Jesus, the Scandalously Good Nuclear Family Dad

Scandal breaks yet again… Newspapers and television reports around the world are touting a new book that asserts that Jesus married the Magdalene and had two kids, and his kids’ names are about to be disclosed for the first time in history.

The most apt response so far is by Diarmaid MacCulloch, as quoted in the Washington Post, “It sounds like the deepest bilge.” Jacobovici has a long history of profiting off of ridiculous theories about archeological findings and literature, and this is apparently the latest attempt.

Besides the obvious, a couple quick clarifications should be made to the reports circulating.

The media is reporting that Jacobovici and Wilson are claiming as their main proof an Aramaic text from the British Library. If the images flashed on the screen of the ABC report are any indication, we are looking more precisely at a Syriac text. We will have to await the identification of the text for a proper response from Syriac experts.

They are also claiming that a story about Joseph and Asenath is in fact a mysterious, symbolic parable about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. If they are referring to the apocryphal narrative of Joseph and Asenath, this is quite a novel and unfounded interpretation. Battifol and others have asserted a Christian, rather than Jewish, provenance to that text, but to my knowledge no scholar has ever claimed it was a parable of the relationship of Jesus and the Magdalene. Again, we should await a response from experts on that text, if in fact that is the text in question.

While the reports hype up the “controversy” around this, the plot seems to me quite predictable and trite. According to these supposedly radical reconstructions, Jesus fits quite nicely into a modern Western nuclear family role of the good dad who saves the woman he marries, has kids, and lives happily ever. That Jesus isn’t scandalous at all, but rather quite respectable. It’s quaint and picturesque, but unfortunately has nothing to do with the historical Jesus.


A reader pointed me to a more thorough response by Robert Cargill that deals especially with the absurd allegorical reading of the Syriac story of Joseph and Asenath as an historical parable about Jesus and the Magdalene:

Update 2:

Here is an ably written piece by Greg Carey debunking the whole charade.

12 years of fermentation

When working recently on my profile, I decided to upload my MA Thesis from 2002 on the doctrine of election and predestination in early Christianity. Over the past two years, while working on other projects, I did make an effort to shop this thesis around to a couple publishers, who did not express an interest. I personally did not have much of an interest in doing the kind of heavy revising that I would want to do to make it more appealing and to bring it up to my current standards of academic research and writing. (There’s nothing quite so humbling as reading one’s work as a student, especially one’s very preachy work as a seminary student.)

That said, I would like it to be part of the scholarly and even popular conversation today about election and predestination, particularly for the sake of ecumenical dialogue among various Christian traditions (esp. Catholics, Orthodox, Reformed, and Wesleyan-Arminian). I’ll leave it to others to decide whether it makes a significant contribution to the topic and discussion. If download counts are any indication, then it is already making a bit of splash, ranking in the top 3% of all texts downloaded from Those interested can download the thesis in its entirety from this page.

When re-reading it, I happened upon a quote that seemed quite poignant, the seed of the idea that eventually became the Rethinking Arminius conference in 2012 and the Reconsidering Arminius book just released by Abingdon.

Arminius does not sever himself completely from the Augustinian heritage. He
still tends to picture the elect in terms of those persons who will finally inherit salvation, equating election with salvation. In this vein, he expresses uncertainty about whether the elect can indeed fall away from grace, basically leaving open the question of the possibility of forfeiting election. He also follows the conventions of his day in thinking about election mainly from an eternal vantage point, though his intuition prompted him to reject the supralapsarian option as contrary to the goodness of God. Though Arminius did not wholly diverge from the Augustinian and Calvinist heritage, he managed to avoid the trap of determinism. This re-envisioning of election and predestination set a precedent for the Dutch Remonstrants, persisting into the Anglican and then Wesleyan tradition. Some persons within the Reformed tradition, like Richard Müller, have started to see the importance of Arminius in historical theology, as well as his close affinity to the Reformed tradition of his day. Though the sharpness of Arminius does not equal the genius of Calvin, perhaps the time is ripe for both Calvinists and Wesleyans to explore his theology in its own right, and to let him invite both groups to a table of mutually informing and beneficial dialogue. (p. 179)



New Publication: Reconsidering Arminius

I wasn’t expecting it to be released until December, as the Abingdon and Amazon pages note, but just yesterday a copy of Reconsidering Arminius appeared on my desk, courtesy of our cataloging librarian here at the Claremont School of Theology. Sometimes Christmas does come early!

This volume was co-edited by me, Keith D. Stanglin, and Mark H. Mann, and it pulls together conference papers, as well as later/additional contributions. The conference was entitled Rethinking Arminius and was held in 2012. I’ll append an abstract below.

