in The Last Supper?
"Which one is the painting?" Sophie
asked, scanning the walls.
"Hmmm..." Teabing made a show of seeming to have forgotten.
Grail. The Sangreal. The Chalice." He wheeled suddenly and
pointed to the far wall. On it hung an eight-foot-long print of
The Last Supper, the same exact image Sophie had just been looking
at. "There she is!"
Sophie was certain she had missed something. "That's the same
painting you just showed me."
He winked. "I know, but the enlargement is so much more exciting.
Don't you think?"
Sophie turned to Langdon for help. "I'm lost."
Langdon smiled. "As it turns out, the Holy Grail does indeed
make an appearance in The Last Supper. Leonardo included her prominently."
"Hold on," Sophie said. "You told me the Holy Grail
is a woman. The Last Supper is a painting of thirteen men."
"Is it?" Teabing arched his eyebrows.
"Take a closer look."
Uncertain, Sophie made her way closer to the painting, scanning
the thirteen figures - Jesus Christ in the middle, six disciples
on His left, and six on His right. "They're all men,"
"Oh?" Teabing said. "How about
the one seated in the place of honor, at the right hand of the Lord?"
Sophie examined the figure to Jesus' immediate
right, focusing in. As she studied the person's face and body, a
wave of astonishment rose within her. The individual had flowing
red hair, delicate folded hands, and the hint of a bosom. It was,
without a doubt... female.
"That's a woman!" Sophie exclaimed.
Teabing was laughing. "Surprise, surprise. Believe me, it's
no mistake. Leonardo was skilled at painting the difference between
Sophie could not take her eyes from the woman beside Christ. The
Last Supper is supposed to be thirteen men. Who is this woman? Although
Sophie had seen this classic image many times, she had not once
noticed his glaring discrepancy.
"Everyone misses it," Teabing said.
"Our preconceived notions of this scene are so powerful that
our mind blocks out the incongruity and overrides our eyes."
"It's known as skitoma," Langdon added. "The brain
does it sometimes with powerful symbols."
"Another reason you might have missed the
woman," Teabing said, "is that many of the photographs
in art books were taken before 1954, when the details were still
hidden beneath layers of grime and several restorative repaintings
done by clumsy hands in the eighteenth century. Now, at last, the
fresco has been cleaned down to Da Vinci's original layer of paint."
He motioned to the photograph. "Et voila!"
Sophie moved closer to the image. The woman to
Jesus' right was young and pious-looking, with a demure face, beautiful
red hair, and hands folded quietly. This is the woman who singlehandedly
could crumble the Church?
"Who is she?" Sophie asked.
"That, my dear," Teabing replied, "is
(Chapter 58, pp. 242-243)
This long passage
is worth quoting in full largely because it is probably the part
of the book which has caught most readers' imaginations. Unlike
many of the other subjects the novel touches on (the Knights Templar,
the Holy Grail, the Gnostic gospels) Leonardo's The Last Supper
is something with which all Brown's readers would be very familiar.
And unlike those more unfamiliar elements, this is one claim which
most readers would be able to check. It is not difficult for the
average reader to find a copy of The Last Supper in an art book
or online and 'see' Mary Magdalene next to Jesus for themselves.
Many readers, when they become aware of Brown's many other errors
and distortions, often cling to this one 'fact' because they feel
they have seen Magdalene in the painting with their own eyes. Once
they have read this passage in the novel and then looked at the
painting, they find it very difficult that this figure to Jesus'
right could be anything other than a woman and anyone other than
for them, they tend to be looking at the painting with an untrained
eye. And the commentary on the painting given to them by Brown via
Langdon and Teabing is even more full of errors, distortions and
misinformation as anything else in the novel and so is an untrustworthy
guide to what they are seeing.
of the painting is lifted directly from Lynn Picknett and Clive
Prince's conspiracy theory The Templar Revelation, which
is where he gets most of his misinformation about Leonardo, his
art and his beliefs. In fact, there is not an art historian on earth
who agrees with Picknett and Prince's amateur opinion that this
figure is Magdalene.
this mural (it is not a 'fresco', as Brown calls it) for his patron
Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan in 1495 and completed it in 1498.
It measures 880 x 460 cms and covers one wall of the refectory,
or dining hall, of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
Paintings of the Last Supper were a traditional theme for the decoration
of monastic refectories and in many ways Leonardo's work keeps to
the traditions of such paintings, though he departs from them in
some small but significant ways. On the whole, however, he is faithful
to the story of the Last Supper told in the gospel of John (John
a specific incident in John's account: the moment after the supper
itself when Jesus announces one of his followers is going to betray
him (John 13:21-32). According to the gospel account Leonardo was
following, when Jesus announced this, his disciples were shocked
and dismayed. John ('the disciple Jesus loved') was reclining next
to Jesus, so Peter 'signed to him' (John 13:24) and said to him
'Ask (Jesus) who he means.' John asks this question of Jesus and
Jesus says it will be the man to whom he passes a piece of bread.
He then dips some bread in some sauce and gives it to Judas.
This is precisely
what Leonardo depicts. In his painting, Jesus sits serenely in the
middle of the twelve disciples, who are ranged on either side of
him in two groups of three. From the left they are Bartholomew,
James the Lesser and Andrew, then Judas, Peter and John. On the
other side of Jesus are Thomas, James Major and Philip and then
Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot. All are expressing
anger, alarm and dismay at Jesus' words, except Judas, who is leaning
back into shadow, turned partly towards Jesus and partly away from
Jesus' right are John and Peter. As in the gospel account, Peter
is leaning forward, touching John's shoulder to get his attention,
pointing towards Jesus with his index finger and asking him to question
Jesus. John is leaning back toward Peter, his head down and listening
to what Peter is saying. It is also significant that Leonardo groups
Judas with these two. It is partly because Judas must be near Jesus
if Jesus could hand him the bread, but also because these three
represent three different standards of loyalty to Jesus: Judas betrays
him, Peter denies him and then repents and John stays with him until
or Mary Magdalene?
