The last frustration of Christ: why Jesus must be banging his head against the wall this Christmas.
Unless you've been on another planet, you can't fail to have missed the front page attention on news websites and TV bulletins about a new "lost gospel" that confirms Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and had kids.
A new book, released just in time for the Christmas market, makes the allegation. The Lost Gospel, by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson, claims to have "decoded" the "sacred text that reveals Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene".
The so called "lost gospel" is a 1,500 year old text in Syriac written in the 6th century about half a millennium after the death of Christ and about half a millennium after the real gospels in the New Testament were written.
To put the "lost gospel" into forensic perspective, treating it as authoritative in recounting conversations from 500 years before it was written would be like police using a document written in 1950 to solve a murder from 1450.
Apart from the enormous length of time between the events in question and the actual date of the document --roughly five lifetimes--the second problem with the so called "Lost Gospel" is that it's not actually a gospel at all, and doesn't mention the name of Jesus anywhere in it.
Instead, the document is actually named "The Story of Joseph and Aseneth", and far from being 'lost' it has been resident in the British Museum where hundreds of scholars have studied it over more than a hundred years.
So how do we get from that set of facts to this in Britain's Independent:
"Jesus married the prostitute Mary Magdalene and had children, according to a manuscript almost 1,500 years old unearthed at the British Library. The so-called "Lost Gospel", which has been translated from Aramaic, allegedly reveals the startling new allegations, according to The Sunday Times."
The answer is, with a dollop of conspiracy theory, a sprinkling of Dan Brown, and a main course of author's interviewing their own typewriters.
"Joseph and Aseneth" is actually a non-biblical story originating from as early as a century before Christ, when a group of Jews were trying to explain how the patriarch Joseph had come to marry the daughter (Aseneth) of an Egyptian priest when Jews were forbidden to intermarry. The story goes on to justify the marriage, which is also mentioned in the Bible's Book of Genesis, at 41:45.
The only way Jacobovici and Wilson could proclaim this story was about Jesus and Mary Magdalene was to physically substitute the names Jesus and Mary wherever the names Joseph and Aseneth appeared in the actual text. Using that logic, one could dust off Hansel & Gretel and rename it the 'lost gospel foreshadowing child abuse in the church'.
"Mary Magdalene is not just Mrs Jesus," boasted Jacobovici, a controversial Canadian-Israeli TV documentary producer, "she's a co-deity, a co-Redeemer."
Yeah, right, yawned many critics. Others, like University of Iowa religious studies professor Robert Cargill have been far more scathing:
"Scholars won't reject Mr. Jacobovici's findings because of some "theological trauma" or a confessional, apologetic desire to preserve the Jesus described in the Bible. I'm an agnostic. I have no dog in the fight of whether Jesus was married or not. He could be married and have 4 kids like me and I wouldn't care. The problem is not a theological one, it is one of scholarship, methodology, and the (mis)use of evidence. Scholars won't reject Mr. Jacobovici's claims because they want to defend Christianity, scholars will reject Mr. Jacobovici's speculations because he engages in circular reasoning, lacks evidence, breaks any number of rules of textual criticism, and engages in what I've described in the past as "speculation wrapped in hearsay couched in conspiracy masquerading as science ensconced in sensationalism slathered with misinformation"--all of which is designed to sell books and get viewers to watch the accompanying documentary in the weeks leading up to Christmas."
The issue of whether Jesus was married has been around for a long time. The Bible makes no mention of a wife, and there is no ancient tradition among early Christians that Jesus was married. If he had been, and particularly if he had had children, you can expect they would have--rightly or wrongly--become objects of reverence themselves, in the same way that Mary--Christ's mother --did. But there is no evidence of this at all. Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code used it as a fictional premise, but that's all it was: fiction.
The first claims of a marriage arose in the so-called 'Gnostic Gospels' written by a group opposed to traditional Christianity. In the 'Gospel of Philip' written around the third century AD, Mary Magdalene is described as the "companion" of Jesus, while a 5th century 'Gospel of Mary' talks of Jesus loving Mary "more than the rest of women". But remember, these were gospels written by a sect opposed to the worship of Jesus Christ as God. The Gnostics believed the fleshly body was carnal and evil, and that lust was a 'capital', as in mortal sin. By painting Jesus as just another married man, a carnal human, the Gnostics were attempting to de-deify Christ.
The Gnostic Apostle Thomas document tells the story of Thomas suddenly appearing before two newlyweds about to consummate their marriage, when Thomas yells, "Abstain from this filthy intercourse!"
Taking the Gnostics seriously in their claims about Jesus marrying would be like allowing the organisers of the Gay Pride movement to write the official history of the Catholic Church.
In the same vein, there's been a flurry of debate around the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife", a fragment of which was discovered by professor Karen King at Harvard Divinity School, in 2012. The fragment says, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...', and 'she will be able to be my disciple'.
The document, said King, originated in the 4th century AD, but this year it was carbon-dated to between 659 and 859AD. Worse, an American researcher compared the handwriting on the papyrus fragment with a papyrus document believed to be a modern forgery, the "Gospel of John"--and the handwriting matched the "Jesus Wife" fragment.
Forensic experts have indicated to the New York Times that someone with the right knowledge could create papyrus and carbon-based ink today capable of fooling radiocarbon dating. Ten years ago Investigate revealed how New Zealand scientists had erroneously dated a rock to 25,000 years ago when in fact it had come from the Mt Ngaruhoe volcanic eruption of the mid 1970s.
Interestingly, the same antiquities collector holding the allegedly forged "John" fragment provided the "Jesus Wife" fragment to King. The collector so far remains unidentified.
For her part, professor King has said the allegation of forgery "is substantive, it's worth taking seriously."
So where does this leave Biblical scholarship? Exactly where it has always been--sifting out the real history from the fly-by-night hucksters and purveyors of irrelevant relics.
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|Date:||Dec 1, 2015|
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