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A Mormon View of ‘The Lost Symbol’-Dan Brown

For my birthday, my wife gave me Dan Brown’s newest novel, The Lost Symbol.  I don’t typically read novels–I prefer sports, history, religion, or biographies–but I read The DaVinci Code and loved it.  Angels & Demons was pretty good.  I had heard rumors that Dan Brown’s book was going to deal with Masonry and Mormonism, so I was looking forward to see a good conspiracy novel.  Well, it turns out the Masonry part was right, but the Mormon part was pretty benign.  There were only 2 obvious–but benign references–to Mormonism.  Some of the plot has some indirect parallels to Mormon thought, though the book focuses more on seeming pagan practices than Mormon ideas.  Anyway, this was fun to read, and I thought I’d try to give a few nibbles from the book, without giving away too much plot.  So, here’s a taste of how related it is to Mormonism (which isn’t much).  I’m not going to give away too much that relates specifically to the main plot, but if you want to read it fresh, you should quit reading now.

I must say that Brown follows the same basic formula that he used in the 2 previous books I read.  The chapters are short, making you want to read another chapter, but I think the formula is getting a little old.  Robert Langdon must solve a symbolic riddle involving a strange, smart, psychotic killer, an attractive (almost romantic) woman, Langdon submerged in water, a new science discovery, and some sort of police agency that keeps trying to arrest Langdon but in the end realizes Langdon is onto something.  Of course the 500 pages cover just a 24 hour period.  While I liked the formula for the first 2 books, it is starting to get a bit predictable.

So, here are the only 2 overt Mormon references, and nobody will find anything unusual.  From page 79,

Langdon often reminded his students that most modern religions included stories that did not hold up to scientific scrutiny: everything from Moses parting the Red Sea … to Joseph Smith using magic eyeglasses to translate the Book of Mormon from a series of gold plates he found buried in upstate New York.

Joseph Smith and Moses in the same sentence–it’s been done before.  Miracles are not scientific–of course.  There is nothing enlightening in this statement.

The other reference comes from page 437-8,

…realizing that all spiritual rituals included aspects that would seem frightening if taken out of context–crucifixion reenactments, Jewish circumcision rites, Mormon baptisms of the dead, Catholic exorcisms, Islamic niquab, shamanic trance healing, the Jewish Kaparot ceremony; even the eating of the figurative body and blood of Christ.

Ok, I didn’t know what a niquab was.  Wikipedia spells it slightly different: Niqāb, and the short definition is:

a veil which covers the face, worn by some Muslim women as a part of sartorial hijāb. Originally part of aristocratic dress in Byzantine Empire and pre-Islamic Persia, it was adopted into Muslim culture during the Arab conquest of the Middle East.

Because of the wide variety of hijab worn in the Muslim world, it can be difficult to definitively distinguish between one type of veil and another. The terms niqab and burqa are often used interchangeably.[1] Muslim girls are advised by some schools of Islam to wear the niqāb starting at puberty.

Ok, I don’t know what Kaparot is either.  According to Wikipedia, it refers to

“atonements”; a disputed ancient Jewish ritual to save oneself from a harsh Heavenly decree by it being effected on another object. Vegetables, fish, money, and other objects have been used throughout the centuries, and this is done on the eve of Yom Kippur. The service is performed by grasping the object and moving it around one’s head three times, symbolically transferring one’s sins to the object. The object is then slaughtered or donated to the poor, preferably eaten at the pre-Yom Kippur feast.[1] If one is using a chicken, preferably, a man should use a rooster, and a woman should use a hen for the ritual.

In modern times, Kapparos is performed in the traditional form mostly in Haredi communities. Members of other communities perform it with charity money substituted for the chicken, swung over one’s head in similar fashion. There is an ancient and little known tradition of Egyptian Jewry to use plant life.[2] Other Orthodox Jews simply prefer to not participate in the custom.

The ritual is preceded by the reading of Psalms 107:17-20 and Job 33:23-24

So, his point is that many religious rituals (such as baptism for the dead) seem strange to those who do not observe the religion.  Sure–I can see that point of view completely.

So that’s all the explicit Mormon references.  However, as I mentioned previously, the book is about a Masonic conspiracy.  Most of you are probably aware that Joseph Smith was a Mason, and there are similarities between the Masonic ceremonies and Mormon Temple ceremonies.  This should not be surprising information to most members, though I’m sure some will find it surprising. Masonry was practiced by many leaders of our country, including George Washington.  There are some who believe that the Masons organized the Boston Tea Party, which set off the Revolutionary War.  Brown doesn’t really delve deeply into Masonic ceremonies, but he does touch on some topics that Mormons will find interesting.

Brown discusses how the founding fathers utilized many religious symbols in buildings, including (page 82):

history’s great gods and goddesses–Apollo, Minerva, Venus, Helios, Vulcan, Jupiter.  In her center, as in many of the great classical cities, the founders had erected an enduring tribute to the ancients–the Egyptian obelisk.

