Just this week another Jesus hoax has appeared in the media. Media producer Simcha Jacobovici has collaborated with a professor named Barrie Wilson on a book called, “The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text That Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.” I don’t wish to be rude, and I will freely admit I haven’t read the book yet, but the entire premise is utter hogwash. Jesus probably didn’t marry. Even if he did, we have literally no way to know it. We’re basically looking at a sensationalist money-making scheme here, and there’s nothing else to say about it.
One might ask why I’m taking such a firm view. Scholars are usually far more careful in rendering judgments like this. Several items give away the problem.
We might begin with the book’s title. “The Lost Gospel” suggests the discovery of a new literary source, one that is either recently discovered or has been largely neglected. Instead, the “lost gospel” is actually an ancient Jewish (perhaps Christian) novel we call “Joseph and Aseneth.” It’s well known, and it’s received quite a bit of scholarly attention. Joseph and Aseneth is included in the standard collections of ancient Jewish literature that all biblical scholars consult. This month’s Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, the most significant gathering of biblical scholars in the world, will include two papers devoted to the story. Just type “Aseneth” into your Amazon search window, and you’ll find quite a few books devoted to the story, including monographs by leading scholars.
Unfortunately, Jacobovici and Wilson describethe text as “Gathering dust in the British Library” and suggest they have “uncovered” it. Unfortunately, the media has bought into that narrative. A Washington Post story claims that scholars previously reviewed the document and considered it insignificant. Hardly. Online databases reveal over three hundred scholarly books and articles devoted to this text, not counting book reviews. Over twenty manuscripts of Joseph and Aseneth have survived. If you’re curious, you can consult a modern translation online. In fact, Duke University professor Mark Goodacre created his Joseph and Aseneth home page in 1999 — quite a bit before its recent “uncovering.”
The new book’s subtitle reveals a second problem: “decoding.” The authors claim this ancient novel carries a secret meaning. Joseph and Aseneth makes perfect sense without decoding. It’s the story of how Joseph meets his wife Aseneth, who is Egyptian and a pagan. (Aseneth plays a minor role in the book of Genesis: Pharaoh gives her to be Joseph’s wife, and she becomes the mother of Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim.) The novel describes Aseneth as resembling Hebrew women more than Egyptian women: tall like Sarah and lovely like Rebecca and Rachel. She’s also “hard to get.” But Joseph follows up a fabulous first impression by demonstrating his virtue and piety. Aseneth falls in love, becomes a convert, and marries Joseph.
Written by Greg Carey
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