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.

Ancient Coptic Fragment Has Jesus Alluding to His Wife

The New York Times published this article today about Professor Karen King’s apparent discovery of a fragment of an ancient text, likely composed a few centuries after the apostolic era, that in part reads, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’” This would be the first ancient text in any language that has any reference to a wife for Jesus. The text is written in Coptic, the language in which the Gnostic Gospels from Nag Hammadi were written.

Now, to be clear, this discovery isn’t PaleoBabble — at least not yet. Karen King is a good scholar. She teaches on the history of early Christianity (which would include Gnostic sects) at Harvard. I don’t believe for a minute she’s faking anything. However, the text is unprovenanced, which is a problem. To quote the article:

The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, Dr. King had shown the fragment to only a small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics, who concluded that it is most likely not a forgery. But she and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions.

 

So, while authenticity seems likely, people making manuscript “drops” to scholars from the shadows or on street corners doesn’t help. I personally know people who’ve had this happen to them in some form or another and it’s gone nowhere. However, the instance I’m thinking of involved a photo and a transcription. This appears to be an actual text. Still, I hope the owner comes forward to settle that part of this issue. I should also say it’s nice to see Dr. King disclose information the right way — at a conference of peers — as opposed to the P.T. Barnum (or maybe Chuck Barris) approach of Simcha Jacobovici.

The part of all this that moves toward PaleoBabble, though, is what’s being said about it, and what will continue to be said. As Dr. King herself says, the text does not prove Jesus was married; it proves only someone (the writer of this text) thought he was married, or wanted to cast him as married. The NYT article notes:

[Dr. King] repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

James Tabor jumps the gun in this regard, but I guess I can give him a pass on being excited about the news. I’d agree that seeing stuff like this surface is pretty cool. But let’s not insert conclusions into the data, or cast the latter as the former. James writes:

I have written extensively on this subject on my blog, suggesting that my colleagues, from Ben Witherington to Bart Ehrman, who are so insistent that “there is not a shred of evidence that Jesus was married, reconsider the question. I have changed my own position since publishing The Jesus Dynasty in 2006 in which I too insisted the “Jesus was married” idea was long on speculation and short on evidence. The implications of the two Talpiot tombs are one factor in my own shift, but in fact I would consider that evidence secondary compared to the textual evidence, including the evidence from silence, that can be mounted.

 

James, this isn’t “textual evidence” that Jesus was actually married. It’s evidence someone thought he was married or wanted to cast him as such (assuming of course we won’t see months on wrangling over the translation, in which case, the text will join others consigned to academic limbo).

James recommends Birger Pearson’s latest essay on Mary Magdalene. I agree that it’s well worth the read. My own bottom line is that I tend to agree with James and others that the Church (read: the Catholic church and then all those Protestants who blindly followed that tradition) has manipulated the testimony of Mary Magdalene.  Words like “bogus” and “willfully ignorant” only begin to capture this hermeneutical crime. However, we’re unwise to affirm the obvious and then extrapolate to the unnecessary (or to a dream).

Giant Mistaken Identity

Hard to believe, but it’s been three years since I blogged about Adrienne Mayor’s book explaining references to giant skeletons and bones in ancient classical authors (The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times). It’s highly recommended. Tonight I came across a 24-page PDF that is the new introduction to the 2011 edition of the book. If you haven’t read the book (and you should), the intro will give you a very good idea of the sorts of things Mayor covers in her book.