Lost Gospel or Lost in Gnosticism?
On November 12 Pegasus Books released The Lost Gospel: Decoding
the Ancient Text That Reveals Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene
by Simcha Jacobovic and Barrie Wilson (Jacobovic also made a
companion film documentary as part of his Bible Conspiracies
television series which began airing December 2014 on the Science
Channel). As the title indicates, the reader can expect to read some
startling assertions about Jesus, but are they new or simply old
claims in a new package?
Considering the authors previous work, it is safe to say
this isn't the first time they have wandered down this trail. In
fact, Wilson, a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion, teaching religious
studies at York University, is probably best known for his book, How Jesus Became Christian.
In it he argues Jesus was simply a Messiah want-to-be rather than God
- a theology he maintains was fabricated by Paul, along with the resurrection
story - a view shared by The
Lost Gospel coauthor, Jacobovic.
Though Jacobovic has a degree in philosophy and
politics, based on his previous works, one might think him a trained
archaeologist or expert in the study of antiquities. However, he is
probably best classified as an investigative journalist, producer,
and director. The
Lost Gospel is not his first attempt to prove Jesus and
Mary Magdalene were married.
In a previous work, The
Jesus Family Tomb, Jacobovic claimed a tomb discovered in
Jerusalem in 1980 contained the bones of Jesus and his family.
Concerning these, he wrote, "...in the Talpiot tomb they found
ten ossuaries [boxes for bones], six with inscriptions. The inscribed
ones include a 'Matthew,' a 'Joseph,' two 'Marys,' and a 'Jesus, son
of Joseph'" (The
Jesus Family Tomb p. 61). Of course, if Jesus were
buried here the resurrection is not true.
Despite the fact that the archaeologists who originally
cataloged the find had considered and dismissed any possibility this
was the tomb of the biblical Jesus (a fact included in his book),
Jacobovic resolved it would have to be the biblical Jesus due to,
what he considered, the unlikely odds that another Jesus could have
been born with a father named Joseph and placed in a tomb with two
women named Mary - a fact he believes strengthens his conclusion
since Jesus' mother was named Mary. However, even he acknowledges the
ossuary identified as Mary does not include "mother of
Jesus" or "wife of Joseph" as part of its inscription.
The other Mary is identified on the ossuary inscription
as "Mariamne," and despite the fact the inscription does
not include "Magdalene," he jumps to the conclusion she is
not a blood relation to the Jesus bones and must be Mary Magdalene.
Rather than letting the evidence speak for itself, this is an obvious
twisting of the evidence to match one's previously held position.
Otherwise, why would he have the Jesus and Mariamne bones DNA tested
and, based on there being no familial relation, conclude this proves
Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married (Interestingly, the tomb also
included the bones of a child identified as Judah, son of Jesus, who
Jacobovic says is the child of Jesus and Mary Magdalene - yet he
isn't mentioned in The
Just Google It
Given the same facts with no preconceived ideas about
Jesus, would one draw the same conclusion? Of course not! So, how did
he really connect Mariamne with Mary Magdalene? What evidence did he
rely upon? Try Google.
Jacobovic, in 2003, he visited a friend and asked him to see if there
was a connection between Mary Magdalene and Mariamne? Describing that
conversation, he wrote that his friend replied, "...today we
have the Internet. Why don't we look into it right now?" He
googled "Mariamne" and then turned slightly pale.
"Look, Simcha...According to modern scholarship," he read
out loud, "Mary Magdalene's real name was Mariamne" (The Jesus Family Tomb p.
This is not a finding rooted in the historical record.
In fact, a google search of Mariamne will turn up others with this
name before connecting it with Mary Magdalene. And, when the name is
associated with Mary Magdalene, guess who pops up first? You guessed
it - Simcha Jacobovic.
