New Evidence That Jesus Had a Wife and Family… Really?

A friend recently asked me to have a look at the claims of The Lost Gospel: decoding the sacred text that reveals Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene by Mr. Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. Barrie Wilson. I will start by saying that I have not purchased this recently released book. However, large portions of the book can be viewed on the Google Books website (http://books.google.com/books?id=mGvcBAAAQBAJ&q=Son+of+God – v=onepage&q&f=false). I have reviewed portions of the book where the authors discuss how they came to their conclusions about the Story of Joseph and Aseneth. It is not my purpose to give a thorough analysis of the book here in this blog post. This is not a scholarly book review. Rather, it is a short commentary about how information has been handled by the authors from my perspective as a retired investigator who has worked extensively with evidence.

The spectacular claim of this book is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had children together. This information is supposedly contained within a 6th century Syriac version of a pseudepigraphical story (a book falsely attributed to a known person such as a Bible character or author), originally written in Greek, that has been newly “re-discovered” at the British Museum and properly interpreted by Jacobovici and Wilson. The story is entitled Joseph and Aseneth and is authored by an unknown writer. The story is included within texts that come from Syriac texts translated from the original Greek by “pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor” (Cargill, 2014).  Moreover, Jacobovici and Wilson claim that it was common to interpret the Bible as allegory in the timeframe of the early Christian church and that is what their contention is with this story; that it is an allegory that refers to Jesus and Mary Magdalene as being married and having a family. In essence, whenever Joseph is mentioned, Jesus is really who the author is referring to allegorically. Whenever Aseneth is mentioned, Mary is really the person who is being referred to by the author.  Huh?

However, the authors have some very serious problems at the outset with the information that they utilize to make their conclusions. Firstly, other than their opinion that they offer that Joseph and Aseneth is an allegory where the characters are representative of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, the authors do not have a historical source that states that this book is an allegorical representation of Jesus and Mary. Does the author (of course, we really do not know who the author is) or a reliable source contemporaneous with the author supply us with information showing that it was the author’s intent to write Joseph and Aseneth as an allegory describing Jesus and Mary as a married couple with children? Other than their own speculation, do the authors provide any good evidence that this was the intent of the original author?

In contrast to this claim of Jacobovici and Wilson, Dr. Robert Cargill, an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, offers his opinion that the intent of the author of Joseph and Aseneth is widely known in the scholarly community. According to Cargill, the reason for writing the account of Joseph and Aseneth was to justify why Joseph married a non-Jew and that most scholars agree with this assessment. Restated, most scholars believe the purpose of this story is to offer an explanation why the Hebrew patriarch Joseph had good reasons to marry a non-Jew and Egyptian, Aseneth. In short Cargill asserts that the scholarly community does not take The Lost Gospel seriously. Moreover, Cargill is clear to point out that he is not taking up the Christian cause, as he is an agnostic (Cargill, Date of Access: 18 Nov 2014).

In addition to the lack of any historical witnesses to demonstrate the allegorical nature of Joseph and Aseneth, is there any information available that the author of Joseph and Aseneth (again, we do not know who the author is) was in a position to observe the family of Jesus or does the author get the information from a reliable source? Jacobovici and Wilson do not supply us with any historical witnesses who may have seen the “family of Jesus” growing up and living together. They only offer the opinions of some scholars who say that the book could have been written in the first or second centuries after Christ’s birth (Jacobovici and Wilson, 2014). But even if we allow for an early date of writing (first or second century), there is no good evidence that the author was in a position to witness the day-to-day life of Jesus and his activities with his alleged wife and family. Again in measuring the veracity of the evidence, we should ask, “Is there good quality information coming from a source that would be in a position to witness the events that they describe?” In order to give evidence or testimony the proper weight that it is due, these foundational questions should be asked and answered when gauging the validity of historical texts. Clearly Jacobovici and Wilson do not answer these important foundational questions. If they have no credible source for their information, then no weight should be granted to their position. All of this important information is missing from the case they make. All we have in The Lost Gospel is unsupported conjecture.

Moreover, a statement that the authors make to support their claim comes from an argument from silence; the Bible does not mention whether Jesus was married or single. When I read this statement, I immediately asked myself, “Would a defendant or prosecutor be able to use an argument from silence as evidence?” In an argument from silence, who would be called as the witness and what testimony could be given? By its very definition, this sort of argument could not be supported by testimony. If the authors don’t have any positive evidence to present for their point, then an argument from silence should not be afforded any weight when considering the value of their central thesis.

