Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Conclusion of Dan Brown's
The Lost Symbol and
the LDS Doctrine of Exaltation

[Spoiler Alert: In this blog post, I reveal the conclusion of The Lost Symbol. The major "thriller" plot is resolved before the conclusion, and so I do not reveal the main plot. I believe that the importance to Latter-day Saints of knowing this material outweighs considerations of 'spoiling' one's entertainment experience by reading what follows. However, the choice is yours: if you wish the experience of reading the novel's conclusion 'blind,' then do not read this post until after you have completed reading the novel.]

I must admit: I did not see this coming.

A book destined to become the year's best-selling novel around the world features a version of a central and controversial LDS doctrine. In this post, I describe the situation, and my ideas about what it is that Latter-day Saints might do in response, to further the interests of the Church and the cause of the Gospel. This is a long post; however, given what is potentially at stake for the Latter-day Saints, I think that it will be well worth your attention.

Background: Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol

For the last three months, I have been following the hoopla surrounding the release of Dan Brown's then-forthcoming novel, The Lost Symbol, the sequel to the monumentally successful book, The Da Vinci Code. In particular, I established a blog to analyze the clues that Brown's publisher, Doubleday, had been issuing concerning the contents of the then-forthcoming novel. (This blog is now titled "Discovering The Lost Symbol: The Blog"; it is found at

The book became available at some Manhattan locations as early as 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, September 15. I purchased my copy at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble, literally across the street from the Manhattan New York Temple. Having a contract to write a chapter on the book, and hoping to obtain a deal to write my own book on the novel, I felt it important to skim the whole book immediately. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

The Lost Symbol is a thriller featuring Dan Brown's signature character, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks in the movie adaptations of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons). The new novel is noteworthy for being placed in Washington, DC, and involving the history and symbolism of Freemasonry, the world's oldest and largest fraternal organization. (Disclosure: I am a Freemason.) The Lost Symbol combines Masonic symbolism, a cutting-edge discipline known as 'noetic science,' and a lot of derring-do in a thriller that is more rescue mission than murder mystery.

Much of this was to be expected. It was also to be expected that some religious or spiritual theme would be addressed as a subtext or motif throughout the novel; this is also a signature characteristic of Brown's Langdon novels. In Angels & Demons, the issue was the relationship of science and religion. In The Da Vinci Code, the issue was the nature of Jesus. As it turns out, the issue in The Lost Symbol is the relationship between God and humankind -- and the way that Brown resolves this issue is both startling for the general reader and unexpectedly resonant for the LDS reader.

Humanity and God in The Lost Symbol

Early on in The Lost Symbol, Robert Langdon looks up from inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building, and sees the 1865 painting by Constantino Brumidi, The Apotheosis of Washington (shown above; click on the image for a larger depiction). The ancient Greek word "apotheosis" has no common single-word equivalent in English; it indicates the event of a human being becoming a god. (See the last page of Chapter 20, and all of Chapter 21, in The Lost Symbol.)

Throughout the novel, one of the subplots is that the leading female character in this story, Dr. Katherine Solomon, is engaged in research involving a field called noetic science. In the novel, we learn that she has uncovered a variety of paranormal, even godlike capacities in the human mind -- capacities that can be developed even in this world.

Much later, at the conclusion of The Lost Symbol (Chapter 133 and the Epilogue), Robert Langdon is taught some fascinating philosophical, religious, and spiritual concepts by Dr. Solomon. One of these concepts is the idea that the destiny and birthright of human beings is to take on the role of divine Creators. We join these two in discussion in Chapter 133, with Dr. Solomon speaking:
"... We've been reading the Bible too literally. We learn that God created us in his image, but it's not our physical bodies that resemble God, it's our minds. ... [O]nce we realize that we are truly created in the Creator's image, we will start to understand that we, too, must be Creators. When we understand this fact, the doors will burst wide open for human potential.

... Langdon gazed up again at the image of The Apotheosis of Washington--the symbolic ascent of man to deity. The created . . . becoming the Creator. (Page 501 of the English language edition of The Lost Symbol)

Langdon then reflects on the Hebrew word Elohim:

"Elohim," he repeated. "The Hebrew word for God in the Old Testament! I've always wondered about it."

Katherine gave a knowing smile. "Yes. The word is plural." ...

