Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Richard Bauckham, Assessing the Lost Gospel: All in one

All seven parts of Richard Bauckham's assessment of Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene (New York: Pegasus, 2014), are now available combined into one article, which I have uploaded here:

Assessing The Lost Gospel [PDF] [Word]

Many thanks to Steve Walton for doing this and sending it over.


James David Audlin said...

Dr. Mark Goodacre, thank you very much for posting this, and for your Joseph and Aseneth site overall. I have been referring students and readers to the latter with nothing but praise for it. Your superb site flies against the Jacobovici/Wilson allegation that there is some secret cabal on the part of scholars to ignore and hush up "Joseph and Aseneth". Quite a few of us must not have gotten the memo, since there are several translations and critical editions.

Richard Bauckham's comments on "The Lost Gospel" are of the excellence I have come to expect from him. I'd like to summarize a few points that I have been making myself about the failures of "The Lost Gospel".

One is that Jacobovici and Wilson claim a description of Aseneth's face as red and sweaty means she was sweating drops of blood. But blood is not mentioned in the text, in Syriac or Greek. The blood only appears in Jacobovici's and Wilson's interpretation. The two then go on to say that this phrase is a code, associating Aseneth with Jesus, who according to the Gospel of Luke sweated drops of blood before his arrest. Of course their book's overall intent is to say Aseneth is coded Mary Magdalene, not Jesus, but in their eagerness to misrepresent the text of "Joseph and Aseneth" as mentioning drops of blood they hope we readers fail to recall that Mary Magdalene is never said to have sweated blood. The context is Aseneth, as a spoiled pagan teenager in her wealthy father's home, throwing a hissy fit in response to her father informing her that he has arranged her marriage. Needless to say, there is nothing in common between this depiction of a wilful girl and the passion of Jesus before his execution.

Related to this is the fact that Luke 22:44 does not appear in several early manuscripts, and therefore is doubtful as to its originality; it is not an easy assumption that the author of "Joseph and Aseneth" was aware of what is probably a relatively late addition to the text of Luke. (I for one am extremely doubtful that "Joseph and Aseneth" was written well after the decades in which the significant early gospels were being composed; I think it predates the life of Jesus.

Another issue is that Jacobovici/Wilson fail to inform us how Ephrem, several centuries after "Joseph and Aseneth", can know it's a coded gospel when nobody else makes the same assertion in the intervening time - how did the knowledge get to him over the centuries? One is that Ephrem lived in the mid-fourth century C.E., centuries after the composition of "Joseph and Aseneth", and another is that there is nothing in his poem to tie it to that Jewish novel. In fact, Ephrem's poem, insofar as it briefly mentions Aseneth, appears to be entirely based on Genesis 41:50. We only have Jaobovici's and Wilson's assurance that Ephrem is talking about the novel, since nothing in the text suggests that Ephrem is basing his comments on an interpretation of the novel as a "coded gospel".

As a response to Bauckham's discussion of Ephrem's poem, the poem in its entirety (ignored by Jacobovici and Wilson) clearly is speaking of the spiritual descendants of Joseph and Aseneth who have become in Ephrem's day "the Church", and not of actual descendants of Jesus and Mary. The deleted lines also show us that the poet was just as likely talking about the Virgin Mary in the quoted lines as Mary Magdalene.

Purely as an aside, I'm not as sure as the highly estimable Bauckham that J&A was originally composed in Greek; after going over the Syriac and the Greek, but without engaging in an intense study of the work, I still held and hold the thought that it could have been composed in either language.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

James, Thanks for your comments and interesting observations. Just on your last point, the letters with which Pseudo-Zacharias introduces the Syriac version tell us that it was translated from Greek. (Of course, the Syriac might still be useful as a witness to the original Greek, because the MS is older than any extant MS of the Greek.) If you did nevertheless maintain that the Syriac is the original language, then surely you can't also maintain an early date for the work. Syriac as such did not exist BCE (it's a later development of Aramaic).

James David Audlin said...

Ah, Prof. Bauckham, allow me first to say it is a privilege and a delight to "connect" with you; I have become an increasing admirer and appreciator of your writings.

