Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Da Vinci Code aka What in Tarnation...?

As you may know, The Da Vinci Code, the controversial intellectual thriller by Dan Brown, has been made into a mass motion picture and will be coming to theaters on May 19th. I very much enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the movie.

I have a question, however.

Dan Brown begins his work by stating unequivocally: All descriptions of artwork, architechture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.

Now, since I assume Dan Brown doesn't really want to be sued by various religious groups, his scholarship can't be too shoddy. That's why I'm especially confused by this:

    "He gave her a moment. Admittedly, the concept of sex as a pathway to God was mind-boggling at first. Langdon's Jewish students always looked flabbergasted when he first told them that the early Jewish tradition involved ritualistic sex. In the Temple, no less. Early Jews believed that the Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple housed not only God but also His powerful female equal, Shekinah. Men seeking spiritual wholeness came to the Temple to visit priestesses- or hierodules- with whom they made love and experienced the divine through physical union. The Jewish tetragrammaton YHWH- the sacred name of God- in fact derived from Jehovah, an adrogynous phyiscal union between the masculine Jah and the pre-Hebraic name for Eve, Havah."

    In my version (the European paperback, purchased in Israel) this is on page 411


This defies words.

We had priestesses in the Temple? Not to my knowledge; I thought we had male priests who were levi'im. And the Shekinah as an equal God? Sorry, that's way off. Women made love in the Temple? First, that seems completely impossible, but more importantly, then wouldn't the whole Temple be considered tamay, impure?

Does anyone know what the source is for this belief/ supposedly secret ritual? Is it somehow accurate? If not, how is it that Mr. Brown has escaped complaint or suits from the Jewish community on account of misrepresentation (not that I necessarily wish that upon him?) I wish he had documented his sources, and I'd appreciate anyone who could explain this to me.

Update: The first results of this google search all describe the abovementioned statement/ quotation as an appalling error that is completely inaccurate. If so, I really don't understand Mr. Brown's seemingly over-confident statement that "all secret rituals described...are accurate."


~ Sarah ~ said...

Langdon's Jewish students always looked flabbergasted when he first told them that... so clearly they were not the only ones!

The description here seems similar to scenes that I've read in books that were set in more ancient times and in places like Egypt (who worshipped their gods in that fashion) OR a more likely explanation, now that I think of it, in the times when the Land of Israel was corrupted by foreign invaders (when kings were weak after the split of the kingdom) where the invading nations brought in their own idols and rituals and priest/esses and defaced the sacred Jewish sites (most likely including the Beit HaMikdash). I would have to check some refences to back that up (i cant' remember exactly where I read it) but, unfortunately, it's not something that is out of the question, corrupt times and people. These events and rituals would be recorded but not necessarily by the Jews.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Chana: I read the book over Pesach, and when I read that paragraph you described I realized what Brown meant. He inadvertantly applied semitic religious/pagan custom to Judaism.

The Cananites used to have the religious practices described in their temples (including the priestess/prostitute stuff), and Brown must have mistakenly applied that Judaism.

Perhaps that sort of religious practice is the reason for the destruction of the
"7 amim" and the reason Am Yisrael was given Eretz Cna'an.

I didn't find the book to be overly intellectual -- but it was fun correctly guessing in advance alot of the "clues" in the book. :)

Anonymous said...

“controversial intellectual thriller”

this was your first mistake. It is a novel that helps stupid folks feel intellectual-which is one reason why it is so popular.

“Now, since I assume Dan Brown doesn't really want to be sued by various religious groups, his scholarship can't be too shoddy.”

Shoddy scholorship is not grounds for lawsuits. Moreover, he is not claiming it is accurate according to orthodox jewish scripture. Either way, there is no way to prove or disprove anything in the bible, so he can say anything he wants without having to worry if its “accurate”.

Masmida said...

[sigh] someone else got the oxymoron first.

There is a concept that in Judaism that relates the shichna to marital intimacy [take a look at any halacha/hashkafa book on niddah], one of the connections of that concept to the Beit Ha'Mikdash is the keruvim, one of which was male and the other female, which would embrace or turn their backs on each other as we followed the torah or not.

If you want some a more complete explanation, I refer you to all the commentaries on Shmot 25:18-22. I think the ramban and kli yakar will probably touch on the concept.

All compelling fiction has a seed of truth at the heart.

Josh said...

Marketing, marketing, marketing...

