Monday, August 10, 2020

NT Pod 94: Review of Ariel Sabar's Veritas

Ariel Sabar, Veritas

NT Pod 94 is my review of Ariel Sabar, Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife. It is just under 19 minutes long.

NT Pod 94: Review of Ariel Sabar's Veritas (mp3) 


  1. Thanks for your review Mark. Here's mine:
    Ariel Sabar, Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife (NY: Doubleday, 2020)
    At a glance, the fake so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife might seem to be old news, but this investigative report reveals new aspects that should concern us. And it documents and engagingly narrates the appalling train of academic mistakes.
    “Confirmation bias” is a term that may go back merely to the 1970s, but as an occasional reality it is as old as humanity. Sometimes one of us becomes dead set in believing just what one wishes to be true. (Could such a custom-fit “ancient” text be manufactured to mislead me? Neveryoumind.)
    At first, Prof. Karen L. King reportedly thought an email offering a papyrus with Jesus mentioning “my wife” was quite likely a fake. She had published on the manuscript in Berlin of the Gospel of Mary. And here was a man claiming to have on him a related manuscript! It turned out that he was also experienced in Berlin, West and East. But she later changed course, and ran with it, despite red flags. (Disclosure: my late dear Mom graduated, cum laude, from Harvard Divinity School; I think her favorite prof was Krister Stendahl.)
    Harvard Theological Review got, for King’s proposed article on this margin-less non-continuous pastiche odd text written with something other than a traditional pen, two negative peer reviews. For the third reviewer, see page 285. They did delay publication until tests showed that the ink was carbon-based—ink that anyone can make today—and that the papyrus was genuine—but dated not to ancient but to medieval times! As Myriam Krutzsch and Ira Rabin (New Testament Studies 61.3 2015) and others caution, scientific tests can check for anomalies, anachronisms, but these are not authenticators.
    Here are some quibbles with the book, maybe minor. Sabar helpfully mentioned other suspected fakes. But he wrote (p. 34) about Morton Smith’s “Secret Mark” that “Eminent scholars added the Secret Mark letter to the standard edition of Clement’s works.” And (p. 35) “That Clement wasn’t known to have written letters made the find all the more curious.” Adding, provisionally, a text uncertainly attributed to an ancient author is hardly an endorsement. (Compare editions of Posidonius.) And Smith in his snarky article, in Harvard Theological Review 1982, “Clement of Alexandria and Secret Mark: The Score at the End of the First Decade,” may have overstated the extent to which the letter was accepted as genuine Clement; at least one scholar listed as agreeing has denied that. (See also Eric Osborn, “Clement of Alexandria: A Review of Research, 1958-1982,” Second Century 1985 291-44.) And Clement was indeed said to have written letters. Sabar cited (pp. 15-16 and endnote) a 1989 article by Tal Ilan on how extremely widespread was the most-popular female name, Mariamme or Maria, which is fair enough, but better, with considerably more data is her 2002 book, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I, Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE.
    One of the values of this fine and readable book is its emphasis on the importance of investigating provenance. Especially of claims of “writing into” or “writing out of” important ancient texts.
    Stephen Goranson

    1. Many thanks, Stephen, for these helpful reflections.