“Jesus’ Wife Fragment”: Further Observations
As a follow-up to my initial observations yesterday, I’ll offer a few more to underscore where I think things are at this point.
- First, let me reiterate that all references to “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” are completely misleading tripe. What we have is a purported small fragment with several incomplete lines on each side, in which one line contains the words “my wife” ascribed to Jesus there. If the fragment is authentic (i.e., from some Christian hand ca. 7th-10th century CE, as per the Harvard radio-carbon test), only God knows what it was. But it’s totally mischievous to claim that it comes from some “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”. We have a “Jesus’ Wife fragment.” That’s it.
- The most recent palaeographical, chemical and radio-carbon tests reported in the latest issue of Harvard Theological Review support the conclusion that the writing material is old, that the ink seems composed per methods used in the putative date of the writing material, and that nothing definitive in the handwriting demands that it is a forgery. But, note well, Choat (Coptic palaeographer) also urges that his analysis doesn’t mean that it’s authentic, only that he hasn’t found clear evidence that it isn’t.
- One thing mentioned but not (to my knowledge) probed sufficiently is the clear indication that the fragment has been cut (obvious on the top edge) from some larger piece of material. The left, right and bottom edges appear to be torn, but the top edge has been cut. Why? Cut from what? It is common for locals who find ancient texts to tear them into individual pages or portions, to get more money item-per-item than by selling the whole manuscript. But, if this is a portion of something larger, where’s the rest of it? And, in any case, it is to my knowledge at least very rare (I don’t know another case) for a fragment to be cut on one edge and torn on the other three. Just one more curiosity about this particular item.
- The major bases for allegations that the fragment is inauthentic have always been the contents, specifically, the Coptic expressions/phrasing. Francis Watson and others have alleged that it looks like a pastiche of Coptic phrases from Gospel of Thomas, and the alleged con-artist inadvertently included some errors in Coptic that betray his/her work. So, the focus of the debate has never been on things that could be settled by “scientific” tests. It will continue to be conducted on the basis of analysis of the contents (and perhaps a few other factors that I’m not free at this point to discuss).
- Finally, as Prof. King and others have consistently indicated, even if authentic, the fragment would have no bearing on (1) the marital status of Jesus of Nazareth, (2) the question of women’s role in churches, (3) the question of Catholic priestly celibacy, etc. None whatsoever. Nada.
- For recent responses to the HTR articles, see comments by Watson here, and by Christian Askeland here. As will be apparent from these, the debate is by no means over. So, the Harvard Divinity School press release “over-eggs” things in characterizing the tests as confirming authenticity of the fragment. Confirming the approximate age of the writing material is one thing, and confirming the authenticity of the writing on it is very much another thing!