Daniel Henninger: "The Da Vinci Code" shows that conspiracy theories have no limits

Roundup: Talking About History

"The Da Vinci Code" would not be the subject of this column had it not sold 60.5 million copies, according to its publisher Doubleday. Of course this does not make it the best-selling book of all time. That title, as irony would have it, goes to the Bible, half of which one of Dan Brown's characters dismisses as "false."

Like the Bible but unlike Mr. Brown's novel, most of the books in the sales Pantheon have had utilitarian staying power--McGuffey's Reader, the Guinness Book of Records, Noah Webster's "The American Spelling Book," Dr. Spock's baby book and the World Almanac. Now comes "The Da Vinci Code," selling twice as many copies as the 30 million attributed to Jacqueline Susann's "The Valley of the Dolls."

"The Valley of the Dolls" was about people having sex. "The Da Vinci Code" is about Jesus leaving Mary Magdalene pregnant with his baby while he dies on the cross. So in a sense, Mr. Brown's novel respects tradition.

Still, it boggles the mind, and the struggling soul, that "The Da Vinci Code" has sold 60.5 million copies in 45 languages. Sales in the U.S. are 21.7 million, in the U.K. nine million, more than 4.7 million each in France and Japan, 3.6 million in Germany, 1.2 million in China and, no surprise, 143,000 in Romania.

A righteous army has formed to prove everything Dan Brown says about the early Christian church is false, which it most certainly is. Mr. Brown's history pales against the real story of Christianity's first centuries. I recommend two gems: Henry Chadwick's "The Early Church" (Penguin) and Peter Brown's "The Rise of Western Christendom" (Blackwell). Grand, thrilling drama.

But markets don't lie. Clearly Mr. Brown knows something that is true. What is it?...

Here's my theory of "The Da Vinci Code." Dan Brown was sitting one night at the monthly meeting of his local secret society, listening to a lecture on the 65th gospel, and he got to thinking: "I wonder if there's any limit to what people are willing to believe these days about a conspiracy theory. Let's say I wrote a book that said Jesus was married. To Mary Magdalene. Who was pregnant at the Crucifixion. And she is the Holy Grail. Jesus wanted her to run the church as a global sex society called Heiros Gamos, but Peter elbowed her out of the job. Her daughter was the beginning of the Merovingian dynasty of France. Jesus' family is still alive. There were 80 gospels, not four. Leonardo DiCaprio, I mean da Vinci, knew all this. The 'Mona Lisa' is Leonardo's painting of himself in drag. Da Vinci's secret was kept alive by future members of 'the brotherhood,' including Isaac Newton, Claude Debussy and Victor Hugo. The Catholic Church is covering all this up."
Then Dan Brown said softly, "Would anyone buy into a plot so preposterous and fantastic?" Then he started writing....

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