Even though Jacobovici and Wilson suggest a new way to look at Jesus, in fact, the idea that Jesus had a wife is not a new proposition at all. We see this idea suggested in The Gospel of Philip that is believed by scholars to have been written anywhere from the late-second century to the mid-third century, CE. In similarity to Joseph and Aseneth, The Gospel of Philip is also known to be a pseudepigraphical book as it is known that the Apostle Philip did not write this book. In The Gospel of Philip, the unknown author refers to Mary Magdalene as the companion of Jesus, that Jesus would kiss Mary on the mouth, and that the disciples questioned Jesus about this intimate relationship (Kirby, Date of access: 15 Nov 2014). In addition to the mention of a married Jesus Christ in The Gospel of Philip, Ahmadiyya Muslims also make a similar claim regarding Jesus Christ. They claim that Jesus recovered from his wounds after his crucifixion, was probably married, and moved to the Kashmir region of India where he died of natural causes (Ahmad, Date of access; 15 Nov 2014). So, even though Jacobovici and Wilson have announced a breakthrough discovery, these uncorroborated claims about a married Jesus have been floating around for a good while now.

For your convenience and in addition to the link for Dr. Cargill’s article, I have also provided another link below that leads to a book review that was published recently in the Washington Post entitled, The book that claims Jesus had a wife and kids-and the embattled author behind it (McCoy, 2014). This article shows the spurious nature of Mr. Jacobovici’s past work and questions the validity of his current project.  In the United States, the right to express one’s opinion is enshrined in our founding documents. However if an opinion is not buttressed upon good evidence, it should be given little if any weight at all. From my experience in handling evidence, Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Wilson should not expect to be taken seriously as they have no foundation for their claims and have not presented relevant evidence for their positions. Because of its lack of supporting evidence, the book should be considered as fiction.

References:

Ahmad, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam. 2003. Jesus in india, translated by Qazi Abdul Hamid. London:Islam International Publications. http://www.alislam.org/library/books/Jesus-in-India.pdf date of access: 15 Nov. 2011.

Cargill, Robert. Review of “The Lost Gospel: decoding the sacred text that reveals Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene” by Jacobovici and Wilson. http://robertcargill.com/2014/11/10/review-of-the-lost-gospel-by-jacobovici-and-wilson Date of Access: 15 Nov 2014.

Jacobovici S. and Wilson, B. 2014. The lost gospel: decoding the sacred text that reveals Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene. New York: Pegasus Books. http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Gospel-Decoding-Marriage-Magdalene-ebook/dp/B00L5MQZ1U/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416331942&sr=1-1&keywords=9781605987293  Date of access 18 Nov 2014.

Kirby, P. The gospel of Philip. Early christian writings. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelphilip.html  Date of access: 18 Nov 2014.

McCoy, Terrence. The book that claims Jesus had a wife and the author behind it. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/10/the-book-that-claims-jesus-had-a-wife-and-kids-and-the-controversial-author-behind-it Date of Access: 15 Nov 2014.

Co-Conspirators, Colson, Early Church Leaders, and the Resurrection

I recently ran across a quote from Chuck Colson regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ that made me think about the disciples and their unswerving dedication to Jesus. Not only does Colson’s quote (I will share it in this post) remind me of the devotion of the disciples, but it also reminds me of my experience with federal conspiracy trial defendants.  These items demonstrate to me that the Bible accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are reliable.

One of the core missions of the U.S. Marshals Service is the protection of the federal judicial court process. If there were no provisions made to protect the integrity of the federal judiciary system, then the system would be open to corruption from an external entity. For instance, if mechanisms, procedures, and manpower allocations were not provided for its protection, then the court facilities could be damaged or destroyed, court officials could be harmed, and those in–custody defendants going to trial could be broken out of custody if the requisite security arrangements were not provided. The U.S. Marshals Service is mandated to provide these protective services to the federal judiciary and specifically for my discussion here, provide for the safekeeping of in-custody witnesses and in-custody defendants as they go through their legal proceedings in federal court.

A particular example of an external entity attempting to thwart the federal judicial system occurred on March 9, 1988 in Roanoke, Virginia and was reported by the The Free Lance Star in its article entitled, Trial set for prisoner who attempted escape. See link to article:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19880810&id=7P5NAAAAIBAJ&sjid=04sDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5033,4212185

Two deputy U.S. marshals were transporting an in-custody defendant to a medical clinic after he had been charged and arrested for bank robbery.  The medical escort had been arranged by the USMS because this defendant had complained of chest pain to the jail staff where he was being housed during his legal proceedings.  Unbeknownst to the transporting deputies, accomplices (co-conspirators) of the defendant were laying in wait for the prisoner escort detail to depart the medical clinic. When the defendant departed from the clinic, an ambush occurred. As the ambush unfolded, two armed assailants attempted to free the defendant and confronted the deputies, the two accomplices were shot and killed by one of the deputies, and the defendant remained in-custody to face additional charges related to this escape attempt. This is just one example of how our justice system could have been damaged by external forces.