"God is plural," Katherine whispered, "because the minds of man are plural." (Page 505)

In essence, Katherine Solomon is teaching Robert Langdon the ideas that (a) human beings have the potential within them to develop into gods, and (b) such a development would result in a plurality of gods. The "Lost Symbol" of the novel's title reflects the notion of God as a symbol for the highest potential of humankind.

The LDS Doctrine of Exaltation

Of course, all of this has a strong resonance to the LDS doctrine of exaltation. As the Latter-day Saints teach, those who make certain sacred covenants with God, and keep those covenants throughout their lives, then at some undefined time after death experience a change. As the LDS scriptures put it:
Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. (The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132, Verse 20)
Such individuals are permitted to maintain their family structure throughout the eternities, and go on to create and populate worlds for themselves. This is the highest blessing possible, and is the essence of eternal life, the kind of life that God has. (Some further basic information about the LDS doctrine of exaltation is available here.)

The LDS doctrine of exaltation does have certain differences from the concept that Dan Brown puts forth in The Lost Symbol. For Dan Brown's characters, the notion that humanity is made in the image of God is figurative ("it's our minds" that resemble God, as Dr. Solomon says); for the LDS, humans resemble God both mentally and physically (that is, God has a body in whose image humans are made).

Nonetheless, the idea of humans becoming exalted to godlike status -- long a doctrine held virtually uniquely by the LDS -- is now being reflected in a novel that is almost guaranteed to be a global best seller.

The Plurality of Gods in LDS Doctrine

Robert Langdon's insight about the plurality of Gods, of course, was anticipated over a century and a half ago by Joseph Smith, Jr., the first LDS prophet in modern times. As Joseph Smith put it in a sermon, just east of the Nauvoo Temple, on June 16, 1844 (that is, eleven days before he was martyred):
Paul says there are Gods many and Lords many; and that makes a plurality of Gods, in spite of the whims of all men. ... I have it from God, and get over it if you can. ... I will show from the Hebrew Bible that I am correct, and the first word shows a plurality of Gods .... An unlearned boy must give you a little Hebrew. Berosheit baurau Eloheim ait aushamayeen vehau auraits*, rendered by King James' translators, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." ... Eloheim is from the word Eloi, God, in the singular number; and by adding the word heim, it renders it Gods. It [that is, Genesis 1:1] read first, "In the beginning the head of the Gods brought forth the Gods," or, as others have translated it, "The head of the Gods called the Gods together." ...

In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 371-372)

[*In modern transliteration of Hebrew, this would be given as Bereshit bara Elohim 'et ha-shamayim v'et ha-aretz.]

Some aspects of doctrine that Dan Brown misses involve the character and origin of God -- in essence, what sort of being God is, and how God came to be God. These are subjects concerning which Joseph Smith taught boldly and publicly in the last three months of his life. In the so-called King Follett Discourse (April 7, 1844), Joseph taught the following:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,--I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form--like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man ....

These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. ... God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-346, italics omitted. The first of these two paragraphs appears in the current manual of study for priesthood quorums and the Relief Society for 2008-2009: Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 2, p. 40.)

All of this raises two questions: how did Dan Brown happen to incorporate (as it seems he did) LDS doctrine into his novel? And, what implications does this have for the Latter-day Saints? I address each of these issues below.

Dan Brown Visits Temple Square

Dan Brown visited Temple Square in 2004 and 2006, as reported by KSL-TV in Salt Lake City. During his 2004 visit, as his host noted, Brown was specifically interested in what seemed to him the Masonic-like symbols on the Salt Lake LDS Temple: "He was ... very interested in the symbology on the Mormon temple ... the pentacles and the suns and the moons and the stars and all that. So, I gather his primary interest was to ... see the Mormon embellishment of Masonry as it exists, in his mind ...." (Of course, the LDS Temple is deeply associated with the LDS doctrine of exaltation.) In 2006, as reported on TV, Brown was granted access to certain LDS historical archives.

Thus, for whatever reason and in whatever way, Dan Brown has had a certain interest in the Latter-day Saints and our most important and distinctive spiritual practices and doctrines. I think that he saw fit to adapt the LDS doctrine of exaltation for literary purposes in The Lost Symbol.

So what does this all mean to us, as Latter-day Saints?

The Implications of The Lost Symbol for the Latter-day Saints

The doctrine of exaltation has been a sticking point for the Latter-day Saints as they have tried to share the Gospel for over a century and a half, from the time that this doctrine was revealed during the Nauvoo period until this very day. Despite a great deal of evidence that this doctrine was known and taught in the earliest days of Christianity by the ancient apostles and their associates in the Old World**, it is clear that this was one of the many pure and precious doctrines of the Gospel that were dropped as early Christianity fell into the centuries known among the LDS as the Great Apostasy.