So why does
this John figure look so much like a woman to the untrained modern
eye? This is largely because John was traditionally believed to
have been one of the only disciples who lived to an immensely old
age; dying, according to Christian traditions, on the island of
Patmos in the early Second Century AD. As a result, John was usually
depicted as being very young when he was a follower of Jesus in
the 30s AD. This
comparison of depictions of John from the time shows that
John was always shown as a teenager or beardless youth for
this reason. In fact, Jacobo Bassano's depiction of the Last Supper
goes so far as to show John as a young child.
For this reason,
the John in Leonardo's painting is one of only two men in the picture
who are beardless; the other being Philip, who was also traditionally
depicted as being younger than the others. In Leonardo's time it
was fashionable for youths and young men to be clean-shaven and
have shoulder-length hair, while older men often wore beards and
shorter hair, so John is shown without a beard and with 'flowing
red hair'. A comparison with other medieval and renaissance depictions
of John also shows that he was often depicted with red or reddish-brown
hair (see the link above).
But there are
two other reasons Leonardo's depiction of John looks feminine to
modern eyes. Firstly, the aesthetics of male beauty in youths in
Leonardo's time was decidedly feminine compared to modern tastes.
A youth who was considered attractive tended not to be ruggedly
handsome and burly, but rather delicately featured, fair and rather
girlish. This was particularly the case for Leonardo's depictions
of such young men.
Brown has Teabing
assure Sophie ' "Believe me, it's no mistake. Leonardo was
skilled at painting the difference between the sexes." ' In
fact, Leonardo is renowned for painting figures of ambiguous
sex. Angels were traditionally depicted as young men, but Leonardo's
angels could easily be mistaken for girls. And Leonardo did one
painting of another young John - John the Baptist - which, if the
viewer did not know who the painting was of, would easily be mistaken
for a young woman:
ambiguity in Leonardo's depictions of young men was partly because
of the aesthetic of the time, but it could also have been influenced
by Leonardo's own sexuality. Despite Brown having Langdon claim
Leonardo was a 'flamboyant homosexual', the evidence about his sexuality
is actually unclear. He never married, he kept young men on as apprentices
despite their lack of artistic ability and, in one case, he kept
one on even though the young man had stolen from him. As a youth
in 1476 Leonardo was also accused, with three other young men, of
sodomy with a young male prostitute. After two hearings, the charges
were dropped because of lack of evidence and there is some speculation
the young plaintiff was a scam artist trying to blackmail the accused.
That said, there is certainly some evidence Leonardo was homosexual.
If this is the
case, it could go some way to explaining the way he liked to depict
young men in his art.
Some art experts
have actually gone further with this idea. It is well known that
Leonardo had a favourite pupil in his studio: one Gian Giacomo Caprotti
da Oreno, better known by his nickname 'Salai', or 'the little devil'.
He was aptly
named. Leonardo took Salai into his home when the boy was aged ten
and made him one of his pupils. Salai was not a great artist, but
Leonardo cared for him and housed him until the time of the great
artist's death, after which he left a vineyard to Salai in his will.
This was despite the fact Salai ran away several times, stole from
Leonardo on several occasions and was noted for his theivery, bad
manners and gluttony. Leonardo himself wrote in exasperation that
Salai was 'theivish, lying, obstinate and greedy'.
is no clear evidence that Leonardo was gay, it is widely thought
that he put up with Salai's behaviour because the pair were lovers.
Judging from a drawing of Salai by Leonardo, he was clearly a very
attractive, rather girlish-featured young man, with flowing hair
and large eyes. In fact, this drawing is so close to the figure
of John in The Last Supper in its pose and its features that it
is thought Salai was the most likely model for the John figure in
the painting. This becomes clear when the two figures are superimposed:
Drawing of Salai
Detail of John,
from The Last Supper
Salai and John
Salai and John
The pose, the
features and the boy's nose and small, feminine chin are identical
in both pictures. In fact, the only differences are that John's
eyes are downcast and Salai is smiling, which makes sense considering
the circumstances of the gospel scene Leonardo is depicting in The
So a good case
can be made that John looks feminine because he is based on the
feminine youth, Salai.
Restorations of The Last Supper
Sophie that one of the reasons art experts have not noticed 'Mary'
in The Last Supper before is that the painting has been clumsily
'restored', touched up and generally tampered with over the centuries.
He states that the recent expert and painstaking restoration work
completed in 1954 has revealed 'details
. hidden beneath layers
of grime and several restorative repaintings done by clumsy hands
in the eighteenth century.' He then declares 'Now, at last, the
fresco has been cleaned down to Da Vinci's original layer of paint
. Et voila!"'
It is entirely
true that the painting was obscured and altered by repeated and
often clumsy restoration attempts over the centuries. Contrary to
Brown's repeated use of the word 'fresco' in relation to the painting,
it is actually painted in an experimental oil and tempera mixture
directly onto the stone of the wall; not onto wet plaster, as in
a true fresco. This allowed Leonardo to go back and make adjustments
to the painting over the four years he worked on it. Unfortunately,
it also meant the painting began to deteriorate soon after it was
completed. In 1517, Antonio de Beatis noted that The Last Supper
was falling apart and in 1726 Michelangelo Bellotti began the first
of several attempts at 'restoration'.
it with caustic solvents and then covered it with layers of oil
paint and varnish to try to restore and preserve it. In 1770 Giusseppe
Mazza removed much of his predecessor's work and then touched it
up with oil paints. Then, in 1853, Stefano Barezzi tried to remove
the painting from the wall altogether and, when that failed, tried
to glue the paint fragments to the base to prevent further decay.
