Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Story that Turns on a Single Detail

Photo by permission: / CC BY 2.0

In the world of make-believe, Tess Chaykin was once considered archaeology’s rising star. As the story's protagonist, she revives a dream to recover something truly meaningful for the world . . . that potentially results in the greatest loss of historical significance spanning the previous two thousand years.

If The Last Templar had continued beyond Tess's return to New York City, we would have witnessed the personal plundering of self esteem. But the story didn't progress further and we're left to imagine her feelings after having held the Gospel of Jeshua in her hands . . . in the moments before the wind billowed the sheets of parchment like the sails of a ship and delivered them once and for all into the crashing waves. If Tess were a living and breathing human being she would be haunted by the single detail she knew was missing the moment she gazed upon its words. Was the gospel authentic?

"Veritas vos liberabit!" The truth will set you free! The very words that the fourth horseman said as he held the ancient decoder in his hands at the onset of the novel are effectively brought to life through the events that unfold . . . and describe the final circumstance of the surviving characters at its conclusion.

In essence, the novel assumed the objective of a sacred story. But the odyssey isn’t over yet.

Unbeknownst to Tess, the audience is privy to a flashback from the 13th century in which William of Beaujeu confesses the truth about the origin of the document, stating the only thing that matters is that their enemies believe it's real: “How many have died as we battle for our God, for his supremacy? We are drenched in blood, we and our foes alike. And we bleed the same. Will we ever set aside our hatred for each other? We will … with this.”

In multiple scenes, Vance challenges the divinity of Jesus, claiming he was a man, only a man. But when Tess asks for confirmation about what he’s suggesting, the response can be perceived as conflicting: "You’re saying that there’s no . . . that there’s no Virgin Birth? No resurrection?”

“No, Tess.”

“No miracles?”

Vance takes a more serious tone, “Thousands of years ago men needed gods to deal with death and plagues . . . and unreliable harvests! But now . . .”

In the world that belongs to William Vance, honesty is the only requirement. All he wants is for the world to know the truth.

In hindsight, Vance's impromptu appearance as soon as Tess retrieves the treasured document from the falcon head suggests that the supposed diary of a carpenter named Jeshua of Nazareth never stood a chance. Not because of what it said, but because false representation, even for a noble cause, isn't worthy of the precious short time we have to bring closure to our sacred story. Everything needed to accomplish the Templars' goal . . . and so much more, was already in place and merely waiting for the proper time.

Two thousand years ago a wise teacher said, "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near." (Matthew 24:32) As Jesus continued to describe the days when the old ways of thinking would come to pass, he shared another parable about a man who harvested where he had not sown and gathered where he had never scattered seed. (Matthew 25:14-30)

And then, sometime around the year 1185, Chrétien de Troyes sowed the seed of a tale:

He little reaps who little sows.
The man who wants good harvests strows
his seeds on such a kind of field,
God grants a hundredfold in yield;
on barren ground good seeds but lie
until they shrivel up and die.
So Chrétien sows, disseminating
this story he’s initiating,
and sows it in such fertile soil,
he can but profit by his toil,

This tale was called the Story of the Grail. Now, the tender twigs of spring make fine knots to guide the way so nobody will go astray, while the seed that was planted more than eight hundred years ago has spread from the medieval town of Troyes, France to every region of the Western world.

Something of a miracle as William Vance would say.

On reality’s side of the boundary that separates it from make-believe, by the time Raymond Khoury’s novel was published, Dan Brown had already put the wheels in motion to revive an older story using Robert Langdon as his leading character—a professor whose “visibility had increased a hundredfold after his involvement in a widely publicized incident at the Vatican.”

In the final scene of The Da Vinci Code, Langdon follows the Arago markers to the Louvre. As he steps over bushes onto what he perceives as hallowed ground, he claims it’s as if he were crossing over into another world. Becoming fully awakened to the unthinkable possibility, he gazes at his surroundings and reflects upon the words of the final clue that Jacques Saunière left for him to follow:

The Holy Grail 'neath the ancient Roslin waits.
The blade and chalice guarding o'er Her gates.
Adorned in masters' loving art, She lies.
She rests at last beneath the starry skies.

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