The Lost Symbol
By Dan Brown
Random House Large Print, 2009, 784 pages
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 5, 2009
This mega-bestseller has unfortunately and unfairly received mixed reviews. The reactions posted on Amazon reflect the response. About 1500 people, an astounding number, expressed their opinions in an almost evenly divided manner; close to the same number of people gave 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 stars, although 503 handed the higher four or five stars, 686 offered the novel only one or two stars.
Why did so many people have problems with this book? Apparently people focused on matters that they should have avoided. Two things come to mind.
First, people tend to look for faults rather than enjoy what is in front of them; they do so with life generally. This is more unsound than seeing a bottle half filled. Pessimistic people with a half bottle of superb wine, who see it as being half empty rather than half filled, are still able to enjoy the wine. But people who look for faults end up tossing good wine – an excellent suspenseful novel in this case – into the trash can.
Sure, if one searches carefully one can find faults. Yes, Dan Brown offers explanations of phenomenon which he says are the true reasons when scholars have a host of other ideas. For example, scholars recognize that we no longer know the meaning of the word amen and they offer many other speculative notions of its origin other than what our author proposes is the correct answer. It is true that the main reason why the ancients hid their opinions was not because they feared the ideas would be used to harm the world; they did so because they wanted to be helpful: they knew that the average person would be unable to understand the truth as they saw it and become confused. Certainly, the meaning of malakh is "messenger" and the biblical book of Genesis speaks of a nefesh, and not a neshamah, as Brown contends, and neither word means "soul" when it is used in the Hebrew Bible, but "life force." Sure, while most people feel that "belief" is a religious requirement; most rationalists say that people should not give way to passive blind acceptance of irrational ideas, but that religion requires people to use their minds and improve themselves and the world.
But, so what! This is a novel, not a dissertation. It was meant to be enjoyed. Why not do so? If Mr. Brown uses the plural Sefirot when he should have used the singular sefirah, so what? Why not smile and move on? Why not focus on the many many more ideas that Dan Brown presents correctly? Why not use this book to provoke further thinking? Why not simply enjoy the story?
His ideas about noetic science are fascinating. His remark that the basic teaching of religion is respect of all people is correct. He is also right when he says that it is not enough to know the truth, the truth must be augmented through practice, through acts that help others. In short, those who approach this very fine book intending to find fault are missing a lot and are hurting themselves.
The second problem seems to be that some people are turned off because Mr. Brown has a different concept of God and religion than what most people were taught as youngsters. But, perhaps he is correct and the childish notions most people hang onto are improper for adults. However, even if he is wrong, so what? This is a novel and should be enjoyed.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.israelbooks.com.