From Secrets of the Code

The 30 Best Books to Read
to Enhance Your Understanding
of the Issues and Ideas in The Da Vinci Code
By Paul Berger


The Woman With The Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail and The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine By Margaret Starbird
Long before The Da Vinci Code appeared on every bedside table and beach towel, Margaret Starbird was propounding the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were the archetypal bridegroom and bride. Dan Brown certainly took note, placing copies of two of Starbird’s books in Teabing’s home at the Château Villette. Starbird’s fascinating exploration of myth, archetype, and Biblical texts, points to ancient goddess cults and anointing ceremonies, emphasizing that the union of Jesus and Mary is more than just a marriage, but a symbolic sacred fusion of the masculine and feminine into a united whole. All of Starbird’s books are interesting and go in a wide variety of directions, fueled by the same underlying set of alternative ideas. See also Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile, and Magdalene’s Lost Legacy: Symbolic Numbers and the Sacred Union in Christianity.

Starbird is something of an expert on the raw deal women have had at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, and The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine, recounts her “quest for the ‘Lost Bride’ hidden behind the medieval legends of the Holy Grail.” The Goddess in the Gospels is almost a the “Making of” version of The Woman With the Alabaster Jar, describing how Starbird’s quest was as much personal as it was spiritual, as she set out to prove that The Holy Grail was not the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper, but Mary Magdalene herself—carrier of the royal bloodline.

 The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ By Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince
A highly speculative book, this is another one that Leigh Teabing keeps close at hand. And no wonder. Many of the ideas Dan Brown suggests about the supposed secret codes in the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci come right out of this examination written by London-based researchers and writers Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince long before The Da Vinci Code. Picknett and Prince delve back in time to the foundations of Christianity where they uncover new evidence about the roles John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene played in those early years, including the revelation that Mary may have been married to Christ. The clues to this alternate history, the authors say, have been hidden in plain sight for centuries in some of the world’s most renowned art and architecture, including, of course, Leonardo da Vinci’s works that are littered with secret codes about Mary’s intimate relationship with Christ. Picknett and Prince’s most startling claim, and the one central to Dan Brown’s novel, is that Mary can be seen sitting on Jesus’ right in Leonardo’s Last Supper. Art history, the Gnostic Gospels, the Knights Templar and the Priory of Sion all make an appearance in this pre-Dan Brown, Da Vinci Code style treasure hunt. Picknett and Prince have co-authored several other books including Turin Shroud: In Whose Image?, The Sion Revelation: The Truth About the Guardians of Christ’s Sacred Bloodline, and The Stargate Conspiracy: The Truth about Extraterrestrial life and the Mysteries of Ancient Egypt.

The Gnostic Gospels (and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas) By Elaine Pagels
The discovery of Gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi (see The Nag Hammadi Library in English) in 1945 had the potential to shake the foundations of Christianity to its core. In essence, the texts presented an alternative to the orthodoxy that had governed the religion for more than 1,500 years. But for the find to have true power what was needed was an accessible examination of those texts—something which Pagels delivered in spades in 1979 with this hugely popular book that won the National Book Award and was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best books of the 20th century. In The Gnostic Gospels Pagels suggests that Christian orthodoxy grew out of the political considerations of the day—serving to legitimize and consolidate early church leadership—and that Christianity could have developed quite differently if Gnostic texts had become part of the Christian canon. Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University, pierced the myth of the early church as a unified movement and highlighted the suppression of a system of beliefs that advocated finding access to God without the need of a church or the ecclesiastical apparatus that went with it. She almost single-handedly changed the way the literature of early Christianity is today nterpreted and understood.

