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Da Vinci Code - shaking the foundations of Christianity? [pt 1]

Chapter 1

Claims of the Da Vinci Code


The Da Vinci Code is an action packed thriller novel by Dan Brown which has become a best seller and is to be made into a film. It is also a powerful attack on the foundations of Christianity. Of the books nearly 600 pages only a few have spiritual significance. I will ignore the story which is a compelling and exciting one (although very far fetched) involving murder in the Louvre, a police chase from Paris to London, secret societies, cracking codes and narrow escapes from death for the hero, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor, and heroine, Sophie Neveu, a French code breaker. In the course of their adventures they encounter Sir Leigh Teabing, an eccentric English aristocrat living in France who supplies much of the information which attacks basic Christian beliefs.


The behind the scenes antagonists in the book are the Priory of Sion, where it is claimed the secret of the Sangreal (Holy Grail) has been hidden, and Opus Dei, a Catholic sect prepared to kill in order to discover and destroy this secret. In the introduction Brown claims that what he says about both groups is factual and that all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in the novel are accurate.


According to the book, the Priory of Sion was founded in 1099 by the French king Godefroi de Bouillon. He was possessor of a powerful secret that had been in his family since the time of Christ and founded the Priory to preserve this secret, which was contained in documents hidden beneath the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem. These documents had been retrieved by the Knights Templars during the Crusader time.


The Templars became rich through the banking system they set up, but in 1307 Pope Clement issued sealed orders that they were heretics guilty of devil worship and claimed that God had told him to eliminate them. They were purged on orders from the Vatican but the documents were saved and entrusted to the Priory of Sion which is a secret society preserving the information from generation to generation. Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton and Victor Hugo were prominent members. The documents reveal information about the Holy Grail, which is not (as is popularly believed) the cup that Jesus drank from at Last Supper in which Joseph of Arimathea caught his blood at the crucifixion.


The expression used for the Holy Grail is Sangreal, which in old French can be divided as san / greal (holy grail) or sang / real (royal blood). The real meaning of the Holy Grail is that it is the royal blood line of Jesus and Mary Magdalene who were married and had a child who was the ancestress of the French Merovingian kings. It turns out that Sophie Neveu is of this blood line at the end of the novel.


Information about Jesus supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene has been suppressed from the time of the Council of Nicea in AD 325 when, under the influence of Roman Emperor Constantine, the New Testament was fixed with its present four Gospels which were selected from numerous other documents containing details of Jesus life. The other writings contain information about the alternative Jesus who was just a great man, married to Mary Magdalene. They were destroyed on the orders of the church.


The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus was not part of original Christianity and was narrowly voted in only at the Council of Nicea. Jesus had entrusted the future of the church to Mary Magdalene which upset the male disciples of Jesus. The New Testament now accepted by the church is not the genuine account of the life of Jesus or of the early church therefore Christianity as we know it today is built on a lie.


This is a male dominated conspiracy to obliterate the sacred feminine and goddess worship from religion. Within the concept of the sacred feminine is the idea that women should be priests and that the sexual act should be considered a pathway to commune with God. Sophies grandfather, Jacques Saunière, (whose murder sets the ball rolling in the novel) turns out to have been a high priest of the sacred feminine and Sophie had been alienated from him because she found him engaged in a group sex act known as Hieros Gamos.


The church suppressed this teaching and as a result became male dominant, resulting in wars and life out of balance, with women-hating societies showing disrespect for Mother Earth. The Holy Grail itself is an ancient symbol for womanhood celebrating the power of the feminine. The church through the story of Eve committing the original sin puts the blame on woman, but the Grail elevates woman, in particular Mary Magdalene who carried with her a secret so powerful that if revealed it threatened to devastate the very foundation of Christianity (page 322).


Are these claims true?


The claim that the book is historically accurate does not stand up to examination. The original Priory of Sion was a regular Catholic priory of monks which existed from around 1100 to 1617. The Priory of Sion relevant to this issue was invented by a Frenchman called Pierre Plantard in the early 1960s. Plantard was an occultist who admired Hitler and thought the world should be ruled by a government of spiritual elite. He fabricated documents about the Priory of Sion which was supposed to have preserved records of the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene (of which he was one of the descendants). He then placed them in credible places including French museums with forged certificates of authentication. Plantard died after being involved in a financial scandal in 1993. Documents were found in his apartment certifying him to be the true King of France. Not the most credible of information sources!


