While many people know Christmas is drawing near by the store displays, the weather turning colder, or the carols filling the air, I always mark the holiday season by the first news story about an absurd, recycled conspiracy theory about Jesus.
Looks like Christmas came a little early this year, thanks, once again, to filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and his latest project The Lost Gospel, which claims to demonstrate Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. Yes, that does sound a lot like the plot of The Da Vinci Code.
If you are unfamiliar with Jacobovici, let me give a bit of a background on his previous discredited work concerning Jesus and the early church.
His first documentary on Christian archaeology centered around an ancient box which he claimed contained the bones of James, brother of Jesus. While Discovery Channel aired his film, after actual archaeologists and experts tore the findings to shreds, the network placed the special on its top 10 scientific hoaxes of all time.
He was part of a group pushing the supposed “Jesus Tomb,” which supposedly was a family tomb where Jesus was buried with his wife and children. Virtually everyone associated with that film was been discredited.
One person lied about having a Ph.D. and had their supposedly historic book pulled by its publishers for being fake. Over a dozen scholars, experts and archaeologist sent an open letter denouncing the findings of the “Jesus Tomb” group.
Unfazed, Jacobovici and others claimed to have found another tomb a few years later that supported their previous claims about Jesus’ tomb and once again, everyone dismissed their assertions.
He sued Joe Zias, an Israeli anthropologist and Middle East archaeology expert, because Zias repeatedly charged Jacobovici of lying about his findings.
Jacobovici also claimed to have found the nails used during Jesus’ crucifixion. In short, he has an extended history of making exaggerated claims about Jesus, frequently coinciding with an important Christian holiday. How convenient.
Much like I did with Harold Camping and his infamous end of the world predictions here on the blog, I don’t know how to respond to Jacobovici with anything but dismissive sarcasm because his assertions are so blatantly absurd.
Earlier this year (around Easter), news organizations recycled Karen King’s supposed “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” Now, we have yet another document that “proves” Jesus was married. The most shocking thing is that this most recent story makes King’s work seem like the bastion of unbiased scholarship.
So what exactly is this new “lost gospel.” First of all, it’s not new. At all. It’s been sitting in the British Museum for close to two centuries and has been studied numerous times by scholars with none seeing it as anything remarkable – until Jacobovici needed a new controversy to sell.
Second of all it’s not old, in that the document doesn’t come from the time of Jesus, or his disciples, or much of the early church. They dated it around 570 AD.
Compare that to the oldest copies we have of the four Gospels in your Bible. We have mostly complete copies that date into the second and third centuries, with a fragment of John (generally accepted to be the last Gospel written) dating back to 125 AD.
But according to Jacobovici “it’s not crazy to say it’s a copy of a work from the first century.” I’m not sure this supposed lost gospel can even make it over that low of a bar.
Place all of those issues aside, here’s the most hilarious thing about the claims that this is a lost gospel about Jesus – it never mentions Jesus. The lost gospel tells the story of Joseph and Aseneth.
So, the forthcoming book claims the writer of the document was using those two names as code for Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Yes, you read that right.
We have these giant claims supposedly worthy of attention and serious consideration about a document from 500 years after the events filled with names which do not even match the supposed real people.
This is supposed to be of greater importance than the actual New Testament documents whose copies we posses date back extremely close to the events and use the real names.
It’s like clockwork every year around Christmas and Easter. Someone – frequently Jacobovici or a fringe scholar from the “Jesus Seminar” – touts this grand discovery that will shake all of Christianity to its roots. And every year it comes to nothing.
But Jacobovici argues these frequent coincidently timed announcements and discoveries do not demonstrate people have a desire to make money off of controversy. No, all of these are cumulative evidence which shows there is merit in all of these claims.
Except all of those previous discoveries were roundly dismissed by even non-Christian scholars and archaeologists and this one will fare no better.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Oxford University professor of the history of the church, said The Lost Gospel “sounds like the deepest bilge. I’m very surprised that the British Library gives these authors houseroom.” We should all be surprised they are given a platform or any kind of serious attention.
Because their desire was purely monetary, Jesus kicked the money lenders out of the temple. It’s time someone kick them out of the archaeological digs and historical archives.