Essay / Misc.

Jesus Loves John

John Mark Reynolds asked for examples of bad arguments mined from the plentiful quarry of The DaVinci Code. I don’t think what I’m responding to here counts as an argument, but it’s an interesting bit of incomprehension in the book.

The relationship between John and Jesus is incomprehensible to Dan Brown. The gospel of John presents this relationship as especially intimate and affectionate, even identifying John as “the disciple Jesus loved … the one who had reclined close to Jesus at the supper” (John 21:20). That image of John reclining on Jesus has been a popular focus for Christian devotion. The statue here is a striking example: you can take away the other disciples, the table, and everything else, but what remains is Jesus and John. As Bernard of Clairvaux said, “The love of Jesus, what it is / None but His loved ones know.” John is the representative of each soul, each disciple, all of whom are called to rest on Jesus as the ones he loves.

Now you can call that schmaltzy and sentimental piety if you want to. If you’d like, you are free to mock it. (By the way, I don’t advise doing that. This is one of those forms of piety that’s easy to poke fun at, but hard to explain what it is about you that finds the whole thing so amusing.)

But whether you’re able to cozy up to this devotion, or think you are called on to subject it to ridicule, you should at least understand it first. Dan Brown clearly does not.

Brown hints at the “obvious” homoeroticism of the relationship, which undercuts his ultimate assertion that “John” in Leonardo’s Last Supper is really Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ wife. Get it, that’s why he looks so girly. He also says that the painting is visually constructed to show you that Jesus and “Mary Magdalene” are lovers, or as he says, “The Last Supper practically shouts at the viewer that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a pair.”

But I ask you, is the relationship between Jesus and um, “Mary,” something you would call intimate in Leonardo’s Last Supper? I can’t help noticing a little bit of space in between them… actually, a gigantic wedge of space.

Here’s where I have to stop, because now all of a sudden I’m actually interested in questions of Leonardo’s compositional choices. I’d like to know why he depicts “the disciple Jesus loved, who reclined close to him at the supper” as leaning the other way. But I think what I’ll do is go look that up in an art history book, ANY art history book, maybe something like Leo Steinberg’s book-length discussion of the supper. Or hey, let’s not be snooty: how about Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces?

But the last place in the world I’d look for enlightening discussion of this question, or any other question about Leonardo, or any question about anything factual or interpretive I can think of, is The DaVinci Code.

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