Category Archives: Ye Are Gods

Photo Tour :: Apotheosis of Washington

The Apotheosis of Washington, Capitol Rotunda (© Julie O'Connor, 2009)

Welcome to Day Five of Julie O’Connor’s Magical, Mystical, Masonic Photo Tour of Washington, DC. You’re staring up at The Apotheosis of Washington, a fresco painted onto the ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda by Italian artist Constantino Brumidi in 1865.

The use of The Apotheosis of Washington in The Lost Symbol is classic Dan Brown, directing the reader’s attention to an unusual episode of American history that is hidden in plain sight:

For most people, The Apotheosis of Washington got stranger and stranger the longer they looked at it. “That’s George Washington on the central panel.” Langdon said, pointing 180 feet upward in the middle of the dome. “As you can see, he’s dressed in white robes, attended by thirteen maidens, and ascending on a cloud above mortal man. This is the moment of his apotheosis . . . his transformation into god.”

Langdon goes on to point out the major figures in the painting: the goddess Minerva giving inspiration to American inventors such as Ben Franklin and Samuel Morse; the god Vulcan helping America build the steam engine; Neptune demonstrating how to lay the transatlantic cable.

Though this scene, in Chapter 21, is memorable, The Apotheosis of Washington plays only a minor role in the novel at this early stage. It holds no secrets and offers no clues to guide Robert Langdon on his quest.

But, for the attentive reader, it does point the way to one of the overarching themes in The Lost Symbol–the power of human thought and the god that lies within every man.

So important is The Apotheosis that Dan Brown returns to it at the end of The Lost Symbol, with a memorable, some might say, cinematic scene, in Chapter 133, where Langdon and Katherine Solomon climb to a circular catwalk and marvel at the fresco while discussing the key to the Ancient Mysteries–the power of the human mind:

Langdon had to admit, not many frescoes in the world fused scientific inventions with mythical gods and human apotheosis…Today, this soaring icon–the father of our country ascending to heaven–hung silently above our lawmakers, leaders, and presidents . . . a bold reminder, a map to the future, a promise of a time when man would evolve to complete spiritual maturity.

And now Katherine:

“Robert,” Katherine whispered, her gaze still fixed on the massive figures of America’s great inventors accompanied by Minerva. “It’s prophetic, really. Today, man’s most advanced inventions are being used to study man’s most ancient ideas. The science of Noetics may be new, but it’s actually the oldest science on earth–the study of human thought.

Noetics is a topic for another post. But there is much more that can be said about The Apotheosis.

Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, adjunct professor of religious art and cultural history at Georgetown University, has written a detailed essay about the fresco for Secrets of The Lost Symbol.

Among her many fascinating insights, she points out that although the painting, mingling gods and real people, might seem confusing today, at the time The Apotheosis was commissioned the depiction of abstract ideas, like moral courage, as a recognizable person was commonplace.

She also draws attention to small details Robert Langdon doesn’t acknowledge, such as that fact that the 13 maidens attending Washington represent the 13 original colonies. And that six of them have their backs turned to represent their secession from the Union during the Civil War.

To find out more pre-order your hard copy of Secrets of The Lost Symbol today or download it now as an e-book.

The Religious Wars and The Lost Symbol

In his latest New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof draws attention to this year’s crop of “more thoughtful” books on religion. He mentions Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God, Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God, and Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct.

All are, of course, non-fiction works. But if Kristof had wanted to pick out the most influential religious book of the year (in terms of readership, at least) he might have included The Lost Symbol, a work of fiction to be sure, but one that arguably holds to the Armstrong/Wright space on the continuum of views about religion.

As we have discussed earlier on this blog–and as we discuss in much more detail in our soon-to-be-published book–Dan Brown certainly imbues The Lost Symbol with a spiritual philosophy. Indeed, Brown’s characters in The Lost Symbol go to great pains to suggest that it is time for man to accept a more universal view of god, one that includes people of all faiths much as the Freemasons welcome Christians, Muslims and Jews in their Lodges and appreciate many aspects of mysticism and spirituality, wherever those traditions come from.

In Kristof’s column, he even highlights Psalm 82, the passage that includes the “Ye Are Gods” reference that Brown uses to bolster his New Age argument that man need look no further than within himself in his search for god. This particular phrase from this particular Psalm is referenced several times in The Lost Symbol. Interestingly, Kristof uses Psalm 82 to highlight Wright’s hypothesis that this use of the plural word “gods” stems not from an argument that man is a god, but from the beliefs circulating at the time the Psalm was written that multiple gods existed.