These attempts all served to further damage the painting and it
was only in the Twentieth Century that more scientific approaches
to careful restoration were undertaken.
It was only
in 1903 that Luigi Cavengahi finally determined that the painting
was not done simply in oil, but in an oil and tempera mix. Between
1906 and 1908 he cleaned the painting carefully and retouched some
areas. It was cleaned again in 1924 by Oreste Silvestri.
The Last Supper
suffered again in 1943, when it was almost destroyed by bombing.
It was protected by sandbags and reinforcing braces, but the bombed-out
refectory remained open to the elements for some years before it
was repaired. After the War, between 1951and 1954, Mauro Pelliccioli
cleaned the painting of mildew and protected it with a shellac-based
coating, helping to preserve the damaged work. This is the restoration
Brown has Teabing refer to, but it was did not 'down to Da Vinci's
original layer of paint' as Teabing claims.
In fact, the
most recent, most scientific and most extensive restoration of The
Last Supper began in 1979 and was completed in 1999, under the guidance
of Pinin Brambilla Barcilon. Rather than simply cleaning and stabilising
the painting, Brambilla chose to actually remove the oil-based 'restorative'
overpainting from the Eighteenth Century, because it was eating
away at Leonardo's original pigments. Brambilla removed the over
painting and then repainted critical parts of the work in watercolour
in what she thought were the most likely colours and tones
used by Leonardo. Many hailed her 20 year project as a triumph of
preservation and restoration, but others savagely criticised it.
Professor James Beck of Columbia University's Art History department
in New York was a trenchant critic, arguing that the removal of
the over painting actually served to also remove more of Leonardo's
original pigments and that the watercolour additions were effectively
repainting the work all over again. Commenting to the BBC when the
restoration was unveiled in 1999 he said 'It's taking art lovers
for a ride. What you have is a modern repainting of a work that
was poorly conserved. It doesn't have an echo of the past.' (The
Last Supper Shown, BBC News, Thursday, 27 May, 1999)
defended Brambilla's choices, but no-one would disagree that, in
many significant places, there is actually nothing of Leonardo's
original paint at all. Most importantly for readers of The Da
Vinci Code, almost none of the pigment on the faces of
the central figures is original.
So not only
is what Brown has Teabing claim about the most recent restoration
wrong, but - more importantly - his assertion that the restored
painting now reveals 'Da Vinci's original layer of paint' is pure
Mary Magdalene Defamed as a 'Prostitute'?
"That, my dear," Teabing replied, "is
Sophie turned. "The prostitute?"
Teabing drew a short breath, as if the word had injured him personally.
"Magdalene was no such thing. That unfortunate misconception
is the legacy of a smear campaign launched by the early Church.
(Chapter 58, p. 244)
reader of The Da Vinci Code may know little about Mary Magdalene,
but the idea she was a prostitute before she met Jesus is deeply
ingrained in western culture. Painters from the Middle Ages to the
Modern Period traditionally depicted her with flowing, uncovered
hair (usually red), rich robes and youthful beauty - an image of
a wealthy whore. In periods where painters were usually commissioned
to paint the Virgin Mary or pious and chaste female saints and martyrs,
'Magdalene the Whore' gave them the license to insert the vaguest
hint of sex into their works. Modern depictions of her in the musical
Jesus Christ Superstar and The Last Temptation of Christ
reinforce this traditional image in the public mind, so Brown's
'revelation', via Teabing, that this was simply part of a Church
'smear campaign' has caught many readers' imaginations.
In fact, the
idea that she was a prostitute was never at any time part of the
doctrine of the Catholic Church or any other churches - it was simply
a popular folk-belief. Brown seems to have got the idea that it
was a deliberate 'smear campaign' from the fact that, on September
21, 591, Pope Gregory the Great gave an influential sermon where
he declared that Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, 'the woman taken in
adultery' described in John 8:3 and the woman who anointed Jesus'
feet in Luke 3 were all the same person. The word Gregory used to
describe this composite character was peccatrix, or 'sinner',
but he did not use the Latin word for 'prostitute' - meretrix.
The popular idea that Magdalene's 'sin' was sexual and that she
was, therefore, a prostitute certainly did arise from Gregory's
preaching indirectly, but neither Pope Gregory nor any other Church
leader ever maintained that she was a prostitute as a matter of
faith and doctrine.
In 1969 the
Second Vatican Council clarified the Church's teaching on Mary Magdalene,
correcting Pope Gregory's assertion that Mary Magdalene, Mary of
Bethany and the other two unnamed women were all the same person.
It also assured Catholics that the popular folk-belief that Magdalene
was a prostitute was without foundation. The media and some of Brown's
supporters have claimed this was some kind of belated reversal of
Pope Gregory's 'smear campaign', but it is clear that Gregory's
official Church doctrine never claimed Magdalene was a prostitute
in the first place and this was never taught by the Catholic Church
at any time.
as it may be to some readers of the novel, the idea that Magdalene
was declared a prostitute by the Church as a smear is totally without
foundation. In an interview with Dan Burstein, Katherine Ludwig
Jansen - author of The Making of the Magdalene: Preaching and
Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages - was at pains to
reject the idea of any deliberate 'smear campaign':
In my view,
"cover-up" and 'conspiracy" are not useful ways to
understand the historical confusion about Mary Magdalene's identity
.... it would be a gross misinterpretation of history to view it
as a conspiracy or an act of maliciousness on (Pope Gregory's) part.
