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The “Jesus’ Wife” Fragment: Self-Promoting Personal Attacks

October 16, 2012

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 (who styles himself “the naked archaeologist” on his self-produced TV programmes, and offers no competence in anything relevant to the analysis of the fragment) notes that various scholars (particularly Coptologists and specialists in ancient Greek palaeography) have raised questions about the authenticity of the fragment (announced to the scholarly world in Prof. Karen King’s paper presented at a conference in Rome several weeks ago), and simply trashes all the scholars and queries as “sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy”.

He claims that they give no basis for their hesitations, which is patently incorrect and misleading.  The several scholarly analyses that I’ve seen all in fact present in considerable detail reasons for wondering about this fragment.  I’ve seen none, not a one of the scholarly analyses in question, that raises any issue about “Christian orthodoxy”.

Moreover, Jacobovici’s own spin on the fragment goes against Prof. King’s position on it.  She freely and repeatedly notes that, if as she hopes the fragment is authentic, it has no bearing on the historical question of whether Jesus of Nazareth was ever married, emphasizing instead that the fragment is perhaps only evidence that by the putative time of the fragment (4th century CE), and perhaps even earlier, some Christians may have asserted that Jesus was married.

Jacobovici’s reasons for his scurrilous mis-characterization of the scholars who have raised questions about the fragment are all too transparent:   He obviously seeks to promote his own TV programmes and related commercial ventures, and his oxygen is sensationalism, largely hyped by him and for his own benefit.  As someone who has only reported on the on-going analysis of the fragment, I have no dog in this fight.  But I do have to condemn Jacobovici’s patently self-serving rants against my fellow scholars, of various personal stances, who have simply taken up Prof. King’s invitation to weigh the warrants of the fragment, and have offered reasons for hesitating to treat it (at least for now) as genuine.

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  1. Nicole Austin permalink

    I find it amazing that you guys keep calling yourselves “scholars” while constantly attacking Simcha personally. In one sentence you call him a “self promoter, living off the earnings of his hype”. But this is not enough. You continue “he knows nothing of sober scholarly discussion, preferring rants, accusations of conspiracies, and hysteria.” Does this really count as scholarly critique? I haven’t seen one place that Simcha mentions any scholar by name and attacks him personally – not one. Simcha has asked a simple question – how could someone forge something in the year 2000, which was examined by two scholars more than 20 years earlier? It seems like a pretty reasonable question. And yet, you guys do not answer. Instead, you keep congratulating yourselves and attacking him personally. For his part, he puts up with all the ad hominem arguments, but when defending himself he calls you guys as a group “sleeper agents” or “C-list scholars” everyone hyperventilates and throws more personal abuse at him. As for Joe Zias, he wraps himself in the mantle of a martyr for scholarship but, over the years, as he stated above, he hasn’t just attacked Simcha. He’s made it his business to attack people personally including Ron Wyatt, Vendyl Jones, Hershel Shanks, Rami Arav, Richard Freund, James Tabor and many more. And yet, you guys support his libelous statements. How sad! Isn’t it time to just answer Simcha’s simple question?

    • Dear Nicole,
      Take a breath . . . or two! First, those who are questioning the authenticity of the “Jesus’ wife” fragment are pointing to papyrological, palaeographical and linguistic features that strike them as odd and raise suspicions, querying the bases given by Prof. King for taking the item as authentic (4th/5th century CE). Why is Simcha so hotted up over this? Because his whole business (and it is that) is to make senationalist claims that will garner TV viewers (and so revenue), and he’s pegged himself to this item as some kind of support for his sensationalist (and widely doubted) claim to have discovered the family tomb of Jesus. (It’s a real stretch, I know, but, hey, that’s his schtick.) He has no competence in the issues, only a financial stake.
      So, instead of awaiting and observing the discussion and analysis by scholars with the appropriate competence, he weighs with obfuscatory accusations hurled against the scholars in question. He doesn’t name names, for legal reasons (given the abusiveness of his claims). He just aims to tarnish and trash anyone, anyone who seems to threaten his cherished claims.
      The point is not whether the item was fabricated in 2000 (and has any of the scholars claimed this?), but that there are features that raise suspicions about it. One proposal is that if fabricated, it would have been done after the publication of the Gospel of Thomas. But that was a number of decades ago. So, the “2000” date is a red herring. Let’s just cools our jets and await the analysis by those competennt to do it, and then go with the results.

  2. John permalink

    I think Simcha has stated his position very strongly ( and I don’t see any refutation here.

    • Jacobovici does at least try to engage the specifics of this one critique, granted. But to the other (and personally more effective) analyses he simply has hurled hysterical accusations of some sort of conspiracy of “sleeper agents of Christian orthodoxy”, ignoring their data and analyses (indeed, claiming misleadingly that they offer none). He’s obviously himself simply a self-promoter, living off the earnings of his hype, and he knows nothing of sober scholarly discussion, preferring rants, accusations of conspiracies, and hysteria. It works to get TV viewers, I guess.

  3. Bravo Larry, bravo. I would only add that your use of ‘fellow scholars’ in your closing paragraph is overly generous. Simcha isn’t a scholar by any measurement in any field and particularly not in the field of biblical studies or archaeology.

    • Thanks, but the “fellow scholars” in my posting referred to those abused by Simcha.

  4. Simcha appears to have this “theological trauma” complex. (And those were his words, not mine, albeit back during the Talpiot Tomb stint.) If anything he highlights goes against the grain of any arbitrary definition of “Christian orthodoxy” he thinks it’s damaging and that people must cover it up even if they’re not aware of covering it up, or other such oddity. 🙂

    And I wholeheartedly admit that I’ve poked fun at him over itmore than once. 🙂


  5. Many thanks for this helpful post, Larry. One of Simcha’s repeated responses to criticisms of his work has been to call “theological trauma” and the like rather than to engage the actual critique. I thought the recent post’s talk about “vultures”, “C-list scholars” and “libel” represented a new low in the failure to engage substantively in the issues.

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