(page 84)  Now centuries later, despite America’s separation of church and state, this state-sponsored Rotunda glistened with ancient religious symbolism.  There were over a dozen different gods in the Rotunda–more than the original Pantheon in Rome.

On page 84, he discusses apotheosis.  I wasn’t familiar with that term, and Brown explains it.  I’m going to cut out some of the dialogue so as not to give away too much plot, though I can’t resist quoting a character who discusses apotheosis:

This transformation of man into God is called apotheosis

….

The word apotheosis literally means ‘divine transformation’–that of man becoming God.  It’s from the ancient Greek: apo–‘to become,’ theos–‘god.’

“Ma’am”, Langdon said, “the largest painting in this building is called The Apotheosis of Washington.  And it clearly depicts George Washington being transformed into a god.”

Apotheosis is an interesting concept, and is similar to the Mormon idea of exaltation, or the Orthodox Christian concept of theosis or deification (which I blogged about previously.)  Brown’s introduction of apotheosis seems much more pagan as he introduces the idea from the Greek gods.  Apotheosis is an idea that is a significant part of the plot.  Yet Brown doesn’t view apotheosis as completely pagan, and illustrates some Biblical scriptures which I was already familiar with.  From page 194,

“I can see your dilemma, Professor.  However, both the Ancient Mysteries and Masonic philosophy celebrate the potentiality of God within each of us.  Symbolically speaking, one could claim that anything within reach of an enlightened man … is within reach of God.”

Langdon felt unswayed by the wordplay.

“Even the Bible concurs,” Bellamy said.  “If we accept, as Genesis tells us, that ‘God created man in his own image,’ then we also must accept what that implies–that mankind was not created inferior to God.  In Luke 17:20 we are told, ‘The kingdom of God is within you.'”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know any Christians who consider themselves God’s equal.”

“Of course not,” Bellamy said, his tone hardening.  “Because most Christians want it both ways.  They want to be able to proudly declare that they are believers in the Bible and yet simply ignore those parts they find too difficult or too inconvenient to believe.”

A Mormon is going to be pretty comfortable with Bellamy’s statements.  These aren’t the only Biblical references–I was hoping Brown would reference Psalm 82:6, and he didn’t disappoint.  From page 308,

The famous Hermetic aphorism–Know ye not that ye are gods?–was one of the pillars of the Ancient Mysteries.  As above, so below … Man created in God’s image … Apotheosis. This persistent message of man’s own divinity–of his hidden potential–was the recurring them in the ancient texts of countless traditions.  Even the Holy Bible cried out in Psalms 82:6: Ye are Gods!

I am sure that many Christians will find this kind of information about apotheosis as jarring.  But I expect that Mormons and Orthodox Christians will embrace these scriptures and ideas presented by Dan Brown.  Overall, I found Brown to be a bit more sympathetic to religion that he was in the other two books, though I expect Catholics and Protestants to take issue with this idea that apotheosis is truly a Biblical concept.  So, have any of you read the book?  If you haven’t, does this make you want to read it?

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4 comments on “A Mormon View of ‘The Lost Symbol’-Dan Brown

  1. I read it within days of it coming out and I’d agree with the predictability of it. I did really enjoy it though, until the ending – or the part of the story which happened after the case got wrapped up.

    I don’t think I’m sharing any plot points here, but after he finished up the story, there were about 50 pages, which didn’t seem to fit. You mentioned that he seemed more sympathetic to religion, and that could well be it – Either he was engaging in an exercise to avoid religious criticism and so explain to people how the book should make them think, or else it seemed like the publisher pushed him to finish up, and so he hastily pushed out an ending without giving it much thought.

    On the Mormon/Mason connection – a fairly solid source I have in LDS Church Security mentioned that Mr. Brown had spent close to a month in the Church archives, researching for this book. I think the suggestion of a connection between Mormons and Masonry seems to get people excited, but while the link exists, I suspect Mr. Brown failed to find any exciting or controversial stuff in the connection between the two – at least as it pertained to his book.

  2. I agree that the ending was out of character with the rest of the book. it could have ended 50 pages sooner and been more satisfying. it does seem brown made an effort to tie up the book with a more sympathetic view that science and religion are more comparable than his previous books have indicated.

  3. I had heard the same thing about Mormonism being an extensive part of the novel. As I was reading it, I felt that he had shied away from that connection and just focused on the Masonry. I, too, felt the rehash of his formula too predictable. I also think that I figured things out early on because of being LDS. It’s interesting to me that the world generally is appauled by the LDS thought of people becoming Gods; yet many of the philosophies and religions of the world support the idea as expressed through Dan Brown’s novel.

  4. Thanks for stopping by Charlene.

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