Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife by Ariel Sabar
Knopf Doubleday: 8/11/20
review copy; 416 pages
Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife by Ariel Sabar is a very highly recommended true story of a religious forgery and a scandal.
The story starts in 2012 when Dr. Karen King, a Harvard Divinity
School professor, announced at a conference the discovery of an ancient
fragment of papyrus on which Jesus calls Mary Magdalene "my wife." If
true, a married Jesus would change the 2,000 year history of
Christianity. King titled her discovery "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife,"
which served to provoke Biblical scholars and threaten traditions.
Debates over the small scrap of papyrus raged as its authenticity was
brought into question. Author and journalist Ariel Sabar set out to
investigate the mystery of where the manuscript originated. His search
is a detective story in its own rights as he traced it back to rural
Florida and an internet
pornographer. This is the story of what happens when a scholar decides
that the story she wants to believe is more important than the actual
The account is in two parts. The first details how King came to learn
about the manuscript, her background, and the events from her shocking
announcement to her fall and retraction after carbon dating and an
article by Sabar. The second half has the author becoming part of the
narrative as he finds the owner of the forgery, Walter Fritz. He
searches for and follows the provenance of the manuscript, uncovering
the questionable authenticity as well as other irregularities in the
experts King used. He also finds information that may point to at least
part of the motivation behind King's original decision to look at the
small scrap of papyrus. This is a well-researched and documented true
life detective story about a forgery that fooled a scholar, but it also
examines the motivations of all the people involved.
One central fact which emerged is that King allowed the social impact
of what she wanted to believe was real blur her search for truth and
authenticity. Even things she should have questioned or reserved
judgement about were overlooked for the story she wanted to be true. "Her ideological
commitments were choreographing her practice of history. The story came
first; the dates managed after. The narrative before the evidence; the
news conference before the scientific analysis; the interpretation
before the authentication. Her rich sense of what Christianity might
be - if only people had the right information - too often preceded the
facts." This is a fascinating account of a forgery and scandal. It is
lengthy and can be a slow read at times simply due to the amount of
research, facts, and information Sabar has included in the account.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday.