Monday, June 20, 2016

Gospel of Jesus' Wife: Last Chapter Round-Up

Since the remarkable piece of investigative journalism from Ariel Sabar was published last Wednesday (The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus' Wife), in which the owner of the fragment, Walter Fritz, was unmasked, the discussion in the media has taken off at a pretty pace. In this post, I'd like to draw together several of the key developments. 

On Thursday, Christian Askeland filled in some further details on Walter Fritz in the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog:

More on the Gospel of Jesus Wife and Walter Fritz

And then on Friday, Owen Jarus of Live Science explained the key role he played in following leads on the text's provenance and finding his way to Fritz:

Gospel of Jesus's Wife Likely a Fake, Bizarre Backstory Suggests

Meanwhile, Karen King herself responded to Ariel Sabar's article and called him to say that she found it "fascinating" and "very helpful". In a short follow-up, Sabar explained that for Prof. King, the new information "presses in the direction of forgery":

Karen King Responds to ‘The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife’
The Harvard scholar says papyrus is probably a forgery

These reported comments led to further media reaction as more read and digested Sabar's compelling story. One of the three original journalists to cover the story on 12 September 2012, Lisa Wangsness, author also of a fine piece entitled "Is the 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife a Revelation or a Hoax?" last November, returned again to the story in the Boston Globe:

‘Jesus’s wife’ papyrus likely fake, scholar says

Wangsness featured more comments from Karen King, as well as a tidbit from me. One of the questions in the article was whether there ought perhaps to be some kind of comment on the latest news from Harvard. A comment was soon forthcoming. Today (Monday 20th June), they added an update to the Gospel of Jesus wife website:

Update: June 20, 2016
Statement from HDS Dean David N. Hempton on the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”
The June 15, 2016 issue of The Atlantic Monthly published an article entitled The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus's Wife. The article called into question the provenance and authenticity of a papyrus fragment, purportedly stating "Jesus said to them, My wife" that is the subject of research by Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School. 
Reached for comment by The Boston Globe after publication of the Atlantic article, Professor King was quoted as stating that "It appears now that all the material [owner Walter] Fritz gave to me concerning the provenance of the papyrus ... were fabrications." 
On June 16, 2016, The Atlantic published an interview with Professor King by the same author, in which Professor King stated that the Atlantic's investigation "tips the balance towards forgery” and that the preponderance of the evidence now presses in that direction. 
The mission of Harvard Divinity School, its faculty, and higher education more generally is to pursue truth through scholarship, investigation, and vigorous debate. HDS is therefore grateful to the many scholars, scientists, technicians, and journalists who have devoted their expertise to understanding the background and meaning of the papyrus fragment. HDS welcomes these contributions and will continue to treat the questions raised by them with all the seriousness they deserve. 
David N. Hempton
Dean, Harvard Divinity School
Over the weekend and today there have been more and more articles on the story. Most of them simply repeat, summarize and comment on The Atlantic, Boston Globe and Live Science pieces, though there is a fresh piece from the Associated Press that is finding its way into several places, including The Guardian:

Jesus' Wife Papyrus Probably Fake, Say Experts
New evidence indicates the fragment in which Jesus refers to ‘my wife’ is likely to be a modern forgery

They interviewed me for this piece too, just after a Skype interview on CBN that is available here:

Debunking the Myth: Did Jesus Really Have a Wife?

Also today, the Boston Globe followed up its earlier article with a comment from Harvard Theological Review:

Harvard Theological Review won’t retract ‘Jesus’s Wife’ paper
. . . . Jon D. Levenson and Kevin J. Madigan, editors of the Harvard Theological Review, said in a statement Monday that their journal “has scrupulously and consistently avoided committing itself on the issue of the authenticity of the papyrus fragment.” 
The editors say King’s article and the articles on scientific tests King commissioned on the fragment “were represented or misrepresented in some circles as establishing the authenticity of the fragment.” . . . . 
There have also been several comments in the blogs that are worth viewing. As well as Christian Askeland and Peter Gurry on Evangelical Textual Criticism, there is interesting commentary from Roberta Mazza on Faces & Voices, Carrie Schroeder on Early Christian Monasticism in the Digital Age (Provenance, Provenance, Provenance, More on Social Networks and Provenance, and On Kindness and Critique), Jim Davila on Paleojudaica, and Malcolm Choat on Markers of Authenticity. I have certainly missed others; please let me have any links that I should add.

I don't have much fresh to add, at this point, to what I've already said. Perhaps I will say more in due course. My overwhelming feeling at this point is a profound sadness about the whole affair. Yes, it's been fantastic to see scholars like Christian Askeland and Andrew Bernhard exposing the hoax so skilfully. And it is true that the twists and turns of the story over the last four years have made fascinating reading. But at the same time it's very sad that we have all spent so much time and energy on what, in the end, is someone's attempt to dupe the academy. We are all victims of this appalling episode.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Owner of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is Unmasked

In September 2012, four journalists were granted special interviews on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, published the day that Karen King revealed the manuscript in Rome. One of them, Lisa Wangsness, returned to the topic last November in a follow-up article in the Boston Globe. Now another of them, Ariel Sabar, who wrote a compelling and lengthy article for The Smithsonian, has also returned to the topic in a quite brilliant piece of investigative journalism, published this time in The Atlantic:

A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story requires a big leap of faith.
Ariel Sabar

Karen King has always protected the anonymity of the owner of the papyrus but his identity is now no longer in doubt. Quite simply, this is a superb piece of investigative journalism. Sabar unmasks Walter Fritz in a detailed and compelling story that is the result of intelligent and detailed research. It will take you a while to read, but it will be worth it.

I could excerpt pieces of the article, but I'd rather not spoil it by doing that, especially as it is structured so beautifully. I will, however, say that I am delighted that Walter Fritz has such confidence in the scholarship of those who exposed the forgery, whom he describes as "'county level' scholars from the 'University of Eastern Pee-Pee Land'”.

Update (Thursday 16 June, 5.08pm): Christian Askeland helpfully fills in some further details on Walter Fritz in the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog:

More on the Gospel of Jesus Wife and Walter Fritz

Update (Thursday 16 June, 11.30pm): Only twenty-four hours after Sabar's article, he has this follow-up:

Karen King Responds to ‘The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife’
The Harvard scholar says papyrus is probably a forgery

And so we have reached the final chapter of this affair, after almost four years of discussion.