Dynasty of the Holy Grail; a tome for the daring knight errant

The world today is too big; too full of sheer human inertia. I don’t think any of us can comprehend the magnitude of cultural currents as we drop pebbles just to watch the water ripple. We think ourselves educated, well-read, perhaps a little hungry for exploration but for the most part masters of our own little worlds and the way things are. And every once in a while we are lucky enough to get enough of a peek out of our own paradigms to realize that we don’t know anything. This happens culturally; this happens spiritually. And when it happens, the results are usually exhilarating and terrifying.

As missionaries in Japan, we didn’t meet many Christians. But we met a lot of savvy, educated people. And a lot of them had seen The DaVinci Code. It was an odd development halfway through my mission when casual street contacts evolved from “Oh, you’re Christians! My daughters go to Christian school!” into “Oh, you’re Christians! I know all about Christianity. I watched The DaVinci Code.”

It made me want to pound my head against the pavement every time I heard it. Some will praise Dan Brown for opening a discourse; for “getting people talking” about religion and art and things that they hadn’t talked about before. But there is a large oversight in just about everything the Anglophone world produces; we forget that we export it. Sure, maybe mature, educated Americans need to talk about religion. (I’m not sure that an anti-Christian pseudo-intellectual rampage is the way to go about opening a discourse, but that’s for another, slightly more vitrolic conversation that is inconsistent with the nice person I’m trying to become) But mature, educated people of other cultures who are unfamiliar with the backstory, the centuries of cultural context, and the basic religious tenets involved are NOT prepared to sit as unbiased observers when presented with such inflammatory art. The only thing The DaVinci Code accomplished in the East was to muddy the waters and cloud cross-cultural understanding.

Which brings me to why I’m hesitant to recommend to you the following book.

Not that The Dynasty of the Holy Grail is in any way comparable to The DaVinci Code. One is an academic labor of love; one is pulp fiction. But the underlying dread I feel at the thought of unleashing their premises on an unprepared world is similar. I have come to a resolution, however, that allows me to proceed. I will share this with you a bit later.

Dr. Vern Swanson has been researching the premise of this book for nearly 30 years. He is an art historian, director of the Springville Museum of Art, and part of the nucleus of the very very small avant-garde Mormon art scene. He is fully qualified to draw many of the conclusions he draws. He follows up his conjectures with extensive references, though his conjectures could be construed as so heretical and utterly outside of our paradigms as to make any kind of bibliography moot. But in all fairness, the Joseph Smith history has no bibliography at all.

The thought of Christ being married rocked the Christian world. Dr. Swanson gets over that in the first chapter. He then proceeds to drag you on to this wild ride. Christ wasn’t merely married – we get to use the P word. Joseph Smith isn’t just a nice guy who found an old book, he is the literal direct descendant of Jesus Christ. Oh, and by the way, the Virgin Mary was from England.

There are enough paradigm shifts in this book to equal a carriage return. I found it an extremely shocking work, but perhaps that’s because it shocks in the only way our dulled postmodern neurons can be shocked anymore – with pure, bold honesty.

The book is very academic, which is refreshing in a world where academia rarely takes Mormonism seriously and, I hate to say it, vice versa. It’s speculative, of course, and I have a hard time deciding whether it’s history or art history or scriptural commentary. That is perhaps the most refreshing attribute – however extreme the premises, the text is very well-supported scripturally. In fact, it makes me a little hesitant to read Isaiah in a room by myself.

However one interprets the revolutionary sentiments set forth in this book, it does set itself apart from much of Mormon academia in one very admirable way. By way of contrast, I mention a book I found at my public library a few weeks ago, a loosely edited, incongruent and a bit spiteful collection of essays on Mormon feminism called Women and Authority. Do Mormon academics have valid things to say to the world? Both works attempt to prove so. But while the feminist writers led by Maxine Hanks attempt to do so with outrage and condescension, Swanson writes honestly, humbly, and from his heart. The contrast is even more evident in the way Swanson treats the holiest of controversies as compared to the tactics of New York Times Bestseller Dan Brown. Swanson is, for all his human and academic flaws, a man in whom there is no guile.

