cover image Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife

Ariel Sabar. Doubleday, $29.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-54258-6

In this entertaining outing, journalist Sabar (My Father’s Paradise) tells the story of a mysterious scrap of papyrus and the scholar who staked her professional reputation on it. As a writer for Smithsonian magazine, Sabar investigated the story of Harvard professor Karen King and her so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, supposedly discovered in 2012, which quoted Jesus as calling Mary Magdalene “my wife.” If it was in fact an authentic document, it would have unsettled conversations about Jesus’s life, ministry, and relationships. King’s fall comes after carbon dating established the papyrus to be of medieval origin and an article of Sabar’s forced King to retract her claims of authenticity for the “gospel.” In the second half of the book, Sabar allows himself to emerge as a character in his own right—the hero who ferrets out fraudster Walter Fritz, who fabricated documents of authenticity for the papyrus fragment and had fooled some of the brightest minds in biblical studies. Sabar’s narrative can be challenging to follow at times, in part because of the large cast that spans centuries, and also due to a frustrating aimlessness about exactly what mystery Sabar sees as central to his narrative: how the fraud happened, or the reasons—political, financial, and psychological—people were carried away by it. Still, this meticulous account is packed with enough intrigue to keep readers piqued. (Aug.)