Ignoring the other Mariamnes, Jacobovic and his friend gravitated
to the one that fit their own ideas about Mary Magdalene - the Mary
Magdalene of the Gnostics. And, as we will see, it is the so-called
Gnostic Gospels - not the canonical Gospels of the Bible that play a
central role in Jacobovic's works.
this he and Wilson write, "Gnosis is the Greek word for
'knowledge' or 'insight.' The Gnostics were those Christians who did
not follow what became known as 'orthodox' or 'catholic'
Christianity...Put differently, in the early phases of Christianity
Jesus' followers had at least two brands of Christianity to choose
from - Gnosticism and Paulism" (The Lost Gospel p. 157).
In describing these two they write, "While for Paul's followers
Jesus was a god, for the Gnostics he was a guide and a teacher sent
from the one true God to enlighten humanity and to act as a catalyst
for spiritual growth, maturity, and redemption." (The Lost Gospel p. 160).
As the record reflects, long before this latest effort,
it is clear both Wilson and Jacobovic were committed to the idea that
Jesus was just a man - not God. Furthermore, Jacobovic was well
acquainted with gnostic literature and the belief that Mary Magdalene
and Jesus were married and had children. In reading their book one is
hard-pressed not to think they are interpreting their evidence in
light of preconceived conclusions about Jesus' life. To put it
another way, if one simply considered the documents presented by
these men, it would be difficult not to say their conclusions seem
farfetched, at best.
While at times Jacobovic appeals to the
"evidence" he claims to have found in the lost tomb of
Jesus, this time he bases his conclusions on a document, Joseph and
Aseneth, which he and Wilson describe as "a centuries old
manuscript [found] in a long-forgotten corner of a library."
This intriguing description might cause one to think they have
discovered some long lost document; however, immediately before this
assertion they write, "...we don't claim to have excavated a
long lost text" (The
Lost Gospel pp. X-XI). So, despite this apparent attempt
to make their document different from all other copies, it turns out
the difference is primarily in how they interpret it.
Who Are Joseph and Aseneth
authors' claims otherwise, Joseph and Aseneth is not new to scholars
and many translations and copies of it exist. To use the authors own
investigative tool, a quick Google search reveals much has been
written about this document long before The Lost Gospel. There is even a
scholarly website dedicated to it, created in 1999 (http://www.markgoodacre.org/aseneth/).
The majority opinion overwhelmingly interprets this story as
being about the Joseph in Genesis, something that will come as no
surprise to anyone reading Joseph and Aseneth who is even remotely
aware of the Genesis account. Consider the following summation of Joseph
Joseph, a high ranking official in Pharaoh's court, who
worships the God of Israel, is offered Aseneth in marriage. Her
father, Pentephres, is the priest of the Egyptian deity Heliopolis.
Initially, Joseph refuses to marry her due to her worship of false
gods; however, after being rejected by Joseph she casts her idols
out, repents, and turns to the God of Israel. An angel then visits
her in her bedchamber and affirms her actions. Afterwards, she and
Joseph marry and have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. The story also
includes a failed attempt by Pharaoh's son to have Joseph
assassinated so he could marry Aseneth.
In the story Joseph is described as one who came to
Egypt as a captive - a shepherd's son from the land of Canaan - sold
into slavery by his brothers. He is alleged to have been thrown into
prison for having intercourse with his master's wife and subsequently
rescued by Pharaoh for interpreting Pharaoh's dream. His father was
named Jacob/Israel and during a famine he joined Joseph in Egypt
along with his other sons who are named in the story: Simeon, Levi,
Gad, Dan, Naphtali, Asher, Rueben, Issachar, Zebulon, Judah, and
Almost all of these details correspond with the Genesis
account of Joseph, including his marriage to Aseneth. However, Joseph
and Aseneth offers much greater detail about Aseneth than the Genesis
account, which is extremely brief. Nevertheless, the two accounts
agree on these points: she married Joseph and bore two sons -
Manasseh and Ephraim and was the daughter of a priest (Genesis
41:45-51; 46:20). It is the added information that leads to many of
the assumptions made in The Lost Gospel that are outside mainstream
scholarship regarding this story.
