Saturday, December 21, 2013

Skepticism about Jesus' Wife Papyrus in the Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife.  The news is that there is no news:

Skepticism About 'Jesus' Wife' Papyrus Grows as Test Results Lag
Tom Bartlett
I checked again this week with Jonathan Beasley, assistant director of communications at the Harvard Divinity School. He wrote in an email that "we are waiting for final reports to come in on some of the testing, and, depending on the results, for a decision about whether to do further testing."
He couldn't provide an estimate of when testing might be completed. Ms. King declined to comment, writing in an email that she had nothing to add to Mr. Beasley's statement.
There are quotations from this blog and from Larry Hurtado's blog, and a mention of Andrew Bernhard.  Bartlett's conclusion is that:
Such a flashy discovery won't just fade away. At some point we'll find out whether or not it was a hoax. In the meantime it's fair to ask why it's taking so long.
Two quick comments:

(1) It is still not clear to me if Harvard themselves are arranging for these tests or whether the owner of the fragment is arranging for these tests.  A comment in January suggested the latter.  There is clearly a major difference between the one and the other.  Does the owner currently have the fragment or does Harvard have it?

(2) Bartlett mentions that "the papyrus had already been tested".  I have heard this mentioned on several occasions but I am not sure of the source of it.  Karen King's article does not confirm this; she writes:
Given the content of this text, we took into serious consideration whether this was a genuine ancient text or a modern forgery. It would be very difficult to reproduce the kind the damage from insects or moisture that the fragment indicates, but it could have been penned on a blank piece of ancient papyrus, which are available for purchase on the antiquities market. Such a papyrus would pass a Carbon 14 dating test.
In other words, she suggests that the fragment could pass a Carbon 14 dating test even if the text itself was composed in modernity; she does not confirm that such a test was undertaken.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Defining an Apocalypse and Making Toast

We have recently come to the end of the semester here at Duke and in my New Testament Introduction, we reached the Book of Revelation right at the end, just as one should.  One of the things I always like to stress to introductory students is that "Revelation" is the same word as "Apocalypse" and that understanding apocalyptic is not simply about eschatology but is also, more importantly, about the open heaven and the revelation of divine secrets.

While I was retailing the SBL Apocalypse Group definition from 1979, I couldn't help finding myself amused by an element in it.  Take a look:
"Apocalypse" is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated  by an otherworldly being  to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world."
I've seen this and thought about this many times over the last twenty years or so, but what struck me on this occasion is that it contains the word being defined within the definition!  Since "revelation" is another way of saying "apocalypse", I can't help thinking that this is a bit like one of the recipes in a book I used to use as a student, The Gourmet Vegan by Heather Lamont.  In a section headed "Eating to Survive", the book helpfully explains how to make "toast" lest anyone is unfamiliar with the concept:
Used sliced wholemeal bread or bread buns, halved.  Toast until golden. Spread with vegan margarine, and any vegan jams, preserves, marmalades or Marmite . . ."
This used to strike me as hilarious.  The implied reader is a hypothetical (one might say non-existent) person who does does not know what "toast" is.  Should there be such an unlikely person who has purchased The Gourmet Vegan, they would hardly be helped in their ignorance of what "toast" is by invoking the verb "to toast".

It's worrying the kind of links that your mind makes when you are in the middle of teaching.  Perhaps it's just me.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Apostle Paul - A Polite Bribe

Robert Orlando's documentary film about Paul, A Polite Bribe, premieres in New York City next Thursday, 19 December, at 8.10pm (poster to the left), where there will be a Q&A with the director as well as Gerd Luedemann.  The discussion will be moderated by David Gibson (Religious News Service).

I have not seen the film yet myself so I am looking forward to doing so.  There are trailers available here and lots of scholar clips available here (featuring, among others, Amy-Jill Levine, Bart Ehrman, Douglas Campbell, N. T. Wright and Daniel Boyarin).

There is more on the Polite Bribe website, and James McGrath has reviewed the film on his blog.

There is a screening planned in Durham, North Carolina on 23 January next year, more of which anon.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Whatever happened to the Gospel of Jesus' Wife?

Larry Hurtado ("Jesus Wife" Fragment: A Continuing Puzzle) has been raising questions about the Jesus' Wife Fragment, which was  announced with a great fanfare in September 2012 but which has now largely gone to ground.

The key issue here is that several scholars raised serious questions about the authenticity of the fragment, after which Karen King, Harvard Divinity School and the Harvard Theological Review all appeared to go quiet.  Nor has there been any public comment from the two other prominent scholars who originally supported the authenticity of the fragment, Roger Bagnall and AnneMarie  Luijendijk.

I won't repeat what Prof. Hurtado says in his blog post except to agree with his comments and to add some additional reflections of my own, born in part from continuing to think about this over the last year and more.

One of the issues here is that Harvard used the internet in a savvy way to publicize the claims, with excellent hi-def pictures published, a draft article, Q&As, video clips and so on. So we are not talking here about contrasting media.  This is not a case of blog-responses to published work. We are talking about responses within the same medium, responses, moreover, that were carefully considered, fair, detailed and rhetorically sensitive. If there are good answers to the critiques of Francis Watson, Andrew Bernhard, Leo Depuydt, Christian Askeland, Alin Suciu and others, then they need to be heard (see further: NT Blog: Gospel of Jesus' Wife).

As readers of those posts will know, I think the case for forgery is overwhelming.  But this does not mean that there is any shame in the early advocates of its authenticity explaining now that the case may not be as strong as they had originally thought. The internet brings something new and really valuable to scholarship, the availability of many eyes to look at something together in collaborative scholarship of a kind that was not available when, for example, Coleman Norton published his Jesus agraphon hoax.  (See further The Jesus' Wife Fragment and the Transformation of Peer Review?)

One concern that I would like to raise, though, is the following.  Where is the fragment now?  Is it still in the possession of Harvard Divinity School or not?  The report that I find troubling dates to January this year.  It is the most recent public comment about which I am aware:
"The owner of the fragment has been making arrangements for further testing and analysis of the fragment, including testing by independent laboratories with the resources and specific expertise necessary to produce and interpret reliable results. This testing is still underway," Kathyrn Dodgson, director of communications for the Harvard Divinity School, said in a email to CNN." (Still no news on the Jesus' Wife Fragment; emphasis added).
If the anonymous owner of the fragment is the one "making arrangements", is there any guarantee that we will ever see the results of these tests?  My question, therefore, is simple: where is the fragment now?