It’s Monday and as I scan my Twitter feed and engage in some research before my baby wakes up again, I am alerted that there is now another “Jesus was married and had a couple of kids” scandal about the web. Once again, Simcha Jacobovici who is neither a Biblical Scholar nor Archaeologist, not a Theologian or Ancient Languages specialist-- but plays one on tv-- has set out to prove that an ancient manuscript is proof of Jesus’ other life and a fifth gospel.
The manuscript Jacobovici is drawing from is an ancient papyrus of the apocryphal book of Joseph and Asenath, Jacobovici posits that Joseph and Asenath acts as an allegory for the relationship between Jesus and Mary of Migdol and that this is how it has always been understood in the Syriac. The authors of the “Lost Gospel” intend to hold a press conference later this week and unveil the names of Jesus’ and Mary’s children which is sure to stir controversy and hike book sales.
While I am grateful to colleagues like Dr. Marc Goodacre who take to the airwaves to debunk flawed research, I am also, always grateful for any new conversation about Jesus. My challenge to the church is, rather than bashing this book from the pulpit and forbidding churchgoers to read it, let’s help congregations develop some much needed critical thinking skills and analyses tools to approach the question broached by the “Lost Gospel.”
What if we used this Advent to talk about who Jesus really was and the world he was born into? What if we could give some time and space to Palestine under Herod, and thus, under Rome. What if we spoke of the uprising that occurred at Herod’s death and the rape, pillage and mass crucifixions with which Rome answered. What if our sermons helped people imagine the socio political landscape into which Jesus came so that his words and actions made sense in his own context such that, in turn, we could apply those meanings to our lives today? What if we could really understand the wonder of the illogical God who as an act of divine love chose to come to the world as a poor babe to an unwed teen in a small no consequence village during a time of political oppression?
What if we, dare I say it, read from the Apocrypha, from Joseph and Asenath and talked about how communities might have understood this text to have been code for Jesus and Mary and asked, why or why not? What if we just allowed ourselves to look at Jesus with fresh eyes, to survey literature from his time period and tried to understand who he was in flesh and blood terms so that the gift of his flesh and blood could astonish us again?
What if, a generation of Christians who believe they know everything about Jesus learned they know nothing about Jesus; what if we were confronted by the man who preached against wealth and modeled the radical love of the poor and needy? What if thousands of women and men who have vowed to follow Jesus bumped into him, into love incarnate, and learned he was leading us in an entirely different way; what if we were converted to the following of this one who never owned a home and never rushed anywhere and gave over his life for the good of others? Well, then this Advent we’d welcome Jesus with bruised and humble open arms and the media circus of the “Lost Gospel” would have been well worth the trouble.