Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lost Gospel Found? Was Jesus Married?

Last week, The Lost Gospel was released, written by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson. The publishers state this book details the authors’ discovery of “confirmation of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene; the names of their two children; the towering presence of Mary Magdalene; a previously unknown plot on Jesus’ life, 13 years prior to the crucifixion; an assassination attempt against Mary Magdalene and their children”. The Daily Mail reported, “If true, this would make it the greatest revelation into the life of Jesus in nearly 2,000 years.” [1] Is this a fifth “lost gospel” that provides additional, and even contradictory details, concerning Jesus Christ?

What is the story of Joseph and Asenath?
The book, The Lost Gospel, is an interpretation of a known story entitled Joseph and Asenath (also, Aseneth), dating to around the 6th century A.D. A vellum copy of Joseph and Asenath was purchased in 1847 by the British Museum and has been in the archives of the British Library for about 20 years. The earliest manuscript of Joseph and Asenath, dated to possibly as early as the 1st century B.C. was written in Syriac, but the original, earlier language was Greek. This pseudepigraphal work appears to have been written in the Jewish Diaspora of Egypt and, because of parallels with the Dead Sea Scrolls, some believe it has Essene influence. [2] The story, which does not mention Jesus or Mary of the New Testament, is set in the time period when Joseph was in Egypt, particularly beginning with the first year of the seven plentiful years (see Genesis 41:45-49). In fact, Asenath is mentioned in Genesis as a wife given to Joseph by Pharoah (verse 45).

Is Joseph and Asenath an allegory?
There are several possibilities in our interpretation of the story of Joseph and Asenath, in descending order of likelihood. First, it is a pseudepigraphal fictitious story derived from the actual marriage mentioned in Genesis 41. This is by far the most probable. Second, some have speculated that it could be an allegory of Jesus (portrayed as Joseph) and the Church (as Asenath). This would, of course, require that the writing is post-Christian, rather than a Second-Temple-era Jewish text, as some scholars believe. Third, if it is a Christian-era allegory of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, there is a heavy burden of proof that the two were married. As James Davila, Professor of Early Jewish Studies at the Divinity School of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland has noted, “this would merely be evidence for a creative apocryphal notion thought up sometime in late antiquity (and there were many, many such notions). It would remain to prove that this text told us anything about the historical Jesus and Mary and that would be very difficult indeed to establish.” [3]

Who is Simcha Jacobovici?
One of the co-authors of the book, Jacobovici, has written previously about Jesus in his documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which describes the finding of the Talpiot Tomb, which he claimed was the family tomb of Jesus. Breitbart reported that Professor Amos Kloner actually oversaw the archeological work at the Talpiot Tomb when it was discovered in 1980, and wrote the official excavation report. Kloner said of Jacobovici’s hypothesis: “I think it is very unserious work. I do scholarly work.” This film “is all nonsense.” He added, “Give me scientific evidence, and I’ll grapple with it. But this is manufactured.” [4]

So what is it?
There are several problems with The Lost Gospel. First, it is not lost – copies have been at the British Library since 1847. Second, it is not a gospel. At best, it is an allegorical story. Third, it does not even mention Jesus or Mary Magdalene at all. The original Joseph and Asenath story must be “decoded”, according to the authors, to make this assertion. The four canonical gospels and the rest of the New Testament, which were accepted by the 1st century church, never mention Jesus was married or had children. None of the early church fathers mention that Jesus was married or had children. David Instone-Brewer, PhD, Cambridge, and researcher at Tyndale House, commented: "It's a great story - a love story written in the early centuries. But it's not talking about Jesus ... In the third century the Jews were often writing fan fic [fiction] about characters in the Old Testament." And, according to Dr. Robert R. Cargill, University of Iowa, The Lost Gospel is little more than “speculation wrapped in hearsay couched in conspiracy masquerading as science ensconced in sensationalism slathered with misinformation”. [5]

[1] Harry Mount, “Is this proof Jesus married and had two sons? Ancient manuscript said to be 'lost gospel' with a sensational twist”, Daily Mail, 9 Nov 2014.
[2] “Joseph and Asenath”, Early Jewish Writings, accessed online 13 Nov 2014.
[3] Jim Davila, “A new Syriac Gospel in which Jesus married Mary Magdalene? I don't think so.”,, 11 Nov 2014.
[4] Thomas D. Williams, “Media fall for ‘married Jesus’ hoax, again”, Breitbart, 11 Nov 2014.
[5] Marcus Jones, “Lost Gospel authors claim book fits with Bible”, Premier, 12 Nov 2014.