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:
James McGrath: Married with Children? Recent Headlines About Jesus and Mary Magdalene
- “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?”
James Davila: A new Syriac Gospel in which Jesus married Mary Magdalene? I don’t think so.
- “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.
This is the same Simcha that made that documentary proving the Exodus occurred and he can prove it?
Yes; nothing new in his thesis there, either. The Santorini view has been out there for quite a long time.
I find pitiful things like this to be helpful to our faith oddly enough.
They demonstrate how bereft of validity/human reason are the attacks on the historic Christ portrayed in the Gospel accounts.
Wow. Sadly, inevitably someone will lose their faith over this “scholarship” because that person will trust Simcha simply because he is famous and published.
Good thing he apparently does not believe in the Lord who will judge him. That way he will only have to suffer for eternity for these misleading blasphemies. Until then he will blissfully ignorant of the looming judgement, and he can enjoy the fruit of his sin for a season.
He should be commended for offending the sensibilities of both conservative and liberal scholars. THAT is quite a feat!
Mike, I had no idea you have such an impressive, content-rich website!
For anyone interested, Barrie Wilson is a Professor at York University in Canada and is symptomatic of that institutions unfortunately systemically low academic standards. He is probably best known for his book How Jesus Became a Christian, amply characterized by this “rhetorical” question: “How did a young rabbi become the god of a religion he wouldn’t recognize, one which was established through the use of calculated anti-Semitism?”
He also wrote Paul vs James – a “novel” or “historical reconstruction” containing his imaginary versions of various early Christian documents. And then there is a little something he modestly calls “The NEW New Testament”…
Everything about this man’s work offends me. And that’s before we even get to his decision to collaborate with Simcha Jacobivici. Even as an uncompromising secularist, I am personally offended by unscrupulous mediocrities thinking they can improve upon the Bible by rewriting it.
Thanks for this. Secularists who hold fast to honesty are deeply appreciated. I’m reading Thomas Nagel’s short book presently (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False; Oxford Univ Press). It’s dense reading, as one would expect from a philosopher, but so refreshing to find an open, honest atheist who isn’t mindlessly militant.
In case this book is unfamiliar to readers, here’s a summary of it by Nagel himself in the NYT:
I liked Simchas tv documentary on the exodus. It helped his credibility to have sought ‘reasonable’ rather than fantastic explanations for the ‘plaque’ events that led up to it. It seemed particularly plausible that some Jews would have gone to Greece instead of the desert. I believe a few years ago there was a city found in the Sinai that appeared Hebrew and if that so I’m thinking that particular group may not have shared the same relationship with the Egyptians the rest of them did and we’re probably trading with the Greeks which were known seafarers. As a matter of fact I believe that are those saying the people the Hebrew referred to as Philistines were originally from Greece. If I’m not mistaken there were two periods of Greek enlightenment one much more ancient….where all the fantastic tales come from. Now here’s where it becomes anecdotal. The Jews have had a fairly rough go of it historically…but it seems to have always been for the same reason…thier efficacy which is something that seems to continue to this day. When one compares the old testament references to ‘mighty ‘ men and some of the things heard from this classical Greek period it seems to me just how God might operate to seed a gentile enlightenment with a group of renegade Jews!