Which is where I need to insert the disclaimer that you please don’t petition your local Barnes & Noble to stock this book. The last chapter of Dynasty addresses the Sacred Silence that surrounds the issue of Christ’s marriage within church official policy and doctrine. The modern prophets and historical Christian leaders have not “covered up” this tantalizing conspiracy throughout the ages; Swanson proves relatively convincingly that the grail knights and the fictional Priory of Sion and the Freemasons are quite innocent of covering up something they understood absolutely nothing about. Rather; those who have searched the scriptures (and who, reading the Joseph Smith Translation’s rendering of John 20’s “touch me not!” injunction could fail to wonder?) and studied out mysteries for themselves have come to know sacred truths and also come to know when these things need to be “kept” and “pondered in [their] heart[s].” These things touch upon the sublime and the beautiful, and they need to be treasured and kept safe in an arid library where seeking minds can, in due time, find them. They do not need to be flying off of conveyor belts at discount prices.

But, and it is Swanson’s final conclusion that persuades me, as well, to speak openly of these things, those who want to defame and sully have already opened the discourse for us. And perhaps it behooves a few of us, and I’m grateful we have some qualified and dignified scholars willing to try, to speak clearly and honestly of things that have such profound eternal import.

If it interests you, please purchase and read (and email Dr. Swanson your edits and comments; it’s still a first draft) Dynasty of the Holy Grail: Mormonism’s Sacred Bloodline. Disagree with it if you will. But please don’t start writing the screenplay or calling publishing houses in Tokyo.

9 thoughts on “Dynasty of the Holy Grail; a tome for the daring knight errant”

  1. Anneke, this is wild. I read your post today, and I came across Swanson’s book for the very first time yesterday. There are multiple heart issue problems about this book.

  2. What do you mean by “heart issue problems,” Todd?

    I suppose something that I didn’t clarify about the tone of my review is that whether or not I believe the assertions Swanson tries to prove is neither here nor there. I admire the work greatly, primarily on the basis of what it IS, and how it’s presented. My jury’s still out on what it actually says.

  3. This discussion interests me not because I’m familiar with Swanson’s tome, but largely because I’ve found myself defending “The Da Vinci Code” on a number of occasions. I discovered that book before it hit big and delved in for the simple reason that the first several chapters take place in the Louvre, which I had frequented on numerous occasions while serving my mission in Paris. I likewise remember thinking two things when I read it: First, how following the book TOO closely probably wouldn’t make for a great film (too much exposition, chit-chat, etc. that’s fascinating in a book but not in a movie). And second, how completely non-plussed I was by the book’s “controversial” project. Although the film featured contributions from a number of notable talents, I didn’t see it and from most objective reviews, it doesn’t sound like I missed much. But the book, well, I enjoyed the book for what it was… a piece of pulp fiction on par with late Robert Ludlum thrillers or John Grisham.

    My point is simply that, as Brown’s book goes, I find (and I believe Brown has as well, judging by many of his interviews), that it has suffered from people classifying it as something that it is not. Even Brown admits that it is a work of fiction, and yet there has been an absolute firestorm of books published in response to it, including many available on the LDS bookshelves.

    I remember encountering the same problem Anneke did on my mission, only the work in question was the film “Witness.” Of course, I believe “Witness” to be a great film and merely a speed bump to the millenial eventuality of the worldwide gospel. I also remember that anything… ANYTHING… that would get people to talk to us was good. If “The Da Vinci Code” starts any kind of dialogue, I think that’s a great thing. Otherwise, we start down a path that makes us perhaps too critical of anything Christian related that doesn’t line up exactly with our beliefs (see “The Passion of the Christ”). Perhaps enlightening people is not only a doctrinal goal, but a mass media one as well.

  4. Anneke,
    I’ve been eyeing Dynasty of the Holy Grail for a long time now. Even perused a bit of it, which perked my interest even more.
    I was interested in the basic premises of DaVinci Code for a while before the novel even came out. Of course a good deal of it is bunk, distortion and fraud (some of it proven to be so), but there is that interesting piece of possible Truth that keeps me coming back to the subject. And the fact that Mormon leaders like Orson Hyde and Joseph Fielding Smith hinted that Christ was ideed married (and perhaps a polygamist, deducing from the internal evidence that Christ may have been married to Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany). Of course, like you said, the jury’s out. I find nothing conclusive either way. However, there’s certainly enough to push it into the realm of certain Possibility.

