Temple University in the 1950s. Philip the French, who was King of Congress at the time, suppressed them because of the NIT point-shaving scandal. In addition to playing basketball, they also guarded the secret of Jesus' French kids by painting pictures of men who look like ladies.

Q: Okay, explain this whole "painting pictures of men who look like ladies" thing. What does it have to do with Leonardo?
A: In 1099, a reggae group called the Priority of Zion was founded to hush up the truth about Jesus' French children. It was felt at the time that if word got out that Jesus had lived in France, it would drive up real estate costs beyond what the knights were willing to pay. So the Priority of Lion was formed to keep the secret. Throughout the centuries, every time someone became prominent in Europe - Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, Tintin - they would be enrolled into the Prior of Zionism to help keep the secret.

Q: Doesn't it seem more sensible, if they wanted to keep a secret, not to enroll high profile Europeans?
A: Yes, except that it was hard for many years to avoid famous Europeans. From 1755 to 1914, everyone in Europe was either an author, inventor, or executed king.

Q: So how do the paintings factor in?
A: Leonardo Da Vinci was a member of the Priorities of the Elders of Simon. However, he was terrible at keeping secrets, and felt it necessary to leave little clues in all his paintings about Jesus' Francophone offspring. For example: the Mona Lisa is smiling because Leonardo was feeling smug about knowing where Jesus lived, all the while Raphael was thinking Jesus lived in Jerusalem.

This captures the book's zany dream-logic better than any other reviews that I've seen.

[Note: the identification of "holyoffice" as Terry Mattingly, though based on what I once thought was plausible evidence, is clearly false. Apologies to both Prof. Mattingly and to "holyoffice" for the error, which I've left in place as evidence of my own carelessness.] At this point, though, I need to 'fess up that holyoffice, the author of The Medicine Box blog on Livejournal, is apparently* Terry Mattingly, who also posts on the blog GetReligion ("The press ... just doesn't get religion"). In Real Life, he's director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, and author of a weekly column for Scripps Howard. In other words, an old-media infiltrator.

When you're done with as many of those links as you care to follow, you might want to try the glossary of Christian terminology at the end of the post "The Interpretive Dance Theocrats" (Terry Mattingly as holyoffice on The Medicine Box, 5/12/2006), which begins:

This is the belief among some Christians that, ever since Jan. 1, 2000, it has no longer been possible, in the words of the Prince song, "to party like it's 1999." Postmillenialists are those Christians who believe that it will always be possible to do so, while Amillenialists believe that in this context, "1999" cannot be understood literally, but must be read as an allegorical term roughly meaning "a time at which it is especially appropriate to party."

This was a #1 hit in 1980 for Blondie (#5 in the UK), from the otherwise underwhelming "Autoamerican" album. Many Christians now concede that the then-pioneering use of rap in the song sounds a little lame in retrospect. In their best-selling series of books about the song, "Left Behind (Parallel Lines)," Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye defend the rap verse's hip references to Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy, and maintain that when Jesus returns, all believers will be united in accepting that Blondie's cover of "The Tide Is High" is better than the original.

* I inferred that Terry Mattingly is holyoffice, or perhaps vice versa, from the LiveJournal profile page for holyoffice, which gives The Press doesn't get religion in the "website" slot. Among the folks who post there, Terry Mattingly seemed like the best fit to "holyoffice". If I got that wrong (and two readers have written with scholarly objections to the analysis), I apologize to all concerned. The DVC Q&A is still the only stuff on Dan Brown I've seen that's as funny (and true) as Geoff Pullum's posts. [ Well, I *did* get it wrong, and apologies are certainly in order to both writers.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 28, 2006 12:59 PM