Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: The Story is Moving Fast!

The internet age really has changed the way that news stories like this develop, for good and for bad.  It's only 48 hours since I last had a moment to blog about The Gospel of Jesus' Wife and in that time, the story has developed at a dramatic pace, with news outlets all over the world publishing stories on the find, with scholars attempting to analyze the new find, and the bloggers trying like mad to keep up with everything that is going on.

At times like this, I am really grateful for ninja-bloggers like James McGrath, who has updates that scour the blogs for comments, in 2 Jesus' Wife and 3 Jesus' Wife, with lots of links of interest (and he still has time to blog on Doctor Who too -- you've got to admire that), and Jim West who, while outspoken, is often the first to get to a story.

But I'd like to comment on four things that have got my attention tonight:

(1) There is no doubt that this story is massive.  I expected it to get some media coverage and interest when it emerged on Tuesday, but I did not expect the huge amount of interest that it has picked up. It is bigger, I would say, than the James Ossuary in 2003, the Gospel of Judas in 2006 and the Talpiot Tomb in 2007 and 2012.  This story, which enables journalists to use "Jesus' wife" in the title of an article, sounds totally compelling.   This can be a problem for scholars of early Christianity -- the phone rings, the emails pour in, and everyone wants to know what you think about "Jesus' wife".  And getting on top of the scholarship on the fragment in a short time frame can be daunting, especially if you are deep into teaching, meetings and other things.

(2) It is becoming clearer all the time that many of the experts doubt the authenticity of the fragment.  It seems "too good to be true" -- it fits the Zeitgeist (Jim Davila; see update) and it seems remarkable good fortune that so tiny a fragment now coming to light from a mysterious stranger just happens to talk about Jesus' wife.  Since papyrology is not my expertise, I am inclined to defer to the experts on this one, and it is troubling that so few people appear to want  to endorse the fragment's authenticity.  Christian Askeland's arguments, which incline towards the suggestion that it is a fake, sound persuasive to me (and read the fascinating comments thread). And he's not alone.  Stephen Emmel and Alin Suciu have both expressed their Doubts over Harvard claim of 'Jesus' wife' papyrus and I am looking forward to hearing more from them in due course.  This is how bad it is at the moment, on day 3: it is difficult to find any expert other than those involved with the publication of the piece who think that it is genuine.

(3) I must admit to a little disappointment in finding out tonight, after having praised the careful, sober, scholarly treatment of the release on Tuesday, that there is -- after all -- something of a dramatic, sensational TV documentary at hand.  It has clearly been in production for months and Smithsonian are branding it as a "sensational" find of  "Biblical proportions" that will cause people to "reassess Christian theology".  "She knew that it was a blockbuster."  Of course, this kind of thing is simply part of the publicity machine of the channel, but there is something a touch disappointing about finding out that after all, the press releases were timed to coincide with the the pre-publicity for the documentary (which airs on 30 September).  I may be being unfair here but I can't help feeling that this takes away from some of what I and others admired about Harvard's handling of the release on Tuesday.

(4) It is perhaps not surprising to see Simcha Jacobovici endorsing the new discovery as corroborating his claims about the Talpiot Tombs, which he alleges to have belonged to Jesus, his family, and some of his earliest disciples (Jesus was married.  Something has changed!).  I doubt that Karen King will be pleased with the endorsement, not least given her repeated caution about the fragment being useless for historical Jesus work.

There is certainly lots more to come.  I hope to find time to write about the fragment again tomorrow, and in particular to look at how the media misconstrues what scholars mean by "authenticity".

Note: Smithsonian are offering a trailer and a sneak preview of the documentary.


Unknown said...

I note that Simcha says, " As it turns out, because the finders are conservative scholars, no one has so far argued about the authenticity of the papyrus." This was already very out-of-date when he posted it (yesterday).

Unknown said...

I note that Simcha says, " As it turns out, because the finders are conservative scholars, no one has so far argued about the authenticity of the papyrus." This was already very out-of-date when he posted it (yesterday).

RjPitt5 said...

Read in the New Testament Paul state that Mary works them hard and keep the disciples busy.