Genealogy and the Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I couldn’t resist posting on genealogy as it impacts one of the biggest blockbusters of the last decade (give or take, guess it’s coming up on 10 years old). Some of you may have noticed a recent article about some research on inter-relatedness of Europeans which suggests that anyone in Europe living within 2,000 miles of each other is related within a horizon of no more than 1,000 years and everyone in all of Europe is related if you go back 2,000 years. Hmmm…. 2,000 years puts us back at the time of Christ, and if  you believe the Da Vinci Code, the time when Jesus’ first descendants moved to France. So… unless Jesus had a near-perfectly lineal line of descent (i.e., each generation had one and only one descendant), it would pretty much follow that if Jesus did have descendants who moved to Europe in the first century CE, everybody in Europe would be related to him.

I suppose for the sake of a good story, you good posit a lineal genealogy but that would come pretty close to proof of the divine (or some sort of advanced agency- maybe space aliens had a hand in this!): linear trees are almost impossible over so many generations. As one data point, some studies have shown that the average noble line died out after only three generations due to the failure to provide a male heir. On the one hand, that excludes female descendants but on the other hand, few of those families had just a single off-spring. Suffice it to say if a noble line can’t last 3 generations, how long could a lineal descent from Jesus last, at least not without some outside force ensuring it happened?

So, if you think Jesus had offspring but was not divine, either those offspring died within a few generations of his lifetime or they must have ‘hooked’ into the vast web of interrelations that we all are a part of and therefore anyone with a remote connection to the holy land (or France if you buy the Da Vinci Code theory), is related to Jesus. If you do accept the role of the divine, and are also one of the few who allow Jesus off-spring, than anything goes on how broad his tree is since an omnipotent God can do anything he likes with genealogy but in the end after 60-80 generations or so since Jesus lived, it sure seems like it would be difficult to keep his genes in a tiny branch of a really big, interwoven tree.

When Da Vinci Code first came out I observed that Jesus was either directly related to no one (because his line quickly died out or he never had children) or he was directly related to just about everyone with European or near eastern roots. It’s good to see the science to back it up. In the article, they say this was first posited about ten years ago… pretty good chance it was posited as a response to the Da Vinci Code. As for my own thoughts on it, it wasn’t a completely wild guess: when my mother-in-law and a genealogist on my mother’s side showed both families were related to Eleanor of Aquitaine by the time-honored method of finding a “hook” into one of the existing, researched lines, and only having to go back to the 1600s to do so, it made me realize most Europeans were probably related to Eleanor. Of course, she lived 800 years ago and did have quite the large brood which was scattered across Europe thanks to noble marriages, thus giving her a good head start in the inter-relatedness game.

I’ve read a number of different books debunking some of the stuff that Dan Brown presents as fact (of course, in the end he is a novelist, and one should take the preface as just another trick of the trade) but I’ve yet to come across the “plentiful offspring” refutation of the book’s main thesis, unless this study was spawned as a response to the Da Vinci Code.

Da Vinci Code was certainly a fun read but I never did buy the limited decent from Jesus part and as a lover of history, some of the other liberties in the narrative always rubbed me wrong. As a writer, I couldn’t go with a premise like that; for one thing, I’d have to have more explicit reasons for the lineal decent. But then again I’m an engineer who cares about often pointless details and more importantly, I didn’t write an 80 million book blockbuster. So go, Dan, go!


4 thoughts on “Genealogy and the Da Vinci Code

  1. Well, the “lost heir” thing has been popular in all sorts of literature, not only thrillers. Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings is the last descendant of a fallen royal house. Garion in The Belgariad is likewise. Luke and Leia in Star Wars, Lessa in the Pern novels. There’s such great drama in having to find an heir with special powers. If we were realistic and had several heirs, it would be much less fun. (Although, Zelazny worked that angle in his Amber series and it was great, too.)

    1. Yeah but Lessa, Luke and Leia were just a single generation or so (maybe Lessa was two, can’t recall). That’s a world of difference from 60-80 generations.

      As for Aragorn, there was clearly a ‘divine’ influence in that world. And while it was never articulated, you could imagine his bloodline was managed, just as, “Bilbo was meant to find the ring.”

      In Da Vinci Code, the divine is kept off page. While it wasn’t ruled out, the whole thing was presented as more ‘historical’, which to me means the lineal descent was a bit of a plot hole. But again, it was wildly successful so clearly I’m off base for many readers. However, I wouldn’t use it myself as it was. I might use it in a fantasy setting where some agency can ensure the lineal decent. But not in a contemporary thriller without a reason for it (and a shepherding priory is not sufficient unless it could literally clone people, i.e., was very advanced, otherwise what do they do when the one and only heir is killed young, impotent, etc.).

      But there are other tropes people gladly use that I would personally steer clear of, and as a consumer of media, enjoy well enough even if I might scoff at the details. For instance, there’s the monster-that-grows-from-tiny-to-horse-sized in a few days (like in Aliens). There’s no real, plausible way for an organism to grow that fast, plus there’s the well established ~10:1 ratio of food-in to body mass: that 400 pound alien would need to consume 4000 pounds of mass. But they are still fun to watch and folks overlook the niggling details.

      On the other hand, as I’ve noted in my posts on how much a griffin eats, can dragons fly, and teleportation, sometimes these ‘challenges’ to the trope can provide a way to differentiate your setting/premise from everything else out there. Rather than ignore the lineal decent issue, it might have been more interesting to explain it, or simply in a single sentence, hint at it: “May that was the hand of god,” in response to a query about the issue. Having done that, you know the author realized the issue and was either not oblivious or not trying to put one past you, plus you have the frisson of the divine. Need not take it any further than that since that isn’t really what the book is about. You can just leave it hanging there for folks to ponder.

      1. Well, if these clergy were able to clone Jesus, they wouldn’t have needed any descendants, would they!

        Hmm, could be an interesting time travel story. The Pope sends a team back in time to obtain Jesus’s genetic material…

  2. Pingback: Gods and Noble Bloodlines | M. Q. Allen

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