I heard there was a book coming out that contained the translation of an ancient manuscript that revealed that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered two children before the crucifixion. “That’s fascinating,” I thought, “and also unsurprising.” The Merovingian kings of France were purportedly the descendants of Jesus, though that’s always puzzled me because they were pagan before Clovis converted to Christianity. Apocryphal New Testament texts suggest a close relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The idea that Jesus was married isn’t new or even particularly shocking.

As I read this article from the Washington Post on the book, The Lost Gospel, I have to agree with the article’s final word, given by Diarmaid MacCulloch, the author of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years: “It sounds like the deepest bilge.” And, in fact, it does. It sounds about as authentic as the Jack-the-Ripper DNA evidence from a few months ago, which is to say it doesn’t sound authentic at all.

You have a fifth century manuscript that has been treated as unremarkable for two centuries. Two scholars say this unremarkable fifth century manuscript is actually written in code, so that when it talks about Joseph and his wife Aseneth, what it’s really talking about is Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Now, it’s possible. The manuscript could be using code names. However, the simpler explanation is that it’s a fifth century manuscript about two people who were really named Joseph and Aseneth. A Reuters article posts out how unremarkable this manuscript is:

[Professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary Greg Carey] says “over three hundred scholarly books and articles devoted to this text” can be found online, with over twenty manuscripts of the story. The ancient novel needs no “decoding,” Carey says, as it simply has no secret meaning.

Add to that the fact that it’s a fifth century manuscript. It’s not contemporary to the events that may have happened in first century Palestine. (I use the term “may,” because I’m a semi-mythicist on the question of the New Testament’s historicity; there’s as much evidence for an historical Frodo Baggins as there is for an historical Jesus.) No New Testament manuscript dates to the first century CE — all we have to work with are later copies — but the books of the New Testament are attested to by early church theologians. This manuscript? Not so much.

And then there’s the fact that one of the authors was involved with the fraudulent James Ossuary. (This was a burial relic which, it was claimed, belonged to James, the brother of Jesus.) Again, Reuters: “Simcha Jacobovici, has been previously criticized by some scholars for his other takes on the history of early Christianity. Jacobovici has been involved in court suits, after being accused of publicizing scientifically dubious theories, and Discovery Channel once listed his documentary among the top 10 scientific hoaxes of all time.”

In short, we have a non-contemporaneous manuscript which doesn’t use the names Jesus or Mary Magdalene being pushed by a known hoaxer of Biblical artifacts.

“Deepest bilge” seems almost too kind.

Again, there’s nothing remarkable or controversial about the idea that Jesus, assuming he was an historical figure in first century Palestine, was married. This new book, whatever it purports to be, doesn’t prove it.

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