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Breaking News: Published Reports on “Jesus’ Wife” Fragment

April 10, 2014

I’ve just learned that the long-awaited reports on further analysis and scientific testing of the sensationalized “Jesus’ Wife” fragment (Coptic) have been published in the latest issue of Harvard Theological Review.  The link is here, which will take you to the Harvard Divinity School site, and from there you’ll see a link to the HTR issue in question.

Included is the feature article by Karen King, a palaeographical analysis by Malcolm Choat, a characterization of the ink of the fragment by James T. Yardley and Alexis Hagadorn, articles on the application of mass-spectrometry to the item, a ringing judgement (by Leo Depuydt) that the fragment is a forgery, followed by a point-by-point response by Karen King defending the authenticity of the item.

Let’s see now where the scholarly discussion goes.  At last, we have something of substance to discuss!

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  1. fellowsrichard permalink

    Larry, do you have any further thoughts on the time that it has taken for the release of information concerning this fragment? Earlier you were critical of King for not providing updates and you suspected that the whole thing was being quietly dropped. Does the production of this edition of HTR after just two years remove your concerns, or do you still think that information should have been given ahead of publication? If so, what information should have been given, and when?

    • It’s been closer to 18 months since the fragment was supposed to have been submitted for testing. That still seems to me a long time, but at least the results are now out and the discussion can move ahead with them in view. I think that it’s right that the results were formally presented/published, and it wouldn’t have been right to leak them via press releases etc. Perhaps, however, some comment during the process indicating that it was underway would have helped allay frustrations over the time it has taken.

  2. Christian Askeland’s response has just been posted:

    As has Francis Watson’s:

    Both remain unconvinced that the fragment is authentic.

  3. At last, HTR decided to publish something after a considerably long time. Apart from the fact that we are talking about a document dating at best from the 4th-5th century CE (which in itself has no direct bearing whatsoever upon the question whether Jesus was married or not), without trying to make a bagatelle out of the whole thing, I cannot help remembering Woody Allen’s famous words in the latter part of the film “Annie Hall”, when he says: “Harvard makes mistakes, too, you know. Kissinger taught there.” This remark might not be so “off topic” as it would seem…

  4. David A Booth permalink

    Dear Professor Hurtado,

    Thank you for your blog.

    May I ask a question as a non-specialist which may seem a bit naive? How old does something have to be in N.T. studies to be considered ancient? The headline of Jonathan Beasley’s article is “Testing Indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Papyrus Fragment to be Ancient.” Given the baseline of Jesus living in the first half of the first century the term “Ancient” makes me think of something in the first three centuries A.D. yet the article opens by indicating that it was between the 6th and 9th centuries. How can something which is potentially hundreds of years after Augustine be considered ancient in terms of Biblical studies?

    Thank you for your consideration.


    • I can’t account for Beasley’s use of the term “ancient”, but I suspect that he merely meant that the tests suggest that the fragment isn’t a modern “forgery”.

  5. Perhaps the most interesting paragraph in the whole journal number is King’s afterword on p.159 where all at once, in the light of a new radiocarbon date, she shifts her gaze from early coptic christianity to the Islamic era as the locus for the text!

  6. James Ernest permalink

    Apparently Depuydt is the lone dissenter and holds that all the tests are irrelevant?

    • Depuydt is the lone critic in the issue of HTR. It will, however, now be interesting to see whether Watson, Askeland, et alia re-join the discussion and offer views.

      • john smith permalink

        Morton Smith is smiling, laughing and waiting to hear what Watson and you have to say!

      • Really?? Why me in particular? I have no dog in this fight!

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