Plantard’s ideas crossed the Channel when an English actor, Henry Lincoln, associated with him and reproduced his story in three documentaries broadcast on the BBC during the 1970s. Despite the fact that many people knew that Plantard’s documents were a fake the story gained credence and Lincoln then co-authored the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (Jonathan Cape, London) with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. This book is a recognised source of The Da Vinci Code. In fact Baigent and Leigh unsuccessfully sued Dan Brown for plagiarising their material. They were also no doubt annoyed to find their surnames linked to the one of the characters in the book, Sir Leigh Teabing (Teabing is an anagram of Baigent).


In the novel Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor, is the source of much of the supposedly accurate historical information and an unsuspecting person could easily be fooled into thinking that this eminently reasonable man is speaking the truth. The other source of information is Sir Leigh Teabing who, despite turning out to be the villain of the piece, presents information on the Holy Grail in an authoritative way which appears to be historical and accurate.


Chapter 2

The Council of Nicea


According to the Da Vinci Code the original version of Jesus teaching and of Christianity was entirely different from the one know today. It was re-invented at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD when the Roman Emperor Constantine imposed the view of Christianity he wanted to be made official on the bishops of the church and fixed the New Testament in the form we now have it.


The three main points challenging Christianity which Dan Brown makes through the characters in this book are these:


He claims that the Bible was collated by the emperor Constantine. He claims that the Council of Nicea invented the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus. He claims that the sacred feminine is the original idea of the divine which was replaced by the dominant male God of the Bible. We will look at these three points in the following chapters.


Before we do this it will be helpful to take a closer look at Constantine and the debate which took place at the time about the nature of Jesus.




Diocletian, the Roman Emperor from 284-305 was the last great persecutor of the  hristians under the Roman Empire. The main period of persecution was from 303 -305 during which time there were many martyrs and much destruction of the property and books of Christians. The death of Diocletian led to the rise of Constantine who was proclaimed emperor in 306. Constantine was challenged by his rival Maxentius whom he defeated at the battle of Milovan Bridge in 312. At this point the Roman Empire was in danger of fragmenting. Constantine is reputed to have seen sign of cross at this battle and believed he conquered through the cross. So he took this as a sign that Christianity was the favoured religion which would unify the empire. He published the Edict of Milan in 313 formally ending Christian persecution and restoring confiscated church property to Christians.


Constantine wanted to use Christianity as a means of uniting the Roman Empire so he wanted the Christians to be united. He was not happy to find disagreements amongst Christians about issues of interpreting the teaching of the Bible and about who Jesus was. Constantine himself was not so much interested in the finer details of doctrine as in ending the strife that was caused by religious disagreements. This resulted in him supporting various sides of theological issues during the course of his life, depending on which side might help peace to prevail.


Arius and Athanasius


Around this period a controversy had arisen amongst the Christians over the question of the divinity of Jesus. This centred on the teaching of Arius who was a bishop and lived in Libya from about 250 to 336. Arius position was certainly not the one put forward in Da Vinci Code  that Jesus was just a great and powerful man. Arius had a view of Jesus as the Saviour who came from heaven and used the Bible, not the Gnostic gospels (which we will look at in the next chapter), in his arguments. However he said that if Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father, there must have been a time when he was begotten, therefore He must have had a beginning. As a result there must have been a time when he was not, i.e. he was a created being. Arius was opposed by Athanasias who argued that If Christ were not truly God, then he could not bestow life upon the repentant and free them from sin and death. Athanasius won the debate at the Council of Nicea resulting in the Nicene Creed being formed. We will look at this issue in more detail in Chapter 4.


Constantine did not take part in this debate nor did he pressure the bishops as to how they should decide on this issue. As many of these men had come through the severe persecution of Diocletian they were not likely to cave in to pressure from the Emperor as to what they were to believe. In fact in later years Constantine was to side with Arius and his followers against Athanasius whom he banished in 336 AD.


Church and State after Constantine


There were certainly negative consequences for New Testament Christianity in Constantines involvement. He began process of unifying church and state which led the way to the established Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and the church’s compromise of the truth of the Gospel in return for political power. He encouraged the process already at work of cutting the Christian movement away from its Jewish roots, separating Easter from Passover and fixing Sunday as the day of worship. He centralised power in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) in 330 leading to increasing imperial control of the church in the east. Following his death in 337 the empire was divided between his three sons leading to the division between the eastern empire ruled from Constantinople and the western empire ruled from Rome. Despite the political compromise which came out of the union of church and state which Constantine initiated, God overruled at Nicea regarding the doctrinal issue of the divinity of Jesus and ensured that the truth was enshrined in the creed of the church.