(Dan Burstein (ed.), Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorised Guide
to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code, p. 49)
Marriage of Jesus and Magdalene
The Church needed to defame Mary Magdalene in
order to cover up her dangerous secret--her role as the Holy Grail."
"As I mentioned, "Teabing clarified,
"the early Church needed to convince the world that the mortal
prophet Jesus was a divine being. Therefore, any gospels that described
earthly aspects of Jesus' life had to be omitted from the Bible.
Unfortunately for the early editors, one particularly troubling
earthly theme kept recurring in the gospels. Mary Magdalene."
He paused. "More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ."
"I beg your pardon?" Sophie's eyes moved to Langdon and
then back to Teabing.
"It's a matter of historical record," Teabing said, "and
Da Vinci was certainly aware of that fact.
(Chapter 58, p. 244)
This is one
of various points in the novel where Brown, through Teabing and
Langdon, assures the reader that the marriage of Jesus and Mary
Magdalene is 'a matter of historical record. Here Teabing asserts
that the gospels excluded from the canon of the Bible rejected 'earthly'
aspects of his life (such as this supposed 'marriage') and only
accepted a 'divine' being.
In fact, quite
the opposite is true. Despite Brown's various claims to the contrary,
the Gnostic gospels and others rejected from the canon tended to
depict Jesus as a purely spiritual, purely divine being who, at
best, only had the appearance of humanity. These texts had little
interest in or detail about his life, his actions, his friends and
family or anything human and concentrated almost exclusively on
his teachings or teachings they attributed to him. The canonical
gospels, on the other hand, depicted a much more rounded picture
of Jesus. This makes sense, considering they were written within
a few decades of the life of the man himself, before it became fully
encrusted with legend. In those Biblical gospels Jesus not only
has companions and family, enemies and debates and journeys and
miracles, but he also gets angry, expresses frustration, insults
his enemies, rejoices, eats and drinks and weeps at the death of
a close friend. Far from presenting some remote divine figure, the
Jesus of the canonical gospels is often, for modern Christians,
rather uncomfortably and authentically human. And, far from presenting
a more human Jesus, the later Gnostic texts actually depict him
as a one dimensional abstraction who is above and beyond any man.
characters actually get the story completely backwards.
In this passage
Brown has Teabing lead into the idea that the Gnostic gospels make
it clear that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that, therefore,
this is 'a matter of historical record', but this is totally incorrect
on several levels.
Images in The Last Supper?
"It's a matter of historical record,"
Teabing said, "and Da Vinci was certainly aware of that fact.
The Last Supper practically shouts at the viewer that Jesus and
Magdalene were a pair."
Sophie glanced back to the fresco.
"Notice that Jesus and Magdalene are clothed as mirror images
of one another." Teabing pointed to the two individuals in
the center of the fresco.
Sophie was mesmerized. Sure enough, their clothes were inverse colors.
Jesus wore a red robe and blue cloak; Mary Magdalene wore a blue
robe and red cloak. Yin and yang.
(Chapter 58, p. 244)
This is one
of several places where Brown has Teabing insist that the marriage
of Magdalene and Jesus is 'a matter of historical record'. In fact,
there is no evidence at all that Jesus married Mary Magdalene or
Nor is there
any evidence that Leonardo was 'certainly aware of the fact' of
such a marriage. The entire thesis that he believed in this idea
is based on his supposed membership of the 'Priory of Sion', but
the evidence clearly shows that the 'Priory' was a Twentieth Century
hoax, so there is no way Leonardo could have been a member of a
secret society which did not exist in his time. All the evidence
we have about his religious beliefs indicates that they were entirely
unremarkable and we have zero evidence that he held any unorthodox
ideas or had any particular interest in Mary Magdalene.
As for the claim
that John and Jesus are a 'mirror image' of each other, there are
several figures in The Last Supper wearing similar shades of red
and blue, including one (Philip) who is also wearing both colours.
This is simply a matter of compositional balance. Leonardo grouped
the disciples into four trios, with Jesus as an isolated focal point
in the middle. The three disciples to the right of Jesus lean in
close to him, but John, Peter and Judas lean away. In order to tie
those three on the left of Jesus into the composition, Leonardo
made the colours of John's robes similar to those of Jesus
(not identical), but this choice has no significance other than
Mysterious Letter 'M'
"Venturing into the more bizarre,"
Teabing said, "note that Jesus and
His bride appear to be joined at the hip and are leaning away from
one another as if to create this clearly delineated negative space
Even before Teabing traced the contour for her, Sophie saw it-the
indisputable V shape at the focal point of the painting. It was
the same symbol Langdon had drawn earlier for the Grail, the chalice,
and the female womb.
(Chapter 58, p. 244)
The 'focal point'
of the painting is actually Jesus himself, not any 'negative space'
to his right. Leonardo used composition and colour to actually link
John's side of the painting to Jesus and any supposedly V-shaped
'negative space' was simply part of his composition.
"Finally," Teabing said, "if you
view Jesus and Magdalene as compositional elements rather than as
people, you will see another obvious shape leap out at you."
He paused. "A letter of the alphabet."
Sophie saw it at once. To say the letter leapt out at her was an
understatement. The letter was suddenly all Sophie could see. Glaring
in the center of the painting was the unquestionable outline of
an enormous, flawlessly formed letter M.
"A bit too perfect for coincidence, wouldn't
you say?" Teabing asked.
