A week ago, we Jesuits of the Pontifical Biblical Institute were informed in the course of a regular community meeting that our main lecture hall would be in use on March 20 at the request of a former faculty member (Salesian Father Frank Moloney) for the public launch of a novel he had co-authored with Jeffrey Archer. The Rector apologized in advance for any inconvenience caused by the event itself and for any ructions caused by attendant publicity.
That publicity — both before and after the event — gave rise to lurid headlines ("Pope Gives Blessing to Gospel of Jeffrey Archer") and to nonsense of other kinds as well. Here’s the lede from the Times of London:
Jesus never turned water into wine, He did not walk on the water and He never calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, according to a new ‘Gospel’ published today with Vatican approval and co-authored by Jeffrey Archer.
The following points are offered in correction of errors of fact, emphasis, or interpretation given in the English-speaking media:
- The Pope did not "bless" the Archer-Moloney novel.
- The Pontifical Biblical Institute provided the bottled water at the speaker’s rostrum for the Archer-Moloney press conference. Its scholars had nothing whatever to do with the book’s content.
- The Archer-Moloney novel was not "published with Vatican approval."
- No biblical scholar, including my former colleague Fr. Frank Moloney, believes Fr. Frank Moloney to be "the world’s greatest living biblical scholar."
- Fr. Moloney is not "one of the Pope’s top theological advisers."
- The International Theological Commission, of which Fr. Moloney was a member, enjoys the same level of teaching authority as the Philatelic Office of the Holy See — that’s to say: zero.
- The teaching of the dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum §11 has not been abrogated.
In crudely commercial terms, the authors’ choice of Rome as a launch-site and their promiscuous use of the words "Vatican" and "Pontifical" in their promotional efforts was a shrewd move. Hype apart, though, the notion that biblical scholarship or Church teaching has been advanced by the novel is unwarranted.
Yesterday I heard this discussed on Vatican Radio and I found the explanation by Jesuit Fr. Stephen Pisano, Rector, Pontifical Biblical Institute to be rather lame. That allowing the presentation did not show endorsement and that they only want to encourage a forum for scholarly discussion on some aspects of New Testament Study and that they relied on Fr. Maloney to explain his reasons for his own participation on this subject. He called the allowing the book to be presented "there is a risk of using the institutes name for commercialization" and that this was an unavoidable side effect. Seem to me that it would be totally avoidable by now allowing the presentation in the first place. He then went on to say that if this book encourages people to read the Bible more carefully, etc, then this presentation will be justified. This seems to me to be the same excuse used by some Christian groups who teamed up with Sony encouraging people to see the Da Vinci Code movie because it would spark debate.
Vatican Radio went on to discuss the Canonical and the gnostic gospels, but unfortunately did not address how problematic this miracle free retelling of the hits book is and then the announcer went on to repeat how this could spark reading the Bible.
I guess what we will have next in academia is The Judas Seminar. The Jesus Seminar did everything they could to do knock down Jesus and his divinity, and the Judas Seminar will do everything they can do to build up Judas as a misunderstood thief and traitor.
This reminds me of the very first parody I wrote which was a cross between a bit in the Marx Brother’s A Night at the Opera and the Jesus Seminar. A Night at the Jesus Seminar
[MP3 from Vatican Radio]