Nearly 25 years later, Pagels followed her Gnostic Gospels  with Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, in which she explored the contrast between two viewpoints within Christianity— the difference between the Canonical Gospel of John, which represents a “belief in certainties,” with the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas that represents a “seeking for enlightenment.” Both Gospels show Jesus as divine; but where John’s Gospel shows Jesus as the only divine presence on earth, Thomas suggests that Jesus believed everyone came from that divine source and that everyone could therefore access that divinity themselves. While John passed into Canon, the Gospel of Thomas ended up buried at Nag Hammadi. Pagels shows the possibility of a more self-directed, self-searching Christianity if the Gospel of Thomas had not disappeared from the tradition. In Thomas she hears echoes of eastern thought and zen wisdom, dovetailing with the work of many contemporary writers who think Thomas, if not Jesus, may have spent time in India or been influenced by eastern thought brought by trader and travelers to Alexandria. Written at an emotional time in her life, shortly after a string of family bereavements (she lost her six-year-old son to illness and her husband died in a rock climbing accident) Belief Belief is one of Pagels’ most religious and autobiographical books. It was on the New York Times best-seller list for 19 weeks and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

 Holy Blood, Holy Grail (and The Messianic Legacy) By Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln
How’s this for a hypothesis: What if Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, the union produced a child, and the secret of that royal bloodline has been carried through to the present day by the Knights Templar and the Prieure de Sion that seeks to reinstate the descendants of the Merovingian bloodline to political power? More than twenty years before Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln wrote just that in their best-selling book Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The proximity of many elements of The Da Vinci Code to Holy Blood, Holy Grail has prompted a plagiarism lawsuit by Baigent against Dan Brown, despite the fact that Brown unmistakably credits HBHG in the text of The Da Vinci Code, on his website, and elsewhere.

The HBHG team’s interest in these occult subjects was originally piqued by legends about a wealthy nineteenth century priest (whose surname, Saunière, is the same as Dan Brown’s fictional curator of the Louvre), who lived in the village Rennes-le-Château in southern France and who had somehow amassed a fortune large enough to build the fortress-like Tour Magdala to house his library. The authors spent more than ten years investigating, with much of the book resting on the assumption that the Priory of Sion is a real secret society rather than the elaborate hoax that many contemporary scholars believe it to be. Fact or faction, Holy Blood, Holy Grail caused a sensation when it was published in 1982 and has served as the Ur-text for bloodline-style plotlines like The Da Vinci Code ever since. Other books by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln include The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, The Temple and the Lodge (an investigation of the Freemasons) and The Messianic Legacy.

In The Messianic Legacy Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln argue that today’s Catholic Church is far removed from the church envisioned by the early followers of Jesus—sometimes called the Nazarenes—and much closer to pagan beliefs than its Judaic origins. In fact, according to them, the Nazarenes had their sights set on an earthly kingdom rather than a heavenly throne, and were led by a messianic freedom fighter (that would be Jesus) who was out to reclaim the throne of his ancestor David. Who better to continue this quest into the present day (and unite Europe in the process) than the Prieure de Sion and a grandiose conspiracy theory that includes the Vatican, the Masons, the Mafia and the CIA. An intriguing book—requiring a substantial suspension of disbelief.


Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess By Lynn Picknett
Lynn Picknett, co-author of The Templar Revelation, continues deeper in this book into the Mary Magdalene themes. Picking up on areas touched upon in her previous book, she returns to the Gnostic Gospels and the art of Leonardo Da Vinci for this strident defense of Mary Magdalene, who we are told was far from a repentant prostitute. According to Picknett, Mary was Jesus’ sexual partner, the leader of the Apostles and his true successor—a position obscured by the Catholic patriarchy in its pursuit of a male-dominated Church. Tracing Mary’s name to Magdala in Egypt, she learns that the term Magdal-eder means “tower of the flock,” or Good Shepherd, a title also given to Jesus Christ. Moreover, Picknett’s Mary may have been from Magdala in Ethiopia not Galilee; and the images of Black Madonnas found in France and elsewhere may suggest that Mary Magdalene was an African woman. Could she be right? Are those Madonnas with Child, actually Mary Magdalene with Jesus’ baby?

