More on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife

If you are interested in the controversy over the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, the owner has been exposed by journalist Ariel Sabar in this month's Atlantic HERE.  It looks like we can without reservation put this document into the forgery category now that we know about its provenance, particularly that the letter authenticating the document is itself a forgery, but also that the owner had skills, knowledge and likely even motive, to forge the document.  It is a wild read all the way to the end of the article, and, Sabar is likely right to suggest that Walter Fritz may have been modeling all of this after the plot of the Da Vinci Code.  Truth can sometimes be wilder than fiction.

What are the facts about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife?

Jesus' Wife Fragment, photo from Harvard website  HERE

Jesus' Wife Fragment, photo from Harvard website HERE

Gospel of John Fragment, photo from Harvard website  HERE

Gospel of John Fragment, photo from Harvard website HERE

After last week, we now know that there are more questions that need to be answered about the Jesus' Wife fragment before we can assess it fully.  At least there are for me. 

This is not surprising since it is a new find and it takes time to work out all the facts and details.  The scientific analyses are just being made public, as are the first historical examinations of the fragment on the Harvard website HERE.  We know that it is written on authentic ancient papyrus from the seventh or eighth centuries and that its ink appears to be lamp black, also ancient.

I have kept a low profile on my blog about this fragment because I do not think that the blog is the best venue to vet manuscript finds like this.  Why?  Because the distribution of knowledge happens too quickly on blogs, before we have had time to really sort through everything, test our hypotheses, ask more questions that our hypotheses raise, and change them as necessary.  People make fast claims to be the first like a "news flash", sometimes very bold and sensational, and then, because blog posts are public, reputations end up on the line.  So it becomes personal very fast. And this can crowd out the truth which most often is slow in coming after a long process of reflection and revising.

In terms of this fragment, I don't have a dog in the fight.  Whether it is an authentic ancient document (or not) is not really too important to me since the fragment does not reveal anything to us that we didn't already know.  We knew that Jesus and Mary were lovers and spousal partners in the minds of some people in antiquity because we find this referenced in the Gospel of Philip and Valentinian Gnostic mythology. 

Recently there have been claims made that the fragment is definitively a forgery because it belongs to a cache that contains also a fragment of the Gospel of John.  This Johannine fragment appears to be a modern forgery because the way its line breaks were copied reflects the line breaks in a modern critical edition by Thompson.  This argument is bolstered by the claim that the inks and handwriting are the same on the Jesus' wife fragment and the John fragment, and that both are written in a Coptic dialect that ceased in the sixth century.  Our fragments are written on papyrus from the seventh or eighth centuries by their carbon date.

So I have some questions.

1.  The analysis I read on the Harvard website that compared the Johannine fragment with the Jesus' Wife fragment says explicitly that "the ink or inks used in GJW are similar to, but distinct from, the ink used for the Gospel of John manuscript" (HTR p. 164).  So the ink is not the same on both documents as some bloggers have been claiming.  So what does different inks mean? 

2.  As for the handwriting, I cannot find any paleographic analysis that compares the Jesus' Wife fragment with the John fragment.  Because I am not a paleographic expert, I don't know if it is the same hand or not.  Have I missed a published report on this?  And if it were the same hand, does this have to mean that the Jesus' Wife fragment is a forgery?  We have plenty of examples of archives copied by the same scribe. 

3. I have questions about the Gospel of John fragment.  Aren't the line breaks found in Thompson's edition also the line breaks on the actual manuscript pages?  I don't know the answer to this because I haven't had time to find photos of the manuscript itself.  Does anyone know?  If it is, then could we have someone copying from the ancient manuscript itself?  And if so, couldn't the copy have been made anytime from antiquity to the present?  And which way did the copying go?  Which manuscript of John was the first one?  The fragment pictured above?  Or the manuscript transcribed in Thompson's critical edition?  Do we have any other examples of manuscript copies from antiquity that have same line breaks?  I know that it is unusual, but is it unique?

4. The John fragment is not an exact copy of the manuscript found in Thompson's critical edition.  The preposition EBOL is found instead of ABAL.   What does this difference mean?

5.   The blogs also make reference to the dialect, arguing that since the dialect died out by the fifth or sixth century, it shouldn't be found on seventh or eighth century papyrus.  Thus it is a modern forgery.  Let's think about this.  Here we are talking subakhmimic which is quite common, especially in fourth and fifth century Coptic materials.  How might subakhimimic text end up on seventh or eighth century papyri?  It got copied from a fourth or fifth century document in the seventh or eighth century.  This says nothing about it being a modern forgery.  It just says it probably wasn't originally composed in the seventh or eighth centuries, but may reflect a copy of something earlier.

