New Evidence That Jesus Had a Wife and Family... Really?
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
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.
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.