by Jenifer Johnston

from SundayHerald Website




AUTHOR Dan Brown is set to reignite controversy over his bestseller The Da Vinci Code today, by defending claims he makes in the book that Jesus Christ married and had a child.

In a rare television interview to be broadcast tonight on the National Geographic Channel, Brown reaffirms his “belief” in book’s key theory – that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and their French-born child started a blood line stretching to the present day. Critics have denounced the new claims as “bonkers”.

The Da Vinci Code, first published in 2003, has sparked worldwide religious debate. The quasi-historical thriller claims Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper holds the key to the Holy Grail. According to the book, the Grail is not a chalice, as traditionally believed, but Mary Magdalene.

It alleges Jesus and Mary married and had a child and that their bloodline survives to this day – a secret kept by the Catholic Church.

Christian, especially Catholic, churches across the globe have been inundated with inquiries about the validity of the Bible and the possible existence of descendants of Jesus. Senior figures in the Vatican have dismissed the book as “lies”.

In tonight’s documentary, Unlocking Da Vinci’s Code, Brown defies his critics, insisting that there are grounds for taking seriously his theories.

“I began as a skeptic,” he says. “As I started researching Da Vinci Code I really thought I would disprove a lot of this theory about Mary Magdalene and holy blood and all of that. I became a believer.”

Brown also argues in the documentary that efforts to describe Mary Magdalene as a prostitute were part of a smear campaign against the wife of Jesus.

He says:

“It’s possible that his relationship with Mary Magdalene really was sort of set aside and that she was portrayed in some way ... as a fallen woman. Simply such that we could explain her presence; that Jesus wasn’t in love with her, he was trying to help her out.”

Brown contends that Jesus must have wed because “in that time in history, for a young Jewish man to not be married … it was practically a sin.” Others featured in the TV film agreed it was odd for Jesus to be a single man, but they point to the celibate community of apostles around him at the time.

Film makers tried to find the sources from which Brown said he gleaned the information to compile his theory. However, they noted that some of the claims were not supported by historians, theologians or in academic works.

One interviewee in the documentary, Rev Robin Griffith Jones of London’s Temple Church, for example, disputes Brown’s claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

But he told the Sunday Herald he was nevertheless glad of the increase in visitors his church has seen because of The Da Vinci Code.

“I think that among the visitors we have there are some who have taken the book on board as an absolute truth, but there are far more who come and ask interested and interesting questions. That is very nice indeed.”

Leading Catholic commentator John Haldane, a professor of philosophy at St Andrew’s University, said Brown’s new claims were “bonkers”.

“I think that Dan Brown lets himself down by showing that he takes some of the book’s theories half-seriously. It’s just bonkers. If you’re going to advance a thesis, the obvious thing one wants to know is the evidence behind it.

“The stuff that’s being put up as evidence [by Brown] is just hopeless. If an undergraduate put this kind of theory into a first year essay, you would be wondering how you were going to sort them out.”

A spokesman for the Church of Scotland’s panel on doctrine was also unmoved by Brown’s comments.

“Generally speaking, New Testament scholars have not been convinced by those theories which suggest that Christ married Mary Magdalene.”

The Da Vinci Code has been in the British bestseller list for 69 weeks, and has now sold over 25 million copies world wide.

Forbes magazine rate Brown as the 12th most powerful celebrity in the world, estimating that between June 2004 to June 2005 he earned $76.5 million in publishing royalties.

Brown’s personal fortune is set to increase further when a film version of the book is released next year. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, filming will take place at the Louvre, Lincoln Cathedral and at the Rosslyn Chapel outside Edinburgh. The success of the Da Vinci Code has propelled his other works into best-seller lists and spawned a mini industry of websites, tours, merchandise and counter-claim books.

Brown, a former English teacher, rarely gives interviews or makes personal appearances, and claims to solve plot points by hanging upside down in gravity boots.

He became interested in the works of Da Vinci after his university lecturer pointed out that the depiction of The Last Supper contains no cup of the Holy Grail, and suggested the grail could be Mary Magdalene.

In March this year the Vatican denounced the novel for its “lies”, with the Archbishop of Genoa declaring there was “a very real risk that many people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true.”

However, Brown says in the documentary that the debate has been “good for religion”.

“There have been alternative theories about Jesus Christ forever. The one force that can challenge faith is apathy. People just losing interest. Agree or disagree, at least we’re talking about it. And that’s good for religion.”