Obviously, the intent of a disclaimer is to distance one's statements from legal repercussions. Brown's overconfident statement, on the other hand, which as mentioned above cannot be legally challenged, provides the assertion level which fuels the conspiracy theories of the masses - and keeps them purchasing such "exposes."

Tobie said...

Kabbala does have the idea that the Shechina is a feminine form of G-d, I think. I've never really studied it.

As for the sacred prostitutes, there are some mentions in the Nevi'im where they're shouting about how this sort of thing goes on and is very, very wrong (off-hand, I would check the bits where the Kings cleaning the Mikdash throw things out- I think the prostitutes are one of the things to go) So any sacred prostitution in the Tanach is just like idol worship in the Tanach- very non-encouraged.

That said, it was this passage that caused me to lose all respect for the factuality of the Da Vinci code. The one thing on which I actually had some knowledge about was absolutely and totally made up . From then on, I failed to believe anything he said.

His disclaimer, possibly, only referred to current rituals, rather than ancient ones.

Chana said...

To the people who don't buy 'intellectual thriller,' I was referring to the reviews.

'An exhilaratingly brainy thriller.'

Far more than the average thriller. Intellectually suspense.

A dazzling performance by Brown...a delightful display of erudition.

Dan Brown's extensive research on secret societies and symbology adds intellectual depth to this page-turning thriller

Ezzie said...

It was a great read, though I wouldn't call it intellectual, either.

As mentioned above, there were times in Jewish history where both conquerors did terrible things in the Mikdash and Jews themselves did. More importantly, when people think that what you're saying is true (simply because they're stupid enough to believe it just because you said so), they think they're learning deep dark secrets. It sells books quite well. :)

Jewish Atheist said...

Shhh! I'm almost done with the book. :-)

I think a lot of people go overboard on the whole ancient goddess worship thing. They want it to be true so much they're willing to blow the evidence out of proportion. See also Tom Robbins (whose early work I recommend if you're okay with obscenity.)

Note also that Brown was sued for plagiarism by the authors of the "controversial work of non-fiction" The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which Brown admits is a major source for his hypothesis.

I think the book is good for just getting people to question and I hope that people willing to be skeptical of Brown are willing to be skeptical of their own sources as well. :-) Even if Brown's selling a load of bull, the Church has peddled more than its share.

kasamba said...

I just finished the book (controversy is the best advertisement!) and that paragraph drove me nuts too!
I asked every Rabbi I could aboiuty the high priestess concept and every one of them looked at me like I was insane. But maybe that wasn't just about the question.....

Larry Lennhoff said...

If you'd like to read a controversial scholarly work on the subject, check out The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai. Note that the author is writing from a perspective entirely outside the Jewish tradition.

e-kvetcher said...

Now, since I assume Dan Brown doesn't really want to be sued by various religious groups, his scholarship can't be too shoddy.

I believe Brown is already in trouble with the Opus Dei over this although I don't think there's any legal action yet.

As far as temple priestesses... This post did most of the quoting I would have done. Scroll down about half way.

In terms of Goddess worship... We know that the entire region had a huge fertility goddess cult of Inanna aka Ashera aka Astarte aka Isis. At several points in history, the worship of this goddess was brought into the Temple. There are archaelogical finds that dedicate items to YHVH and his Ashera, but this doesn't necessarily mean that this was accepted by everyone.
This is a huge problem with trying to reverse engineer a culture based on a few broken pot shards. Many of the archaeologists/Biblical scholars base their theories on very tenuous evidence.

Tobie and others are right about Sh'china being a feminine aspect of G-d in Kabbalah, and the kabalists have always walked a fine edge between monotheism and their almost anthropomorphic/polytheistic flavored Judaism. But being mystics, they defend it by saying "It is a mystery which the uninitiated can't understand".

The original Chasidim also took over the Kabbalistic sexualization of Judaism. Some have said that some Chasidic groups believed that while shuckling one should imagine couping with the Sh'china. However, I doubt that this is still believed by anyone today.

jdub said...

The book is fiction, including the disclaimer. (And not terribly good fiction at that.)

I think Tobie hit the nail on the head. There probably was sacred prostitution going on at various points, but it wasn't normative, it was contrary to Torah and the nevi'im were contantly decrying the people's backsliding into idolatry. Heck Achav and Yizevel had hundreds of priests of Ba'al, you think there wasn't a bit of temple prostitution as well?

Shababnik said...

Actually, I recall learning from my Rav (who also teaches Jewish history for the local Orthodox day school) that there was a large belief, imported from the surrounding pagan cultures, regarding two divine beings, one masculine and one feminine, with a relationship, as described by Brown.

