Friday, April 25, 2014

Jesus' Wife and her Ugly Sister

It's just two weeks since the story of the Jesus' Wife Fragment re-emerged, with -- most importantly -- a full discussion in a peer-reviewed journal, Harvard Theological Review.  I won't dwell on these materials here -- the links can be found through following the Jesus' Wife Fragment tag on this blog.  What I simply want to draw attention to here is Christian Askeland's devastating post on Evangelical Textual Criticism, which takes the biscuit for the best Jesus' wife-related headline of the last eighteen months (and the competition is tight!):

Jesus had an ugly sister-in-law

The joke title relates to the fact that since the Jesus' Wife Fragment was released in September 2012, there has been talk of a sister fragment, a Coptic fragment of the Gospel of John.  This fragment, along with the Jesus' Wife Fragment, was alleged to have been part of a cache of six fragments, and many of us wondered whether studying this related fragment might help with establishing the authenticity of the Jesus' Wife Fragment.  The difficulty, however, was that pictures of this fragment had not been released.

It turns out, however, that the Harvard Divinity School's Website on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife in fact features several much fuller versions of the material tests published in the recent Harvard Theological Review, including a couple of pictures of the hitherto unpublished John fragment, one in the Ink Study page, specifically James Yardley's report (PDF), and one in the Infrared Microspectroscopy page, specifically Timothy Swager's report (PDF).

The images of the fragment of John are revealing. I am extracting them here from the PDF of Swager's report, which has the superior pictures:

Those of us who have spent a lot of time staring at the Jesus' Wife Fragment will have found it an eery experience to have laid eyes, finally, on this related fragment today.  It is remarkable just how similar the hand is here, as Christian Askeland points out.  Moreover, the text of the manuscript appears to replicate the text of Herbert Thompson, The Gospel of St. John According to the Earliest Coptic Manuscript (London: British School of Archaeology in Egypt, University College, 1924), line breaks and all.

Askeland's astute observations are corroborated and echoed by Alin Suciu:

Christian Askeland finds the "Smoking Gun"

Suciu helpfully lays out the parallels between the verso of the fragment (above) and Thompson's edition.  I've checked the verso and the same is true for that too.  (I'll post an illustration tomorrow if anyone is interested).  Leo Depuydt has also been in touch today to say that he has checked up on the parallels and it is clear to him too -- this fragment is copied from Thompson's edition.

Like Grondin's Interlinear Gospel of Thomas on which the Jesus' Wife Fragment appears to depend, Thompson's 1924 edition is also available online.

The point, of course, is that if this fragment of John, in the same hand as the Jesus' Wife fragment, is clearly copied from a modern edition of an ancient manuscript, it makes a mockery of the idea that the Jesus' Wife Fragment could be genuine.  Moreover, as Christian Askeland explains:
Essentially all specialists believe that Lycopolitan and the other minor dialects died out during or before the sixth century.  Indeed, the forger tried to offer two manuscripts both in Lycopolitan, but made two crucial mistakes.  First, the NHC gospel of Thomas is not a pure Lycopolitan text, but the Qau codex is.  That is we have two clearly different subdialects of Lycopolitan, which agree exactly with published texts.  Second, this GJohn fragment has been 14C dated to the seventh to ninth centuries, a period from which Lycopolitan is totally unknown.
I should make clear that unlike Christian Askeland, Alin Suciu and Leo Depuydt, I have no expertise in these manuscripts and dialects.  But not only do I trust their judgement but also I have carefully studied the Thompson edition and this fragment of John and there seems little doubt to me that the one is copied from the other.   Kudos to Askeland, who was suspicious of the Jesus' Wife Fragment from the first, for taking the time to investigate this further and for sharing his expertise.

I am hoping to comment on these developments, and others, in due course, but one quick thought at this point: a great deal of time could have been saved by releasing images of this John fragment back in 2012.  It is material evidence in the case.  Even now, the pictures have only been released inadvertently as part of a study of the ink, not in order for the manuscript and language experts to study them.  I'd like to ask now, again, for a full release of all the other related materials -- the other four manuscripts in this cache as well as the associated back-story materials.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Smithsonian to air its documentary on the Jesus Wife Fragment

Following on from the recent re-emergence of the Jesus' Wife Fragment, and notwithstanding continued discussions about its authenticity, Smithsonian Channel is going ahead with broadcasting its documentary on the topic:

'Gospel of Jesus's Wife' debuts May 5
By Hal Boedeker

Regular readers may recall that the documentary was originally scheduled to go out on 30 September 2012, within a few weeks of the media campaign that began on 12 September 2012.  However, Smithsonian decided to put the documentary on hold, and some began to wonder if it would ever see the light of day. It then surfaced in France under the title Révélations sur la femme de Jésus and now it is slated to appear in an English version soon in the USA.