While no one knows who wrote Joseph and Aseneth, from a
cursory reading it seems obvious the writer was attempting to clarify
an obvious issue some might have with Joseph having married a
Gentile. As Dr. Robert Cargill, Assistant Professor of Classics and
Religious Studies at the University of Iowa, has stated:
"As prohibiting intermarriage became a bigger and
bigger deal in the Second Temple period, many Jews began to see the
problem with Joseph's marriage to Aseneth, as Joseph was said to have
not only married an Egyptian, but the daughter of an Egyptian
priest!...The popular ancient love story of Joseph and Aseneth serves
as an apology explaining why a righteous Israelite patriarch like
Joseph would marry the daughter of a pagan priest...The biblical
account says Joseph married an Egyptian woman, so Joseph and
Aseneth explains that Aseneth first converted, and therefore was
eligible to be married to Joseph" (Review of the Lost Gospel, Robert Cragill).
Jacobovic and Wilson put an entirely different spin on
the story - one that can only be found through reinterpreting the
Bible, history, and a heavy reliance on the Gnostics. The story they
unravel begins at the feet of a statue of the Greek goddess Artemis
and will cause one's head to spin at their dizzying conjectures of
what might have been. For, according to The Lost Gospel, the Joseph
and Aseneth story is actually a story written in code and that code
must be broken in order to rightly understand it.
Can You Say Conspiracy
This is based on what amounts to be a conspiracy theory
held by those like Jacobovic and Wilson who believe the true
teachings of Jesus and his disciples and the history of the Church
were perverted by the Apostle Paul and others in history who hijacked
the "real" gospel by making Jesus God and adding a
resurrection story. According to this view, as Paul's influence grew
the truth about Jesus would diminish until the Emperor Constantine
"officially" had Jesus declared God at the Council of
Nicaea in 325 AD.
These conspirators believe the Church then banned and
destroyed writings such as the Gnostic Gospels, which taught a
different view of Jesus, in order to cover up the "true
story" of Jesus. In line with this belief, Jacobovic and Wilson
claim the author of Joseph and Aseneth was one of these Gnostics and,
fearing the Church would destroy it, wrote in code - preserving the
truth in a story in which the main characters are to be understood as
types of Jess and Mary Magdalene.
To support their view, conspirators will ignore the
historical record, maintaining it is untrustworthy. They commonly
express it as, "history is written by the winners." In
other words trust me - not history. As Jacobovic and Wilson explain
it, "There are really two Christian worlds: the world of the
winners (Paul's followers, which includes all the official Christian
groups today) and the world of the losers (those who were banned,
burned, ostracized, and driven underground). It's from the world of
the losers that Joseph and Aseneth emerges" (The Lost Gospel p. 283).
In addressing these same claims as made in relation to
The Da Vinci Code, I wrote, "Though these documents were
destroyed, that they existed certainly had not been swept under the
rug. Irenaeus, an early Christian theologian and a disciple of
Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote Against
Heresies to address some of the heresies of these Gnostic
Da Vinci Code: The Facts Behind the Fiction,
New Code or Da Vinci Code
Fortunately for the reader, the authors claim to have
decoded the story and determined the following:
- Aseneth is actually code for Mary
- Joseph is actually Jesus/Helios
- Pharaoh's Son is code for Germanicus,
the adopted son of the Roman Emperor Tiberias
- The wedding of Joseph/Jesus/Helios to
Aseneth/Mary Magdalene/Artemis in part establishes ritualistic
sex as the means to worship God
familiar? If so, it is possibly because you read The Da Vinci Code by
Dan Brown or perhaps saw the film adaptation. For much of what this
book puts forward is just a regurgitation of Brown's book and others
like it, upon which he drew information. In fact the authors state,
"What the Vatican feared - and Dan Brown only suspected - has
come true. There is now written evidence that Jesus was married to
Mary Magdalene and that they had children together" (The Lost Gospel,
A major distinction between what Brown wrote and The
Lost Gospel is that Brown claimed his book was a fictional account
based on facts; The Lost Gospel is a book claiming to be fact but
based in fiction. As Dr. Cargill notes:
"...as an archaeologist and a tenure-track
professor at a major research university, I must recommend against
this book. Just don't bother. Were it a Dan Brown-esque novel,
positing a speculative interpretation about the relationship between
Jesus and Mary Magdalene utilizing a fanciful allegorical
interpretation of a document written six centuries after Jesus came
and went, I'd say buy it and have fun...But the problem with this
book is that Mr. Jacobovic believes what he's writing. He
believes his interpretation is true. He wants it to be
true. And that hovers somewhere between comical and scary" (Review of The Lost Gospel, Robert Cargill).
