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It’s not Lost, It’s not a Gospel, It’s a very naughty Marketing Campaign

Posted on: November 12, 2014 11:25 AM
In a reference to Monty Python's movie The Life of Brian, Arun Arora wrote: "It’s not Lost, It’s not a Gospel, It’s a very naughty Marketing Campaign"
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures
Related Categories: England

From the Church of England

Ahead of the publication of 'The Lost Gospel' at the British Library today, the Revd Arun Arora, Director of Communications for the Archbishops’ Council, has published the following blog at http://cofecomms.tumblr.com/post/102441315167/its-not-lost-its-not-a-gospel-its-a-very-naughty which is reproduced below:

Today the British Library plays host to the launch of a book by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson provocatively entitled “The Lost Gospel – Decoding the Sacred Text that reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene.” 

According to reports in the Sunday Times last weekend the book - which is described as historical - claims that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered two children with her. It also claims that there was a previously unknown plot on Jesus’s life when he was 20 and an assassination attempt on Mary and her children. Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the church at Oxford University summed up his view of the book succinctly to the Sunday times saying: “It sounds like the deepest bilge.”

The book is based on the authors’ interpretation of a 6th century Syriac language manuscript (purchased by the British Museum in the 19th century). The manuscript tells the story of “Joseph and Aseneth” and is available online in English translation here. Other translations can be found here 

There are a number of problems which have been identified with the book.

The first problem is that the manuscript is not lost.

The second is that is not a Gospel.

The third - and most noticeable - is that the there are no mentions of Jesus or of Mary Magdalene in the entire ancient manuscript on which the book is based. 

Or put another way, in the words of Professor Dr. Robert R. Cargill of the Univeristy of Iowa, the book is little more than “speculation wrapped in hearsay couched in conspiracy masquerading as science ensconced in sensationalism slathered with misinformation” – all of which is designed to sell books and get viewers to watch the accompanying documentary in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Prof Cargill wrote a delightful demolition of the book in a blog published earlier this week which should be required reading for every journalist writing a piece on the “lost gospel”.

Cargill can have good claims to know what he is talking about. In a blog from October last year announcing his course in Syriac, the Professor wrote in detail about the “lost gospel” which was sufficiently available to be used as the basis for his course in Iowa. 

Writing about document Cargill  said “Whether it be a gnostic interpretation of the text, or an attempt to argue something truly ridiculous and sensational, for example, that the story somehow represents Jesus and Mary Magdalene (as “Bride of God”, requiring an appeal to separate Gnostic texts like Pistis Sophia, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip), and that this allegorical representation from six centuries after the life of Jesus, relying on the weaving together of multiple Gnostic texts composed a full century after the life of Jesus, somehow provides “evidence” of aspects of Jesus’ actual, historical life – such allegorical interpretations are the height of unsubstantiated speculation.”

So how is it that a book co-authored by someone who has previously made sensational claims including discovering the lost nails of Jesus’ crucifixion, the discovery of the route of the Exodus, the lost tomb of Jesus’ family and Atlantis (in Spain) is being treated with such seriousness and attracting such media attention ?

One uncharitable answer would be to suggest that there is now such a high degree of religious illiteracy in society that people lack the rigour to tackle such spurious claims in the same way they would if the author had written a book saying the moon was made of blue cheese. 

An alternative suggestion would be that ever since Dan Brown found an audience with the Da Vinci code an industry has built up around “direct-to-the-public pseudoscholarship” in which a combustable combination of conspiracy theorists, satellite channel documentaries and opportunistic publishers have identified a lucrative income stream

A more charitable interpretation is to recognise that the life of Jesus remains as fascinating as ever and consequently if there is one way to guarantee an audience it is to make speculative claims about his life or teaching – the more speculative and sensationalist the better.

The Gospels as they stand make extraordinary claims about Jesus. They talk about his life, death and resurrection. The way he transformed the lives of the sick, the poor and the oppressed through word and deed. They relate teachings which remain the touchstone for billions of people thousands of years later. They tell of man who claimed to be God and who was killed for that claim and of those people who after his death saw him again. 

This is fantastical stuff. It is also life changing and transforming. There’s no need to marvel at the claims of “the lost gospel”. The genuine ones do the job well enough.