Consequently, the majority of Christian churches are shocked by the very idea of the doctrine of exaltation. The LDS have been condemned as unchristian heretics by several major Christian denominations and many of their authors. To some extent, this has gotten in the way of our missionary work for many years.

Now, however, we have an interesting and unexpected opportunity.
The publication of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol opens an opportunity for the Latter-day Saint doctrine of exaltation to enter the public discourse in a way other than through partisan, sectarian condemnation. Individual Latter-day Saints could usefully make efforts to bring this doctrine to the attention of news media. In addition, this opens opportunities to share the Gospel on an individual basis.

Let me explain what I mean.

What The Da Vinci Code Demonstrated

Some readers may remember the big fuss that Brown's earlier novel, The Da Vinci Code, caused. The back story in The Da Vinci Code was the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had descendants.

Having researched the issue, I can testify that this idea caused a sensation in certain sectors of the Christian community. Many books and other media were developed specifically to refute what Dan Brown's characters were claiming about Jesus (and other aspects of early Christianity portrayed in the novel). And why was this such an issue? The unspoken subtext here is that it was somehow unbecoming for a divine Person to be involved in the procreation of children.

Of course, this is no problem whatsoever for the Latter-day Saints.

And, what happened with all this fuss and bother? An interesting thing, actually.

There remained many people, of course, who were unmoved by Dan Brown's concepts. However--and I admit that this is an impression, not something based on hard data--it seems to me that a substantial number of his readers arrived at an attitude like the following: "Jesus married? Hmm. Well, why not? Sounds okay to me."

These days, a lot of people are open to believing different things than the doctrines of the historically dominant Christian churches. They do need to be exposed to different ideas, but when they are, a fair number of people find these different ideas acceptable. It is just that simple. And this fact can work to the benefit of propagating the LDS approach to the Gospel.

The debate and fuss that followed the publication of The Da Vinci Code (2003) and the release of the movie version (2006) demonstrated that the 21st century public was receptive to ideas that might have gotten Dan Brown burned alive at the stake--or at least run out of town--in an earlier era. So, how do we use this receptivity?

What Latter-Day Saints Can Do

I suggest that Latter-day Saints do the following four things:
  1. Become more familiar with the doctrine of exaltation.
  2. Become familiar with Dan Brown's not-quite-enough approach to exaltation in The Lost Symbol.
  3. Alert news media to the resonances between Dan Brown's novel's conclusion and this important LDS doctrine.
  4. Use the novel as an opportunity to bring up this central aspect of the Gospel with their non-LDS friends, neighbors, co-workers, and other associates.
I expand on each of these suggestions below.

1. Get to know the doctrine of exaltation.

Before one can share a doctrine, one should be sure to understand it. Fortunately, there are many easy-to-access resources available for this purpose, several of them online. These include the following:
  • The Standard Works. (It always starts here, doesn't it?) In particular, D&C Section 132: 19-24 is central to this topic, as is D&C Section 131.
  • The LDS manual, Gospel Principles, Chapter 47, "Exaltation," is particularly useful in understanding the basics of this doctrine.
  • The Encyclopedia of Mormonism has a brief but useful article on exaltation.
  • Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, particularly pp. 345-346, 370-373, states these doctrines in powerful and straightforward fashion. (See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 2, p. 40.)
  • For 'extra credit,' as it were, read the wiki page published by the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR, a pro-LDS group) regarding the "Deification of Man"; see it here.
  • Further 'extra credit': read the evidence published by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) that this doctrine was taught in ancient Christianity.**

2. Familiarize yourself with The Lost Symbol

On a practical level, it is hard to engage people in conversation regarding a book one has not read. The Lost Symbol is a pretty quick read. Yes, the real punchline, from our perspective, is in Chapter 133 and the Epilogue -- but, if you're going to talk about a book, you should really read the whole thing.

3. Contact your local news media.

Yes, you. If we're going to raise the profile of the Gospel and this doctrine, we have to engage the media.

It's not so hard. These days, many newspapers, radio, and television stations have e-mail addresses listed on their websites for specific reporters. Almost every media outlet in sight has published some kind of story on The Lost Symbol, on or about September 14-15. Simply contact some reporter who had a story on this novel (or the editor of the paper or station itself) and tell them that there is a side of this story that has not been told yet.