As an example of Cargill's conclusion, after
acknowledging their awareness of Joseph and Aseneth, the two authors
write, "As Biblical historical researchers, we knew that the few
scholars who had examined the text had expressed bewilderment over
its meaning" (The Lost Gospel p. XI). Apparently,
Jacobovic did not use his "Google-skills" to research this;
otherwise, he and Wilson would have known the commonly held view by
researchers is the story is about Joseph and Aseneth of Genesis. Then
how did Jacobovic and Wilson come to their interpretation? They
write, "Oddly enough, the discovery of the manuscripts meaning
came through an epiphany, a sudden blast of
Artemis Statue Viewed
by the Authors
It gets even
stranger when one considers where this so-called epiphany took place.
It came as they stood before a statue of the Greek goddess Artemis
while in Ephesus working on another project in 2008. Here is their
account from the book:
"In Ephesus, Turkish authorities allowed us to get
within an inch of the imposing statue of the goddess Artemis...we
were able to notice details that visitors could not see from fifteen
or twenty feet away. For example, we observed that her garment was
covered with-bees. More than this, multiple protrusions cling to her
chest. Some [scholars] identified them as breasts. They argued that
since Artemis was a nourishing goddess, she must have had dozens of
breasts...Standing before Artemis, it all came together for us.
Suddenly the meaning of the protrusions became apparent - they were
bee cocoons or, more accurately, queen bee cells. Our eyes now
tracked to the top of the statue. There crowning her head was a tall
Lost Gospel p.XII-XIII).
Can You See Bees
Why are these bees and tower so important to the
authors? In the Joseph and Aseneth story, Aseneth lived in a tower
and there is a scene, during the angel's visit, in which "a
thousand thousands of bees" with gold crowns "circled
around and seized and clung to her from her feet to her head" (The Lost Gospel
This, Jacobovic and Wilson say caused their epiphany.
"We looked at each other at the same time and immediately
blurted out with the excitement of children: 'Could these be the bees
and tower we have been puzzling over in our Joseph and Aseneth text?'
Suddenly our text came into sharp focus. It began to make sense and
the light began to dawn" (The Lost Gospel p. XII).
And, what was that "light"? They continue,
"Put simply, in order to convey the stature of - perhaps Mary
the Magdalene - to his audience, the unknown author of our manuscript
selected a dominant image of his culture, one that he could be sure
his readers would readily understand" (Ibid).
Their description of the statue leads the reader to
imagine a garment covered in thousands of bees as in the story, which
clearly states she was covered from "feet to head."
However, one does not need to be inches away from the statue they
viewed to realize their comparison is incorrect. For, although the
Artemis statue is girded with a belt of alternating bees and flowers,
it is not "covered with bees." In fact there are very few
bees on the garments.
Close Up of Statue Showing More Animals Than
Furthermore, it is interesting that, while they include
photographs in the book, they do not have any depicting the
bee-covered garment that created their epiphany. This is likely due
to there being many more animals on the garment than bees (search for
images of Artemis and you will find the bees on her garment are
greatly outnumbered by animals, such as goats, deer, lions and
bears), which would mean - based on their method of interpretation -
Aseneth should have been covered in animals. Also, keep in mind that
none of the bees on the statue are wearing golden crowns.
Considering the actual appearance of this statue, it is
difficult to believe this is what caused their belief the story was
"code" for Jesus and Mary Magdalene being married or that
Mary was the dominant person, not Jesus. Rather, it appears they
already had that notion in mind and were looking for a new way,
something fresh and intriguing to present their belief. In other
words, surely no one would come to such a conclusion unless trying to
bend the evidence to support a previously held supposition.