The theology of Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius has been misinterpreted and caricatured in both Reformed and Wesleyan circles. By revisiting Arminius’ theology, the book hopes to be a constructive voice in the discourse between so-called Calvinists and Arminians.

Traditionally, Arminius has been treated as a divisive figure in evangelical theology. Indeed, one might be able to describe classic evangelical theology up into the 20th century in relation to his work: one was either an Arminian and accepted his theology, or one was a Calvinist and rejected his theology. Although various other movements within evangelicalism have provided additional contour to the movement (fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, etc.), the Calvinist-Arminian “divide” remains a significant one. What this book seeks to correct is the misinterpretation of Arminius as one whose theology provides a stark contrast to the Reformed tradition as a whole. Indeed, this book will demonstrate instead that Arminius is far more in line with Reformed orthodoxy than popularly believed, and show that what emerges as Arminianism in the theology of the Remonstrants and Wesleyan movements was in fact not the theology of Arminius, but rather a development of and sometimes departure from it.

This book also brings Arminius into conversation with modern theology. To this end, it includes essays on the relationship between Arminius’ theology and open theism and Neo-Reformed theology. In this way, this book fulfills the promise of the title by showing ways in which Arminius’ theology–once properly understood–can serve as a resource of evangelical Wesleyans and Calvinists doing theology together today.


The tallest tale ever: Emmel on the inauthenticity of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

Stephen Emmel recently made a guest post on Alin Suciu’s blog. Emmel has calculated the size of the Gospel of John fragment written by the same modern prankster who created the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment. Based on the size of the fragment and its exemplar (the Qau codex), a full leaf of the Gospel of John fragment would represent either “the tallest (or widest)” of any papyrus codex “yet known.” This adds further proof against the inauthenticity of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus. To put it another way, while the physical dimensions of the Gospel of John fragment would make it the tallest tale ever, that epithet might just as aptly suit the content and creation of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

Here is the link to the post, which provides a summary as well as the full text of the full paper detailing Emmel’s codicological analysis.


Jesus’ Wife Papyrus Forgery: From Blogs to Mass Media in a Week

What was noted on several blogs (including this one) on April 24 has, a full week later, finally started making the rounds in mass media venues:

April 30, Daily Mail

May 1, Wall Street Journal

May 4, New York Times

May 4, PBS NewsHour

May 5, Discovery News

The unfolding of events presents a good case-in-point for the increasingly important role that blogs are playing in the study of Christian origins and scholarly communication more generally. It also shows how important open, digital access to original source texts is to the cause of scholarly inquiry and debate.


Case Closed: Jesus’ Wife Papyrus a Forgery

A couple weeks ago, the Jesus’ Wife papyrus was making the rounds again in mass media, mostly in articles citing chemical/material analysis “proving” its authenticity. Here is one such article:

Back in October of 2012, when Karen King (a professor at Harvard) first announced the text at a conference in Rome, I wrote the following op-ed for a student newspaper:

Just today, a blogger friend and adept Coptologist (Alin Suciu) cross-posted and confirmed the finding of a “smoking-gun” which definitively proves that the “Jesus’ Wife Papyrus” is a forgery:

The piece of paper used was authentic, but its content is just a modern forgery. Sadly, it probably sold for quite a profit on the antiquities market. Even more worrisome is how the forgery so easily fooled various scholars and how the mass media became an echo chamber, probably because the “finding” so nicely fit the trope of the scandalous and controversial, turning upside down traditional/customary beliefs about the celibacy of Jesus. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and its conspiracy theories about Jesus’ secret love relationship with Mary Magdalene make for good entertainment, but not solid grounds for evaluating ostensibly ancient texts.


CBP 13 publication announcement and corrigenda

My first monograph went to press early in March:

Mark Glen Bilby, As the bandit will I confess you: Luke 23, 39-43 in early Christian interpretation. Cahiers de Biblia Patristica 13. Strasbourg: University of Strasbourg; Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. [ISBN 978-2-906805-12-5]

Copies are currently being sold directly from the Brepols website. I have a request in for it to be sold through Amazon as well.

Despite the diligent efforts of myself, the editor and the metteur en pages, some errors did appear in the printed edition. I ask the pardon of the readers for these oversights. Kindly inform me of additional corrections by replying to this post.



Page 32 footnote 52
sermon. -> sermons.

Page 162
Tables 5A and 5B -> Tables 6A and 6B

Page 170, Footnote 171
moreafter -> more after

Page 175
Tables 6A and 6B -> Tables 7A and 7B

Page 206
Table 7 -> Table 5

Page 254
paschavi -> pascha vi

Page 255 footnote 81
nat. IV, lines 37-40 -> nat. IV, 37-40

Page 278 footnote 37
Lk 23, 39 -> Lc 23, 39

Page 282 footnote 50
fid. -> fid.

