The winding staircase that descends the spine of the Washington Monument consists of 896 stone steps that spiral around an open elevator shaft. Langdon and Solomon were making their way down, Langdon still grappling with the startling fact that Peter had shared with him only moments ago: Robert, buried within the hollow cornerstone of this monument, our forefathers placed a single copy of the Wordthe Biblewhich waits in darkness at the foot of this
As they descended, Peter suddenly stopped on a landing and swung his flashlight beam to illuminate a large stone medallion embedded in the wall.
What in the world?!Langdon jumped when he saw the carving.
The medallion depicted a frightening cloaked figure holding a scythe and kneeling beside an hourglass. The figures arm was raised, and his index finger was extended, pointing directly at a large open Bible, as if to say: The answer is in there!
Langdon stared at the carving and then turned to Peter.
His mentors eyes shone with mystery. Id like you to consider something, Robert. His voice echoed down the empty stairwell. Why do you think the Bible has survived thousands of years of tumultuous history? Why is it still here? Is it because its stories are such compelling reading? Of course not . . . but there is a reason. There is a reason Christian monks spend lifetimes attempting to decipher the Bible. There is a reason that Jewish mystics and Kabbalists pore over the Old Testament. And that reason, Robert, is that there exist powerful secrets hidden in the pages of this ancient book . . . a vast collection of untapped wisdom waiting to be unveiled.
Langdon was no stranger to the theory that the Scriptures contained a hidden layer of meaning, a concealed message that was veiled in allegory, symbolism, and parable.
The prophets warn us, Peter continued, that the language used to share their secret mysteries is a cryptic one. The Gospel of Mark tells us, Unto you is given to know the mystery . . . but it will be told in parable. Proverbs cautions that the sayings of the wise are riddles, while Corinthians talks of hidden wisdom. The Gospel of John forewarns: I will speak to you in parable . . . and use dark sayings.
Dark sayings, Langdon mused, knowing this strange phrase made numerous odd appearances in Proverbs as well as in Psalm 78. I will open my mouth in a parable and utter dark sayings of old. The concept of a dark saying, Langdon had learned, did not mean that the saying was evil but rather that its true meaning was shadowed or obscured from the light.
And if you have any doubts, Peter added, Corinthians overtly tells us that the parables have two layers of meaning: milk for babes and meat for menwhere the milk is a watered-down reading for infantile minds, and the meat is the true message, accessible only to mature minds.
Peter raised the flashlight, again illuminating the carving of the cloaked figure pointing intently at the Bible. I know you are a skeptic, Robert, but consider this. If the Bible does not contain hidden meaning, then why have so many of historys finest mindsincluding brilliant scientists at the Royal Societybecome so obsessed with studying it? Sir Isaac Newton wrote more than a million words attempting to decipher the true meaning of the Scripture, including a 1704 manuscript that claimed he had extracted hidden scientific information from the Bible!
Langdon knew this was true.
And Sir Francis Bacon, Peter continued, the luminary hired by King James to literally create the authorized King James Bible, became so utterly convinced that the Bible contained cryptic meaning that he wrote in his own codes, which are still studied today! Of course, as you know, Bacon was a Rosicrucian and penned The Wisdom of the Ancients. Peter smiled. Even the iconoclastic poet William Blake hinted that we should read between the lines.
Langdon was familiar with the verse:
BOTH READ THE BIBLE DAY AND NIGHT,
BUT THOU READ BLACK WHERE I READ WHITE.
And it wasnt just the European luminaries, Peter continued, descending faster now. It was here, Robert, at the very core of this young American nation, that our brightest forefathersJohn Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Paineall warned of the profound dangers of interpreting the Bible literally. In fact, Thomas Jefferson was so convinced the Bibles true message was hidden that he literally cut up the pages and reedited the book, attempting, in his words, to do away with the artificial scaffolding and restore the genuine doctrines.
Langdon was well aware of this strange fact. The Jeffersonian Bible was still in print today and included many of his controversial revisions, among them the removal of the virgin birth and the resurrection. Incredibly, the Jeffersonian Bible had been presented to every incoming member of Congress during the first half of the nineteenth century.
Peter, you know I find this topic fascinating, and I can understand that it might be tempting for bright minds to imagine the Scriptures contain hidden meaning, but it makes no logical sense to me. Any skilled professor will tell you that teaching is never done in code.
Teachers teach, Peter. We speak openly. Why would the prophetsthe greatest teachers in historyobscure their language? If they hoped to change the world, why would they speak in code? Why not speak plainly so the world could understand?
Peter glanced back over his shoulder as he descended, looking surprised by the question. Robert, the Bible does not talk openly for the same reason the Ancient Mystery Schools were kept hidden . . . for the same reason the neophytes had to be initiated before learning the secret teachings of the ages . . . for the same reason the scientists in the Invisible College refused to share their knowledge with others. This information is powerful, Robert. The Ancient Mysteries cannot be shouted from the rooftops. The mysteries are a flaming torch, which, in the hands of a master, can light the way, but which, in the hands of a madman, can scorch the earth.
Langdon stopped short. What is he saying? Peter, Im talking about the Bible. Why are you talking about the Ancient Mysteries?
Peter turned. Robert, dont you see? The Ancient Mysteries and the Bible are the same thing.
Langdon stared in bewilderment.
Peter was silent for several seconds, waiting for the concept to soak in. The Bible is one of the books through which the mysteries have been passed down through history. Its pages are desperately trying to tell us the secret. Dont you understand? The dark sayings in the Bible are the whispers of the ancients, quietly sharing with us all of their secret wisdom.
