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JAMES LASDUN OFFERS a compelling title in “Bats on the Ceiling,” a review in London Review of Books, September 24, 2020, of Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, by Ariel Sabar. 

Lasdun’s review runs 4464 words, with plenty of details making Sabar’s book sound like a well-wrought mystery tale. Which, in a sense, it is. Here are tidbits in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow. Among them are selected parts of Lasdun’s review that made me laugh out loud. I also include my usual Internet sleuthing.

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, by Ariel Sabar, Doubleday, 2020.

Hollis Professorship of Divinity. Lasdun begins his review by recounting the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies at the headquarters of the Order of St. Augustine in Rome. “Among the speakers,” Lasdun notes, “was Karen King, the first women to hold the Hollis Professorship of Divinity, Harvard’s oldest endowed chair.”

The Seal of Harvard’s School of Divinity.

Jesus’s Wife. Lasdun writes, Karen King “was in Rome to announce the appearance of a new text: a fragment of papyrus the size of a business card, which she named ‘The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.’ The fragment contained eight lines of Coptic, including two broken-off but highly suggestive phrases concerning a woman called Mary: ‘…Jesus said to them: ‘My wife… …she is able to be my disciple…’ ”

According to Wikipedia, the Coptic language dates from the New Kingdom of Egypt, its Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties in the 16th through 11th centuries B.C. 

Luke 5.5–9 in a Coptic manuscript dating from the eighth century A.D.

The Coptic language continued in use into the Middle Ages.

Was This Mary Magdalene? But then, Lasdun questions, was she “a prostitute and passive embodiment of repented sin” (as Church Fathers so designated) or did she play “an active role in Jesus’s ministry?”

Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1631. See also

Thus, a great many ecclesiastical marbles were involved: among them, the Church Fathers’ priestly celibacy and the exclusion of women from ordination.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll continue this tale of Jesus’s wife, the scholar, and the con man. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020 

2 comments on “HOLY CON! PART 1

  1. Larry Crane
    September 26, 2020

    Dennis, do we have a translation of this text?

    • simanaitissays
      September 26, 2020

      Sure. “Veritas” in the seal is Latin for “Truth,” a rare commodity these days.

      And from the Coptic, Luke 5.5-9 begins “And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”

      Whatever happened to a classical education? Harrumph.

      I trust you and Tracy are fine and taking care.

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