Apocryphal Gospels, Conspiracy Theories, and the Mainstream Media

The public loves a good conspiracy theory.

If we really want to know what Jesus was like, our best bet is to rely on books that were at least written during the time period when eyewitnesses were still alive. And there are only four gospels that meet that standard.

 

One thing that I have observed over the years is that major media outlets love apocryphal gospels.  Whenever the person of Jesus is discussed–usually at Easter and Christmas–there is always a discussion about how the real story of Jesus has been suppressed and can only now be found in these lost gospels.

Sweeping claims are then made about how there was no agreement on much of anything in the first four centuries of the faith and that other stories of Jesus circulated by the thousands. Only after Constantine came along does the church decide which books to accept (and then subsequently denies all other books admission to the club).

When you think about it, this sort of historical reconstruction makes for an attractive magazine article or newspaper story for our modern media.   The public loves a good conspiracy theory.  People want to believe that there are “secret,” “hidden,” “lost,” or “forgotten” (the four most common words used in such stories) accounts of Jesus that will finally reveal the truth once and for all.

And, of course, everyone likes to believe that the Church is just like all institutions–corrupt, authoritarian, and concerned only about preserving its own power.

In a 2012 blog article, Phillip Jenkins demonstrated the media’s tendency to highlight these sort of conspiracy theories. They follow the apocryphal gospel playbook step by step.  For example, the UK Daily Telegraph, when discussing the death of NT Professor Marvin Meyer, gives this assessment of gospels in early Christianity:

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