Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

Demystifying The Da Vinci Code (MFA panel)

Wednesday, December 7, 2005, 7 pm Lectures Courses
Demystifying The Da Vinci Code SOLD OUT
SOLD OUT LECTURE: STANDBY SEATING AND VIDEOCAST AVAILABLE. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code raises questions concerning the nature of truth, art, and the...
Lectures Courses
Demystifying The Da Vinci Code SOLD OUT
7 — 8:30 pm
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Remis Auditorium

Sold Out
SOLD OUT LECTURE: STANDBY SEATING AND VIDEOCAST AVAILABLE. Harold Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School; Diana Swancutt, assistant professor of New Testament at the Yale Divinity School; David Nolta, mystery writer and professor of Art History at the Massachusetts College of Art.

Dan Brown's controversial The Da Vinci Code, fiction that claims to be laced with fact, raises questions concerning the nature of truth, art, and the life of Jesus Christ. Find a key to the secrets of the "Code" in this program that addresses Leonardo da Vinci's life, the early development of an orthodox characterization of Jesus Christ, and notions of gender in the ancient world, with special attention to Mary Magdalene.

SOLD OUT LECTURE: STANDBY SEATING AND VIDEOCAST AVAILABLE. A standby line is available on the evening of the program for any seats in Remis Auditorium that may become available. The lecture will also be broadcast by video in Riley Seminar Room; free tickets for these viewings are available on the evening of the program, on a first-come, first-served basis.
I'd been considering skipping the talk 'cause I have not and do not plan to read The DaVinci Code, but I also haven't had any real discussion of it and am interested in learning more about the claims it makes (in large part because of my frustration that people keep treating it as if it's a work of non-fiction) and hey, only $10.  So, I get there, and there's a line of people waiting in case spaces open up.  I go into the auditorium -- which I've never been in before -- and I would estimate that it holds ~400 people, possibly more.  They were letting people in until about 5 past, and I hope that everyone who wanted in got in 'cause I know there was at least one empty seat ('cause it happened to be next to me).

The head of adult education at the MFA or something introduced the talk/speakers.  She kept stumbling over her polysyllabic words, which was odd as she must give speeches a lot, but anyway, she said something about how probably we had all read the book and asked if anyone hadn't.  I, of course, raised my hand proudly.  "Ah, we've got one brave soul.  Two!"

She introduced the the three speakers, and these are the highlights from said introductions (excluding what was already noted in the promotional blurb):

Harold Attridge: A Somerville native, who is working on a book on the death penalty in the Bible (which got added to my mental Wanna Read list).
Diana Swancutt: Whose courses include The Modern Jesus (that was the one that most interested me of the ones listd, and looking at her YDS bio later I saw "queer theory and the New Testament" which of course I would love to take -- though I have trepidation).
David Nolta: He was interviewed on the Today Show with Matt Lauer re: Leonardo da Vinci
He repeatedly mentioned during the program how much he likes to name-drop, to be able to offhandedly say things like, "Well, as I told Matt Lauer."
And, I'm gonna say this upfront: he totally codes as swishy gay.  Most the queer people I know don't actually code queer, and it's not like it really matters what he is, but I was totally reading him as gay throughout the evening.
On Leonardo da Vinci: "You can't call him 'da Vinci' just like you can't call me 'Detroit' just because I'm from Detroit."  [Therefore, he is of course henceforth referred to as "Detroit" :)  In part because I didn't have a good sense of their names at the time -- I hear Harold's name as "Gary Outrey" and thought Diana was "Meredith Swampscott" until I heard Harold call her "Diana" during the talk.]

Harold, returning, asked, "How many have read my last book on the epistle to the Hebrews?"
He said one might wonder why "otherwise self-respecting academics" got into this book.
He talked about giving a talk at the Palo Alto Yale Club book club and how ~185 people showed up, versus the ~70 who usually do, and how according to the secretary, more people came to hear him talk about this book than came to hear President Rick Levin talk about the future of the university.
Explaining the plot of the book for those of us who didn't know: "While Larry Summers was busy with other things, the protagonist, Robert Langdon, is a professor of Symbology -- a field known only at Harvard."
He said it's "a beach book or an airplane book -- not a serious fiction or a serious history." (Detroit later piped up that it's a good bathroom book as well.)
He said it's based on the fiction Holy Blood, Holy Grail which is based on the "Priory of Zion" hoaxes.
The first time that one of the other panelists interrupted him, he reminded us that this was going to be an "interactive" panel " -- we will be interfering with each other on a regular basis."