6. Have all the documents in the collection (I keep seeing references to six) been analyzed?  Are they related in any ways other than the fact that they were collected or sold together?  How are the hands related?  The ink?  The papyrus?  Where exactly did this collection come from? I am still very unclear about its history, so I would like to be enlightened with some facts about the collection itself. 

I sincerely apologize if I have gotten the facts wrong here, but because there is so much information distributed via blogs and web, I am having a difficult time sorting out fact from fiction.

 

Lead Tablets? Come on.

I was so hoping that I could avoid posting on the Jordanian Lead Tablet discovery. But, I keep getting people sending me links and asking me about what I think. So here it goes.

Sensationalism? It is the right time of year. It is nearing Easter, so what else should we expect from the media?

The minute I saw the first posts about it, my eyebrows raised.

Lead

tablets? We have examples of copper tablets, bronze tablets, and gold tablets from the period of early Christianity, but I don't know about lead tablets. This seems fishy to me.

"70 or so" books

? That also is fishy, especially when I discovered through a little internet research that the

original news release

said 20. Is it 70 or 20? How many books are in this horde?

What else am I skeptical about? Where do they come from? The

original news release

says these books were in the family for 100 years.

"The objects belong to Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in Galilee who says they have been in his family's possession since his great-grandfather found them in a cave in Jordan, a century ago."

The

latest news story

claims that they were found five years ago. I might note that this five-year window was simultaneous with the James ossuary trial. Coincidence? Or not?

They were written in

a code

? This is feeling more and more like popular fiction (or forgery?).

The lead scholar is David Elkington? Check out this

website

for his book

In the Name of the Gods

: "Everything that exists does so because of vibration." Is this really a summary of his book? And what is this about a book he published last year called

The Lead Codices

? Then I discovered that he has a literary agent and a book on these lead tablets already in production. Read all about it

HERE

. These are Elkington's credentials that I found on the

website announcing his book

In the Name of the Gods

:

David Elkington was born in England in 1962 but spent his formative years travelling and exploring the Southern Hemisphere with his parents. His childhood in Australia was supplemented by sojourns in Polynesia, New Zealand and Indonesia. It was in these places that he first developed an interest in Sacred Sites and ancient traditions.

He trained as an artist at the Bath Academy of Art where an interest in the relationship between Christian myth and sacred sites was fuelled. Research for 'In the Name of the Gods' began in earnest in the early 1980s when he walked through Europe and the Middle East on a quest to understand and appreciate the mind of Ancient Man and his relationship with particular sites upon the Earth. For 20 years David has been led on a revelatory trail through world mythology, linguistics and philology into geophysics, architecture, acoustics, music, neuro-physiology, theology and still further into the all-encompassing, resonant atmosphere of the planet. As his research continued, surprising results emerged. For several years, David has been working with Dr Keith Hearne, the 'father of lucid dream research', on a new area of psychology - Geolinguistics - which sees the development of language as a direct result of the Earth's physical environment.

David began to introduce his work to the public in 1996 when he presented a major lecture on 'Acoustic Resonance, Life and Consciousness' at the Quest for Knowledge Conference in London. He lectures in England and Europe, has co-hosted a tour of the major ancient sites of Egypt and is a member of the Egypt Exploration Society and Palestine Exploration Fund. He has been a consultant to the government of Sierra Leone, to the BBC, ITV, and to NASA.

These are all red flags for me. There is a lot of explaining that needs to be done before we can determine what these books are. At this point in the analysis we certainly shouldn't be claiming that they are going to revolutionize our understanding of early Christianity.

Come on. No one has even been able to read them yet!

Other posts and opinions on the subject:

http://paleojudaica.blogspot.com/2011_03_27_archive.html#8929466330980520973

http://cscoedinburgh.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/lead-tablets-news-story/

http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/more-on-the-lead-codices/

http://rogueclassicism.com/2011/03/30/lead-codices-silliness/

http://zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/secret-writings-about-the-last-years-of-jesus/

http://zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/philip-davies-on-the-newly-discovered-jesus-plates-scrolls-whatever/

http://www.patheos.com/community/bibleandculture/2011/03/29/lead-codices-about-jesus-the-latter-years/

http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2011/03/latest-on-lead-books-from-bbc-and.html?showComment=1301442142419#comment-c5159507401733979034

http://www.postost.net/2011/03/strange-true-sealed-christian-books-found-bedouin

http://daralqibt.blogspot.com/2011/03/jordan-battles-to-regain-priceless.html

http://www.gentlewisdom.org.uk/3130/new-discovery-as-important-as-dead-sea-scrolls/

http://theconnexion.net/wp/?p=10063#axzz1HzgDbZiR

Photo from BBC release

HERE

.

UPDATE: Jim Davila has posted an excellent analysis of one of the Tablets, figured out by Peter Throneman. This is very strong evidence that these are forgeries and we need to be very cautious.

http://paleojudaica.blogspot.com/2011_03_27_archive.html#7454369078247746754