It was one of the many avodah zaros brought into the Temple by those kings who introduced pagan practices in the Beis HaMikdash.

After all - remember that on Har HaZeisim, that until Yoshiyahu, there were active pagan temples overlooking the Beis HaMikdash, including during Shlomo's time.

Shocking - yes. Sadly - our kings could be some of the best and worst influences.

Is it any wonder that Eliyahu HaNavi was so frustrated with Achav and his crowd?


the Shekinah is a fem manifestation of God (think anthropomorphism, but more literal)the source is for this belief maybe from titus's bout with the whore on tisha'bov?

FrumGirl said...

Good sleuthing, Chana :-)
Seems like everyone was reading this book over Pesach and I must admit I was one of them.

I found the book to be a great scavenger hunt of sorts and entertaining, and how bad can a book that disproves Christianity be anyway...?

Yeah, when I read that paragraph I knew that he must be sorely mistaken and so I had to take the rest of the book with a grain of salt. Besides, Angels & Demons is a much much better read.

Thanks for blogging about it, it is interesting to see what others who have actually looked into this have to say about it!

David_on_the_Lake said...

I jusr saw a Documentary called the Davidic Kigdom..
and they also mentioned something about a the Israelites wroshiping some goddess..I forgot the name..during the First Temple period.

dbs said...

It’s a shoddy mix of bad scholarship and Semitic confusion. There is evidence that in ancient Sumer, there were fertility rights involving the god ‘Dumuzi’ who, it is believed, was called ‘Tammuz’ (as in Yechezkel’s admonition) in Mesopotamia. There is no specific evidence that there was actual sex involved in these rites. Of course, it is more sensational to assume that there were, but as EK points out, the evidence for 2000 BC is pretty thin.

I think that it’s safe to say that during the reign of some of the pagan worshiping Judean kings, that the Temple was used for Pagan rituals, but that was thousands of years later and there is certainly no evidence that there were any Pagan cults who practiced sex rituals there.

The entire issue of whether sex was used in pagan ritual at all is open for debate. Personally I’m skeptical about it (what do you expect from a skeptic). Some fragments have stories and poems which are pretty bawdy, but I can’t help wonder how all these words were translated so accurately. I can’t even read my son’s handwriting half the time.

I think that Sumerians should sue.

dilbert said...

at 37,000 feet above Nebraska I read the same paragraph and had the same reaction. The only possible reference I could think of was the behavior of Eli's kids as documented in the begining chapters of the book of Shmuel. I think the likely story is that he is making exaggerated claims based on a combination of syncretism and kabbala(of course, there are those who would say that they are one and the same. :-))

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

The book is beyond stupid, but presumably he was referring to the many long periods of time in Israelite history when abhoda zara was the order of the day. Sprinkle in some post-modernist mumbo jumbo about the word shekhina and some assumed Canaanite ashtoreth rites and you get that passage in the Da Vinci Code.

A Frum Idealist said...

Although I have never heard of rituals of this nature, there is one veiled reference that I once came across.
As we were all taught in second or third grade, the keruvim in the kodesh hakodoshim had a very unique characteristic. When klal yisrael was doing the will of Hashem, the keruvim were facing each other and when not, they were facing apart.
When the Romans were destroying the bais hamikdash, they entered the kodesh hakodoshim. One would think that the keruvim would definitely have been facing apart. In reality they were not only not facing apart, they were intertwined. Why? It seemingly doesn't make any sense.
The answer given is that one of the keruvim represented klal yisrael and the other represented the shechinah. This explains why they normally faced the way they faced. When the Bais Hamikdash was being destroyed the two were intertwined as a “husband preparing to part from his wife”. The halacha states that before a husband departs on a trip he and his wife are supposed to “spend the night together”. In the same manner, the keruvim were intertwined as if to signify the shechina and klal yisrael spending one last night together before beginning their long journey.

Anonymous said...

This custom - worshipping a male and female idol, the male one being Baal or Molech, and later, in a tendency towards monotheism, forming one androgyn idol from both and mixing up bothes worshipping customs ( one cruel and destructive war cult, one fertility cult ) was ordinary to the Peoples living around Israel but strongly prohibited to Israelites. But as Salomon took women from those People and - as reported by the Scripture - was led to follow their pagan cults by them ( to the disgust of the Eternal ) it might well be that he brought those cults into the Temple as later had happened, too ( see Barukh ).