Veritas: ~ by Ariel Sabar

This is a very good book by a well regarded journalist who follows the subject, but there is so much information that even at only 338 pages of narrative, I have to call it a baggy shaggy monster.

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife 
By Ariel Sabar8/11/2020 – 338 pages 
Read by Robert Petcoff – 15h 32m 
Rating –  8 – true crime/ history 
(Read and listened) 


 I down-rated it because parts are too laboriously detailed and it gets to be a kind of “much of a muchness.” Then it all gets old when Sabar gets into the sex stuff in various ways. There’s way too much information on almost everything from the backgrounds lives of the major players, the ink types, and the translation(s) of ancient Coptic writing, to the examination of Egyptian papyrus. All that’s in addition to kinky and illicit sex in Florida and child abuse in Germany with a bit of post-modern literary theory thrown in.  

This is the story of a scrap of papyrus with ancient Coptic handwriting conveying the idea that Jesus was married. It turned up in the hands of a Harvard professor in religious studies via an anonymous source. Sabar focuses primarily on the involvement of Dr Karen King who was the contact of an “anonymous” collector.  I think I may have read something about this a few years ago when Sabar wrote his articles for the Smithsonian and Atlantic magazines. He continued the search for the truth of the matter until this date.   

There are times when Sabar outdoes Dan Brown (and the stories are related) for drama and other times it’s more like reading John Crossan, the renowned New Testament scholar.  I prefer Crossan although Brown can cut a good plot line. 

To me though, it’s True Crime fiction with a kind of journalist’s procedural sorting out how the expert historians plugged along verifying the scrap of papyrus which came across the path of one of their own, as well as how Sabar went about his investigation with the assistance of some interested media.   

There are three different threads Sabat explores. The first is the fragment of papyrus itself and the archeologists who examined it and what it meant to Karen King and the Early Christian history community.  The second is the sleazy back story of how that papyrus came to be in the hands of Karen King and Harvard Divinity School.  This concerns a lot of material on Walter Fritz.  Then there is a large section about Karen King and her development into the scholar she was.  This all gets very psychoanalytical.  

Then there is the detailed examination of the papyrus to figure out it was a fraud, a forgery at all and then to connect that to Fritz, or not.  Who did this laborious footwork and hid it?  The first part is pretty straightforward and deeply interesting. The second and third parts intertwine and are either sleaze or investigative work.  

When Sabar gets really into the story of Walter Fritz the story gets more compelling, but there’s a lot of pseudo-psychoanalytic stuff there.  Much of this seems like padding. 

There’s a lot of material such as names, dates, details, events and procedures and Sabat pushes each thread to the saturation point and then switches threads.  The threads do connect up within the tale, sometimes.  

Overall it was a good read for me what with my interest in True Crime and Christian history but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.

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