Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Rant

Last time I posted about reading. In a moment of weakness I picked up and read The Da Vinci Code. I know that my dear friends Matt and Sarah were discussing the literary merits of this book recently, and I will not judge this book on its literary merits except to say that I, personally, did not like his writing style. However, I do have certain complaints to make from a purely historical perspective. Dan Brown made a number of errors in his description of the Bible and its history, a few of which were absolutely egregious. I do not mind someone believing that perhaps parts of our received history differ from reality (as a Latter-day Saint, I have necessarily different view on the transmission of Apostolic authority, for example). There is, however, no excuse for making factual errors that thirty seconds with a decent encyclopedia would clear up. I understand that sometimes license can be taken here and there, and I am willing to extend to the book such license (i.e. that there actually was an historical Priory of Zion, the the documents revealing its secret history were anything but the most obvious of forgeries, et cetera), but I am less comfortable with the egregious factual errors I found in this book. There are three such egregious errors that I identified in The Da Vinci Code. I realize that by posting about this topic I am playing write into Dan Brown's hands, but I couldn't help myself.

The first is the idea that Amun is ram-headed and associated with fertility. There were Egyptian gods who were associated with fertility (such as Min, who is always pictured holding his erect phallus) and there were ram-headed gods. There were even Egyptian ram-headed gods associated with fertility, such as Khnum. Khnum was occasionally associated with Amun-Ra Sonter, which I assume is Dan Brown's point, but to say that Amun is a ram-headed fertility god is wholly wrong. Amun means 'hidden', and Amun is usually depicted as a man with the the double feather crown on his head. He was worahipped as a god of hidden power and after being syncretized with Ra, the generative power of the sun, which I suppose could have some fertility issues (of course, The Da Vinci Code is about fertility in the modern sense, meaning sex, and not about pregnancy, children or any of those other ideas associated with ancient fertility). I have included a picture of Amun for my readers not as acquainted with Egyptian crowns, as well as of Khnum for comparison. Khnum, and not Amun is the god that Dan Brown's hero meant, but unfortunately Khnum doesn't anagram as prettily as Amun. The other error associated with these gods is claiming that Khnum was the consort of Isis, which he was not. Isis' consort is Osiris, which is extremely important, because there is an entire myth cycle surrounding Osiris and Isis. Incidentally, Osiris is not ram-headed either, being a mummiform figure of an Egyptian king. He was associated with fertility, since Isis rather
famously conceived Horus
after Osiris was killed by his brother.

The next concern was actually the most egregious error in the book, an error so terrible that I read it twice in disbelief. The above concern is something of a specialist problem, since iconographic representations of Egyptian gods is a somewhat esoteric field, so it would be possible to make a mistake in this regard. An important conceit of this book is the concept of a secret history of Christianity that They don't want you to have which is recorded in ancient books suppressed by the Catholic church. This is the idea that the gnostic gospels such as the gospel of Philip have primacy over the canonical ones. This isn't an egregious error since there are scholars, such as Elaine Pagels, who actually believe such things. These are the same types of people who get excited over books like the Gospel of Judas, even though it was obviously written hundreds of years after Christ's ministry. No the error was in identifying how we know about these things. When our heroes go visit the grail expert he has a fascimile copy of the Nag Hammadi codices and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which, he claims, contain the real history of Christianity that the Church doesn't want the world to know. There is nothing Christian about the Dead Sea Scrolls, since they were written before the birth of Jesus Christ. The Dead Sea Scrolls can't describe a Church that worships the 'divine feminine,' because the Dead Sea Scrolls are about a Jewish sect that certainly didn't worship anything feminine. The Community was male, celibate, and had more in common with certain later Christian priests than with any group that practices the hieros gamos. Confusing the Dead Sea Scrolls with early Christian documents and then lumping them together with the Nag Hammadi documents merely because both were archives discovered in the early Twentieth Century is an enormous mistake, and I think the worst committed by Dan Brown. There is no way around the fact that he just got his facts wrong.

Which brings us to the third error. This one actually had me out of my seat in surprise. When discussing what documents the Holy Grail contains they mention that it contains Q, the actual written words of Christ. I laughed out loud at this one, since it shows that Dan Brown was passingly acquainted with Q theory, but missed the whole point. Q is a theoretical sayings source, which scholars believe was likely oral. No Q scholar would ever expect to find the Q document, because it doesn't actually exist! Seriously, there could have been a source that Matthew and Luke used independent of Mark, but you wouldn't find it written down, because it is a theoretical reconstruction. It sounds like Dan Brown heard of Q and thought that is was supposed to be a written sayings source that was used by the gospel writers. Regardless, by suggesting it was a document, our author showed his ignorance.

I had other issues, primarily with omissions and misconstructions of obvious facts, but those three were the biggest. I am sorry if you like this book, but I cannot in good conscience recommend this book. I think it is a sensationalist attempt to cash in on the liberal scholarship of certain New Testament scholars. I appreciate your putting up with my little rant. These things are important to me.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The More Things Change...

I'm back at work at M & P. It has been interesting. Not a whole lot has changed there, which is a good thing. It is not quite as stress-free as I would have hoped. When I worked there before I was a cashier, and I had the work of cashiering down pat. However, they decided to start training me on the grill, so instead of going and performing a stress-free job which I know frontwards and backwards, I am being trained on a job that has even more stress than ever before. Oh well. I guess that like President Smith, “it is deep waters that I am wont to swim in.” Not by choice mind you, but the Lord seems to want to give me deep waters in which to swim (although admittedly, these aren't particular deep, neither do I wish to appear like I have great difficulties—I am merely observing that it seems in my life, given a choice between the easy way and a more difficult way, my life seems to pick the more difficult way). It is a good job though, full of many old friends, and so forth. I reckon I've just been spoiled by working as a Research Assistant for Doctors Jackson and Seely. There is, of course, nothing of kind to do out here in the middle of nowhere, so we do what we can. My job is only a short bike ride away, so that is convenient too.