For example, let's say it is a widely accepted fact that
wine was readily available in the days of Jesus. Let's add that I
have the wild idea that wine was actually "code" for
carbonated beverage. Now assume that I am pondering this while
walking the back roads of Judea and I trip over an old rusty can.
Picking the can up for closer examination, I see that while the words
on it are barely discernable I can faintly make out the Pepsi logo. "Aha,"
I yell. "Here is proof they were drinking soft drinks in the
days of Jesus."
My assumption is they drank wine in Jesus day and wine
is code for carbonated beverages. Jesus lived in and walked about
Judea. I found an old rusty Pepsi can in Judea; therefore, Jesus
drank soft drinks. Sounds silly, doesn't it? Does it sound any more
silly or "comical," as Dr. Cargill puts it, than the
"eureka" moment described by Jacobovic and Wilson?
They say Aseneth was covered with bees in the story and
the garments on the statue of Artemis are covered with bees. They
further say, Artemis was a "dominant image" of the culture
of the author of Joseph and Aseneth (even though they readily admit
no one knows who wrote the story or when it first appeared). Mary Magdalene
was also a dominant figure in the culture of the Church; therefore,
they conclude Aseneth is code for Artemis/Mary Magdalene.
The jump from bees to Artemis to Mary Magdalene seems
quite a leap indeed. However, it is a necessary leap in order to get
them over their next hurdle and real purpose for the book - rewriting
the story of Jesus. For, in their mind, if Mary Magdalene is
represented by Artemis, what does that communicate about Jesus and
his standing compared to that of Mary Magdalene?
Different Jesus, Different Gospel
Concerning Jesus, the writers speculate he may have been
the son of a Jewish woman who was either in love with or raped by a
Roman soldier. (The
Lost Gospel pp. 202-203). He became a Messianic
figure who declared war on the high priest Caiaphas with the backing
and protection of the Roman commander Sejanus. (The Lost Gospel pp.
261-275). However, upon the death of Sejanus, Jesus no longer
had the protection of Rome and was arrested and crucified. His
disciples removed the body from the tomb in which Joseph of
Arimathaea had placed it and secreted it away to a different burial
In their rewrite of the biblical narrative, Jesus comes
across as little more than a minor player who failed in his task. As
they affirm, "...as in Joseph and Aseneth, and in contrast with
the canonical Gospels, it's the bride, not Jesus, who is front and
Lost Gospel p. 287).
Is this a
This brings us back to Aseneth's tower. Keeping in mind that Artemis
was the Greek goddess of fertility, the authors make much
ado about observing a tower on the head of the statue. Little
wonder this is so important to them as they have determined
Aseneth's tower is "triple code" - as if "code" is
not sufficient. It is reminiscent of young children on the playground
trying to make a simple "dare" have even greater meaning by
making it a "double-dog dare" or a "triple
dog-dare." Don't worry; they explain the triple code, as
one hand, Aseneth's dwelling on top of the tower is a clear metaphor
for the temple. On another hand, there is clear sexual imagery here
with her bedchamber representing the Holy of Holies inside the
temple, There is a third level, however, that would not have been
lost on [the story's] 1st or 2nd century readers...In halakhic
[rabbinic law] terminology, heder [chamber] signifies the innermost
part of the female genitals... Aseneth's body is the temple
containing the Holy of Holies. It is within that sacred space that
redemption occurs, spiritually and physically...So Mary is truly the
Magdalene: she is Tower, Temple, and Holy of Holies" (The Lost Gospel p.