First, I have not studied the text sufficiently to make more than a provisional comment as to which language J&E was written in. I've gone over it with reasonable care in Syriac and I've consulted the Greek version here and there. (Ah, the joys of retirement, that I can read such works in a desultory manner!) In my comments above what I am saying is that I'm not as confident as you that it was written in Greek; it may well have been, but in my view not necessarily, and I do indeed lean toward some variation of Aramaic or Hebrew. It is a thoroughly Jewish work in my view, and yes, I realize you lean toward seeing it as proto-Christian; even if we see it as proto-Christian, I think there's little doubt in anyone's mind (except those of Jacobovici and Wilson) that J&A fits snugly into the context of other similar very Jewish works of that time, such as Jonah, Tobit, Susannah, and Ruth. Certainly there were Jewish fictions written in Greek, and certainly there were Greek novels at the time (Achilles Tatius, Lollianus, and the brilliant L. Apuleius leap to mind). Still, I think there are enough examples of such "inspirational novels" in some variation of Hebrew or Aramaic to lift up the chances that J&A was first composed that way. And yes, the Syriac variation of Aramaic appeared in the first century C.E., just as you say. I hesitate to call it a dialect, since my sense is that it was largely an invented variation, rather than spontaneously occurring in some cultural region. But of course there were quite a few dialects and variations of Aramaic at the time, and there was (as you know) quite an industry of converting popular texts from one dialect or language to another. Given the lateness of the Syriac J&A, I suspect that possibility, that it (and the Greek) are the results of this industry. Zacharias's comment does not necessarily counter this surmising; he could be perfectly right that a Greek version prepared from the text in its original form was later put into Syriac - given the likely date of the Syriac manuscript, there is plenty of time for that to have been the case. I might point, as an example, to the Revelation, a text I have studied with care, and which I am currently translating from the Crawford, but with one eye always on the Greek Textus Receptus - I think it is a certainty that the Revelation was composed in Aramaic, and someone (not the author) slavishly, too literally, translated it into Greek, such that the good Aramaic converts into Greek grammatical horrors - and then the Philoxenean, Harklean, and probably the Peshitta were produced by putting the Textus Receptus back into Aramaic. (I can't help but recall Mark Twain's famous too-literal translation of his "Celebrated Jumping Frog" into French and then back-translating into English for astonishingly comical results, but that's what we who do this work often must contend with!)

James David Audlin said...

P.S. I was responding to your comments, Prof. Bauckham, and then your comments disappeared, and another one appeared, and now yet another. I'm a tad confused -- but what I saw of the second tells me that I was wrong to say that you are sure J&A was composed in Greek. Therefore, I will simply quote the Great Jacobovici, and conclude that we aren't that far apart after all! :-)

Unknown said...

When I wrote my first comment, now deleted, I was stupidly forgetting that Pseudo-Zacharias presents the Syriac version as translated from Greek. So I substituted the comment that's now posted. As I now understand what you're suggesting, you're postulating an original Aramaic form of JosAs, but agreeing that the Syriac version we have is merely a translation from Greek. My view is that JosAs was probably written in the 4th or 5th century CE, but this depends on interpreting the symbolism of the text as very much Christian. Ross Kraemer and Rivka Nir have done a lot to establish the Christian character of the text, and I would agree with some of the case that each of them makes, but I think they have missed some key points, such as the dependence on Paul.

James David Audlin said...

Ah, thank you for explaining. Again, my comments on J&A are not founded on an intensive study of the work; I have been for the past several years fully consumed by my work on the Presbyter's oeuvre in both Greek and Aramaic. Indeed, I am merely suggesting that the case is not incontrovertibly made, that we keep the door open to the possibility that J&A was written in some version of Aramaic. If I had the time to take on it, I'd do a line-by-line comparison; this produces much information with the GOJ and the Revelation, for instance, where I find doubles entendres and literary references in one language not in the other.

Again with the preamble that I have not devoted the time to the text that would be required to say the following with confidence, my cursory reading of it a year or two ago did not leave me with the sense that it was a Christian text. It might have an overlay of Christian phrasing (à la Beowulf), but even that does not strike me as self-evident. Still, the text as we have it, in both Greek and Syriac, was scribed in the C.E., and thus it would not be unlikely for a Christian scribe to reword slightly, perhaps without even being consciously aware of doing so, because some phrase in J&A comes close to a familiar phrase in the Christian texts. I've got two more volumes to go on the Johannine oeuvre, and then I can spare more time for fascinating texts like this!

James David Audlin said...

P.S. I should add that I only looked at J&A as much as I did because of some superficial resemblances in one scene to the scene at the spring, not well (πηγη, ܡܥܝܢܐ ,מַבּ֫וּעַ in John 4. As of course you know, in one scene Aseneth is brought a pitcher of water from a “spring of living water” in the courtyard, a phrase suggesting מַיִם חַיִים, a spring like in John 4. In the water she sees that her face is “like the sun and her eyes like the morning star arising.” Immediately after that, Joseph comes and marries her. The pitcher and the spring of living water are motifs in the meeting in Samaria (which I don't think is with some random woman).

Stephen Goranson said...

For those interested, Tony Burke (translator of the Syriac version of Joseph and Asenath) commented on "The Lost Gospel" and Richard Bauckham's assessment on his blog Apocryphicity (a Jan. 20 comment to a Jan. 17 post):

Unknown said...

