MR: “Exaltation and the Lost Symbol”

September 21, 2009 | 14 comments
By

A new issue of The Mormon Review is available, with a review of Dan Brown’s new novel The Lost Symbol by Scott Holley. The article is available at:

Scott Holley, “Exaltation and The Lost Symbol,” The Mormon Review, vol.1 no. 5 [HTML] [PDF]

For more information about MR, please take a look at the prospectus by our editor-in-chief Richard Bushman (“Out of the Best Books: Introducing The Mormon Review,” The Mormon Review, vol.1 no.1 [HTML][PDF]). In addition to our website, you can have The Mormon Review delivered to your inbox. Finally, if you have recently read a book, seen a movie, watched a TV show, or bumped up against any other bit of our culture that got your Mormon juices flowing, please consider submitting an article to MR.

14 Responses to MR: “Exaltation and the Lost Symbol”

  1. Adam Greenwood on September 21, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    The review failed to mention that Dan Brown cannot write.

  2. Rory Swensen on September 21, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    I purchased this over the weekend, and I am _trying_ to read it. But I am struggling to get past the descriptions of Sumatra beans and sinewy legs and Langford’s 40-some-odd-year-old-All-American-water-polo physique.

    I’m with Adam.

  3. Bob on September 21, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    #1: Or that Babe Ruth was too fat to play baseball.

  4. dangermom on September 21, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    It says that the idea of “a married Jesus who had offspring…is widely accepted by LDS membership.” Uhh….it is? I know a few people have speculated as much, but I don’t think it’s that popular an idea, is it? (For myself, I think it unlikely given Jesus’ mission on earth.)

  5. Andrew Ungricht on September 21, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    dangermom;

    I’ve wondered the same thing myself — not whether Jesus was married, but how prevalent the idea is among Mormons. I liked Holley’s review for the most part, and that was the only part that stood out to me as outright contestable. I’m torn on the whole issue.

    What is everybody else’s perspective? Do you believe that Christ was married and had children? What do you believe is the consensus among Church membership regardless of your opinion? I’m fascinated to know what you say.

  6. Kaimi Wenger on September 21, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Dangermom,

    I think it’s an idea that many church members see as a natural outgrowth of the D&C sections on marriage as a required sacrament for exaltation. There are scattered (but not uncommon) statements from past church leaders stating that Jesus was married. Orson Hyde argued that Jesus was not only married, but was a polygamist. (Wilford Woodruff and Joseph F. Smith seemed to agree.)

    That said, the idea is not viewed as official church doctrine today.

  7. Dan on September 21, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Re: Jesus being married.

    Weren’t rabbis and “Masters” supposed to be married? As far as my recollection goes, the whole celibacy thing wasn’t of Jewish origins…

  8. Raymond Takashi Swenson on September 21, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    One of the underlying themes of crime fiction is that there is rationality behind disturbing events, such that if we can assemble enough data about a sequence of events, at some point we will be able to reconstruct the plan in the mind of the perpetrators, and take action to protect ourselves and find and punish the guilty.

    Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon stories are simply a kind of crime fiction where the events are much more bizarre than ordinary crimes and the plan of the perpetrators involves centuries-old secret societies–or at least the attempt to play on people’s fears of such conspiracies to manipulate perceptions.

    Angels & Demons, in the end, reveals the Illuminati to be a fake, a red herring used by the villain to manipulate the selection of a new pope. In The Da Vinci Code, the villain manipulates a small group of conspirators within the Catholic Opus Dei to make fatal attacks on a secret society outside the Catholic Church, in the hopes of injuring the larger church. In the end, the modern church is largely innocent, the victim of zealots within and without. The attacks on Catholic belief are directed at the church’s alleged sins during the Roman Empire and medieval times. The Catholic church comes across as largely well-meaning but an heir of a flawed tradition.

    Langford is absurd for two reasons. First, he repeatedly finds incredibly precise meaning in assemblages of broad, ambiguous symbols with a multitude of associations. Second, his deductions, played up as amazing deductions for the sake of drama, are generally obvious.

