By now, most have probably heard the news splash about the forthcoming book by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Sacred Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene. If the number of emails in my inbox on this topic is any indication, then apparently the news has traveled fast.
If the title of this new book sounds like The Da Vinci Code redivivus, then you would be right. Jacobovici and Wilson are not the first to claim Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. They stand in a long line of conspiracy theorists who have claimed the same thing, including the recently debunked Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (see my articles on this manuscript here and here).
Although I have not yet read this book, it seems that a few comments are in order to help prepare people for what is coming:
1. The reader should know that Jacobovici and Wilson have certainly not discovered a “Lost Gospel” in any normal sense of the term. We know about many gospels that did not make it into our New Testament canon (e.g., Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Mary), but this newly discovered text is not one of them. On the contrary, the authors base their claim on a Syriac manuscript, dated to the 6th century AD, that contains a pseudepigraphical story entitled Joseph and Aseneth. That story has been well known to scholars for years.
2. The story of Joseph and Aseneth has nothing to do with Jesus and Mary. It does not even mention Jesus and Mary. The authors are forced to argue that the story must be read allegorically–where Joseph=Jesus and Aseneth=Mary–in order to reach their conclusions. Needless to say, this is highly speculative and subjective.
3. Jacobovici, a filmmaker known for his documentaries, has already come under fire for his previous sensationalistic claim that he discovered the lost tomb of Jesus. This claim has been widely criticized in the academic community. For more on these criticisms, see the Time magazine article here.
4. There is absolutely zero evidence from early Christianity that Jesus was married. Not a single historical source anywhere tells us such a thing. The closest any source comes to doing so is a fragmented portion of the third-century Gospel of Philip where we are told that Jesus kissed Mary “on the…”, but the text is missing at precisely this point. But, aside from being a late gospel, the context of this passage does not suggest any sexual/romantic love for Mary. Even Bart Ehrman agrees that the affection Jesus shows Mary here is not a different kind than shown to his male disciples (Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code, 179).
With these four considerations in mind, it seems clear that we have yet another book that is marketed to the masses who love conspiracy theories. Such sensationalistic books no doubt make good financial sense, but they don’t make good history.