Chapter 3

Who wrote the Bible?


In order to create the wrong idea of Jesus at the Council of Nicea, the Da Vinci Code claims that the Bible as we know it today was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great … More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them. (page 313).


In fact the issue of which documents should be included in the New Testament was not even debated at the Council of Nicea. It was at the Third Council of Carthage in AD 397 that the New Testament was fixed in its present form. In making this choice the Council of Carthage was not imposing something new and alien onto the church. It was merely codifying what was already the established practice of Christian communities.


There is internal evidence within the New Testament itself that the Apostles recognised which texts were considered scripture. In 1 Timothy 5.18 Paul refers to Luke’s Gospel as scripture (graphe) quoting both Deuteronomy 25.4 and Luke 10.7 as such. In 2 Peter 3.15-17 Peter recognises that Paul’s writings were authoritative and then refers to the rest of the scriptures and warns his readers to beware of those who twist their meanings. This implies that he considered Paul’s writings to be scripture as well as other documents which are not named.


The writings of early Christians show a clear acceptance of the four Gospels as the genuine account of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons around AD 180, wrote, For as there are four quarters of the world in which we live and four universal winds, and as the Church is dispersed over all the earth, and the gospel is the pillar and the base of the Church and the breath of life, so it is natural that it should have four pillars, breathing immortality from every quarter and kindling the life of men anew. Whence it is manifest that the Word … has given us the gospel in fourfold form, but held together by one Spirit. (Against Heresies III). He goes on to affirm the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the authentic accounts.


Quotations from the New Testament in early Christian writings are so extensive that it could virtually be reconstructed from these writings without the use of New Testament manuscripts. There are no less than 36,289 quotations from the New Testament in the works of the early Christian writers Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Eusebius. The New Testament is the worlds best documented work of ancient history, with over 24,000 manuscripts, the oldest of which is part of the Gospel of John, conservatively dated at 125AD. The worlds second best documented ancient book is Homers Iliad of which we have 643 manuscripts. (Information from Evidence that demands a verdict by Josh McDowell).


So what about the over 80 gospels allegedly considered for inclusion in the New Testament? It is true that there are many other writings than the New Testament about Jesus and the Apostles, many of which exist in fragment form only. Some of these writings were little more than fiction using the characters of the New Testament but writing something imaginary like the Da Vinci Code itself. Many of them were written to justify some new teaching which often deviated from the New Testament teaching of the Apostles. Some of these teachings have become mainstream in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.


For example in order to make Mary into the Eternal Virgin of Roman Catholicism one has to do something about the fact that the New Testament teaches that Jesus had brothers and sisters, who would have been born in the normal way to Joseph and Mary after the Virgin Birth of Jesus (Matthew 12.46, 13.55, John 2.12, Acts 1.14). So a story is invented in the Protoevangelium of James of Mary being placed by her parents in the Temple from the age of 3 to be brought up by the priests and then being given to Joseph upon her miraculous pregnancy as a wife. Joseph was an old widower who already had children. By this device found Mary is able to be the perpetual virgin and Jesus is able to have brothers and sisters. Needless to say there is no biblical basis for this at all.


Other writings were created in order to justify views considered heretical by New Testament teaching. For example docetism teaches that Jesus was not really human at all but only seemed to be a man. So we read in the Acts of John 93: Sometimes when I went to touch him (Jesus), I met a material and solid body; and at other times when I felt him, the substance was immaterial and bodiless and as if it were not existing at all. It is not surprising that such documents were rejected by believing Christians as they conflict with New Testament teaching that Jesus was both fully man and fully God.


The most common heretical view was Gnosticism, a heresy which plagued second and third century Christianity and taught that the Creator God was distinct from the supreme Divine Being. It taught that there was a special knowledge gnosis through which people could discover that Being. In many ways this is parallel to modern New Age ideas with its concept of a spiritual experience enlightening you to discover the god within and its teaching that God is in everything.


The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas has Jesus say: He who drinks from my mouth will become as I am and I shall be as he. The kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realise that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty. It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the all. >From me did the all come forth, and unto me did the all extend. Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up a stone and you will find me there.


All of these quotations would fit Jesus into the New Age philosophy which is so popular today. They conflict with Bible teaching which tells us that God is separate from His creation and that inside of us is a sinful human nature which we need to be set free from by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. He cleanses us from sin and dwells within us by the power of His Holy Spirit when we put our trust in Him.


There was no great conspiracy organised by the Emperor Constantine to reject the other gospels from those considered to be scripture. Early Christians rejected them for the same reasons Christians today reject the Book of Mormon or the writings of Jehovahs Witnesses, Scientology and any other cult group  because they conflict with revealed Word of God.