I've been taking some time to read, as well. I read this really weird commentary on Genesis 1 through 3, which essentially had Adam choosing himself. It was very weird, being written by a modern Jewish philosopher, which helps to strengthen my long held position, that you should never trust philosophers. A tricky bunch from start to finish. Admittedly theologians aren't much better, but I don't like to read their commentaries either. You all, however, know me. I am trying to find the plain meaning of the Biblical text, which is a much more difficult proposition than it sounds. In addition to the occasional Biblical commentary, I have been reading a book about Napoleon as a military commander, and a history of Jewish textual history: the Hebrew Bible, Mishna, Talmud, haggadah, et cetera. A fascinating book. I have also been reading the occasional fiction book. I'm thinking about reading through the Wheel of Time again. I've been enjoying my reading, while attempting to squeeze in the occasional Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie.

Monday, May 21, 2007

All Good Things...

Well, he's gone. Samuel and Aleatha just left to return the long road to Utah, while I remain here in Virginia to work at a Pizza place in preparation to going to Oxford. I am very sad. I am going to miss my brother. In some ways this is even sadder than when he went on his mission. I knew then when I would see him again, something I am not sure of this time. It may only be a year or two, or may be several years. I simply do not know. I understand that this is an important part of growing older—moving on, and all that jazz. It just makes me sad. I know I keep saying that, but I do not know any other way to express this emotion. I'm sure that I will soon be caught in the wonderful prospects of my future, but for now, I'm going to miss my brother.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Marriage in Old Nauvoo

Well, I am actually in Virginia as I write this. I intended to write a couple of posts concerning my ongoing thoughts on Samuel's wedding and experiencing Nauvoo, as well as moving from BYU, but that obviously did not happen. As my wife's faithful reader will note, I was sick for at least part of that time, and so was unable to really write anything. This may be mere excuses, and you, O Best Beloved, may be fairly crying at the screen at this time to stop hemming and hawing and actually get to the substance of my post. Ahh, but therein you have discovered my secret: my writing always has more fluff than crunch, at least for unimportant writings, such as this one. Not I that I mean to suggest, my beloved readers, that you or your regard are in ways unimportant to me. Nothing could be further from the truth—my concern for you is what keeps me writing. That and the enjoyment of writing. For example, I am currently attempting to see how long I can continue this introductory paragraph without actually saying anything. I am, I think, doing a decent job, not that I have any desire to praise myself. Well, I do have that desire, but hopefully no more than any man. Regardless of how much I wish to praise or not praise myself, I will proceed with the bulk of my post.

Part of my reason for hemming and hawing so much over the facts is that some of the emotions that I feel as I look back over the wedding and sealing are somewhat difficult to deal with. Not because they are sad, or even unhappy emotions. There is, however a bittersweet edge to my feelings. My brother was the closest man to me of any that ever I met. Only my wife and perhaps my parents can boast to know me better. Because of this marriages have been hard for the two of us. Samuel had difficulties dealing with Thora, and while I had no personal difficulties with Aleatha (I rather like her), still Samuel's and my relationship became strained particularly during the early part of their engagement. Things improved toward the end (we are too good of friends at the core for it not to), but it was difficult for a time. This was exacerbated by the fact that I was graduating and leaving, which of course, by now I have already done. It saddens me, but that is part of life. We move on. I intend to keep in touch with my brother now that we no longer live in the same city, and I expect that we will have many great and wonderful conversations. I just don't know how I am going to work gaming without my stalwart player. How can I play L5R? I don't even really know the rules. That is, of course, only a small concern in the larger world of my ongoing life, but Samuel and I have always had time together. I'm not sure we necessarily will any more, except at times and seasons as we grab it for ourselves. There may, however, be a positive externality to this point, since hopefully we make better use of the time given to us.

The marriage itself was very nice. Nauvoo is a beautiful temple. I actually I enjoyed Aleatha's endowment more than I did the actual sealing. There are a number of factors that led to this, I think. One, the Nauvoo temple sealing room, while beautiful, looked like every other sealing room I'd ever been in. It was a fine ceremony, and we want to wish Samuel and his new bride a hearty mahzel tov from all of us. The endowment rooms, however, were a wonderful thing. One moves from room to room in the fashion of a live endowment, and the walls have murals on them, once again, in the fashion of older temples. My wife and I were asked to serve as witnesses to the company, which was a very fun experience. The Nauvoo Temple, and the endowment therein, were the highlights of my trip to Nauvoo. The sealing was nice, but I was mostly a spectator (which is how it should be). Old Nauvoo was very interesting, but memories of our religion are not he same as living our religion right now. Some of my interactions with the Community of Christ reminded me of this point. They, like us, remember and mourn the lost of Joseph Smith. But those memories alone do no good in the grand eternal scheme of things. Only faith in Jesus Christ and membership in His Church brings salvation. A Temple in Nauvoo again. The thought of it makes me smile. As I was walking back up Parley Street, I saw it there up on the bluff. I turned to my wife, and said, "There is a finger in the mob's eye." Then I began to quote the Standard of Truth, from the Wentworth Letter. It seemed very appropriate. The Nauvoo Temple represents what the Church really is, how it is growing. It is more than just a memory of a dead prophet. It is the work of a living prophet. And without a living prophet, we are not the true Church of Jesus Christ.

Just some thoughts. Until next time:

(I intended to post this days ago, but got caught up with moving into my new home. -ARS.)