Mariam, The Magdalen, And the Mother By Deirdre Good
Deirdre Good, a professor of New Testament at the General Theological Seminary in New York, and author of Reconstructing the Tradition of Sophia in Gnostic Literature and Jesus the Meek King, insists that the roots of Mary Magdalen’s composite identity are prominent in all religious traditions for the first five hundred years after Christ’s death. This is a scholarly book that collects the work of a variety of experts working on specialized aspects of the Mary Magdalen story. It is not a specific reaction to The Da Vinci Code—and indeed, the book reflects the kind of academic work and scholarship that was going on about Mary Magdalen long before Dan Brown stepped onto the scene. However, what better way to view the woman at the center of Dan Brown’s novel than through her representations across this spectrum of faiths—Jewish, Muslim and Christian, Miriamic, Gnostic, early Christian, and Manichaean? This is a Mary that requires viewing as if for the first time, a hitherto unseen Mary referred to by Good, who is also expert in numerous archaic languages, as “Mariam,” which she says is a better translation of her name than Mary or Miriam.  

The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle By Karen L. King
As Da Vinci Code readers are aware, Mary has been much maligned by men over the past 2,000 years, beginning with the jealousy of Jesus’ apostles and stoked by Pope Gregory I, who declared almost 600 years after the death of Jesus that Mary, his closest follower, was a repentant sinner and prostitute. Karen King, a church history professor at Harvard Divinity School, comes to Mary’s rescue with this examination of the Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which was only discovered in the late 19th century and which remained unpublished until 1941. King’s research may not support all of Dan Brown’s contentions about Mary (King thinks that Mary was “only” an apostle, not the wife of Jesus), but she does provide ample evidence that far from serving as a symbol of repentant female sexuality Mary’s Gospel offers Christians a different view of Christianity. This view is one in which salvation comes from within rather than from an external savior. This vision of Mary gives legitimacy to women's leadership within the Church.

The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene By Jane Schaberg
If Mary really did hold such a high position in early Christianity how does one go about proving it? Theologian Jane Schaberg, of the University of Detroit Mercy, takes a pivotal scene in Christian history—the resurrection—and uses it to resurrect her fallen hero Mary. After all isn’t Mary the only person to encounter Jesus after his resurrection in the canonical Gospel accounts? Drawing on this and Gnostic writings like the Gospel of Mary, Schaberg builds an intriguing and well-researched argument that Mary was a person of great importance in the early Christian church who was denigrated because she was a powerful woman, close to Jesus and perhaps to John the Baptist as well. Schaberg is also author of Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives, and co-editor of On the Cutting Edge: The Study of Women in the Biblical World.  


The Nag Hammadi Library in English By James M. Robinson
Gnosticism was considered by church leaders to be a form of anti-Christian heresy for most of the last seventeen or eighteen centuries, even though the Gnostics thought of themselves as true Christians. Among many strands of Gnostic belief, inclusivity and universality trump orthodoxy and literalism. In a tale reminiscent of a Dan Brown mystery (or an Indiana Jones movie) The Nag Hammadi Library is a collection of 52 mostly Gnostic documents that were unearthed near a town called Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. Although the manuscripts can be dated to the fourth century they are probably translations of Greek originals that were several hundred years older, so they are not necessarily much more recent than the accepted canonical Gospels. The Nag Hammadi Library includes the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip, in which Jesus is said to have loved Mary more than all of the disciples and to have kissed her often on the “m[…]” (mouth?) A few centuries after Christ’s death these gospels were declared heretical by the Church and were probably buried by Gnostic worshipper for safekeeping. The manuscripts present a more pluralistic church with a great role attributed to women in its development—themes that are explored by New Testament scholar James M. Robinson in his introduction to the book. Although it is often hard to grasp the meaning of these histories and cosmological reflections from 1,700 years ago, The Nag Hammadi Library is an incredibly important set of documents that shows many of the alternative ideas current in the time of early Christianity. Publication of this material has revolutionized Biblical scholarship and provided the basis for many scholars to do new groundbreaking work, including several of those mentioned here, such as authors such as Elaine Pagels and Karen King.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible : The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English By Martin G. Abegg and Peter Flint
If we are to believe everything that Dan Brown’s characters tell us then the Dead Sea Scrolls are “among the earliest Christian records.” Unfortunately for Grail expert Sir Leigh Teabing, the real Dead Sea Scrolls are believed by almost all experts to be Jewish in origin and make no mention of Jesus Christ at all, although they appear to have been written in the general time period when Jesus is said to have lived. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls did shed new light on Biblical history when over 800 manuscripts dating back 2,000 years were discovered in 11 caves overlooking the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956, just a few years after the Nag Hammadi find. Most experts believe that these documents were written by the Jewish Essene sect which was extremely influential around the time of Christ. They include many new Psalms, Apocryphal books, and previously unknown readings of Deuteronomy and Isaiah. These documents, having remained undiscovered for hundreds of years, spent a further four decades hidden from the outside world in the Ecole Biblique et Archeologique in East Jerusalem, where they were kept secret, stoking rumors about the revelations they could cause in Judaism and Christianity if their contents were known. Then, in the early 1990s Martin Abegg published a tiny unauthorized fragment of one of the texts setting in motion a chain of events that led to the release of all of the documents.

Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians By Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
Why on earth would the church want to suppress the idea that Jesus and Mary could have been the representation of the Pagan godman and goddess? Freke and Gandy, also authors of The Jesus Mysteries: Was The "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? and The Laughing Jesus: Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom explore the teachings of the original Christians and speculate about who they really were and what they actually taught. For Freke and Gandy, the original Christians were “revolutionary free-thinkers who synthesized the available wisdom of the world and articulated perennial truths in dynamic, innovative ways.” But unfortunately for these Christians their “questioning mysticism was distorted almost beyond recognition into the dogmatic creed that Freke and Gandy call an “imitation church” that is bereft of the secret teachings of Christian mysticism, which promise happiness and immortality to those who attain the state of Gnosis, or enlightenment. Jesus and the Lost Goddess is undoubtedly one of the many inspirations for Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, but is Freke’s home town of Glastonbury (a small UK town that is home to numerous legends about King Arthur and the Holy Grail) a giveaway that there may be more than a dash of myth and legend in here?


Opus Dei By Various
Opus Dei plays a prominent role in The Da Vinci Code as the ultraconservative cabal intent on taking over the Church. A number of books have been published about the organization including the critical memoir Beyond the Threshold: A Life in Opus Dei, written by Maria Del Carmen Tapia, who was the personal secretary of Opus Dei founder St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, and head of Opus Dei's women's group in Venezuela. Tapia claims she was brainwashed by Escriva and later held against her will in Rome. Catholic commentator Michael Walsh paints a similarly menacing portrait in his 1989 book Opus Dei: An Investigation into the Powerful, Secretive Society Within the Catholic Church. In the Walsh book, former members recount rules such as young girls having to take cold showers and to wear a spike around their thigh. For a more balanced approach try the recently published Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church by National Catholic Reporter‘s Vatican correspondent, John Allen. Allen interviewed Opus Dei critics and supporters as well as researching key Opus Dei documents and communities.

The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief By Richard Barber
The Da Vinci Code shattered the myth held by millions of people that the Holy Grail was the cup that Christ used at the Last Supper only to replace it with another myth—that it is the sangraal or Royal Blood—that is the essence of the Holy Grail and its many incarnations. It is hardly surprising, that, influenced by The Da Vinci Code and similar books described here, many people are developing a new myth about the Holy grail, just as cultural works like Parsifal  and the legends of King Arthur inspired the earlier myth of the Grail as silver chalice. British medieval scholar Richard Barber, author of The Penguin Guide to Medieval Europe and The Knight and Chivalry, gives a detailed and lengthy account of the many Grail legends that have captured the imagination of poets, artists and composers since the Grail was first chronicled by Frenchman Chretien de Troyes in the late 12th century. De Troyes was prevented from finishing his Grail tale when he died in 1190, but it provided the foundation for countless Grail stories to come. In fact, Barber argues that the early writers who took up the challenge to complete de Troyes’ tale, “virtually invented a new art form, the prose romance, which many centuries later became the modern novel.”

Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry and Dungeon, Fire and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades By John J. Robinson
Each of Dan Brown’s last two books, Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, make significant references to the Freemasons as a powerful secret society that inherited the mantle of the Knights Templar, and whose origins may go back even further in time and myth to alchemists, Gnostics, and Egyptian pyramid-builders. The already massive library of works on the secret history of Freemasonry is growing exponentially, as the world readies for Dan Brown’s next book, The Solomon Key, which is expected to weave its new Robert Langdon tale against the backdrop of the history of Freemasonry in the United States.

John J. Robinson’s book Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry traces the history of the Knights Templar and the subsequent development of freemasonry. He argues that the English King Henry II’s indifference to the call for the extinction of the Templars in France in the 14th century enabled some of them to escape to England where they planted the seeds that grew into the Masonic lodges of today. Robinson’s evidence may not stand up in a court of law but his well-researched and entertainingly written book, sprinkled with glimpses of Masonic initiation rites, is widely regarded as one of the best in its field.

For an in-depth look at the Templars see Robinson’s Dungeon, Fire and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades, which lucidly charts the rise and fall of the warrior monks who gained enough power and riches to make them the most formidable military and banking organization in Europe. Reveling in the gore and the glory of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, Robinson loses no time describing the exploits of the Pope’s private soldiers who stationed themselves in the al-Aqsa Mosque, took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and became embroiled in the terror, violence and death which consumed the period.

The Knights Templar and their Myth By Peter Partner
How could the Knights Templar, the largest and most powerful of Christian military orders, have gone from guardians of the Temple of Solomon and defenders of European pilgrims committed to poverty, chastity and obedience, to being found guilty of blasphemy, heresy and sodomy, and accused of wielding magical powers? Peter Partner traces the history of the Templars from their origins as 12th century Christian protectors to the targets of the French King Philip IV’s plot to discredit and massacre them, culminating in the burning at the stake of the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay in 1314. Partner tackles a number of questions others leave aside: the connections or lack thereof between the Templars of the 13th and 14th centuries, the secret Illuminati society founded by Adam Weishaupt in Bavaria in 1776, and the Freemasons of the 18th and 19th centuries; the connections between the oppression and suppression of the Templars and the Jews; and the role of the Renaissance thinker/occultist, Agrippa, in reviving the legends of the Templars in a positive and philosophically meaningful light. Did you know that intellectual giants, from Dante in the 14th century, to Voltaire in the 18th century, denounced the massacre of the Templars? Partner's book is a blizzard of inter-disciplinary connections about Western civilization in the last millennium. No wonder Dan Brown put it on his website bibliography.

The Malleus Maleficarum By Heinrich Kramer & James Sprenger
Why does Dan Brown include this 15th century witch-hunting manual in his partial bibliography for The Da Vinci Code? The Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of the Witches, makes a brief appearance in the Da Vinci Code as Robert Langdon contemplates the anagram “so dark the con of man” scrawled on the plexiglass covering the Mona Lisa. The “con” to which Langdon refers is the way in which the Catholic Church has demonized women and devalued their role in spiritual life; for Langdon this wrongdoing is most prominently embodied in The Malleus Maleficarum which he describes as “the most blood-soaked publication in human history” illustrating how the patriarchal church sought to clamp down on and eradicate what Langdon describes as “free-thinking women.” Indeed the book, which was published in the 15th century by two German Inquisitors, gives instructions on recognizing, capturing, torturing, and executing witches. It describes how to spot a witch—including such insights as the fact that she has the ability to make herself appear more attractive than she really is and that she may have an extra nipple from which the devil can suck her blood. If you want good ammunition to argue with people who think that the ideas in The Da Vinci Code are heresy, read this tract, which was, at least theoretically, an official church policy manual at one point in time. Then ask yourself which vision of God you prefer?