In the author's version of Christianity Mary Magdalene
is the redeemer; she is the leader of the Church. As they clearly
write, "Make no mistake about it: this is not simply about
sexual liberation. It's a different model of redemption. In this
scenario, salvation is not brought about through Jesus' death but
through his life giving marriage, sexual relations, and
offspring" (The Lost Gospel p. 181). "According
to this view, death is not conquered by Jesus resurrection, but by
the new Eve's sex life with the new Adam" (The Lost Gospel p.
theirs is a different Jesus and a different gospel than presented in
the Scriptures. Yet, incredibly and very tellingly, they write,
"But our gospel survived and, though it tells a very different
story from the canonical Gospels, it is not incompatible with
Lost Gospel p. 291). It is telling, in
that they rightly refer to it as "our" gospel, for it is
not the gospel of the first century Church. And, it is incredible in
that they could write so many pages disputing the historical beliefs
of the Church and then say it is compatible.
What they are
really saying is the canonical Gospels are compatible if interpreted
their way. Or as they put it, "Joseph and Aseneth forces us to
reassess enigmatic passages in the Gospel and understand them in a
new way" (The
Lost Gospel p. 292). Such is the basis for
all that has been deemed heresy.
Since the Church first began to proclaim the gospel,
there have been those who offered a "new way" to understand
the gospel - a "new way" to see Jesus. Invariably such
offers also include a "substitute" for Jesus. This stands
in stark contrast to the words of Jesus who said, "I am the way,
and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through
me" (John 14:6).
While one certainly has the right to reject these words
there is no way they can be reinterpreted to Jesus referring to Mary
Magdalene or sacred sex. No, the message would have to be changed or
removed altogether to come to such a conclusion. Jacobovic and Wilson
stand in a long line of those who have previously attempted to make
such a change.
Christians Masquerade as Scholars
But as Dr. Cargill points out, "Absolutely no
scholar will take this book seriously. It will not change
Christianity. It will not change biblical scholarship" (Review of the Lost Gospel, Robert Cargill).
"Anticipating such a reaction, the authors try to
address this in The Lost Gospel: "Of course there is room for
legitimate debate concerning our research and conclusions. But we
know what happened in the past when scholars and journalists
presented facts that did not support Pauline Christian dogma.
Immediately those individuals who masquerade as disinterested
scholars, while taking oaths to defend their churches and their
theologies, [tried] to discredit the findings and the people who
brought them to the world" (The Lost Gospel p. 304).
The authors try to paint all opposition as being from
Christians who are attempting to protect their own boundaries. That
is why Dr. Cargill was chosen as the only opposing scholar quoted in
this review. For, he certainly has no "Christian" agenda as
he is a self-described agnostic and humanist, a believer in human
evolution. Here is what he has to say on this point:
"Scholars won't reject Mr. Jacobovic's findings
because of some "theological trauma" or a confessional,
apologetic desire to preserve the Jesus described in the Bible. I'm
an agnostic. I have no dog in the fight of whether Jesus was married
or not. He could be married and have 4 kids like me and I wouldn't
care. The problem is not a theological one; it is one of scholarship,
methodology, and the (mis)use of evidence. Scholars won't reject Mr.
Jacobovic's claims because they want to defend Christianity, scholars
will reject Mr. Jacobovic's speculations because he engages in
circular reasoning, lacks evidence, breaks any number of rules of
textual criticism, and engages in what I've described in the
past as '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" (Review of the Lost Gospel, Robert Cargill).
It is little wonder that there is no shortage of such
books as The Lost Gospel that are released every Christmas and Easter
season when people are most likely to be thinking about and
interested in Jesus and his message. And, like so many of their ilk,
the authors realize there is money to be made off the person of Jesus
during these seasons. As Christians we can begrudge their doing this,
or we can recognize that the popularity of such books and
documentaries provide us a wonderful opportunity to engage those in
culture, who are drawn to such, with the story of the real Jesus -
Immanuel - God with us!
Jesus loves you this I know, for the Bible tells me so!
For God so loved the world, that He gave
His only begotten Son, that
whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have
eternal life. John 3:16
is the President and Founder of Crosswinds Foundation. Bob has
written numerous articles related to cultural apologetics, coauthored
The Truth Behind
the Secret, and is a contributing author to: The Popular Encyclopedia
of Apologetics and The
Complete Evangelism Guidebook, and produced and scripted
the film documentary, The
Da Vinci Code Revealed. firstname.lastname@example.org