In Greek mythology there is a story about Hercules fighting the Hydra, a serpent like monster that had many heads. However, anytime he severs one head from the monster, two more would grow back in its place. Sometimes as a believer, especially when responding to the latest wild assertions from cynical and radical skeptics alike, it feels like I am Hercules fighting with the Hydra Monster to no end. Frustrating though as it may be, in this post I will respond, yet again, to some of the latest nonsense being espoused by some radical skeptics of Christianity.
Specifically, I recently came across the latest absurdity from the world of Simcha Jacobovici, and his co-author Dr. Barrie Wilson, in their new book published last year (2014) titled “The Lost Gospel”. Jacobovici is not a scholar, but his cohort Wilson has a degree in Biblical studies, which I guess is meant to provide some small measure of respectability to his work – It doesn’t. Both are well known cynics when it comes to Jesus, Christianity and Church history. For some background, to anyone who may not be familiar, Jacobovici is notorious for making outrageous claims about almost everything. The same guy that claims to have discovered the lost city of Atlantis, the route of the Exodus and the tomb of Jesus (with Jesus still in it), now claims to have uncovered a newly discovered Gospel. To the best of my knowledge, no scholar in the relevant fields of Antiquities and Christianity (at least none that I’ve read) takes them seriously, not even among the New School. Nevertheless, many in the media shower him with attention, and have even made him the star of countless television “documentaries” to espouse whatever his latest fantastical claim may be. The most recent was titled “Biblical Conspiracies: The Lost Gospel” promoting the aforementioned book and his latest “discovery” of a “new” and “Lost Gospel”.
So what is this alleged new gospel that Jacobovici claims to have discovered? The short answer is that this “New Gospel” is NOT a Gospel at all, but rather a widely known text titled “Joseph and Aseneth” that dates back to the sixth century AD. However, according to the premise of Jacobovici’s new book, the story of “Joseph and Aseneth” is really a “Gospel”, that is, when it is read allegorically. Specifically, only when one replaces every mention of Joseph with the name “Jesus”, and every mention of Aseneth with the name “Mary Magdalene”, will the true “Gospel” then emerge and be revealed. In other words – wait for it – Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and they had children together. If your first reaction is: What the Heck? You are not alone. This claim is right up there with the conspiracy theory nonsense of Dan Brown’s fiction “The Da Vinci Code”. It is precisely that silly – the same lack of evidence, same wild speculation, same distortion of facts and bogus history. Now rather than devote another post responding to the absurd claim that Jesus was married, I will refer anyone interested to my earlier two part post (Was Jesus Married?) on that topic. Instead, for this post, I will just briefly summarize why scholars of all stripes do not take this so-called alleged “discovery” seriously, nor pay any attention to it.
First, as already indicated, this alleged “Lost Gospel” discovered by Jacobovici is neither “lost” nor a “gospel”. It has been known for centuries. The text in question is called “Joseph and Aseneth”, as in the Joseph from the Old Testament and son of Jacob (who was called Israel). If anyone needs a refresher, Genesis recounts that Joseph was favored by his father and that his jealous brothers threw him down a well and sold him into slavery. Now a slave in Egypt, Joseph becomes renowned for interpreting dreams and gains the favor of the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh then appoints Joseph to an esteemed position, gives him a new name (Zaphenath-paneah) and an Egyptian wife (Aseneth). Later he will encounter his brothers, who no longer recognize him, and after a series of events he reconciles with his family. Moreover, during the whole ordeal Joseph always remained loyal to God. This brings us now to the story of “Joseph and Aseneth” written in the 6th century AD in Syria. The text was a popular Jewish love story that expanded on the biblical account. The purpose of the author, it seems, was to explain why a righteous son (Joseph) of Israel would agree to marry the daughter (Aseneth) of a pagan. Therefore, in the book “Joseph and Aseneth”, Aseneth converts to monotheism and belief in the Hebrew God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob (Israel) before she married Joseph. That’s it, that’s the major thrust of the whole story of “Joseph and Aseneth”.
Next, this so-called “Lost Gospel”, which is actually the story of “Joseph and Aseneth”, does not mention Jesus and Mary Magdalene at all – NOT ONCE – and simply substituting their names and calling it an allegory does NOT make it so. Just to illustrate how ridiculous this assertion is, using this same allegorical logic, one could swap out the names of King David and Bathsheba, and claim that Jesus & Mary Magdalene are actually the parents of King Solomon. Or why stop there, why not swap out the names of Adam & Eve and claim they were in fact the Earth’s primordial couple and parents to all humanity. It is precisely that absurd. Moreover, for the sake of argument let us just presuppose that the text “Joseph and Aseneth” really was written as an allegory for Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It was written nearly five centuries after Christ, so it would NOT provide evidence for anything. All that said, allegorical interpretations of text come with highly particular details, and typically by way of parables or comparisons. None of which are present in the texts in question. Simply substituting names and twisting words from their proper context and applying symbolism does NOT constitute an allegory.
Now as I have said earlier, Jacobovici is not a scholar, but even secular scholars of the New School, with whom I seldom agree on anything, do not take his claims seriously. See sample of quotes from such NS scholars responding to Jacobovic’s “discovery” and latest book posted below:
“I’m an agnostic. I have no dog in the fight of whether Jesus was married or not. … 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.” (Bob Cargill)
“The claim is completely bogus. This “new” Gospel is not a Gospel, but a text that scholars have known for roughly forever. It’s not a Christian text (ostensibly). It’s about Joseph (as in the Old Testament) and his wife Asenath.” (Bart Ehrman)
In conclusion, there is nothing here to this latest “discovery” except more skeptic nonsense. In fact, I debated on whether to even post on this claim at all, then thought why not – the absurdity of it all is more than a little amusing. What is not amusing, however, is that many people who are not well read on these matters, may buy into some of this nonsense. To that end, like the mythic figure Hercules, I’ll go on fighting the seemingly endless battle with the Hydra Monster.
That’s it for this post.Thank you for reading. I hope some may have found this post insightful or at the very least amusing.