  5. Anneke, I apologize for not getting back sooner. I have been reading this mammoth book. 🙂

    My respect for Swanson is that he is bold, not swamped in uncertainty about his Mormon orthodoxy.

    But saying that, my main heart issue is his view on the nature of God, which hence flow his views on sexuality. But please don’t label me either neo-platonic or gnostic as I categorically reject what Swanson defends as truth. Far from it.

    And I really had no idea that Margaret Toscano referenced in the book carried such beliefs about God.

    I am behind the times.

  6. Dear Anneke,

    Is is bad form for the author to respond to a blog comment? I’m new at this, in fact I just did my second blog to Todd Wood the Baptist minister from Idaho Falls. He quotes me extensively, of course the juicy parts on wedge issues, like those on the chapter beginning on page 85.

    While everything we do is a matter of testimony, my book is not “my beliefs” but rather “my research” that has led me to think that Jesus was married. I know that Minister Wood does not like the idea of a married Jesus, but I would assume that he would agree that if I happen to be right and Jesus was, in fact, married he would have not problem with that. Of course, I doubt that he would even countenance the possibility that this is the case. Is Holy Matrimony not quite holy enough? If Jesus was married, would Protestants cease to believe in Him? No they would accept the reality, just as I would readily accept that idea that he was not married if that was the way it turned out.

    We believe in Jesus and Him crucified and resurrected. Many people have persecuted others for things about Jesus they did not believe. Yet our faith is in Jesus, not the color of his hair, which side the spear went into, what day he was crucified. Let us be united in what we all know to be true…Jesus is the Christ.


  7. First I’d like to say that lately, when I see the stack of books at the warehouse store or the new releases at the library, I have a little taste of despair that even if I do ever get published, it would just be a drop in the bucket.

    Re: Davince Code. One of the phrases I hit a couple of times in my speed read of the post-Christmas, pre-easter Gospels is “If they are not against us, they are for us.” (Christ responding to the disciples concerns of off-brand healers). I do think Dan Brown is against us, though.

    It seems odd to me that the sex ritual part of the Da Vinci Code is so seldom mentioned in critiques of it. I guess it’s embarassing, and I want my objections to seem born of reason and not prudishness, but I really do think that is what puts it past the pale for me. (pail? pall? I don’t know how that expression goes.) Yes, it’s blasphemy to say Jesus was only a man, and that there is another who is the true manifestation of God’s power on earth. I suppose we often say that is enough to condemn the Da Vinci code, but I just want to go on record saying the sex rituals squick me out. I know that would seem obvious to a lot of people, but there are tracts that accuse Mormons of such things so I think it needs to be said.

  8. P.S. I think Japan is a particular epicenter of cultural saturation. It’s kind of the New York of the World, which is a comparison that probably doesn’t make sense if you are not a non-New York easterner. It kind of goes with Card’s supposition of Japan as an edge nation. Though I don’t agree with it all the way. It is simply that part of their culture is a hunger for other cultures.

    My point about New York is that it does not exist for a purpose other than to exist. So it’s a bit like a Kierkegaard essay, in city form. Remember what we were saying a while back about community as ordinance? Anyway, I don’t know much about Japan. I just remember a book a few years back about culture taking as symbolic of Japanese meta-culture the availability of trikets depicting Santa Claus nailed to a cross.

  9. Oh man, I was commenting on the blurb, and now I’ve read the whole thing.

    Heart issue:

    “those who have searched the scriptures (and who, reading the Joseph Smith Translation’s rendering of John 20’s “touch me not!” injunction could fail to wonder?) and studied out mysteries for themselves have come to know sacred truths and also come to know when these things need to be “kept” and “pondered in [their] heart[s].”

    Don’t you see the problem with publishing a book on this? Of course, another bit from the Gospels is Jesus always telling people to go and tell no one, but the more he forbad them, the more they published it.

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