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“Jesus’ Wife” Fragment: Latest News

September 27, 2012

In an article in the Huffington Post, Jaweek Kaleem reports on the latest news on developments following the announcement by Prof. Karen King (Harvard) of a new early Christian Coptic fragment appearing to feature Jesus referring to his wife.  According to the article, a number of Coptologists are raising doubts about the authenticity of the item (and it’s significant that they’re Coptologists, not theologians).  The article is here.

In the article, King correctly says that the proper scholarly process is working. It’s too bad that the tests in question, however, weren’t conducted earlier.

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  1. “and it’s significant that they’re Coptologists, not theologians”

    really? Is there anyone is it possible to study philosophy without being a philosopher? or are there examples of ascetic food critics? the problem with the study of religion is that objectivity is almost possible and even in souls where religious partisanship is not present ambition more than makes up for it. I am not sure whether the fragment is authentic or not but I am certain of the partiality of religious scholarship generally.

    • Well, Stephen, I am also certain of your own predilections too! No one has a fully dis-interested standpoint, including those who complain that religion scholars have one. The “saving grace” is that they has as many as there are scholars. If you think there is some sort of cabal of opinion, that only shows how completely unfamiliar you are with the field.
      But more to the point, I emphasize doubts raised by Coptologists, because they speak to the grammar, the handwriting, etc., not objecting to the theology of the fragment.

  2. John Moles permalink

    Deeply unpersuaded, Larry.

  3. Frank permalink

    Larry, you seem to chide John Moles above for not recognising that scholarly debate will happen in a larger modern-media-enabled arena nowadays, yet in your post you end with the sentence ‘It’s too bad that the tests in question, however, weren’t conducted earlier.’ What’s ‘too bad’ about it given that the process of debate is happening in the environment you seem to acknowledge as valid?

    • Well, my definition of the “scholarly process” includes scholars noting and objecting when they think that claims are inadequately based (e.g., more tests, please), and raise queries about the grammar of the fragment (fully possible on the basis of the photos that have been released), etc.
      So, it is part of the scholarly process to say “too bad more tests weren’t done”.

  4. John Moles permalink

    ‘The proper scholarly process is working.’

    Can’t see that. There are far too many people jumping in with inchoate, half-formed, reactions, and some of these people include reputable scholars. The general effect is to bring the material into disrepute; by ‘the material’ I mean Christianity. ‘Put a sock in it’ is sometimes good advice.

    • Seems to me, John, that you’re being a bit too strict (and outdated?) in your view of the scholarly process. When a scholar goes to the press (and this weekend, apparently, a TV special programme airs in the USA prompted by King’s publicity for the fragment) and invites opinions of others, scholars can and should engage matters. Thus far, we have coptologists commenting on the Coptic grammar, and papyrologists commenting on the writing, and other observations. All seems fair to me. And in the Internet age, it simply will be the case that more scholarly work will be released electronically (e.g., Watson’s paper, which is a very sober piece).

  5. Bobby Garringer permalink

    Why doesn’t someone address the broader assertion of Prof. King that Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian have indicated the question of whether or not Jesus married was being debated in their time? (She legitimizes her presentation of the fragment as a further development in that debate.)

    I’ve read what each of these author’s have said, and they clearly indicate that everyone – including Gnostics – accepted as common knowledge that Jesus was not married.

  6. Being part of the ‘laity’, I’m not familiar with the process on how a text is determined authentic and all that jazz. But when I first read news about the fragment last week, and how it was mentioned in multiple sources that no physical testing of the object had been done, I thought, ‘Why make such a huge deal out of this if we don’t yet even know it’s real?’ It seemed to me like the whole thing was being rushed for the sake of the sensation; is that the case, or was my initial reaction off the mark?

    • Well, it does appear that Prof. King sought (or readily cooperated with) media attention (including a forthcoming TV special to air this weekend, I’m told, in the USA). However, it may be that part of the situation/reason is that the fragment plays to Prof. King’s invested interest in early Christian sexuality issues. It is, in that sense, a very “convenient” item for her to handle. If the fragment isn’t genuine, then she herself might well have been taken in by the forger.

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