Page 319
As Syriac references influences, and rapidly multiplied -> As Syriac references and influences rapidly multiplied

Page 350
Esaiah -> Isaiah

Page 360
19: 165-l66 -> 19: 165-166

Page 366
XXXIX: 264, 266 ->  XXXIX: 264-266

Page 368
1: 99
II, 9, -> II, 9, 1: 99

Reflections on the 2nd York Apocrypha Symposium

Last week was a frenzy of activity and excitement for me, especially because I had the chance to attend and speak at the 2nd York Apocrypha Symposium at York University in Toronto ( Tony Burke and Brent Landau organized the event. Speakers included Nicola Denzey Lewis, Lorenzo DiTommaso, Mary Dzon, David Eastman, Mark Goodacre, Kristian Heal, Charles Hedrick, F. Stanley Jones, John Kloppenborg, Lee Martin McDonald, Stephen Patterson, Pierluigi Piovanelli, Annette Yoshiko Reed (giving the keynote), Jean-Michel Roessli, Stephen Shoemaker, Glenn Snyder, Lily Vuong, and yours truly. Needless to say, I felt completely out of my league.

Fortunately, my presentation seemed to be very well received. In it, I gave a survey of the various legends about the co-crucified bandits, from their initial emergence in Palestine in the 4th and 5th century, their reformulation in an Egyptian setting starting in the 6th and 7th century, and their export to the Latin West in revised forms starting around the 11th or 12th century. I attempted to set aside the scholarly preoccupation with the names of the bandits and instead focused on the legends as various examples of the cult of Dysmas as a patron saint. Tony and Brent are starting to gather together a volume of conference papers, and I’m hoping that my paper will make an appearance there.

It is hard to summarize how wonderful the symposium was. The papers were consistently excellent, the discussions thoughtful, the conversations international in scope and import, and the times of collegiality truly refreshing and enjoyable. It was a wonderful blend of scholars of a variety of ages, backgrounds, and specializations (New Testament, Gnosticism, Apocrypha, Patristics, Medieval), and this diversity proved mutually advantageous in myriad ways. I was especially grateful to meet Mary Dzon, an English professor and Medievalist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, who shares my fascination with the legends of the bandits. In fact, Mary has an excellent and extremely well-researched chapter on the medieval legends of the bandits. It is forthcoming in a book entitled, Diuerse Imaginaciouns of Cristes Life': Devotional Culture in England 1300-1560 (Brepols, 2014). I’m really thankful to have been a part of such a gathering.

If I could sum up the import of the conference, I’d simply say that it exploded a lot of the conventional boundaries in early Christian studies, especially the boundaries between non-canonical and canonical literature, between so-called apocryphal and so-called Gnostic literature, between patristics and apocryphal literature, between homilies (and commentaries, and novels, and poetry, and art, and film, and comics, and even video games) and apocryphal literature. In other words, the so-called apocrypha, so often relegated to a status of ancillary curiosity, is the life-blood of Christian theology, literature, and imagination, both in antiquity and even today.

On a related note, David Eastman and I are talking about organizing a session at the upcoming NAPS (the North American Patristics Society) that looks at how the legends of the apostles are conveyed and presumed in Biblical interpretation. To paraphrase David, Augustine does not read the Pauline epistles merely as a source for theology. Instead, he reads them as reflections of Paul as a martyr, even a North African martyr. Something very similar could be said in regard to the Gospel of Luke, a topic I am currently exploring in several articles in the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. The books of the Bible are never detached from the legends of the persons whom tradition said composed them, nor the legends of the characters within them. To put it yet another way, Biblical studies is essentially a subspecies of hagiography. Thus, the task of critical Biblical scholarship is to trace out the fluid yet inextricable links between the stories in the holy books and the stories of holy persons (i.e., saints and their legends).


Brepols’ autumn publication brochure

Brepols’ Autumn 2013 list of forthcoming publications includes my first book. I’m getting excited! The Cahiers de Biblia Patristica has a fairly simple cover design and doesn’t include any artwork. This blog seems like a nice place to supplement a piece of art that is discussed in the book. The Rabbula Gospels, composed ca. 586 CE in Syria, contains the earliest extant illustration of the crucifixion. It also seems to convey one of the most notable and influential tropes found in early Christian interpretation, namely, John Chrysostom’s trope that Jesus and the bandit saw each other “with the eyes of faith”. For a detailed exploration of this trope and its afterlife in homilies and art, you’ll have to read the book when it is published this November. In the meantime, I’ll leave it to you to see and decide whether Chrysostom’s trope was in the mind of the artist who gave us this illustration.



6th cent. 586 Rabula Gospel Crucifixion half page color