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?


Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

Speaking of lost fragments, what happened to the supposedly 1st C fragment of GMark that some apologist tried to bamboozle Ehrmann with in a debate a coupla years back now?

Anonymous said...

Dan Wallace (your "some apologist") has said as recently as a few months ago that such a fragment does still exist, and that details will eventually be published (not by him).

Joe Weaks said...

And while we're at it, could we get the Secret Gospel of Mark original folio scanned it so more of us could put eyes on it?

Alan Taylor Farnes said...

I'll here post the same comment I posted on Dr. Hurtado's post on this which I directed at Dr. Hurtado (I redacted a sentence accusing him of blogging in his underwear cause I wasn't sure he would get the reference but you can't be the only scholar who blogs in your underwear):

I think all of us know exactly what is going on with the fragment. Nothing. Mostly everyone knows it is a forgery and, yes, the three *world class* scholars who attached their names to it are hoping that the whole thing would go away. That Dr. Luijendijk called in “sick” at last year’s SBL is an indication that, due to the negative reaction after the initial reports, she did not want to discuss it much (however, I think she was also pregnant with twins at the time). I think Dr. King also failed to appear in Chicago. So I think they want to sweep it under the rug. And I don’t see much wrong with that. If it is a forgery, then I cannot conceive of any scholarly purpose for further questioning. I know that academia is not an arena where we are careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings, however, perhaps this time we can just let them off the hook on this. Was I the only one who felt a chill in the air when Ulrich Schmid brought it up in his SBL presentation with Dr. Bagnall sitting only feet away?

I find it disingenuous that you would bring up this issue here on your blog. Did you approach either Dr. Bagnall or Dr. King or Dr. Luijendijk and ask them about this specifically at SBL? I know that you were in the same room as them on a number of occasions at SBL. Did you ask them for an update on the fragment? Day after day all three of them were with you in the conference center and you did not ask them. Why not? Why e-mail Dr. King’s defunct e-mail address when you could ask her in person? Was any one of these three scholars among the “several scholars who were in various ways directly involved in the analysis of the item last year” who you asked? You could have even directly asked Dr. Bagnall during the Q&A after his SBL presentation or Dr. Luijendijk after her presentation. But no one did. Are we too scared to ask them to their faces but would rather blog about it?

As much as we are all interested in what happened to it, we all already know what happened to it and again, nothing scholarly can come out of it. We need not rub their faces in their mistakes. Perhaps a small press release by HTR or the Discovery Channel would be appropriate but we need not bother these scholars with these skeletons. These three world class scholars have much better things to do with their time than defend this past mistake. Perhaps we could all show a little clemency and let it go away. Then again, who knows but maybe it is “authentic” and all involved are preparing a grand reveal and are just building our suspense!

Michael J. Hurst said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Lewis said...

I'm fantasizing that the owner of the document is looking for a big payday from the History Channel. The document is worth a lot more as disputed than as fake.

Dave Lewis

Dave Lewis said...

I'm fantasizing that the owner of the document is looking for a big payday from the History Channel. The document is worth a lot more as disputed than as fake.

Dave Lewis

Graceful Dead said...

I know of non scholars who have no idea that there is an assessment the matter is a fake. Their personal religious beliefs have been affected. It is wrong to fail to clarify a published hoax that has been busted just to protect the prestige or sensibilities of the experts who give the hoax its imprimatur in the world-at-large