Was Jesus married? A new papyrus fragment seems to have Jesus discussing his wife, if interpreted literally. (Metaphorically, Jesus is married to his Church, so that’s no big deal.) But it is a fragment of unknown provenance, from an anonymous owner. And it’s even a little more suspicious than that.
Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica has a great post considering the new papyrus fragment. In a word, he is: skeptical.
My take? I am … wait for it … skeptical. Professor King has done everything right and she is taking a very reasonable line of optimistic skepticism, but there’s one point that I’ve seen no one raise so far… this fragment is exactly, exactly, what the Zeitgeist of 2012 would want us to find in an ancient gospel. To my mind that weighs heavily against its authenticity… It is too perfect. As Larry Schiffman put it, “The most exciting things are the things most likely to be forged.” My working hypothesis at the moment is that someone who knew what they were doing went to a lot of effort using a piece of ancient papyrus to create a remarkable forgery.
Brilliant point. What a time for this specific piece of writing to appear. Kinda suspicious.
That’s not to say it’s not real, it may be ancient and truly reflect the beliefs of its writer. That doesn’t further mean that its writer was correct, though. After all, the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas has Jesus saying that Mary can go to heaven – if Jesus first turns her into a man – and in another place Jesus kills and resurrects kids for fun. And if I didn’t have my Gnostic scriptures packed away in a box (too many books!) I could find a few more fun ones.
Anyway, back to PaleoJudaica:
Also, at a Nag Hammadi Facebook Group, Louis Painchaud, who is also at the Coptic Congress in Rome, has called for caution and indicated, as has Alin Suciu, that the script of the fragment doesn’t look real, nor does the way it is cut. And apparently others at the Congress are questioning its authenticity.
I agree the “cut” looks funny. An entirely new manuscript, and the ONLY piece of text we get from it are a few lines right from the center of a page, in a nice rectangle, that are highly topical to contemporary controversies? With the line breaks just were we would need them? Apparently the rest of the coptological community is skeptical too.
Over at Evangelical Textual Criticism, Christian Askeland, who is also in Rome at the Coptic Colloquium, reports on reactions to King’s paper:
During the course of the last several hours, I have attempted to understand the reaction of various persons within the coptological community here at the International Association of Coptic studies conference. My initial perception is that those who specialize in Nag Hammadi and early manuscripts are split with about four-fifths being extremely skeptical about the manuscript’s authenticity and one-fifth is fairly convinced that the fragment is a fake. I have not met anyone who supports its authenticity, although I do not doubt that there must be some.
He then goes on to explain in detail why he thinks the fragment is probably a forgery.
Yeah, it’s just too perfect. Still, it might be authentic, but even then, it’s no big deal. We have a bunch of alternate-universe Jesuses already, and they are fascinating. This would just be one more.
I have a post I’m working on considering “cognized” vs. “operational” models of the world. “Cognized” is how we think the world works, “operational” is how it really does. This fragment fits our cognized model – some people would like for the world to work this way. Operationally, it is rather unlikely to actually work this way. Wishful thinking. It’s possible, but highly improbable.
(h/t Ted Hand)