In The Da Vinci Code Teabing quotes from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene as one of his sources for the claim that Jesus was married to Mary, saying that this and the Gospel of Philip are unaltered gospels (page 334). This might sound a powerful claim, but in fact it is a total fraud. This Gnostic gospel dates from the middle of the second century and is known only from three fragmentary manuscripts.


He also quotes from the following fragment of the Gospel of Philip to justify the claim that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene (parts in brackets indicate word or sections now lost on the existing document): And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him Why do you love her more than all of us? The Saviour answered and said to them, Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.


The Gospel of Philip can be clearly linked to Gnostic teaching rejected by early Christians from the following quote: The world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire. For the world never was imperishable, nor, for that matter, was he who made the world. This idea that the present creation was made by a lesser god known as the Demiurge who did a botched job of it is originally found in the Dialogue of Timaeus by Plato. In the later philosophy of neo-Platonism and Gnosticism the Demiurge was considered the architect of the universe, but at the same time, an entity distinct from and inferior to the supreme God. By contrast the Genesis account in the Bible is of a good God who creates a perfect world spoiled by Adams sin.


Although the Da Vinci Code claims the alternative gospels were suppressed by the male dominant church in fact the final verse of the Gospel of Thomas should not be too popular with feminists. Peter says, Women are not worthy of Life. Jesus replies: I myself will lead her in order to make her male … for every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So much for the sacred feminine!


The significance of the Gnostic gospels received a great boost in December 1945 with the discovery of 13 leather bound papyrus books dating from third to fifth century near Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. These books were not made available in English until 1977, but since then they have become popular with people looking for an alternative view of Jesus. One of the most influential books on this subject is Elaine Pagels’ book 'The Gnostic Gospels'. In this book she claims that Gnosticism should be considered as legitimate as orthodox Christianity, because it was simply a strain of competing Christianity. Dan Brown quotes Elaine Pagels as one of his sources in the Da Vinci Code.


However these books were never considered for inclusion in the Christian canon and rarely mentioned in the writings of early Christians except to denounce them. For example Seraphion of Antioch a bishop from 190 to 211 let some of his flock read the Gospel of Peter in church, until he read the book himself and the concluded it had heretical teaching about Jesus and did not conform to other ancient apostolic documents.


Elaine Pagels own story is interesting. Alienated from her evangelical Christian upbringing, she studied at Harvard and read in the Gospel of Thomas: If you bring forth what is within you what you bring forth will save you. Her faith came back, but not into biblical Christianity but into Gnosticism. If we think about this quote from Thomas, we see that it is saying something entirely different from the New Testament. According to the Gospels what is within us is the problem  a sinful human nature from which we need to be delivered by accepting the salvation offered by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. As a result of this teaching our own personal impressions or experience become the final authority. We are the measure of ourselves and find our own truths within us. This is the essence of modern spirituality. Do your own thing  God dwells within you as you.


Not so. God is the final revelation. He has revealed the truth, through Moses and the Prophets and finally through the Messiah Jesus and his Apostles. We do not discover truth or god within ourselves, we discover truth and God when we turn from preoccupation with self and look to God who is eternal and outside of us. God became man to dwell amongst us in the person of the Messiah Jesus. He wants to live within us by His Spirit when we repent and believe. This involves ceasing to be our own authority and submitting to authority of God and His Word.


Although the New Testament does not refer to the Gnostic gospels (for the simple reason that it was written before them) it does refer in the later epistles to the kind of teaching that they would embody. Paul wrote of those who preached another Jesus as a result of which people received a different spirit and followed a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11.4). See also 1 John 2.18 and 2 Peter 2.1. The Da Vinci Code is the product of teachings about another Jesus who is not the real one. There is nothing new about this and no doubt it will contribute to the spread of false ideas about who Jesus is in our time. Jesus prophesied that in the end times there will be other false prophets and false messiahs (Matthew 24.24).


Chapter 4

Jesus - great human teacher or Son of God?


In the Da Vinci Code Teabing claims that at the Council of Nicea the Emperor Constantine led the bishops to declare Jesus as Son of God by a vote  a relatively close vote at that (page 315). This was a new idea because Until that moment in history Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless, a mortal. In other words Christianity as we know it today was invented by Constantine who imposed the view of Jesus as a divine person on the church through the Council of Nicea.