If you want talking points, take a look at the blog post that I wrote on my Dan Brown-related blog, regarding this issue:

You may even find it handy to forward that link to the news people. (I suggest you send the link from that blog, rather than this blog that you are reading, because that blog is written for the general reader of Dan Brown, rather than the LDS public.)

4. Engage your non-LDS associates in conversation about exaltation.

You're going to see a lot of people reading this novel. How many? Consider this:
  • The Da Vinci Code sold 81 million copies, about 45 million of those in the United States. About 1 American adult in every 5 read The Da Vinci Code. The Lost Symbol may be even bigger than The Da Vinci Code.
  • Doubleday published 6.5 million copies of The Lost Symbol in English, just as a first printing. (Keep in mind that 30,000 copies is considered an "okay" first printing!)

Thus, you will likely have many opportunities to do something like the following:

  • Ask people how they liked the novel.
  • Ask them what they thought about the end of the novel, regarding the idea that the potential destiny of human beings was to become gods.
  • Ask them whether they knew that Latter-day Saints teach a very similar idea.
  • Ask them if they'd like to know more. If so, invite them to church.

Bring pass-along cards with you. If you follow the plan above, I would guess that you'll go through quite a few.


We have the opportunity here to use this likely bestselling novel to raise the profile of the Church in a good way. This novel is introducing a version of one of our central but controversial doctrines in a positive manner, to millions upon millions of people around the world. Let us use this opportunity to help introduce the Gospel to people with whom we might not otherwise have such an easy point of connection.

**See point #5 ("Do Latter-day Saints believe that men and women can become gods?", pp. 25-29) in Robert L. Millet and Noel B. Reynolds (Editors), Latter-Day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, BYU, 1998; ISBN 0-934893-32-2).

[The image of Brumidi's "The Apotheosis of Washington" is from pictures taken by Raul654 in 2005. The image was obtained from Wikimedia Commons and is shown here under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.]


  1. Can't read the article yet as I will start reading the novel later this week. But I thought it might be interesting for readers to note that my family is LDS and when Dan Brown's family lived in Durham, NC for a sabbatical to Duke University, they lived next door to us. They were great people and we talked frequently (@ cookouts) of the Church and of the Catholic church to which they belonged. Dan was in college @ Amherst @ the time but was home often enough to participate in the discussions. We are so happy for him and his success as it is well-deserved.

  2. Joseph Smith once said that the Book Of Mormon was the key stone of our religon, simply put that through prayerful study of the Book of Mormon a person draws closer to God and His truth. We should save missionary discussions based on the merits of Dan Browns work comparing our own beliefs in exaltaion lest we become ridiculous in the eyes of the world. It is enough to engage in thoughtful spiritual discussions with friends in our communities based not on works of fiction but on the firm foundation that will lead to true understanding and enlightenment,which is the Book of Mormon. Only then will hearts be touched by its message and tue enlightement of our divine potential become understood.

  3. Anonymous #1: All right, that's a bit of background of which I was not aware. Incidentally, I had actually been under the impression that he was raised in the Episcopal Church, but perhaps I'm simply mistaken. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Dan Brown's family certainly seems to have been very nice.

    Anonymous #2: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I am absolutely entirely for using the Book of Mormon as a missionary tool. In a sense, what I am doing is suggesting a way to get people to the point of reading the Book of Mormon.

    I am thinking of the example of the Apostle Paul. When preaching the Gospel among the ancient Greeks, he used the settings and the materials at hand. For example, Paul made references to Greek literature (as in Acts 17:28), and to their popular religious practices (Acts 17:23). I see myself as suggesting something similar.

    I don't see it likely that we will "become ridiculous in the eyes of the world" through using Dan Brown's novel as an introduction to a serious Gospel discussion. I say that for two reasons.

    First, we are already ridiculed by the churches of the world because of the doctrine of exaltation. The popular literature that the other churches and their members publish about us labels us as unchristian, creepy, even Satanic, specifically because of this doctrine. This does not help our missionary efforts. I am trying to address the roadblock here.

    Second, perhaps surprisingly, a large number of people around the world take Dan Brown very seriously. I have been quite surprised, in looking over the Dan Brown Facebook fan page over the last three months, to see the large number of people not only write admiringly about his work, but ask, "Is this true?", "Did this really happen?", and so forth.