Mr. Wright also argues that monotheism emerged only gradually among Israelites, and that the God familiar to us may have resulted from a merger of a creator god, El, and a warrior god, Yahweh. Mr. Wright also argues that monotheism wasn’t firmly established until after the Babylonian exile, and he says that Moses’s point was that other gods shouldn’t be worshiped, not that they didn’t exist. For example, he notes the troubling references to a “divine council” and “gods” — plural — in Psalm 82.

Kristof’s piece is fascinating, and well worth reading at length, as are the nonfiction books he cites. And if you would like to explore this subject further, our book, Secrets of the Lost Symbol  (due in stores in time for the holidays) includes a piece from Karen Armstrong as well as an interview with commentator Rabbi Irwin Kula, who calls Armstrong’s Case for God and Brown’s The Lost Symbol “the same book” in certain ways—one erudite and the other a pop culture novel—but both making essentially some of the same points about the kind of religion and spiritual system 21st century humankind is evolving.

The Religious Wars (Nicholas Kristoff, NYT)

Ye Are Gods!

God and Man

According to Robert Langdon, in Chapter 82 of The Lost Symbol, an ancient Hermetic precept states: “Know ye not that ye are gods.” Langdon refers to this as “one of the pillars of the Ancient Mysteries” and a “persistent message of man’s own divinity” in many ancient texts, including the Bible.

The insinuation is that man is god–and that this is what the ancient philosophers, the editors of the Old Testament, and the Freemasons all believe.

The Masonic architect Bellamy tells Langdon, in Chapter 49: “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.” And the universality of the assertion of man’s inherent divinity is reinforced, in Chapter 131, when Peter Solomon gives Langdon a quick rundown of instances in Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, when similar assertions have been made.

Langdon, who elsewhere says he is not much of a Bible scholar (a bit strange for a Harvard professor with an eidetic memory who is steeped in symbols and their meanings), remembers the phrase from The Book of Psalms, Chapter 82, A Psalm of Asaph:

1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.

There are several arguments against comingling the Hermetic injunction, “Know ye not that ye are gods,” with the reference “Ye are gods,” in Psalm 82.

First, most Biblical scholars tend to believe that the Psalms reference is really critiquing those mortal men who have come to see themselves as gods–noting that they will die, just like men. Rather than man’s inherent divinity, this reference seems to most readers to point to man’s hubristic assumption of godly roles.

Second, this specific passage of Psalms uses “gods” – elohim (אלהים) in Hebrew. While elohim is generally another name for God, the fact that it is a plural form has been interpreted in many ways, including “kings,” “angels,” or, commonly, “judges.”

Charles H. Spurgeon, a 19th century Baptist preacher and author of the Treasury of David, wrote: “To the people of Israel this kind of appellation would not seem over bold: for it was applied to judges in well-known texts of the Law of Moses.” While the British Methodist theologian Adam Clarke argued that elohim refers to man as god’s representative on earth imbued with his “power and authority to dispense judgment and justice.”

In other words, according to religious scholars, Psalm 82 may refer to man’s responsibility on earth to act as a judge, not the Hermetic meaning that divinity lies within man.

Finally, at least some Freemasons have taken issue with Brown’s assertion that the inherent divinity of man is a Masonic belief: According to a report on Beliefnet, Most Worshipful Brother Rev. Terry Tilton, a retired Masonic leader from Minnesota points out, “There can be no real substitute for perfection, the infinite and divine truth. And that is why just because God is God and we are not, human beings can never fully bridge the gulf of understanding and perfection in this world.”

As readers of The Da Vinci Code know, Dan Brown has a great interest in alternative histories and interpretations. He emphasizes the importance of the Gnostic Gospels over the traditional Gospels in The Da Vinci Code. In particular, he has previously called readers’ attention to the Gnostic principle that God is interior to ourselves, not exterior, and that through various mystical means, journeys, and truth-seeking, men and women can realize their inner divinity.

While this is, indeed, a view found in some of the Gnostic Gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas (see the outstanding book by Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief), it is not the traditionally expressed view of either the Old Testament or the New Testament.  But a Gnostic reading of “ye are gods” converges snugly with Dan Brown’s plotlines in The Lost Symbol. From a Gnostic perspective we are all divine and human at the same time; we are all gods.