    For example, Langdon’s guess in The Da Vinci Code that the 5-letter code for opening the first cryptex (container) (this was left out of the movie) is “Sophia”, the name of the female protagonist, is trivial to anyone who knows the meaning of the name–wisdom–and its use as a personification of a feminine “divine principle” in the Old Testament. But this is touted in the story as a profound deduction.

    Another example is the scrambled phrase that Langdon realizes is a cryptogram of Leonardo da Vinci’s name; it is a standard one familiar to anyone who does word puzzles.

    A third example is the entire theme of Angels & Demons, the notion that the alleged messages from “The illuminati” are self-authenticating because it is “impossible” to create fonts that allow words to look the same when turned upside down is a proposition that has no supporting data or rationality.

    The anti-matter device that is used as a time bomb in Angels & Demons is absurd for several reasons. The notion that two scientists would be allowed to create a nuclear weapon at CERN without oversight is incredible. The claim that their motive was to serve as a source of energy violates the laws of physics, since the creation of anti-matter requires an input of at least as much energy as is returned when the anti-matter interacts with normal matter and converts back to energy. The comical aspect is that the alleged container for the anti-matter relies on some kind of conventional battery for containment of the anti-matter, when the device itself is supposed to provide incredible amounts of energy–apparently that energy can’t be tapped into to power the containment system itself. Not to mention installing a GPS tracking device that every cell phone carries, a nuclear “Lo-Jack”. To power stories of this kind, you have to have scientific geniuses who overlook obvious issues.

    On the other hand, I don’t know anyone who has made serious life choices as a result of reading these books or seeing the movies. The denigrating reference to Joseph Smith just confirms existing prejudices for most people, and I can’t imagine the one sentence would tip the scales on whether someone would be willing to suspend disbelief for long enough to actually read the Book of Mormon. We should take Dan Brown’s discussions of religious themes the way we regard stories about vampires, as just another kind of fantasy.

  9. Andrew Ungricht on September 21, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Raymond;

    I’m inclined to agree with you about the irrationality of Dan Brown’s books. From my perspective, it’s his history that always stands out as hard to swallow. And I agree that we ought to regard his work as fantasy and not as a statement on actual religious ideas. On the other hand, I was in the missionary field directly following the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, and it was amazing how many people were discussing the possible marriage and offspring of Christ. I don’t know if anybody I met made any life-altering decisions based off of Dan Brown’s attempts at conspiracy thriller, but there certainly were people who took it seriously enough to contemplate some religious themes far more deeply than they were known to. The questions Dan Brown raises have become significant not because they are serious but because people have decided they are.

    But yeah, Dan Brown writes some pretty absurd stories.

  10. H. Bob on September 22, 2009 at 10:00 am

    I’d like to point out that the “other” Mormon reference is not as innocuous as it seems–it does mention baptism for the dead as a ritual that “would seem frightening if taken out of context” (437), but it also changes the phrase to “baptism OF the dead.” Funny how a little word like that changes the meaning, isn’t it?

  11. CEF on September 23, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Gosh Adam, I wish I could write so poorly that millions of people would pay good money to read what I wrote. :) You guys need to do a reality check. It is just a novel.

  12. kevinf on September 23, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    CEF, I echo those who don’t think much of Brown’s writing. I had the distinct displeasure, after reading The Duh Vinci Code, of reading a few of his earlier works. They were even worse. That doesn’t keep people from reading them, including me. However, no way will I pay full price for a hardcover. I’ll borrow from someone else.

    He does have a gift for breakneck action, but some of those plot developments are ridiculous, such as the plunge into the river from the helicopter, made worse by an awkward foreshadowing earlier in the book.

    But when did being a hack prevent someone from selling a lot of books? Twilight, anyone?

  13. kevinf on September 23, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    My number 12 about jumping into the river from the helicopter is referencing Angels & Demons, as I did not make that clear.

  14. CEF on September 23, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    I make no claim as to how well Brown writes, just that I would like to be able to write a book that would only sell half as many as his does. But I have no talent at all.

    I like his books partly because I learn things from them. I had never heard of the Apotheosis of Washington or Noetic Science, so to me, they are just a fun read of fiction in which I just might learn something.

    I have a idea for a good book, but again, lack the ability to turn it into anything worthwhile.