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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Is it Easter Season yet? -- last I heard this was still coming Easter season 2014, but it's been in the process of coming now for several years (since at least 2010). I haven't heard anything new about it being still on the way, but since things are kind of slow here right now I'm bumping this post up again to remind people not to panic if someone tries to make hay out of this along with the (so-called) "Gospel of Jesus' Wife", which was pre-marketed the previous autumn (2012) but referring to a much different text (one likely a modern forgery unlike this text).

In fact it was a bit of recent news about the 2012GJW which inspired me to wonder whether the 2013GJW was also still coming this Easter: the Smithsonian had made a documentary on the 2012GJW that somehow didn't get released in the USA after a strong scholarly case was made about the text's forgery. A reader at Mark Goodacre's blog happened to find a French version of the documentary on Youtube, however, which Mark (and the Smithsonian originally I guess) posted about yesterday. The 45 minute doc can be watched here, by anyone reasonably fluent in French (though I am not): http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2014/01/gospel-of-jesus-wife-smithsonian.html

Mark thought it was a pretty balanced work overall, and noticed very quick additions about the question of forgery that, naturally, go unanswered in the doc because the interviews were made before that became an issue.

To be fair, the scholars involved in promoting the 2012GJW seem to be subsequently cautious about trying to capitalize on it further; but if this other text being pre-marketed last year actually shows up this Easter season, I wouldn't be at all surprised if 2012's GJW managed to ride the brief gravy train somehow while the gravy was good. {wry g}

A collection of Mark's articles following 2012's brewing GJW media circus (not to be confused with 2013's brewing tempest in a teacup, concerning a completely different text, reported about below), can be found here.


************originally posted Oct 26, 2013************

Whilst poking around elsewhere on other business, I happened to run across New Testament historian Mark Goodacre's blog (now added to the blogroll over on the right), where he and Richard Bauckham (whom I am also a bit of a fan of) have managed, a few weeks ago, to conspire together to explode next Easter's scheduled marketing sceptical conspiracy foofaraw ahead of time.

Unfortunately for Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson, the project they've been trying to whip up into a froth for the past few years, supposedly a lost gospel kept secret in England for over 200 years and feasibly dating back to the 1st century (from a 6th century copy of a 5th century text), is being outed ahead of time as nothing other or more than a Syriac copy of the well-known 1st century Jewish poetic romance of Joseph and Aseneth -- a text Mark Goodacre happens to be very familiar with.

Now, it is certainly true that some ancient Christians who (like a lot of people back then, and still today who know about it) enjoyed and appreciated this text, also liked to draw parallels between Joseph and Jesus, somewhat on the line of their application of the Song of Songs to Jesus; and since Aseneth (or Asayath in the Syriac) is obviously a major character in the romance, she would naturally be compared to the Church -- and not only the Gentile Church but the Jewish Church, just as non-Christian Jews compared her to God calling the Jews out of paganism, and perhaps still calling pagans into Judaism today, with prophesies in the Jewish scriptures, which we call the Old Testament, that God will one day be totally successful in reconciling Jews and Gentiles together. (Prophesies picked up by early Jewish Christians like Paul of Tarsus in helping build and lead the Christian Church in evangelism across the Roman empire.)

This is all fairly plain sailing, but add some "decoding" and, hey presto, this well known text (which probably predates the ministry of Jesus) isn't about Joseph and Aseneth at all, or Gentiles converting to Judaism at all (in the dicey but opportunistic situation of early 1st century Palestine under early Roman occupation), but about Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene the Gentile priestess! Which the Church doesn't want you to know about BECAUSE IT'S A CONSPIRACY OoooooOOOOOOOOOOooooo! {ka-ching}

Uh, no. That Syriac text has been translated into English twice, except for the Joseph and Aseneth part which wasn't translated because we already have plenty of those from much better and older sources, though this particular copy (from a previous Greek text) has probably already been factored by textual critics into critical translations.

Which might explain why the duo have had such problems getting the work off the ground to begin with over the past few years: it's going to be reaaaaaaaalllyyy easy for scholars absolutely everywhere (regardless of their faith or lack of) to go, "Guys, it's just Joseph and Aseneth, which is a very nifty text, but nothing being held secret by anyone or even untranslated before now."

Having had their Jesus Tomb theories repeatedly thrashed by scholars on every side of the aisle for clumsy opportunism, probably didn't help their chances of getting this going either.


Still, as Mark says (who has been extremely charitable toward the project since he ran across it himself), "The key thing will be to read Jacobovici's and Wilson's book when it comes out, and to assess its claims with a fair mind. After all, we too might be surprised!"

For more on the pre-breaking story (so to speak), the relevant entries so far at Mark's blog (which I highly recommend anyway) can be found here:

http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/jacobovici-and-wilsons-lost-gospel.html

and the followup by Richard Baukham

http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-bride-of-god-or-lost-gospel-of.html


And since Mark is a big fan of the Aseneth poem, he's been taking the opportunity to update his page on it (adding and fixing links etc.), so anyone who wants to read the poem in various languages and versions can find a lot of info here:

http://markgoodacre.org/aseneth/


If it turns out, as seems highly probable now, that this is only going to be a report about the Syriac Joseph and Aseneth poem translated from Greek by the friend of an anonymous monk while translating Zachariah Rhetor's Ecclesiastic History (and a handful of some other things he thought were cool) into Syriac, then we can all just tamp down on any speculative panic-mongering when it arrives next year, and then take the opportunity to indulge in a bit of well-deserved appreciation for a text with a rich Christian (and Jewish) literary history.

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