The “Wife of Jesus” Coptic Fragment: An Update

Prof. Larry Hurtado recently called for those involved to give the public an update. He blogs here about the results of that request.

Looks DOA to me, folks.

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More Free Online Resources for Ancient Research

As is my custom, every once in a while I have to post something that veers away from exposing paleobabble toward real research. I’ve posted in the past about the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and its posting of various volumes related to Assyriology. Here are some other goodies (courtesy of the Ancient World Online blog):

The Claremont Colleges Digital Library offers several open access resources relating to antiquity:

The Bulletin of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity is published periodically under the auspices of the Society for Antiquity and Christianity for the general information of persons interested in the research programs of the Institute.
The Claremont Coptic Encyclopedia (CCE) will initially include approximately 2800 articles published in The Coptic Encyclopedia (Aziz S. Atiya, ed. NY: Macmillan, 1991).
The Nag Hammadi codices, thirteen ancient manuscripts containing over fifty religious and philosophical texts written in Coptic and hidden in an earthenware jar for 1,600 years, were accidentally discovered in upper Egypt in the year 1945.

Attalus

This site contains over 25,000 links to Greek and Latin authors online. The links include detailed lists of events and sources for the history of the Hellenistic world and the Roman republic. It includes links to online translations of many of the sources, as well as new translations of some works which have not previously been easily available in English.

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Want to Study Ancient Papyri?

Have I got a website for you.

If papyri is your thing, you should definitely know about Brice Jones’ metasite for papyrological resources. There are a few dozen links to online papyrus collections, journals, online publications, Coptic lexicons, and other tools. Pretty slick.

Brice is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religion at Concordia University in Montreal.

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Shape-Shifting Jesus: On the Sins of Marketers and Media

[Addendum; 3/24 - some have noted that another passage in the article linked below other than the one I note does have Jesus shape-shifting. It doesn't. Change of appearance is not shape-shifting as those religious traditions who talk of such things have in mind - e.g., changing into animals. It's the wrong description, and is designed, in my view, only to generate traffic. In short, it's misleading. Maybe I'm just over-sensitized by all the weird stuff I read in alternative religions and stuff for this blog. MSH]

I’ve had a lot of people over the past couple of days send me links to articles such as this one: “1,200-year-old Egyptian text describes a shape-shifting Jesus.” Readers kind enough to send me the news thought it a good candidate for this blog. It is and isn’t.

On the one hand, the story (not the text) bears the marks of archaeo-porn we’ve come to love: sensationalism (“shape-shifting”) and timing (Easter is right around the corner – will Simcha Jacobovici find something to sell in time?). But on the other hand, the text is a genuine item and published by a respected scholar by a notable (and expensive) academic press, E. J. Brill. (Brill publishes wonderful stuff in biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies, but their prices force you to sell body parts.)

Let’s dispense with the silliness first. The text doesn’t describe Jesus changing shape, like some CGI morphing scene out of Twilight. Rather, the text says: “Pilate, then, looked at Jesus and, behold, he became incorporeal: He did not see him for a long time …” In other words, Jesus disappeared. Zowie Batman  . . . you mean just like the New Testament has him doing in Luke 24:30-31 (the ending of the “Road to Emmaus” story)? Yep. The point? This isn’t new, and so it isn’t revelatory. But how how would the story have ranked on Google? How much talk would have been generated with a headline like “Recently deciphered text has Jesus disappearing like he did in the New Testament”? Ah, marketers and media.

While the text is newly-published, it has been known for some time. At least the article doesn’t obscure that:

About 1,200 years ago the New York text was in the library of the Monastery of St. Michael in the Egyptian desert near present-day al-Hamuli in the western part of the Faiyum. The text says, in translation, that it was a gift from “archpriest Father Paul,” who, “has provided for this book by his own labors.”

The monastery appears to have ceased operations around the early 10th century, and the text was rediscovered in the spring of 1910. In December 1911, it was purchased, along with other texts, by American financier J.P. Morgan. His collections would later be given to the public and are part of the present-day Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.