Langdon said nothing. The Ancient Mysteries, as he understood them, were a kind of instruction manual for harnessing the latent power of the human mind . . . a recipe for personal apotheosis. He had never been able to accept the power of the mysteries, and certainly the notion that the Bible was somehow hiding a key to these mysteries was an impossible stretch.
Peter, the Bible and the Ancient Mysteries are total opposites. The mysteries are all about the god within you . . . man as god. The Bible is all about the God above you . . . and man as a powerless sinner.
Yes! Exactly! Youve put your finger on the precise problem! The moment mankind separated himself from God, the true meaning of the Word was lost. The voices of the ancient masters have now been drowned out, lost in the chaotic din of self-proclaimed practitioners shouting that they alone understand the Word . . . that the Word is written in their language and none other.
Peter continued down the stairs.
Robert, you and I both know that the ancients would be horrified if they saw how their teachings have been perverted . . . how religion has established itself as a tollbooth to heaven . . . how warriors march into battle believing God favors their cause. Weve lost the Word, and yet its true meaning is still within reach, right before our eyes. It exists in all the enduring texts, from the Bible to the Bhagavad Gita to the Koran and beyond. All of these texts are revered upon the altars of Freemasonry because Masons understand what the world seems to have forgotten . . . that each of these texts, in its own way, is quietly whispering the exact same message. Peters voice welled with emotion. Know ye not that ye are gods?
Langdon was struck by the way this famous ancient saying kept surfacing tonight. He had reflected on it while talking to Galloway and also at the Capitol Building while trying to explain The Apotheosis of Washington.
Peter lowered his voice to a whisper. The Buddha said, You are God yourself. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is within you and even promised us, The works I do, you can do . . . and greater. Even the first antipopeHippolytus of Romequoted the same message, first uttered by the gnostic teacher Monoimus: Abandon the search for God . . . instead, take yourself as the starting place.
Langdon flashed on the House of the Temple, where the Masonic Tylers chair bore two words of guidance carved across its back: KNOW THYSELF.
A wise man once told me, Peter said, his voice faint now, the only difference between you and God is that you have forgotten you are divine.
Peter, I hear youI do. And Id love to believe we are gods, but I see no gods walking our earth. I see no superhumans.You can point to the alleged miracles of the Bible, or any other religious text, but they are nothing but old stories fabricated by man and then exaggerated over time.
Perhaps, Peter said. Or perhaps we simply need our science to catch up with the wisdom of the ancients. He paused. Funny thing is . . . I believe Katherines research may be poised to do just that.
Langdon suddenly remembered that Katherine had dashed off from the House of the Temple earlier. Hey, where did she go, anyway?
Shell be here shortly, Peter said, grinning. She went to confirm a wonderful bit of good fortune.
Outside, at the base of the monument, Peter Solomon felt invigorated as he inhaled the cold night air. He watched in amusement as Langdon stared intently at the ground, scratching his head and looking around at the foot of the obelisk.
Professor, Peter joked, the cornerstone that contains the Bible is underground. You cant actually access the book, but I assure you its there.
I believe you, Langdon said, appearing lost in thought. Its just . . . I noticed something.
Langdon stepped back now and surveyed the giant plaza on which the Washington Monument stood. The circular concourse was made entirely of white stone . . . except for two decorative courses of dark stone, which formed two concentric circles around the monument.
A circle within a circle, Langdon said. I never realized the Washington Monument stands at the center of a circle within a circle.
Peter had to laugh. He misses nothing. Yes, the great circumpunct . . . the universal symbol for God . . . at the crossroads of America. He gave a coy shrug. Im sure its just a coincidence.
Langdon seemed far off, gazing skyward now, his eyes ascending the illuminated spire, which shone stark white against the black winter sky.
Peter sensed Langdon was beginning to see this creation for what it truly was . . . a silent reminder of ancient wisdom . . . an icon of enlightened man at the heart of a great nation. Even
though Peter could not see the tiny aluminum tip at the top, he knew it was there, mans enlightened mind straining toward heaven.
Peter? Langdon approached, looking like a man whod endured some kind of mystical initiation. I almost forgot, he said, reaching into his pocket and producing Peters gold Masonic ring. Ive been wanting to return this to you all night.
Thank you, Robert. Peter held out his left hand and took the ring, admiring it. You know, all the secrecy and mystery surrounding this ring and the Masonic Pyramid . . . it had an enormous effect on my life. When I was a young man, the pyramid was given to me with the promise that it hid mystical secrets. Its mere existence made me believe there were great mysteries in the world. It piqued my curiosity, fueled my sense of wonder, and inspired me to open my mind to the Ancient Mysteries. He smiled quietly and slipped the ring into his pocket. I now realize that the Masonic Pyramids true purpose was not to reveal the answers, but rather to inspire a fascination with them.
The two men stood in silence for a long while at the foot of the monument.
When Langdon finally spoke, his tone was serious. I need to ask you a favor, Peter . . . as a friend.
Of course. Anything.
Langdon made his request . . . firmly.
Solomon nodded, knowing he was right. I will.
Right away, Langdon added, motioning to the waiting Escalade.
Okay . . . but one caveat.
Langdon rolled his eyes, chuckling. Somehow you always get the last word.
Yes, and there is one final thing I want you and Katherine to see.
At this hour? Langdon checked his watch.
Solomon smiled warmly at his old friend. It is Washingtons most spectacular treasure . . . and something very, very few people have ever seen.