It’s controversy time. The Lost Gospel, a new book has brought about an old claim in a new print.
This controversial book of allegorical fantasy decoding has brought my attention merely for the reason that it is Simcha Jacobovici again!
Last time, as I remember, he came up with “Lost Tomb” and “James Ossuary” and when proved wrong, he went missing. If his missing can be decoded then “Lost Jacobovici found” would have been the ideal title to term his new book.
In the preface to the Book “The Lost Gospel” the authors Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson begins with this sentence: “What you are about to read is a detective story………….” So it is a story after all! So I am thrilled! After all, detective stories are out of stock these days! The title they chose for their book is also as misleading as the text they claimed to have decoded. They should have had a look at Webster or Oxford for words like ‘lost’ and ‘Gospel’ before enforcing such error!

They promise in their book to take me to a mysterious journey. So I oblige to be part of their journey to the “mysterious world”
They claim they have decoded an ancient manuscript which gives evidence for Jesus’ marriage to Marry Magdalene. My eyes shine with an expectation of a discovery. Concrete evidence that Jesus was real and he was a human in all aspects, is on the way! Bingo! My eyes flashed as the authors inform me that I have to use the same method that they have used to see Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the text! I have to rekindle my speculative allegory and wear the lenses that these authors used! Not a bad idea after all, if that would give me what I am looking for: a shred of evidence that he married Mary Magdalene. They are sure they did find the evidence but for me to buy what they found I need to have wishful speculation which my chess brain already has in abundance. But will that be enough?

Before they go to provide decoding material, pose serious questions regarding the missing years of Jesus from eighth day of his birth to the first day of his public appearance. In doing so they find the exact phase where they could fit this decoded message. The Lost years of Jesus’ life as the Bible Texts are silent about these. Now the stage is set. The manuscript fits into the missing years. Decoding the manuscript and fitting the evidence into the missing years, they say they have provided the missing link between Jesus’ public and personal life.
So based on their evidence, before his public ministry he got engaged, married and produced children.

But married whom? It is Mary Magdalene! So my eyes began to roll over the book pages to find the episode of Marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene! My problems are neither over nor these authors gives me sign that it will be soon over. Rather I get more and more confused! There is no mention of Jesus at all in this ancient text! There is no Mary either! The text is all about Joseph and Aseneth, their engagement, marriage, sex and children!

I looked for help and so came the help in the form of replacing technique! Mac has to be replaced with windows! That is the first code! Replace Joseph of the text with Jesus! It is that simple a code! So I have to replace Joseph with Jesus. Next I have to replace tower with cover! Aseneth to be replaced with Mary Magdalene! Well done I have decoded! Now I am eligible for decrypting! I could even get an offer from FBI cyber department!
What the hell! I am duped! I look for a Tony Blair in British Parliament and they give me a Bill Clinton episode!

Unknown said...

Now I begin to ask myself: But why the insistence upon Jesus’ marriage and why decoding was required? Why the author wrote these in allegory? If at all it represents two people why it should be replaced with Jesus and Miriam Magdalena and not any other characters? If he indeed Marry, then why his followers would suppress it?
Again why there is so much interest in the marriage of Jesus? What are the historical evidences that support this purported marriage? We don’t need ranting and raving, we don’t need coding and decoding, we don’t need allegory and wishful speculations. We cannot shoot in the dark and say “I shot a demon.”
In this article I will review the historical evidence as well as the evidence based on this particular Book. All these controversial claims about Jesus and in particular his marital status was born of the popularity of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown which advocated a fictional thesis that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had a child together and the Vatican covered up this truth for self-serving reasons!

Unknown said...

There are numerous ancient writings which claim to be Gospels and mention the direct relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene without the need of any decoding. They are straight to the point and yet they failed to give me convincing proof! Here is a text which asks of me to have textual swapping and fancy speculation! This allegorical logic is clearly faulty. Using this technique one can even go on to state that Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba can be decoded as Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Outside Bible, one can even use Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet as characters worthy of swapping! It is that silly…… well you know it!
I find nothing that could prove their point. Using a silly interpretive technique, these writers give us nothing but lack of evidence and wishful speculation!

Give us facts sir and not wishful speculation of something which is not there and not meant to be!
But finding facts isn’t easy however, because the New Testament Gospels offer only scanty sketches for and against the marriage of Jesus. They neither say he was married and fathered children nor do they state that he was unmarried. This silence has given rise to conflicting speculations; one such is the claim of Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson. They, in their book, pose a speculative decoding of the manuscript and arrive at the conclusion of Jesus’ marriage at the expense of these silent Gospels. It does seem rather fantastic to imagine that if Jesus had been married to Miriam of Magdala, whom we know as Mary Magdalene or to any other woman for that matter, this fact would have been completely omitted from all of the earliest records of Jesus’ life. Those who claim that the earliest Christians conspired to hide this information because it confirmed the fact that Jesus wasn’t divine forget that the supposed conspirators often gave their lives because they believed Jesus to have been divine. Would they have died for something they knew to be a lie? Well Jacobovici, I rather doubt it.