In the book, Brown talks about assorted Leonardo da Vinci artworks from the Louvre and how supposedly they hold clues, so Detroit talked about those artworks -- and how Brown is completely off-base.
We started with the Mona Lisa.  According to Brown, this is an anagram of names of the Egyptian god pair, Amon and Isis.  Detroit said that in fact the painting is a portrait of the wife of wealthy Florentine businessman Francesco del Giocondo -- and the wife's name was Lisa, so in Leonardo's time, the paintining was known as Madonna Lisa or La Gioconda (a play on "jocund" -- 'cause of her smile).
Next was the Virgin of the Rocks.  Detroit said this was what really drives art historians reading the book up a wall, that Brown describes paintings in inaccurate and misleading ways counter to accepted scholarship.  "It opens with... what's the opposite of a disclaimer?  It's a claimer.  (It's called a 'claim.'" Diana pointed out.) [I wiki-ed later and got a transcription of the book's opening claim: "Fact: (...) All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." I would have liked for Detroit to have actually quoted that, since throughout the talk he and the others made reference to Brown's truth claims]
The protagonist explains to the "less knowledgeable Sophie -- which is an interesting point to make -- " that in the Virgin of the Rocks painting, Jesus is sitting next to his mother and John the Baptist is holding his hand up blessing him.  However, in Leonardo's time, for John to be blessing Jesus would have been considered heretical, and one way we identify Jesus in paintings is that he has his hand up in that blessing gesture.  Brown's protagonist does not say, "Scholars interpret the figures as being thus, but I believe they are infact the other way 'round," he just has him state as if it were fact an interpretation contrary to all accepted scholarship.
Detroit talked about how according to the Bible, John is 6 months older than Jesus, and artists usually exaggerated this age difference in their paintings.  His demonstrative slide was entitled "Little Jesus & Big John"
In one painting he showed, John was accoutred with "costume and props" ready for his "future job as harbinger of Jesus."
[explaining something, if we hadn't read the book]: "and if you haven't, promise me that you won't"
And lastly, The Last Supper, where Brown claims that the figure of St. John is in fact Mary Magdalene.
Detriot said that St. John is usually depicted as young and androgynous and traditionally resting his head on Christ's shoulder.
He showed a number of images to demonstrate this, and one was a picture of the crucifixion divided into 3 panel crucifixions.  From viewer's left to right we have: an old man in the first panel; in the center panel the the cross with Mary (mother of Jesus) and John at the base; and in the third panel, Magdalene in a pose almost identical to John's.  She's also in tertiary colors (a dark purplish) as opposed to the golden body of Christ and the bright reds and blues of John's outfit.
He also showed us another a detail of John from another Leonardo from the Louvre -- he's pointing (upward to the cross); "that's his job: to point to Christ."
Detroit also commented that he had "Julia Lewis Dreyfus hair" and commented on the fullness of flesh and the seductive, androgynous appearance of the figure.

Harold: "On that note..."
Diana: "I really don't wanna follow that.  I'm not gonna be nearly as funny."
Diana on Goddess worship: "There's a reason this should resonate with feminists of the 1970s -- they invented it."  She said that they used it to recover own stories and that there's nothing wrong with that -- unless you're making claims about what really happened.
She mentioned Psalm 88's mention of Yahweh among gods [textual exegisis from the Monotheism in Biblical Israel MFA lecture included Psalm 29:1-2 & Psalm 82:1-8].
She talked about El and Ahserah -- male god and female consort -- and how Kuntillet Ajrud (7th century) has Yahweh of Samaria and Asherah (look, picture -- though it's a detail, so you don't see the oxlike creature in the front or the obviously female figure sitting in the back; I think the consensus is that the foreground figure is male and the figure behind it is female -- so the former has a phallus and the latter a tail, but of course it's up for interpretation).
Sofia = God's wisdom, and in medieval Jewish mysticism Sofia also = God's presence.
In 207, the Romans(?) brought over Cybele ... 'cause there was an oracle that they would win some battle if they took a statue of her into their city and set up worship of her.  She demanded that her male worshipers (or just priests?) castrate themselves.  Gallus -- that term totally sounded familiar from when I was researching homosexuality and the Bible ('cause, eunuchs).  The Romans looked down on the Galli hardcore for having emasculated themselves, however -- this was legislated and everything -- so it wasn't exactly an indicator of Goddess worship being a big powerful thing back in the day.