Sophie was amazed. "Why is it there?"
Teabing shrugged. "Conspiracy theorists
will tell you it stands for Matrimonio or Mary Magdalene. To be
honest, nobody is certain. The only certainty is that the hidden
M is no mistake. Countless Grail-related works contain the hidden
letter M - whether as watermarks, underpaintings, or compositional
allusions. The most blatant M, of course, is emblazoned on the altar
at Our Lady of Paris in London, which was designed by a former Grand
Master of the Priory of Sion, Jean Cocteau."
(Chapter 58, p. 244)
and obviousness of this 'flawless' (actually, rather lop-sided)
letter 'M' seems to lie purely in Brown's imagination. This supposed
'M' is not a 'certainty at all, and - like finding shapes in clouds
- it is not hard to 'find' several letters in the composition of
The Last Supper if you try hard enough.
was not a 'Grand Master' of the so-called 'Priory of Sion' because
the hoax 'Priory' was not invented until some years after he died
in 1963. The 'M' on the altar of Our Lady of Paris actually stands,
not surprisingly, for 'Mary' - the Virgin's name.
Did Jesus Marry?
Sophie weighed the information. "I'll admit,
the hidden M's are intriguing, although I assume nobody is claiming
they are proof of Jesus' marriage to Magdalene."
"No, no," Teabing said, going to a
nearby table of books. "As I said earlier, the marriage of
Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record."
He began pawing through his book collection.
"Moreover, Jesus as a married man makes
infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as
"Why?" Sophie asked.
"Because Jesus was a Jew," Langdon said, taking over while
Teabing searched for his book, "and the social decorum during
that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According
to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for
a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son. If Jesus
were not married, at least one of the Bible's gospels would have
mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state
(Chapter 58, p. 245)
that Brown makes through Langdon has convinced many of his readers
that Jesus would have had to have been married. In fact, holy celibacy
was not universally 'condemned' in Jesus' time at all - we have
many examples of Jewish holy men from that time who were celibate.
One branch of Jewish tradition - the rabbinical branch of the Pharisees
- seems to have frowned on the practice and, when it came to dominate
Judaism after Jesus' time, made marriage a religious duty, but they
and their teaching on the matter did not dominate Judaism in Jesus'
The Jewish historian,
Flavius Josephus, makes it clear that the elite of one of the four
major Jewish sects of the time, the Essenes, practiced holy celibacy:
(the Essenes) are Jews by birth, they love one another even more
than the others. They avoid pleasures as a vice and hold that virtue
is to overcome one's passions and not be subject to them. Marriage
is disdained by them. But they adopt the children of others while
still young, leading them like kin through their studies and impressing
them with their customs.
(Jewish Wars, 2:120)
spiritual mentor, Bannus, was also a celibate hermit:
I was informed
that one, whose name was Banus, lived in the desert, and used no
other clothing than grew upon trees, and had no other food than
what grew of its own accord, and bathed himself in cold water frequently,
both by night and by day, in order to preserve his chastity, I imitated
him in those things, and continued with him three years.
(The Life of Josephus, 2:11)
The Jewish historian
Philo also described another Jewish sect he called the Therapeutae,
who lived in celibate communities in the desert. Like Bannus, the
Therapeutae and the Essenes, John the Baptist lived alone in the
desert and it seems that he too was celibate. Finally, the Christian
apostle Paul - a rabbi trained by the famous Pharisee Gamaliel -
states clearly in one of his letters that he is celibate and encourages
unmarried Christians in Corinth to avoid marriage if they can:
Now to the
unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried,
as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should
marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
So holy celibacy
was not common in Jesus' time, but it was far from unknown
or even highly remarkable. Later in his letter to the Corinthians,
Paul mentions (1Corinthians 9:5) that 'all the other apostles and
the brothers of the Lord and Cephas (Peter)' were all married but,
significantly, he does not mention Jesus in this list. Finally,
Jesus himself had very little to say in his reported teaching about
marriage, but he is reported as praising holy celibacy:
some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made
that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of
the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept
It is clear
that Jesus was not married but, like some other Jews of his time,
chose to be celibate for spiritual reasons.
Teabing located a huge book and pulled it toward
him across the table. The leather-bound edition was poster-sized,
like a huge atlas. The cover read: The Gnostic Gospels. Teabing
heaved it open, and Langdon and Sophie joined him. Sophie could
see it contained photographs of what appeared to be magnified passages
of ancient documents - tattered papyrus with handwritten text. She
did not recognize the ancient language, but the facing pages bore
"These are photocopies of the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls,
which I mentioned earlier," Teabing said. "The earliest
Christian records. Troublingly, they do not match up with the gospels
in the Bible."
(Chapter 58, p. 245)
It is strange
that Teabing has a book which reproduces the Dead Sea Scrolls under
the title The Gnostic Gospels, since none of the Dead Sea
Scrolls are 'gospels', Gnostic or even Christian. Contrary to Teabing's
assertion that the Dead Sea Scrolls are 'the earliest Christian
records', they are purely Jewish works which not only have nothing
to do with Christianity but which were, for the most part, composed
about 150 years before Jesus was even born.
seems to be under the impression that the Nag Hammadi texts, which
definitely were Gnostic Christian works, were 'scrolls',
when they were actually codices - an early form of folded and sewn
Flipping toward the middle of the book, Teabing
pointed to a passage. "The Gospel of Philip is always a good
place to start." Sophie read the passage:
And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved
her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her
mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed
disapproval. They said to him, "Why do you love her more than
all of us?"
The words surprised Sophie, and yet they hardly
seemed conclusive. "It says nothing of marriage."