What’s actually noteworthy about the text is that it has a scene where Pilate offers to swap his own son in Jesus’ place on the cross. And sorry, this isn’t some “lost” portion of the “real” story. The text is attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the 4th century AD. As the publishing scholar notes (in the book the sensationalist article is hawking), these and other homilies (sermons) attributed to Cyril show no indication they were really authored by Cyril.”1 The text dates to roughly 800-900 AD, or nearly a millennium after the actual time of Jesus (note the “1200 year-old” part of the article title and do the math). That means that these texts are not like the Gnostic gospels, which are within a couple centuries (and perhaps earlier) of the NT era.

In short, this isn’t a Christianity-shattering find. And the publishing scholar never claims anything of the sort. In fact, if you want the professor’s own description of the material and his book (with a nice photograph of the manuscript), you can read this brief essay. I recommend it over the MSNBC piece.

  1. Roelef van den Broek, Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem on the Life and the Passion of Christ (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2013), p. 72. No, I don’t have the book (I need the kidney I still have) — a lot of it is available for viewing on Google Books.

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Testing of “Jesus Wife” Coptic Fragment Ongoing

CNN’s religion blog recently posted that testing of the Coptic fragment that includes Jesus referring to his wife has delayed publication of an article by Karen King on the fragment in the Harvard Theological Review. The short piece is a useful one, as it asks some needed questions about the fragment in a concise way for readers.

I’m not sure what the hubbub is about testing the actual fragment. I expect the material itself is very old, but that proves nothing about the authenticity of the text, since all one would need to do to create such a forgery is access to the same material and the “recipe” for ancient ink.  Irving Wallace showed us how to do that decades ago in his novel, The Word. But maybe other scholars don’t read novels. Additionally, genuine physical material won’t answer the syntactical irregularities and borrowed vocabulary in the text that led scholars to think it a fraud in the first place (see here and here).

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The “Wife of Jesus” Fragment Forgery: How It Was Done

Mark Goodacre has posted links to Andrew Bernhard’s research on the fragment in regard to how the fraud was accomplished. One is a complete analysis and is well worth a look.

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Simcha Jacobovici’s Conspiracy Fantasy

I recommend readers have a look at this recent post by Dr. Larry Hurtado. It begins this way:

If you want to see a good example of what be-devils any scholarly analysis of practically anything to do with Jesus and early Christianity, have a read of the postings of the Canadian TV self-promoter, Simcha Jacobovici here. . . . [Jacobovici] trashes all the scholars and queries as “sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy”.

Sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy? Really? What’s next from Jacobovici? Producing another spell-binding documentary promoting his own heroism against this vast conspiracy? Will we see Fabio play the lead?

It doesn’t get much more inconsequential and insipid than this.

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Divorcing Jesus’ Wife

This figures to be my last update on this, at least until after November’s academic conferences. I’m bored with it.

Here’s some item updates on the alleged (but now suspected by many to be fake) fragment that has Jesus referring to his wife. (In case you’re late to this party, here’s a good overview post from New Testament textual critic Dan Wallace). Of particular note is the last one, by Christian Askeland, a Coptologist I happen to know through email due to my day job. It’s an interesting video demonstration (for the non-specialist) of the fragments odd features that has led to suspicion of fakery.

My disappointment with The Guardian (from Mark Goodacre’s blog; deals with the archeo-witless media)

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Latest (also from Goodacre’s NT blog; updates of the issue)

Christian Askeland on the “Wife of Jesus” fragment

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Elementary, Dr. Watson? Is the New “Wife of Jesus” Text a Fake?

As a couple of readers here and over at my Naked Bible blog have brought up the recent proposal that the Coptic text in question is a fake, I thought I would direct readers to this short (6 pp.) explanation from Prof. Francis Watson as to how he thinks it was done. Even if you don’t read any Coptic I think you’ll be able to follow it. Thanks to my readers and Mark Goodacre’s NT blog for the link!

My take (as noted in the comments) is that the explanation is coherent, but needs to be bolstered by C-14 testing. However, that might not do any good (cf. my references to the old Irving Wallace novel, The Word). The physical features could be authentic and yet faked (in the Wallace novel the ink was hand-made from materials that would pass C-14 testing and the parchment was cut from a genuine uncial — some of them have blank pages).

Enjoy!

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