The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (Volumes I and II) What better way to see the great man in action than by delving into the very notebooks that many of Leonardo’s biographers and chroniclers have been studied? This two volume set, in Italian and English, contains more than 1,500 extracts with more than enough information to keep Langdon and Sophie Neveu busy for a long, long time. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci contain the notes of a man who was a scientist, a painter, a mechanical engineer, a sculptor, a thinker, a city planner, a storyteller, a musician and an architect. Among his pages you will find theories on perspective, color, and the human body as well as his notes on astronomy, geography, naval warfare and swimming, not to mention his sketches and his ideas for famous paintings like The Last Supper, and of course examples of the great man’s backwards handwriting in action.

Leonardo: The Artist and the Man By Serge Bramly, Sian Reynolds
Translated from the French by Sian Reynolds, Leonardo: The Artist and the Man is a lively, well-researched and extremely popular biography that seeks to extract a true picture of the man from the legends that surround him. Bramly examines Leonardo's paintings, sketches and notes, which are filled with endless unfinished inventions and projects. He conjures a sympathetic portrait of an illegitimate, self-taught young man who fought for recognition in a highly cultured society and ended his days as a mentor to a young king. Bramly’s biography is widely regarded as one of the best of the many broad portraits of Leonardo

Leonardo By Martin Kemp
Despite the vast paper trail of ideas and inventions that Leonardo left behind, very little is known for certain about the man. This book by Oxford art history professor Martin Kemp, draws on the artist’s notebooks to produce a concise and unspeculative account of what made the man a genius. Leonardo was originally supposed to have been one of Oxford University Press’s succinct “Very Short Introduction” series, but Kemp, who is something of a specialist on da Vinci, transformed it into a freestanding mini masterpiece. Kemp examines the ideas underlying Leonardo’s investigations of nature, his quest to understand and recreate the inner workings of nature. He writes that for Leonardo every act of looking and drawing was an act of analysis, and he used these analyses to re-make and re-interpret his surroundings. Kemp is also head of the Universal Leonardo Project, which aims to broaden and deepen understanding and appreciation of Leonardo da Vinci through exhibitions and investigation of his work.


Leonardo Da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind: A Biography By Charles Nicholl
In contrast to Kemp’s concise biography, Nicholl’s lengthy and detailed study is not afraid to delve into the minutiae of Leonardo’s life and writings because, as Nicholl writes, “The true whiff of Leonardo is to be found in his notebooks.” Nicholl occasionally adds his own guesswork and imagination to the cited facts, in order to build a complete portrait of the man from his travels, commissions, contemporary accounts and, of course, the art works and notebook entries themselves. Nicholl draws an engaging picture that was well received by critics, one of whom wrote in The Guardian, “In Nicholl's patient hands, acres of undervalued and unread material are painstakingly… rewoven, and moulded into an armature which gives coherent shape to the long life of a Renaissance genius.”

Leonardo Da Vinci: The Complete Paintings And Drawings By Frank Zollner, Johannes Nathan
Want a closer look to see if that really is Mary sitting at Christ’s right hand in the Last Supper? If you want to study the work, and for that matter The Mona Lisa, without traveling to Paris and Milan, it may be worth investing in this magnificent and—weighing in at roughly 20 lbs.—literally weighty tome. Leonardo actually produced very few paintings (less than 30 paintings) but this almost 700 page, poster-size compendium contains all of them, plus more than 600 sketches and drawings including magnified details that fill entire pages. Short of standing in front of the works themselves, it’s the best way to appreciate Leonardo’s brushwork, attention to detail and use of light and shadow. The works are accompanied by the analysis of Frank Zollner, director of the Institute of Art History at Leipzig University. On the cover is the now famous “John gesture” that Lynn Picknett and Dan Brown, among others, see popping up frequently in the works of Leonardo. Did Leonardo favor John over Jesus? This book won’t tell you, but it will let you contemplate up close what that gesture might mean. If you want to make your own discoveries about Leonardo without traveling to Europe, this is the book for you.