"Au contraire." Teabing smiled, pointing to the first
line. "As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion,
in those days, literally meant spouse."
Langdon concurred with a nod.
Sophie read the first line again. And the companion of the Saviour
(Chapter 58, p. 246)
and Langdon neglect to tell Sophie is that the Gospel of Philip
was written around 138 AD at the very earliest (possibly
much later still) and so was written a whole century after Jesus'
time. This, on its own, makes it an unreliable source of accurate
biographical information about Jesus' life.
The writer of
Philip actually seems to have had little interest in Jesus' life
- the 'gospel' is actually a collection of sayings attributed by
the Gnostic teacher, Valentinus (c. 100-153 AD), to Jesus. It contains
little biographical detail, probably because the Gnostics did not
believe Jesus was a human at all and (contrary to Teabing and Langdon's
claims) were not interested in the human details of his life.
There are also
several problems with the passage Sophie reads. It should actually
read like this:
And the companion
of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples,
and used to kiss her often on her [
]. The rest of the disciples
[...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all
is badly damaged in places and has a number of holes caused by ants.
This means several of the key words in the passage are actually
missing and the text Sophie reads contains possible guesses as to
what the missing words were. 'Mouth' is a possibility, for example,
for where Jesus (another guess) kissed Mary Magdalene.
there are several reasons this text cannot be used as 'evidence'
Jesus married Magdalene. Teabing claims 'any Aramaic scholar will
tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse'.
In fact, the opinion of any Aramaic scholar on the matter would
be irrelevant, since Philip is written in Coptic, not Aramaic. And
the word in question - 'koinonos' - is a Greek loan-word
anyway. In Greek, 'koinonos' meant 'companion', 'travelling
partner', 'business partner' or 'associate'. It is not used
to mean 'spouse', 'wife' or 'sexual partner' in any of its many
examples of usage in Greek, and it is not as though Koine Greek
lacked words for those concepts. There is no reason, therefore,
to assume it has those meanings here.
And the objection
of 'rest of the disciples' where they ask why Jesus loves Magdalene
more also argues against the idea the two were married. If Magdalene
were Jesus' wife, the answer to that objection would be clear -
he loves her more because he is married to her. The objection does
not make much sense if Brown's claims about this passage are true.
associate a kiss, especially one on the mouth, as a sign of sexual
love. But ancient people used such kisses as a greeting and as a
sign of fellowship. More importantly, the Gnostics also used such
a kiss as a symbol of the passing and sharing of secret gnosis
- the hidden 'knowledge' that gave their sect its name. Brown neglects
to mention that Philip depicts Jesus discussing this symbolic kiss
earlier in the text:
forth by him from the mouth, the place where the Logos came forth;
(one) was to be nourished from the mouth to become perfect. The
perfect are conceived thru a kiss and they are born. Therefore we
also are motivated to kiss one another- to receive conception from
within our mutual grace.
texts make it equally clear that this initiate's kiss was symbolic,
not sexual. In the Second Apocalypse of James, Jesus is depicting
exchanging such a symbolic kiss with his brother, James:
kissed my mouth. He took hold of me saying, 'My beloved! Behold,
I shall reveal to you those things that the heavens nor the angels
have known. Behold, I shall reveal to you everything, my beloved.
Behold, I shall reveal to you what is hidden. But now, stretch out
your hand. Now, take hold of me'
(Second Apocalypse of James)
is nothing sexual about this kiss or his addressing his brother
as 'My beloved'. Brown has Teabing ignore this context and therefore
misinterprets the kiss in Philip with an anachronistically modern
understanding of the meaning of such a kiss.
Gospel of Mary
Sir Leigh Teabing was still talking. "I
shan't bore you with the countless references to Jesus and Magdalene's
union. That has been explored ad nauseum by modern historians. I
would, however, like to point out the following." He motioned
to another passage. "This is from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene."
Sophie had not known a gospel existed in Magdalene's
words. She read the text:
And Peter said, "Did the Saviour really
speak with a woman without our knowledge? Are we to turn about and
all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?"
And Levi answered, "Peter, you have always been hot-tempered.
Now I see you contending against the woman like an adversary. If
the Saviour made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely
the Saviour knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than
(Chapter 58, p. 247)
not 'bore' Sophie with these 'countless references to Jesus and
Magdalene's union', because they simply do not exist. This also
means these non-existent 'countless references' cannot have been
'explored ad nauseum by modern historians'. This is yet another
example of vague assurances of expert agreement and general references
to unnamed sources are used by Brown to bolster the credibility
of the 'information' his characters impart.
of Mary is not a gospel 'in Magdalene's words' because it dates,
at the earliest, to the late Second Century AD; or over 120 years
after Magdalene would have died. It reflects the religious politics
of that time - with Peter and Levi representing the Gnostics' orthodox
opponents and 'Mary' representing the Gnostic's belief in direct
revelation from God rather than the passing down of traditions about
Jesus from his original followers. The gospel itself does not make
it clear that the 'Mary' it mentions is Magdalene rather than Mary
of Bethany or any of the other Marys mentioned in early Christian
texts, but it seems a reasonable hypothesis.
"The woman they are speaking of," Teabing
explained, "is Mary Magdalene. Peter is jealous of her."
"Because Jesus preferred Mary?"
"Not only that. The stakes were far greater
than mere affection. At this point in the gospels, Jesus suspects
He will soon be captured and crucified. So He gives Mary Magdalene
instructions on how to carry on His Church after He is gone. As
a result, Peter expresses his discontent over playing second fiddle
to a woman. I daresay Peter was something of a sexist."
