The Jesus-Mary Magdalene Wedding-Industrial Complex is at it again. The latest effort to get Jesus hitched to his most famous female disciple comes from maverick Israeli-Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and maverick Canadian biblical scholar Barrie Wilson, in their already-bestselling new book, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.
The Jacobovici-Wilson book, released to press fanfare on November 12, follows hard on the heels of Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King’s revelation in 2012 of a scrap of ancient-looking papyrus bearing the words “and Jesus said to them, ‘my wife.’ ” King argued that the “wife,” although not named in the fragment, was probably Mary Magdalene. Journalists, academics, and clergypeople alike went all aflutter for months speculating whether Dan Brown’s blockbuster 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code—which also unites Jesus and the Magdalene in wedlock—could have a grain of truth to it, and what it would mean for the future of Christianity had its founder, traditionally regarded as celibate, turned out to be not so.
Early in 2014 the results of carbon-dating tests revealed that the piece of papyrus wasn’t so old as King had thought (it dated from the 8th century, nowhere near the time of Jesus), and many scholars concluded that King had been duped by a modern forger who had copied some words from another ancient text onto the tiny fragment. King herself, while continuing to maintain that the writing was genuine, withdrew her assertion that it referred specifically to Mary Magdalene.
But at least King’s papyrus scrap did use the words “Jesus” and “wife” in the same sentence. The Lost Gospel is a far more ambitious attempt to cater to people’s willingness to believe what they want to believe—because the supposed “lost gospel” that Jacobovici and Wilson say they have uncovered never actually mentions Jesus at all. Nor Mary Magdalene. Furthermore, as Robert Cargill, a professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa put it in a scathing online review, “Mr. Jacobovici’s The Lost Gospel is neither ‘lost’ nor a ‘gospel.’ ”
Instead, it is a well-known ancient text that scholars call “Joseph and Aseneth” because its two leading characters are the biblical patriarch Joseph and his bride Aseneth, briefly mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the daughter of an Egyptian priest and the mother of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. “Joseph and Aseneth” elaborates on their courtship and wedding, which includes the pagan Aseneth’s conversion to belief in the God of Israel. No one knows exactly when “Joseph and Aseneth” was written—perhaps as early as the first century b.c. or as late as the second century a.d. Most scholars believe that it’s a Jewish text, written to explain how it happened that a pious Hebrew patriarch married a pagan woman. But some scholars think the romantic tale has Christian overtones, including references to bread and wine that might be allegories of the Christian Eucharist. Manuscripts of “Joseph and Aseneth,” believed to have been originally composed in Greek, have been surfacing since the 19th century. The version that Jacobovici and Wilson claim to have unearthed, a 6th-century manuscript written in Syriac, a Middle Eastern dialect related to the Aramaic that Jesus probably spoke, has been on the shelves of the British Library since 1847 (“gathering dust” is the way the two put it, although that manuscript has in fact been extensively studied).
No matter. Jacobovici and Wilson claim to have “decoded” the manuscript by substituting “Jesus” for “Joseph” and “Mary Magdalene” for “Aseneth.” “There is now written evidence that Jesus was married to Mary the Magdalene and that they had children together,” they write. During “the missing years of Jesus’ life” before he began his public ministry, “he became engaged, got married, had sexual relations, and produced children,” Jacobovici and Wilson say.