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Historian plans to teach Da Vinci Code in course

Friday, April 21, 2006

Historian plans to teach Da Vinci Code in course

AUCKLAND – A New Zealand historian says international bestseller The Da Vinci Code is a sham – but plans to feature the story in a new course he will teach at Massey University later this year as an example of how fiction can popularise history.

With the Hollywood version of Dan Brown’s novel due out shortly, taking the supposedly factual story to an even larger audience, controversy surrounding The Da Vinci Code’s claims about Christian history looks set to re-ignite.

In the foreword to the 2003 book Brown blurs the line between fact and fiction by claiming “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in the novel are accurate” but Dr Adam Claasen says it reads like a comedy of historical errors.

But even “bad” history gets people interested in issues and often prompts them to find out more, says Claasen, a Fulbright visiting lecturer currently based in Washington DC teaching New Zealand history at Georgetown University.

“In places, The Da Vinci Code reads like a comedy of historical errors of Fawlty Towers’ proportions,” says Dr Claasen, who is currently teaching New Zealand history at Georgetown University, Washington D.C as a Fulbright Visiting Lecturer.

While many of the more than 40 million people said to have read the book just went along for the historical murder-mystery ride, others now firmly believe Brown’s conspiracy theory that for 2000 years the Catholic Church kept secret the fact that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdelene and fathered a daughter whose bloodline continues into present-day Europe.

When he returns to the University’s Auckland campus later this year Dr Claasen will cover the film version of the story in a paper entitled Blockbusters and Biopics: History at the Movies.

He wants students to look in-depth at the way Hollywood presents history and examine discrepancies between films and historical records, as well as ask questions about movie directors’ motives in altering history for the cinema.

“Many cinematic portrayals legitimately raise issues surrounding the reinterpretation of historical subjects for a contemporary audience, but history is still a winner because people become more interested in it.”

In the United States he has observed first-hand the hype and hysteria surrounding director Ron Howard’s forthcoming movie, due for release next month.

While the fall-out has been depicted as The Da Vinci Code versus the Church, says Claasen, the real debate is between The Da Vinci Code and historians.

“Experts from such diverse fields as classics, church history and art history are dismissive of most of Dan Brown’s claims regarding the Emperor Constantine, early Christian beliefs and Leonardo’s paintings.”

Despite his dismissal of Brown’s historical facts, Dr Claasen would not dream of missing the movie. “Most definitely, I’ll be the first in the door.”


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