Thursday, November 20, 2014

Yet Another "Lost Gospel..."

Reflecting on the relic-mad culture of his day, Luther famously observed that there were enough "nails from the true cross" floating around to shoe every horse in Saxony. Today, we might say that there are enough so-called "lost gospels" floating around to paper every wall in Taylor Swift's gorgeous new $3.5 million LA mansion!

I know what you're thinking: why bring Ms. Swift into this? It's not because I am a "hater" preparing to "hate-hate-hate," but because these so-called discoveries are consistently unveiled and promoted with a decidedly "TMZ" vibe. I mean, seriously, why not just get A.C. Slater to host the accompanying schlockumentary? (What do you mean A.C. Slater's not a real person? That's what they want you to think! Conspiracies, man...conspiracies.) Anyway, Slater's real name escapes me at the moment, but I'd bet 250 lost gospels (converts to $0.73 US) that he's made a report about Taylor Swift's newest house, although he may see himself as above reporting on the latest "lost gospel" non-story, which allegedly blows the lid off Jesus's sex life and Mary Magdalene's divinity.

So maybe the real A.C. Slater of the "lost gospel" community is actually Simcha Jacobovici (I don't care who you are; that's a fun name to pronounce), an “Israeli-Canadian investigative journalist” who seems to make his living by discovering ground-breaking, game-changing, paradigm-shifting nothings. Wait . . .  “investigative journalists” are people who make things up to try and generate controversies out of thin air and use those controversies to line their pockets. Right? Or, hold on. . . I might be thinking of something else.

Artist's rendition of Jacobivici's "sexy Jesus."
Actually, I'm just assuming that's what this is.
Jacobovici, the man behind the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” debacle of 2007, is now doubling down on that whole gong show with The Lost Gospel, in which he unveils some real iron-clad evidence, which proves, not only that Jesus was married to Mary Magdelene (whom he, according to ancient Gnostic codes, affectionately called "Eminem" because of her initials), but that early Christians considered her a diety. Here's a news story with pretty much all the same information as all the other news stories on the topic (not the Eminem thing).

So what's the lost gospel this time? An ancient Syriac manuscript, housed in the British library, called Joseph and Aseneth. (You can read a translation of it here.) It's basically like a DVD extra to the Book of Genesis, explaining why the patriarch Joseph married Aseneth, a Gentile and the daughter of a pagan Priest. The manuscript in question dates back to the sixth century, and it sort of romanticizes and fictionalizes the back-story, expanding two verses into twenty-nine chapters, and explaining away any character flaws in the biblical heroes—not unlike much of today's biblical fiction. It’s easy to understand why someone would try and explain such an unlikely marriage, because the two famous half-tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh) are the result of the union between Joseph and Aseneth.

According to Jacobovici, though, this document (which is by no means newly discovered) “describes [Mary Magdalene] as a co-messiah, co-deity, [and] defender of humanity.”  All without ever using the words Mary, Magdalene, messiah, or anything else that might indicate that the author was headed in that direction. What's that? Oh, because it's in code. Right.

Mario Lopez!  Slater's name is Mario Lopez.

Anyway, it's not like Jacobivici and Wilson just decided arbitrarily to turn an apocryphal expansion on Genesis into a suppressed Christian Gospel, they assure us. No, no, there is an accompanying letter (written more than five hundred years after the earthly ministry of Jesus) claiming that Joseph and Aseneth has some hidden meaning. What hidden meaning? We don’t know, because the letter was (dun-dun-DUUUUHHHNNNN) cut off! Censorship, man. Censorship. One might be tempted to wonder why the person censoring this sensitive information wouldn’t just, ya know, burn the whole letter, but whatever…

Not to be thwarted by the complete absence of anything substantive, Jacobovici and his writing partner Barrie Wilson, went ahead and just made up the hidden meaning. And—wouldn’t you know it?—it happens to support Jacobovici’s earlier zany theories! There's some luck! And he acknowledges that it looks a little too lucky. “Someone might say to me, why are you finding so many great things? Why nobody else?” he said to the Daily Beast. His answer: because he's not a Christian, so he doesn't think inside a "Christian box." Side note: he's also free from the "logic box."

I feel I should mention that the man who actually translated the text for Jacobivici and Wilson, while trying to find some sort of silver lining here, has tried to distance himself from the wacky theories. And who can blame him?

I mean, if you can find a coded story about Jesus, his wife (and her status as a goddess), and their two children in a document that doesn't even hint at that stuff...well, that says more about you than it says about Jesus or Joseph or anything else, except maybe the state of pseudo-scholarship today and its role in pop culture.

But we can't entirely blame guys like Jacobivici for the continual recycling of this stuff. If no one was buying, they wouldn't be dealing. People don’t know the first thing about the Bible today. And yet, we’ve sunk to the point where spending five minutes perusing a Wikipedia article makes them feel like an expert on any given topic. Blogs (yeah, you’re reading one now) and other forms of instant online communication and social media reinforce the notion that all of my silliest thoughts and theories should probably be read by everyone without being vetted by anyone. The Lost Gospel is a byproduct of that cultural shift, as it infects areas of life that we would have hoped would be immune to it (religion, academia, etc.)

Here's where I'd normally kick the theory to the curb with a well-placed snarky assessment. But Rev Arun Arora, director of communications for the Church of England (who apparently has a gift for deliciously understated responses to overblown situations) already crafted the perfect one-liner response to this alleged lost gospel: “It’s not lost, it’s not a gospel, it’s a very naughty marketing campaign.” (I wouldn't dream of insulting you by pointing out the Life of Brian reference).

But even if we were to grant the supposed hidden meaning, why on earth would we think that a coded Jewish work from the fourth or fifth century would be a more reliable source about the life of Christ than the Gospels, which were written in plain language and much earlier? Maybe there's another reason people don't want to deal with the Jesus of the Bible.


1 comment:

  1. Great post. This line made me laugh out loud: "One might be tempted to wonder why the person censoring this sensitive information wouldn’t just, ya know, burn the whole letter, but whatever…" Classic.