In fact the Council of Nicea did not invent the divinity of Jesus. This was the claim of Jesus Himself (I and My Father are one John 10.30), which was taught by the Apostles in the New Testament and affirmed by a huge number of writings of early Christians which predate the Council of Nicea (AD 325) by up to two hundred years. It is true that the issue of Jesus divinity was a central issue at the Council of Nicea in order to settle the debate raised by Arius teaching which was opposed by Athanasius.


Arius argued that Jesus is not of the same substance as the Father (i.e. that he is a kind of  esser god who takes second place to the Father). Athanasius showed from the scriptures and the witness of the early church fathers that Jesus is not a created being and exists from eternity being of one substance with the Father.


Athanasius won the debate and the Council agreed to the following statement about the identity of Jesus in the Nicene Creed: I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.


When it came to voting on this issue was it a relatively close vote? Not quite. Only two out of more than 300 bishops failed to sign the creed!


It is no accident that the concept of the Trinity was an issue of controversy at the time of the Council of Nicea. It remains today the aspect of the Christian faith most likely to be attacked by those outside the faith and most likely to be misunderstood by those within it. Jehovahs Witnesses expend considerable energy teaching against this belief and in fact follow an idea of who Jesus is which is very similar to the one put forward by Arius. They try to convince others that Jesus Christ is a created being, not having existed in eternity past with the Father, and not fully God.


Among the world religions, Islam specifically teaches against the Trinity. Chapter four of the Koran argues, Say not Trinity: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One God: glory be to Him: (far Exalted is He) above having a son (4:171). Although Muhammad seems to have wrongly believed that Christians taught that the Trinity consisted of God the Father, Mary the Mother, and Jesus the Son, they reject as sinful anything being made equivalent with Allah, especially Jesus.


It is true that the word Trinity never appears in the New Testament. However the concept that God is a plural unity is central to the uniqueness of the Christian faith (further information on this subject is available in Chapter 5 of my book The Messiah Factor). The Bible teaches that God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God. Each plays a part in our salvation. Jesus is the visible member of Godhead who became man in order to redeem us. As such for the time that He was on earth He was subordinate to the Father and will at the end of the age present the redeemed creation to the Father.


Verses pointing this out are often used to attack the view of Jesus divinity, in particular John 14.28 where Jesus says, My Father is greater than I and 1 Corinthians 15.28 where Paul writes, Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. The explanation of these verses is that for the purpose of His mission to save the human race Jesus humbled Himself to take the form of a servant and appear as a man. During this time He was submitted to the Father, with the ultimate aim that He would restore to God the present creation which is in disorder as a result of Satan’s rebellion against God and the human race falling into sin as a result of Adams disobedience.


This submission to the Father, like an astronauts submission to ground control during his mission, did not mean an inferior status to the Father. In John 10.33 Jesus states clearly, I and My Father are one, the implication of which was not lost on the Jewish opposition who took up stones to stone Him, because You being a man make Yourself God. (John 10.36). At other points in Johns Gospel Jesus claims to be of one nature with the Father (John 5.17-8, John 8.58, 14.1, 9). The opening verses of John make it clear that the authors intention is to declare the divinity of Jesus: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made.


Just in case you might miss the point about who John is referring to when he uses the term the Word he writes in verse 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. It stands to reason that if all things were made through the Word (Jesus) then He Himself was not made and is uncreated. So obvious is this fact that the Jehovahs Witnesses translation of the Bible has to re write John 1.1 by saying the Word was a God which is an interpretation to suit their idea not a valid translation from the original Greek text.


The issue that led to Jesus trial and crucifixion was His claim to be God. In His trial the High Priest asks Him Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed? If you put together Jesus reply recorded in Matthew 26.63-66, Mark 14.61-64 and referred to in John 19.7 it is clear that the Sanhedrin  understood Jesus to be claiming to be:


The Son of the Blessed

The one who would sit at the right hand of power.

The Son of Man who would come on the right hand of power.

Their response was to condemn Him to death for blasphemy.


Other relevant issues are:


Jesus accepted worship as God (Matthew 8.2, 14.33, John 9.35-9, 20.27-9, Revelation 5). By contrast wherever anyone worships a created being in the New Testament they are told not to (Acts 10.25-26, 14.12-18, Revelation 19.10).

He claimed authority to forgive sins which only God can do. Mark 2.5-7.

Paul affirmed him as God. Philippians 2.9-11, Titus 2.13

So did Peter. Matthew 16.15-17, Acts 2.36.

So did Thomas. John 20.28

So did Stephen. Acts 7.59.

So did the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah. Isaiah 7.14, 9.6, Micah 5.2.




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