    To some extent, this is a reflection of the spiritual shallowness and religious illiteracy that are characteristic of popular culture today (certainly in the United States, and in the popular entertainment that we export around the world).

    However, one must meet people where they are. If where they are is reading a popular novel, and that is the entry point for a more serious Gospel discussion that would lead to reading the Book of Mormon, then by all means let's use that opportunity.

    As far as the media contact that I suggest -- telling media outlets about the connection between Dan Brown's novel's conclusion and our doctrine -- the point here is to put our real doctrine in front of the world. Better that people read our real doctrine, in a feature news report regarding Dan Brown, than that they see a distortion of our doctrine via some popular entertainment that mocks us, such as Big Love, South Park, or Angels in America.

    They will certainly see the latter. (Angels in America is even being revived off-Broadway this season -- lucky us.) Will they read the former, the real doctrine in the news?

    That's all up to us, isn't it?

  4. Thanks for this great post! You've done us a great service by pointing out some similarities between our faith and Dan Brown's budding bestseller.

    I completely agree with you--we can definitely benefit from the publicity brought to the idea of the deification of man.

    Just for those interested, here's another great article on the Mormon beliefs on exaltation:

  5. Jeff: I liked the FAIR wiki page so much that I incorporated it into the body of my suggestions. Thank you very much for the link.

  6. You should link to your blog from the More Good Foundation website,

  7. Thank you for the suggestion, Gale! I'm doing so directly.

  8. Excellent post. I found it very helpful since I was debating whether to buy the book or not. Thank you for your insight and points on discussions with others not of our faith.

  9. Mark -- thanks for your blog on this timely topic. In recent months I have entered upon the blogosphere with my attempt to merge political and religious topics once considered taboo in polite circles (see The mileage I got in gospel conversations with Brown's two earlier books has been very rewarding and I bought The Lost Symbol yesterday to continue my background knowledge of his thoughts in anticipation of even more fruitful conversations going forward. We have nothing to fear as members of the Church in the latter days. In fact, this is just the latest evidence that Joseph Smith had it all right way back when in a day when his efforts were accepted by so few in relative terms. Brown's worldwide reach will do nothing but enhance our conversations in my humble assessment, and I'm excited about your views that seem to corroborate my own. We need to be fearless in our proclamation of the gospel. Brown's latest book provides us with a bully pulpit we would be wise to embrace, regardless of its ficitional origins. That's our job as members of the Church -- to separate the fact from the fiction -- and we can do it!

  10. I think you'll find that a lot of the trouble in regards to the Da Vinci Code also eminated around the fact that the book wrongfully made a group within the Catholic church, Opus Dei to be a group of pschotic, self-mutilating relgious extremists.

  11. I read the book and agree that this will help the church. It seems all our 'fringe' ideas are slowly being brought into the mainstream.

    The whole time I was reading the book and it was talking about an awaking in thought and revealed truths, I kept thinking how just like the Jews setting a place for Elijah, that boat had sailed during JS time!

    I like what you said about people accepting the idea of Jesus being married to MM because of TDC. Truth is easy to accept. I think the same will hold true with this book.

    When is the guy going to get it over and just get baptized and get the priesthood? He loves in all the cool doctrines of the church, but missing the real power!

  12. Anonymous #3, Bryce Haymond, and David B. Goates: Thank you for your contributions and your kind words.

    Anonymous #4: Thanks for your thoughts. I'm sure you're right. I think Dan Brown was surprised at the amount of support that Opus Dei got. I disagree with their doctrinal stances, but they did not deserve the shellacking that they received in The Da Vinci Code.

    Anonymous #5: Thank you for your thoughts, too. I don't know that Dan Brown is as "up" on LDS doctrine as it might seem, especially given his two swipes at LDS doctrine in The Lost Symbol (for example, his snide remark about "magic eyeglasses" and the Book of Mormon. I think he finds certain doctrines attractive, but he does not strike me as having a Spirit-inspired testimony, nor as having made the kind of spiritual investigation that would bring such a testimony to him. It's not a slam of the man; I just don't see evidence of that kind of experience. We'll just have to see what the future brings.

    Peace to all. --Mark

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  14. Lost Symbol is the Da Vinci Code without the religious controversy. People were so fixated on the religious aspects of the Da Vinci Code that they hardly enjoyed the story (which was excellent). Lost Symbol gives you a chance to do that, especially for those who can't separate fiction from reality (in regards to the religious debate).


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