Summary: Teabing interprets Da Vinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper for Sophie, pointing out that the figure seated “in the place of honor, at the right hand of the Lord” is not, as many assume, a man but a red-headed woman: Mary Magdalene. Teabing claims that the Church has long suppressed the historical truth, contained within Gnostic scriptures, that Mary was Jesus’ wife—and the mother of his child. Mary is the Sangreal—the sacred vessel, the “holy grail”—because she contained, in her womb, the blood of Christ—that is, the bloodline of Jesus Christ. As Teabing explains, that bloodline would be a royal bloodline: Mary was descended from the Tribe of Benjamin, and Jesus from the lineage of King David. Their child would have fused two powerful royal lines of descent. Teabing points out several passages in the Gnostic Gospels that attest to Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s sexual union. Teabing and Langdon claim that Jesus entrusted the church he founded, not to Peter (as the Roman Catholic Church claims), but to Mary. Peter’s supposedly threatening gesture in Da Vinci’s painting—the same ominous throat-slicing motion Sophie saw in Madonna of the Rocks—is a visual statement not only of his jealousy at Mary, but more broadly of the Church’s insistence on suppressing the truth of her importance to Jesus’ future plans for his followers. “Jesus,” says Teabing, “was the original feminist.”
Analysis: “Learning the truth,” Teabing professes, “has become my life’s love… And the Sangreal is my favorite mistress” (p. 262). This chapter reinforces a perception of Teabing as a lover of truth (see this Analysis’ comments on “truth-lovers” in Freemasonry above)—but Teabing’s own statement could simultaneously cast doubt on his status as an ally to the novel’s protagonists. As it is for others in the book—Silas, Aringarosa, the Priory of Sion and its four key Brethren—the Holy Grail is of paramount importance to Teabing (here, by his own admission). He has devoted a lifetime to studying its secrets—and readers should labor under no illusion that, should circumstances warrant, he will choose to serve it rather than even friends like Robert Langdon.
Teabing’s impassioned defense of Mary Magdalene correctly insists that the woman was no prostitute—or, at least, that the Bible itself does not identify her as such. Teabing most likely misses the mark, however, when he claims that the Church “needed to defame Mary Magdaelene in order to cover up her dangerous secret” (p. 264). Many biblical scholars believe that the identification of Mary of Magdala as a prostitute arose from a conflation of stories about her with stories of the anonymous woman identified as a “sinner” who anointed Jesus’ feet with her hair and her tears in Luke 7:36-50 (to further complicate matters, John’s Gospel identifies this woman as Mary of Bethany, not of Magdala, in John 12:1-8) or with the anonymous woman caught in adultery whom Jesus saves from an angry mob in John 8:1-11. His argument that Jesus, as a devout male Jew of a certain age, would likely have been married certainly stands as plausible—but, as any academic historian must know, plausibility is not the same thing as being “part of the historical record” (p. 265). Teabing argues from the absence of evidence—“If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible’s gospels would have mentioned it” (p. 265)—and arguments from silence are inherently logically suspect. If anything, the New Testament offers evidence that bachelorhood was not at all automatically regarded as “unnatural” (p. 265), since the Apostle Paul—also himself a devout Jew—was unmarried (see 1 Cor. 7:8). The Roman Catholic Church, of course, has historically placed much stock in Jesus’ assumed celibacy; it is part of the rationale for allowing neither married men nor women to become ordained priests. For many Protestant Christians, however, Jesus’ marital status is irrelevant; like the young Sophie responding to her grandfather’s newspaper article, they think that if “Jesus had a girlfriend,” they “wouldn’t mind” (p. 267). Thus, Teabing’s comments on the matter can best be seen, not as absolute statements of fact, but—again, given that the book is a work of fiction—thematic elements that advance the novel’s main argument: the feminine element of human sexuality and spirituality has been denied its proper place in the modern world.
Teabing does quote actual passages from Gnostic Scripture; however, religious and biblical scholars continue to debate whether such passages provide proof positive of a sexual and/or marital relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The same passages may very well be open to more mystical and metaphysical interpretations.
Teabing’s analysis of The Last Supper again brings to the fore the detail of red hair, and all that it connotes, positive and negative. Teabing’s revelation—that the figure at Jesus’ right side is not, as is often supposed (and as is still, in the real world, maintained by many art historians) an effeminate-looking John the Beloved Disciple (see John 13:23; note that the New Testament itself never names this “beloved disciple”—his identification as John derives from ancient church tradition) but Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ wife and mother of his child—is certainly startling enough. Ironically, however, in the real world more recent conspiracy theories have sprung up to supplant even the novel’s wildest speculation (as conspiracy theories are of course wont to do). According to a 2007 report in The Telegraph, “New claims that Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper contains a hidden image of a woman holding a child are provoking a storm of interest on the internet. The figure allegedly appears when the 15th Century mural painting is superimposed with its mirror image, and both are made partially transparent. According to Slavisa Pesci, an Italian amateur scholar, the resulting composite picture shows a figure clutching what appears to be a young child. More cynical observers may conclude that the double-image is far too blurry and faded to draw such conclusions” (http:www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/
1558952/Da-Vincis-Last-Supper-New-conspiracy-theory.html). One cannot help but suspect that Dan Brown would have wanted to include this theory in his novel as well, had it been circulating when he wrote his book! As matters stand, whether the figure on Jesus’ right is male or female must be determined by individual viewers of the artwork, as well as whether the “negative space” of a V and an M as identified by Teabing (pp. 264-265) actually exists in the painting. Such matters are, as Langdon rightly notes, studies in “scotoma” (p. 263), which is actually defined as an area of diminished vision within the visual field—more colloquially, a blind spot. The preconceived ideas we bring to any given piece of art (including, one must honestly add, any given literary text!) inevitably shape what we see. Our job as critical readers is to strive to see past our “blind spots” as best we can.