I don't actually have it in my notes, but I remember she had a slide that said "Venus, Diana, etc." only the leftmost image was of Athena.  There were mutterings from the audience, and Harold said something to that effect, and she said he was right, but it was quiet enough that I'm sure people in the back of the audience didn't hear.
The image of Diana was covered in either breasts or bulls' testicles.  Diana is a virgin warrior goddess, however (as is Athena) so I was a bit confused (though admittedly Diana was also the goddess of childbirth).  I was also irked that in her debunking of the myth of the worship of the sexual powerful earth mother goodess, Diana didn't mention how many Greek/Roman goddesses were militantly chaste.

According to Brown, Christ's deity was invented with 4th century Constantine.
Harold argued that this idea came about far earlier.
In the early 2nd century, Pliny wrote that, "Christians sang hymns to Christ 'as to a god.'"
Jesus is called "Son of God" in Mark 15:39 and Rom. 1:13 and "Son of Man" in John 1:1, 10:30, 20:28, and other verses.
There was disagreement, however.
The Alexandrian priest Arius wrote that "There was when he [Jesus] was not."
In 324, Constantine became the sole Roman Emperor, and Nicaea happened in 325.
Their ultimate ruling was homoousios (of same nature) vs. homoiousios (of similar nature) -- "an iota of difference"

Diana: "Let's get back to the good stuff; we've got some serious sex to talk about."
She had a slide with various female apostle types:
Prisc(illa) Acts 18:2, 1 Cor 16:19, Rom 10:3
Chloe - 1 Cor 1:11
Phoebe "deaconess" Rom 16:1
Junia "outstanding among apostles"
etc. [No fair having a long slide if you're gonna move to the next slide quickly.]

As time progressed, however, there was a limitation of roles.
1 Tim 5:9-16 - about widows
1 Tim 3:11 - about deacons' wives (thus implying deacons must only be men)
1 Tim 2:13, 1 Cor 14:33-36, Eph 5:22-24

Mary Magdalene was witness to death and resurrection.  Hippolytus in the 3rd century called her "apostle to the apostles," and that title was used of her all the way through to Aquinas -- part of the Catholic tradition.  She gets conflated with other characters in the NT.
Luke 8:2-3 - freed of 7 demons (also Mark 16:9)
annointing was 2 different figures, neither of whom were Magdalene: Luke 7:36-50 (immoral) vs. John 12:1-7 (Mary of Bethany)

Detroit talked about "Noli Me Tangere" (John 20:11-18) and paintings thereof.  Speaking about one painting, Detroit said Jesus was like the "Rita Heyowrth of [something] -- do I date myself?  How about Britney Spears?" No, Detroit, please, stick with Rita Heyworth.  Later he said he looked like a pole dancer.  [I believe he was speaking about the Bronzino painting both times.]  And he made some crack about "A really secret code?" but I can't read what I wrote after that.

[Sidenote: The Bronzino I found isn't the Rita Heyworth one.  This is the closest I could find to my memory of the image Detroit showed.]

Back to Diana.
She saif that Brown doesn't show well that tradition changes -- he talks about it as if there was Goddess worship with equality between men and women but then the Church sprung into existence and invented patriarchy or something, whereas infact it grew out of a tradition of subjugating women.
She mentioned verse 114 of the Gospel of Thomas, the one where Jesus says Mary has to be made into a man (which, having been introduced to it via Elaine Pagels' book, which footnotes that verse, I would like to note can be interpreted a multiplicity of ways).  Diana likened it to the idea of the female being taken up into the masculine to be purified which she had mentioned earlier as one early idea of androgyny.
Gospel of Mary - "he loved her more than all the rest of us"
Gospel of Philip - "he loved her more than all the rest of us and showed it by kissing her on the ... "
She said there's a lacuna in the text (which always makes me think of that scene with Data in "Interface" -- TNG 7.03) and Detroit called it an "orifice"
Diana talked about the Holy Kiss tradition, arguing that the kiss mention didn't necessarily argue for a sexual relationship.

Harold said that converting possibilities into probabilities is what historians do.
He mentioned Matt 19:12 -- about eunuchs.
End slide: "Happiness is knowing a secret: or conspiracy sells."

During the q&a, one woman talked about how Mary Magdalene has been thought of as a prostitute and depicted so in art, and Detroit said she's depicted as a sexy woman but there's a "fine line between sexy woman and prostitute."  In response, Diana tore off her blazer :)
Tags: mfa: talks, the da vinci code

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