Sophie was trying to keep up. "This is Saint
Peter. The rock on which
Jesus built His Church."
"The same, except for one catch. According to these unaltered
gospels, it was not Peter to whom Christ gave directions with which
to establish the Christian Church. It was Mary Magdalene."
Sophie looked at him. "You're saying the Christian Church was
to be carried on by a woman?"
"That was the plan. Jesus was the original feminist. He intended
for the future of His Church to be in the hands of Mary Magdalene."
(Chapter 58, p. 248)
Here Brown has
Teabing again refer to this late Gnostic text as an 'unaltered gospel',
when it is actually very much a later development within Second
Century Christianity which says more about the beliefs of that time
than it does about real events in Jesus' time, over a century and
a half before.
of this text and the Gospel of Mary generally is also very
strange. Despite what he claims, there is nothing in Mary to indicate
that Jesus intended Mary Magdalene to lead the Church, nor is this
idea found in any other Gnostic text or anywhere else at all. This
wild hypothesis is pure fiction. As for the Gnostic image of Jesus
as something of a 'feminist', this idea is based on a highly selective
reading of the Gnostic texts. Many Gnostic works actually seem to
be highly sexist and openly hostile to women, since the Gnostics
saw sex and conception as imprisoning more spiritual souls in the
physical world they sought to escape. The Jesus of another Gnostic
text, the Gospel of Thomas certainly does not sound like
'the original feminist':
said to him, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of
Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male,
so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males.
For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom
'Disembodied Hand' in The Last Supper
"And Peter had a problem with that,"
Langdon said, pointing to The Last Supper. "That's Peter there.
You can see that Da Vinci was well aware of how Peter felt about
Again, Sophie was speechless. In the painting, Peter was leaning
menacingly toward Mary Magdalene and slicing his blade-like hand
across her neck. The same threatening gesture as in Madonna of the
"And here too," Langdon said, pointing
now to the crowd of disciples near Peter. "A bit ominous, no?"
Sophie squinted and saw a hand emerging from the crowd of disciples.
"Is that hand wielding a dagger?"
"Yes. Stranger still, if you count the arms, you'll see that
this hand belongs to ... no one at all. It's disembodied. Anonymous."
(Chapter 58, p. 248)
of Peter's 'blade-like hand' across John's neck is another 'detail'
Brown has lifted directly from Picknett and Prince's The Templar
Revelation. In fact, Peter's hand is neither 'blade-like' nor
threatening. He is touching John on the shoulder to ask him to query
Jesus as to who is going to betray him. John is leaning towards
Peter to listen to his question. The fingers of Peter's hand are
curled, not 'blade-like', and the only finger which is extended
is the index finger, which is pointing towards Jesus.
This is also
nothing like the supposedly 'threatening gesture as in Madonna of
the Rocks' - a reference to the protective, open-handed gesture
of the Virgin over the head of her son Jesus (Brown muddles Jesus
with John and claims this gesture is 'claw-like' and 'threatening').
Peter is merely pointing towards Jesus as he talks to John about
The claim that
the 'dagger' is held by a mysterious 'disembodied' hand is even
more ridiculous. The 'dagger' is actually a bread knife and the
hand that holds it is not 'disembodied' or 'anonymous' - it belongs
We know this
because the preliminary sketch for the figure of Peter that Leonardo
made in preparation for the painting still survives and is kept
in the Royal collection at Windsor Castle. This sketch clearly shows
that it is Peter who is holding this knife; something which is made
even more clear when that sketch is superimposed on the (damaged)
right arm of Peter in The Last Supper.
the 'Disemboadied Hand' with the knife in The Last Supper
study of the hand of Peter for The Last Supper
image of the Windsor Castle study and the final painting of Peter's
of the bread knife is a symbolic prefigurement of a later episode
in the story - where Peter uses a sword to defend Jesus as Judas
betrays him to his captors. Once again, Brown's use of unreliable
amateurish 'sources' and his failure to check their claims means
he manages to totally mislead unwary readers.
the Royal Princess?
Sophie was starting to feel overwhelmed. "I'm
sorry, I still don't understand how all of this makes Mary Magdalene
the Holy Grail."
"Aha!" Teabing exclaimed again. "Therein lies the
rub!" He turned once more to the table and pulled out a large
chart, spreading it out for her. It was an elaborate genealogy.
"Few people realize that Mary Magdalene, in addition to being
Christ's right hand, was a powerful woman already."
Sophie could now see the title of the family tree.
THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN
"Mary Magdalene is here," Teabing said,
pointing near the top of the genealogy.
Sophie was surprised. "She was of the House of Benjamin?"
"Indeed," Teabing said. "Mary Magdalene was of royal
"But I was under the impression Magdalene was poor."
Teabing shook his head. "Magdalene was recast as a whore in
order to erase evidence of her powerful family ties."
Sophie found herself again glancing at Langdon, who again nodded.
She turned back to Teabing. "But why would the early Church
care if Magdalene had royal blood?"
The Briton smiled. "My dear child, it was not Mary Magdalene's
royal blood that concerned the Church so much as it was her consorting
with Christ, who also had royal blood. As you know, the Book of
Matthew tells us that Jesus was of the House of David. A descendant
of King Solomon - King of the Jews. By marrying into the powerful
House of Benjamin, Jesus fused two royal bloodlines, creating a
potent political union with the potential of making a legitimate
claim to the throne and restoring the line of kings as it was under
(Chapter 58. p. 248-249)
via Teabing, that Mary Magdalene was 'of royal descent' would be
news to historians. Even taking the much later information in the
non-canonical gospels into account, the data we have on Magdalene
is miniscule and none of it indicates anything about her origins
other than the fact she was from Magdala in Galilee. There is absolutely
nothing in any of the source material about her family, let alone
to have got his idea that Magdalene was 'of royal descent' and came
from the Jewish tribe of Benjamin purely from a book by 'Margaret
Starbird' called The Woman with the Alabaster Jar.
full real name is unknown, but her first name seems to have been
'Maureen') was originally a Catholic, but she departed from Catholicism
and mainstream Christianity when she read Holy Blood Holy Grail.