When God Was a Woman By Merlin Stone
When Merlin Stone wrote When God Was a Woman in 1976 She most definitely was not. Nowadays the idea of god being female barely causes a murmur. But Stone’s book, one of the first to offer historical alternatives to the patriarchy, was groundbreaking when it was first published. Stone finds plenty of evidence for female divinity thousands of years ago when deities worshipped by the pagans were female, and when women operated temples, owned land and were considered holy because they were blessed with the power to give life. But if the Sumer, Babylon and Canaan cultures were matriarchal, what changed? What went wrong? Well, man of course, who adapted the Judeo-Christian tradition to suppress woman and turn her into the depraved figure tempting Adam in the Garden of Eden. As Stone says in her introduction to When God Was A Woman, “In the beginning people prayed to the Creatress of Life, the Mistress of Heaven. At the very dawn of religion, God was a woman. Do you remember?” Well, do you?

The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future By Riane Eisler
Want to heal the world? Riane Eisler’s 1987 book delves more than 5,000 years into history and comes up with the hypothesis that all of man’s woes have been, well, man-made. The life-giving chalice (female) has been overshadowed by the death-dealing blade (male). If only we could return to a life of harmony—or “gylany” as Eisler calls it— the world would be a better place. Eisler’s book delves into history and archaeology and reappears with countless examples where Goddess worship was intrinsic to successful and above all peaceful cultures such as the Minoan civilization in Crete. Eisler followed The Chalice and The Blade with a further exploration of male aggression in her 1995 book Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth and the Politics of the Body, an investigation of the way European nomadic invaders turned sex into a means of domination.

Was Jesus Married?: The Distortion of Sexuality in the Christian Tradition By William E Phipps
So let’s get this straight: If Jesus was a Jew, then surely it must follow that he would have lived according to Jewish laws and customs of the time? Wouldn’t that mean that he would have considered marriage a commandment from god? Phipps, a former religion professor at Davis & Elkins College, West Virginia, and author of The Sexuality of Jesus, and Clerical Celibacy, explores the rabbi’s romantic side in this book, which was published more than three decades before The Da Vinci Code. In several other bookm and many articles, Phipps pursues the theme of the sacred feminine and his ideas about the role of women in the Biblical era.


The Passover Plot By Hugh J. Schonfield
It was eviscerated by critics and sparked outrage among believers. No, not The Da Vinci Code, but Hugh Schonfield’s 1960s classic, The Passover Plot. Schonfield, a Jewish writer and biblical scholar who spoke Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic and English, blazed a trail for future spillers of secrets and tellers of heretical tales with this study that claimed that Jesus engineered his own martyrdom. According to Schonfield’s research, Christ was a man who believed he was the Messiah, and in order to prove it, he plotted his life according to the Old Testament prophecies of how the Messiah’s life (and death) would occur. He even hatched a conspiracy with his disciples to arrange for his own crucifixion by taking a drug that would allow him to endure torture and feign death and be miraculously resurrected. The Passover Plot sold 2 million copies and was made into a film in 1976. If you want to convince your friends that The Da Vinci Code is not so new and surprising after all, give them The Passover Plot.

The Last Temptation of Christ By Nikos Kazantzakis
This is Gospel according to the great modern writer, Kazantzakis, who was better known as author of Zorba the Greek until Martin Scorsese turned Last Temptation into a controversial movie. The book, published more than 50 years ago, shocked readers with its thoroughly human portrayal of Christ— a man questioning his divinity and struggling to ignore the voice of God even while on the cross. Kazantzakis’ portrayal of a Jesus who would be prepared to make love to Mary (and of a Judas as the only disciple who really understood Jesus) led to the writer being excommunicated from the Greek Church. The 1988 movie adaptation of the book, starring Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, sparked demonstrations around the world. Sophie Neveu recalls in The Da Vinci Code that the film was banned in France. Actually, it wasn’t—but it did spark a rash of protests there and all over the world, just as The Da Vinci Code film may experience in some areas when it opens in May 2006.


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