Many internet ‘news’ sites turn out to be the proverbial pig in a poke. There is a proliferation of sites promising to offer fascinating stories of extremely dubious provenance.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the sphere of religion. Hardly a week goes by without a story circulating online about Jesus’ wife, or his children or ‘discovered’ manuscripts that profess to offer fresh insights in to his life and ministry.
This week’s gem for me was enticingly headlined: ‘Newly-Found Document Holds Eyewitness Account of Jesus Performing Miracle’. What natural seeker could fail to be intrigued?
The story claimed that an Italian expert studying a first century document written by the Roman historian Marcus Velleius Paterculus that was recently discovered in the archives of the Vatican, found what is presumed to be the first eyewitness account ever recorded of a miracle of Jesus.
Awesome, right? But here’s the rub: the story is a complete fabrication, and has been floating about the internet since 2014.
But this didn’t stop several respectable news sites quickly re-posting the story when it became freshly viral. Internet advertising is driven by traffic – the number of people who visit a website – so getting people to your site becomes key. Marketers call such stories ‘click bait’.
This is despite the fact that other gems on the site included: ‘Yoko Ono: “I Had an Affair with Hillary Clinton in the ’70s”’ and ‘Australia: 600-Pound Woman Gives Birth to 40-Pound Baby’.
It seems that the allure of the whacky is never-ending. But, why, when we have so much in the scriptures, is there the constant desire – often from very religious people – to want to uncover secrets? Evidently, some of it is normal human curiosity. But, there can sometimes be a hint of Gnosticism too: a belief that within the Gospels there is some sort of hidden message, or that Christ can only be truly understood through secret wisdom.
The fact is, however, that Christianity is much simpler: when Christ is asked the question ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?’ he replies: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind adding that the second great commandment resembles it – “You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also” (Matthew 22: 36-40).
The soul of Europe: This week’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union has aroused great passion on all sides. I can’t help but think that a lot of the rhetoric coming from those pushing for a ‘Brexit’ is, as one friend recently described it to me, a flight from modernity.
The Church has traditionally been extremely supportive of European integration seeing the process, in broad strokes, as nothing more than a concrete application of the universality and consequent relativisation of national identity that is of the essence of Catholicism.
Having said that, there’s more than one way to build an integrated Europe, and the EU’s detractors are certainly correct in some of their critiques of the competence creep that sees Brussels interfere where it has no business interfering.
The EU urgently needs to rediscover the principle of subsidiarity and, as former Polish President Lech Walesa pointed out this week, the set of shared values that underpins the character of Europe. In short, Europe needs to rediscover its soul.
Wither the ‘wife’ of Jesus?
Harvard academic Karen King, who presented a manuscript in Rome in 2012 referring to Jesus’ “wife”, now says she believes it’s a forgery based on an Atlantic magazine article on the Florida businessman who originally presented the document to her.
The fragment, written in Coptic, includes the phrase, “Jesus said to them, My wife”.
Serious scholars immediately raised doubts about the authenticity of the fragment. Dr King now admits – four years later – it is more likely than not that the fragment is a modern forgery.
She cited an investigative article published last week on the website of the Atlantic magazine that raised questions about the owner of the papyrus, Florida businessman Walter Fritz.