Without realising that this amateur book was based on the whole
'Priory of Sion' hoax, she separated from her Catholic faith and
began pursuing research regarding Holy Blood Holy Grail's
claims about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Drawing on much later medieval
legends which seemed to indicate that Magdalene fled to France after
Jesus' crucifixion, 'Starbird' developed a complex 'history' of
Jesus and Mary's marriage which she published, in 1993, as The
Woman with the Alabaster Jar.
Her book was
welcomed by some feminists, New Agers and elements on the fringe
of liberal Christianity; including, oddly, the otherwise scholarly
and sensible American Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong. Historians,
on the other hand, regarded her speculations and hypotheses as amateurish
Holy Blood Holy Grail's claims Jesus married Magdalene, 'Starbird'
asked herself why he would have chosen this particular woman. Judging
from the tiny amount of information available about her, there seemed
nothing special about Magdalene. 'Starbird' decided that, since
Jesus was supposedly a descendant of the distantly ancient Jewish
royal house of David, Magdalene must also have been of royal birth.
There was nothing in the evidence to indicate this at all but, despite
this, 'Starbird' decided that Magdalene 'must have been' of the
house of Benjamin, which was the tribe of the earlier Jewish king
Both the house
(and tribe) of David and that of Benjamin were distant historical
concepts in Jesus and Magdalene's time. All Jews traced their distant
ancestry to one of the original twelve tribes of Israel - the descendants
of the legendary twelve sons of Jacob, the son of Abraham in the
early history of their people. But the idea that someone of the
'house of Benjamin' or the 'house of David' in the First Century
AD was actually a direct lineal descendant of Benjamin or David
was as unlikely as someone in the Twenty-first Century with the
Scottish surname 'McDonald' being a linear descendant of an ancient
Scotsman called 'Donal'.
the idea that Magdalene was a member of the tribe of Benjamin is
supported by no actual evidence at all - it is purely a series of
hypotheses and leaps of imagination piled up by 'Margaret Starbird'
because it fitted with her ideas about Jesus and Mary. In fact,
the tribe of Benjamin's descendents tended to be from the south
of Judea, whereas Magdala - the village of Mary's origin - was far
to the north: on the south coast of the Sea of Galilee. 'Starbird'
claimed Magdalene was not from Magdala at all but was actually the
same person as Mary of Bethany, but Brown ignores this (historically
unlikely) technical detail.
The idea from
'Starbird' that Magdalene was from 'the house of Benjamin', that
she had 'royal blood' and that her supposed union with Jesus was
therefore religiously and politically significant is based on no
evidence at all - it stems purely from the speculations of an amateur
= 'Holy Blood'?
Sophie sensed he was at last coming to his point.
Teabing looked excited now. "The legend of the Holy Grail is
a legend about royal blood. When Grail legend speaks of 'the chalice
that held the blood of Christ'... it speaks, in fact, of Mary Magdalene
- the female womb that carried Jesus' royal bloodline."
The words seemed to echo across the ballroom
and back before they fully registered in Sophie's mind. Mary Magdalene
carried the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ? "But how could
Christ have a bloodline unless...?" She paused and looked at
Langdon smiled softly. "Unless they had
Sophie stood transfixed. "Behold," Teabing proclaimed,
"the greatest cover-up in human history. Not only was Jesus
Christ married, but He was a father. My dear, Mary Magdalene was
the Holy Vessel. She was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline
of Jesus Christ. She was the womb that bore the lineage, and the
vine from which the sacred fruit sprang forth!"
Sophie felt the hairs stand up on her arms. "But how could
a secret that big be kept quiet all of these years?"
"Heavens!" Teabing said. "It has been anything but
quiet! The royal bloodline of Jesus Christ is the source of the
most enduring legend of all time - the Holy Grail. Magdalene's story
has been shouted from the rooftops for centuries in all kinds of
metaphors and languages. Her story is everywhere once you open your
"And the Sangreal documents?" Sophie
said. "They allegedly contain proof that Jesus had a royal
"So the entire Holy Grail legend is all
about royal blood?"
"Quite literally," Teabing said. "The
word Sangreal derives from San Greal--or Holy Grail. But in its
most ancient form, the word Sangreal was divided in a different
spot." Teabing wrote on a piece of scrap paper and handed it
She read what he had written.
Instantly, Sophie recognized the translation.
Sang Real literally meant Royal Blood.
(Chapter 58, p. 249-250)
French for 'royal blood' would have been 'le sang royal', as Sophie
should have known, as a French speaker. Even in Old French, 'Sang
Real' does not mean 'royal blood'. Brown's claim, via Teabing, that
the word 'Sangreal' apparently should have been two words comes
directly from a contrived argument by the authors of Holy Blood
Holy Grail, who took one late manuscript which copied the word
as two words and constructed this idea of 'royal blood' from that
The actual word
used in most versions of the story was 'Sankgreall' and the last
part of that word derived from the Latin 'gradale' - meaning 'a
serving platter'. It was only later that the 'grail' became a cup
and Brown's assertions about 'holy blood' are a contrived modern
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