A revisionary understanding of the Passion of Christ lies at the crux of the spiritual cultural work that Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code (2003) undertakes no less so than in Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ (2004). Both works, each highly didactic in its own way, look to make a popular intervention into contemporary spirituality, as well as, by implication, notions of the family, marriage, and sexuality. But whereas in Gibson's film the Passion is all divine death drive—all thanatos—Brown's novel reconceives Jesus's Passion in terms of eros, though on the most heteroaggrandizing scale conceivable. Each work thus contrives its own ways to diminish, even to oust, elements of the Jesus story that could be seen to challenge sexual orthodoxies and normative familial arrangements. In its treatment of these two recent popular religious blockbusters, this essay extends across queer devotional terrain what Stephen Prothero has lately put forth as the “quest for the cultural Jesus.” It is especially concerned with what has been made of the special relation to Jesus of Mary Magdalene and John the Beloved, the two most alluring of his biblical disciples.

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