Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Beloved Disciple: Not John or Mary Magdalene but Judas, son of Jesus (?)

O.K. so I bought the book. I was in Chaucer's yesterday buying travel books about the Middle East for a trip this summer when I spied it prominently displayed on a table by the door. Since I'll be screening the documentary with my students Sunday night, I sheepishly added The Jesus Family Tomb to my stack of books and got in line to check out.

Skimming the book, I landed on the Conclusion in which Simcha Jacobovici muses over how the and film came to be, and what it all means. Several bits caught my eye including this recollection of how the media executives reacted when they first screened the film:

There was nervous laughter in the room, and then the executives fell back on executive-type talk: How close to Easter should we play this? How long should it run? And my favorite: We should adopt a skeptical tone throughout (p.193).
It's just a brief glimpse behind the curtain, to be sure, but it's also a good reminder that television is, above all, a commercial enterprise cloaked in a veneer of sober minded journalism. If I were Simcha, I would have left that part out.

Simcha uses his Conclusion to boil down and press the book's thesis. It also contains, however, several howlers. Like this:
"the only reason two unrelated individuals, male and female, would appear together in a family tomb in first-century Jerusalem is if they were husband and wife."
This is so palpably illogical that I read it multiple times looking for a typo. Let's see: we haven't established that it is a family tomb in the first place, and the filmmakers only ran DNA tests on two of the nine ossuaries, and no one knows how many people's bones were stored in each one, and either of the two DNA contributors could be related by blood, or by marriage, to someone else in the tomb (including someone in the same bone box!). Perhaps I'm missing something or maybe Simcha was suffering from authorial fatigue. Even James Tabor, one of very few religion scholars to publicly support the project, acknowledges that
any family tomb of this type, whether that of Jesus or anyone else, can have individuals not related by blood to the main clan.
Here's one more example of how bold indeed is Simcha's thesis (and why I should have saved my $27.95). It turns out according to Simcha that Didymus Thomas (see Jn 11:16; 20:24; 21:2), who is explicitly numbered among the Twelve in John's Gospel, is Jesus' son, whose real name, as inscribed on the Judah-bar-Jeshua ossuary, is now known to be Judah.

Does the fact that "Thomas" and "Didymus" mean "twin" mean that the Gospels are hiding something? Could it be that "the Twin" wasn't actually a twin but was Jesus' son? Could "twin" be code language designed to protect the child from Roman rulers who were inclined to kill not only royal pretenders but their offspring as well?

Breathless stuff, this. But there's more. This son of Jesus is also the cryptic "Beloved Disciple" of John's Gospel, the one who famously reclined on Jesus' breast at the Last Supper (Jn 13:23). How do we know? Because, as Simcha explains, no one but a son would snuggle up to Jesus like that:
Unless your eating habits are very different from mine, at my dinner table only my kids cuddle with me and lean against my chest. The Beloved Disciple, therefore, is clearly very young.
To what authority does Jacobovici turn to bolster his argument? To a woodcut of 16th century German artist, Albrecht Durer. So there you go: it must be true. So Dan Brown's hypothesis that the breast-leaner was Jesus' wife must give way to another--it was his child. (Perhaps Mary Magdalene was nearby, serving drinks.)

I'm surprised that Simcha doesn't seem to know that Jesus and his disciples did indeed have different eating habits from ours: they ate reclining, leaning on one elbow, so that pretty much everyone was reclining on someone else's breast.

Given that his story has by this point taken on a Fletch-like quality, we shouldn't be surprise that we are invited to identify Didymus-Judas-Thomas (i.e., Judah, son of Jesus a.k.a. the "Beloved Disciple") as the unnamed young man who fled naked from the scene of Jesus' arrest (Mk 14:51-52). Here was Jesus' son, watching in horror as his father is arrested, then fleeing the scene to relate through tears what he saw to his mother who is, of course, Mary Magdalene.

This connection between three historical figures--Thomas, the Beloved Disciple and the young, fleeing disciple (bracketing, for the moment, its corollary that Jesus of Nazareth was a father)--is wildly speculative, historically problematic and sure to be ranked among the least serious elements of Jacobovici's proposal.

UPDATE (3-6-07): Danny Zacharias has a nice post on the "supposed literary evidence for Jesus' son" in which the identities of the various figures here mentioned are examined.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you want an intelligent and closer evidence of truth about who the Beloved Disciple was, visit here: http://www.bibleandanthroposophy.com/Smith/main/disciple/disciple.html
...here: http://www.hccentral.com/eller8/index.html
...and here: http://www.thegospelofjohn.com/
Although they're not fully accurate to the truth, they don't miss the most plausible identity.
Another thing, Jesus' tomb lies in the South of France and Mary Magdalene was still pregnant of his first child when he was crucified.

Apoc

Anonymous said...

It's amazing to me how issues of faith can be so logic-tilting to the majority of my acquaintances. Having read the book I was thrilled by the POSSIBILITIES presented. I also thought that some of the 'facts' that were presented in the book were, in fact, mere conjecture on the author's part. A similar methodology is, in my opinion, generally being utilized by established religions to trash the entire work. A book has many aspects, one of which is to entertain. To quote Einstein: "...progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal." I say: try to imagine without drawing blood.

Anonymous said...

I've never read the book but the idea of "Beloved disciple" being Jesus' child occurred to my mind just yesterday. It's fascinating that someone else came up with this. Obviously it's a speculation. But not more so than traditional speculation of Jesus brothers not really being his brothers. Therefore I wouldn't dismiss the idea of Judas Thomas being Jesus' son merely on the grounds of not fitting into the official story.