By now most readers will have heard about the new book by Simcha Jacobivici (not a typo) and his academic co-author Dr. Barrie Wilson. In short, it’s an embarrassment. And that’s saying something given what Simcha (whom I and others have affectionately nick-named $imcha) has produced in the past. Obviously, the goal was more sensationalist publicity and the cash that goes with it — after all, we’re headed toward Christmas.
This one is really taking a severe beating by reviewers. Here’s a listing of several that matter since they will have reach, along with some choice excerpts. The reviews by Cargill and Carey are the most detailed debunkings.
Dr. Robert Cargill: Review of “The Lost Gospel” by Jacobovici and Wilson
- “I thought I’d post a quick response to this latest round of absurdity by repeating and re-posting some of the comments I made over a year ago in a post announcing my spring 2014 University of Iowa course in Syriac – a post that dealt (almost prophetically) with many of the claims made in this new book.”
- ” I have read this book, and it really is worse than you might imagine. The text in question is neither “lost” nor a “gospel”, and the allegorical reading of the Syriac version of Joseph and Aseneth is little more than a wishful hope that it would be so, employing little more than name substitution and a desire to prove The DaVinci Code true. Absolutely no scholar will take this book seriously. It will not change Christianity. It will not change biblical scholarship. It’s just Simcha doing what he does best: direct-to-the-public pseudoscholarship just in time for Christmas.”
- “Mr. Jacobovici’s new book essentially claims that the 6th century CE Syriac language version of a Greek pseudepigraphical story entitled Joseph and Aseneth (which I discuss in my class ‘Banned from the Bible: Intro to Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha‘ course at Iowa) is a ‘gospel’, and should be read allegorically, but only after replacing every mention of Joseph with the name ‘Jesus’, and every mention of Aseneth with ‘Mary Magdalene’.”
Yes, you read that last line correctly. Basically, the book’s claim is that if we just swapped in Jesus and Mary Magdalene for Joseph and Aseneth, then we could say Jesus and Mary were married and had kids. That’s nice.
I don’t know Barrie Wilson. I know he has a real degree. But since he wanted his name on this bunkum, I’ll be sure to never consider any “scholarship” he’s produced trustworthy.
On to other reviews:
- “A Washington Post article claims that the text that the book is referring to is Ecclesiastical History of Zacharias Rhetor. In fact, it is that work’s version of the tale of Joseph and Asenath that is the focus. Apparently Jacobovici and Wilson are reading that work as though it were about Jesus and Mary. That’s not a discovery. It is creative reinterpretation. And so as far as I can tell, there’s nothing here to get excited about.”
Candida Moss: Jesus Christ, Baby Daddy?
- “There’s just one small problem with the Jacobovici-Wilson theory. Jesus and Mary are nowhere in the manuscript. It’s one version of a well-known ancient novel called Joseph and Aseneth, which discusses the life and times of the biblical patriarch Joseph (of technicolor-dreamcoat fame) and his relationship with Aseneth, the Egyptian woman he marries in Genesis 41:45. Not to be a killjoy fact-checker, but this does seem like an important detail to get right.”
- “What Jacobovici and Wilson have offered is a pseudo-allegorical interpretation of a sixth-century Syriac translation of a Greek text about the biblical Joseph. The book is imaginative and informed by a quasi-religious devotion to the idea that Jesus was married, but it isn’t historically accurate. They have no real arguments to support their claim that Joseph and Aseneth was written in the first century by someone close to Jesus, and they never really engage any arguments to the contrary. As Mark Goodacre, Robert Cargill, and Greg Carey have observed, none of the other texts that mention Jesus’s special relationship with Mary Magdalene can be dated to the time of Jesus himself.”
- “This isn’t Jacobovici or the greater public’s first ride on the Jesus-was-married carousel, but it is the first time that Joseph and Aseneth has entered the discussion. It’s worth asking: Is this kind of sensationalism beneficial to the study of ancient religious literature?”
- “Although I always like to see the Old Testament pseudepigrapha getting some media attention, it is too bad that the fascinating and entertaining text Joseph and Aseneth is being tied in the public mind to this ingenious but highly implausible connection with a literal marriage of Jesus.”
Greg Carey: Another Jesus and Mary Magdalene Hoax
- “It is always bad form to attack a theory by condemning its proponents, but Simcha Jacobovichi is a notorious peddler of misleading theories. He promoted an ossuary as containing the bones of Jesus’ brother James, a theory that has been disconfirmed. He also developed a documentary that claimed to unveil the Jesus family tomb, also refuted by experts, and even claims to have uncovered the nails used in Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s a shame that the media ever pays attention to him, at least when he’s talking about Jesus.”
And that’s just a sampling.
For my money, Diarmond MacCulloch (Professor of the History of the Church in the University of Oxford) said it best:
- “… It sounds like the deepest bilge … I’m very surprised that the British library gives these authors houseroom.”
Me, too. And yeah, it is.