I mention these facts as a foundation for what I have noticed regarding those charged with federal conspiracy crimes. In these criminal conspiracy proceedings, there are often many defendants charged under one criminal conspiracy.  For example, investigators will gather evidence on an entire drug ring to include the leaders, the mules, those who manufacture the illegal drugs, the street sellers, etc. and then bring the entire organization into the federal system for prosecution. Oftentimes, I have observed where many of these in-custody defendants, whose custody status is maintained by the USMS, will plead guilty and testify against the remaining co-conspirators in the trial proceedings. In some instances, all of the conspirators will plead guilty. During the process of pleading guilty, the defendants normally will give an account of their illegal activities as well as the illegal activities of the other co-defendants.  The motivation for pleading guilty and testifying against their other co-conspirators is a reduced sentence.  In certain cases, some co-conspirators will not serve any time in prison because of their cooperation with the prosecution.  So there is great motivation to be truthful about one’s illegal activities and the crimes of other co-conspirators when facing federal prosecution.

In relation to the Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I think that it is telling that after these events occur, none of the disciples who witnessed these events come forward and reveal, in particular, that the post-resurrection experiences of the risen Jesus Christ were actually a fraud. In fact, there are New Testament accounts of several who were imprisoned for being leaders of the Christian movement. In particular, Peter and John were jailed for their testimony about the risen Jesus Christ and the religious authorities of that day directed them to stop speaking about Jesus to include his resurrection (Acts 4:1-4). But Peter and John kept on proclaiming the message of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life through the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Moreover as you may be aware, it is known that Peter eventually was martyred in Rome in the A.D. 60 timeframe while he led the church there.  Paul is also martyred in this same era in Rome even while he proclaims the truth of the risen Jesus Christ, whom he had experienced decades earlier, even as he worked to persecute Christians.  In fact, these accounts of the martyrdom of early Christian leaders are great circumstantial evidence for the truthfulness of the Gospel accounts; that all of the disciples who witnessed the resurrection, with the exception of John who was exiled, never recanted their faith in the risen Jesus Christ even under pain of torture and death.  Chuck Colson, one of the infamous Watergate burglars of the Nixon era who later converted to Christianity said of the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible (Colson.  Date of Access: 3 November 2014).

In further corroboration of Paul’s martyrdom, Paul himself writes about his impending death as he says good-bye to Timothy.   In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he describes his current state and that the time for his departure was near (v. 6).  The accounts of the martyrdom of the disciples are also noted in the writings of the early church fathers who wrote about this martyrdom of not only Peter but also Paul.  Clement of Rome wrote of both the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:

Consider the noble examples of our own generation. Through jealousy and envy, the greatest and most righteous pillars were persecuted even to death. Let us set before our eyes the good Apostles: Peter, who through unwarranted jealousy not one or two but many toils, and having thus given testimony went to the place of glory that was his due. Through jealousy and strife Paul showed the way to the prize for endurance. Seven times he was in chains, he was exiled, he was stoned (Clement, 1970:7-8)

To further corroborate the existence of Clement and his relationship to Paul, he is mentioned by name by Paul in Philippians 4:3 as one who “has contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel.” So, not only does Paul testify about his own coming martyrdom, but Clement who was one of Paul’s associates during Paul’s ministry, testifies of Paul’s death for the cause of Christ.  Another early church witness to the resurrected Christ was James, the brother of Jesus. His martyrdom by stoning and his relationship to Jesus are mentioned by the Roman historian Josephus (Josephus, 1987:538) who wrote contemporaneously about these events.

As I consider my experience with maintaining in-custody federal co-conspirators, it makes sense to me that if the circumstances surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were fraudulent, then one of the disciples would have surely “spilled the beans.” My experience with federal co-conspirators is that they often plead guilty, will admit their criminal activity, and will testify regarding the  crimes of their criminal partners in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence.  Chuck Colson was right; twelve men would not have gone to their deaths hiding the secret that the resurrection was a fraud. Rather, they would have admitted their fraudulent scheme, and would have testified against the other disciples in order to avoid the sentence of death. This topic also makes me thankful for the great sacrifices of these early church leaders. Without their writings we would have never known about the sacrifice of Jesus, once and for all, for humanity. However, because of their willingness to tell and to write what they had witnessed regarding Jesus, those in later eras would know about the “lamb of God,” who sacrificed himself not only to atone for my sins but also for the sins of any other person who begins a relationship with him.

Clement. 1970. The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1 (W. Jurgens trans.). Colledgeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.

Goodreads. Charles W. Colson>quotes. http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/27694.Charles_W_Colson. Date of access: 3 Nov. 2014.

Josephus F. 1987. The works of Josephus: New Updated Version, Complete and Unabridged in one volume (W. Whiston trans.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing Co.

Mead, E. 10 Aug. 1988. Trial set for prisoner who attempted escape (in The Free Lance-Star:35). http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19880810&id=7P5NAAAAIBAJ&sjid=04sDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5033,4212185 Date of access: 3 Nov. 2014.