CLAIMS that the discovery of a "lost" early Gospel at the
British Library would lead to a re-writing of the New Testament
were dismissed this week by biblical scholars.
The book, a sixth-century translation into the ancient language
of Syriac from a first-century Greek volume, is said to suggest
that Jesus married St Mary Magdalene and fathered two sons,
Manasseh and Ephraim. He was also the target of an assassination
plot by a love rival, and had close political ties with the Roman
But Church House described the claims as sharing "more with Dan
Brown than Matthew, Mark, Luke or John", and the Revd Dr Diarmaid
MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church in the
University of Oxford, called it "the deepest bilge".
Publicists for a new book, The Lost Gospel, based on
research into the find, said, however, that it was a "story
comparable to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls".
Its authors are Simcha Jacobovici, an Israeli-Canadian
documentary film-maker and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies
at Huntington University, Indiana, USA; and Barrie Wilson,
Professor of Religious Studies at York University, Toronto,
They spent six years analysing the 29 chapters of the manuscript
The Ecclesiastical History of Zacharias Rhetor of
Mytilene, even calling in US forensic experts to photograph
the vellum manuscript 13 different ways to "see" through
alterations to the original text.
The British Museum bought the manuscript in 1847 from a dealer
who said that he had obtained it from the ancient monastery of St
Macarius, in Egypt. It was lodged in the British Library archives
two decades ago.
The authors say that conflict between rival groups in the early
years of Christianity mean that the book was written in a coded,
symbolic way to protect it from alteration or destruction. Thus
Jesus and Mary become Joseph and Aseneth in this version.
But in a blog this week, the Director of Communications for the
Archbishops' Council, the Revd Arun Arora, said: "Ever since Dan
Brown found an audience with The Da Vinci Code, an
industry has built up around 'direct-to-the-public
pseudoscholarship' in which a combustible combination of conspiracy
theorists, satellite channel documentaries, and opportunistic
publishers have identified a lucrative income stream."
He continued: "The Gospels as they stand make extraordinary
claims about Jesus. They talk about his life, death and
resurrection. . .
"There's no need to marvel at the claims of 'the lost Gospel'.
The genuine ones do the job well enough."
The Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity
at the University of St Andrews, the Rt Revd Dr Tom Wright, who is
a former Bishop of Durham, said: "Every six months or so there is
another such 'discovery' [which does] nothing to shake the faith of
those who know a little about ancient history.
"There is not a shred of early evidence for this kind of rumour.
It requires, of course, a massive conspiracy theory - that the
Early Church managed to hide this 'fact'. But people love
conspiracy theories, especially if they show the Church up in a bad
The Professor of Bible, Culture and Politics at the University
of Sheffield, Dr James Crossley, described the book as "yet another
sensationalist claim" about Jesus's being married which "is more
likely to be useful data for appreciating the market for modern
sexual fantasies about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It is not likely
to be of any use for understanding the Jesus movement in the first
"We simply have no idea if Jesus was married with children. It
may have been too banal to mention at first or it may not have been
mentioned because he was unmarried. A text, not about Jesus or Mary
Magdalene, but about two entirely different figures from a
manuscript several centuries later is unlikely to add
Dr John Court, Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Biblical
Studies at the University of Kent, said that the book seemed
similar "to a number of fairly notorious ones by scholars chancing
their arm over decades back. My first reaction is that this is
publicity to sell the book. I don't think I shall be rushing out to
Smith's for a copy."
Press column - 'After
the mushroom, the manure'