More anon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More doubts surface on the Jesus Wife Fragment

Live Science has been doing some digging in connection with the story associated with the Jesus Wife Fragment and this interesting article was published today:

'Gospel of Jesus's Wife': Doubts Raised About Ancient Text
By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor

I'm impressed that Live Science has followed leads actually to investigate the back story to the alleged discovery.  Given the owner's apparent insistence on anonymity, and given Harvard's apparent reluctance (so far at least) to publish the documents that are associated with the  fragment, one of the only avenues available in tracing the fragment's back story is to investigate the names associated with it.  The Live Science article centres on the most mysterious of the three, Hans-Ulrich Laukamp.  This is the crucial passage in the article, but it's all worth reading:
Our findings indicate that Laukamp was a co-owner of the now-defunct ACMB-American Corporation for Milling and Boreworks in Venice, Fla. Documents filed in Sarasota County, Fla., show that Laukamp was based in Germany at the time of his death in 2002 and that a man named René Ernest was named as the representative of his estate in Sarasota County. 
In an exchange of emails in German, Ernest said that Laukamp did not collect antiquities, did not own this papyrus and, in fact, was living in West Berlin in 1963, so he couldn't have crossed the Berlin Wall into Potsdam. Laukamp, he said, was a toolmaker and had no interest in old things. In fact, Ernest was astonished to hear that Laukamp's name had been linked to this papyrus . . . .
Read the whole article here.

Update (10.18pm): Alin Suciu makes the good point that Laukamp would not have had trouble, if he had West German papers, in travelling to East Germany, so it may be that this aspect of the story requires revision.

Update (Wednesday, 12.56pm): Commenter lizw notes:
"West Berliners were treated differently from other West Germans by the East German authorities. In 1963/64, the only period when an ordinary West Berliner would have been able to cross to the East was over the Christmas period, from 17 December 1963 to 5 January 1964. (Detailed chronology in the Wikipedia article at So while it is not impossible that Laukamp obtained the papyrus in Potsdam that year, it seems unlikely for someone with no prior interest in such material." 
Moreover, Owen Jarus, author of the above article in Live Science writes:
This link discusses pass agreements between west-east Berlin.
Border crossing only started December 17, 1963 and the crosser had to
have a pass, a relative in Berlin and the pass appears to be valid
only for Berlin only. Things improved in 1972 with the passing of the
Basic Treaty.
So it appears that indeed it is the case that a 1963 purchase of the fragment by Hans-Ulrich Laukamp in Potsdam is problematic.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Karen King is interviewed about the Jesus Wife Fragment

As far as I am aware, Prof. Karen King has not been interviewed about the Jesus Wife Fragment in public since the story first broke in September 2012.  But now WGBH has interviewed Prof. King about the fragment (broadcast yesterday).  I am delighted that Prof. King is now discussing this in public, something that will definitely contribute to the broader discussion about the fragment:

The interview is typical of the grace and clarity with which Prof. King approaches this subject as well as all her scholarship.  Although I am inclined to disagree with her on the subject matter, I, for one, am delighted that the dialogue genuinely appears to have opened up.

HT: Mike Grondin on the Gospel of Thomas e-list.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jesus' Wife Fragment Latest: Leo Depuydt responds to Karen King

It's now almost a week since Harvard Theological Review published its issue focusing on the Jesus' Wife Fragment (The Jesus' Wife Fragment is Back).  I have enjoyed spending time reading and studying the issue over the last week and I am planning to offer some of my responses to it in due course.

Francis Watson composed an initial response last week, Jesus' Wife Attempts a Comeback: Initial Response, and I would also draw attention to Christian Askeland's helpful comments, Jesus' Wife Resurrected from the Dead, alongside his fascinating post drawing attention to an element in Leo Depuydt's article, Demotic Gospel of Thomas.

Leo Depuydt's article in HTR is entitled The Alleged Gospel of Jesus's Wife: Assessment and Evaluation of Authenticity, and it is followed by a response from Karen King.

Depuydt has now responded to Karen King's article, and I am happy to post that response here, with his permission:

Leo Depuydt

Update (Thursday, 8.50am): Jim Davila criticizes the sarcastic tone of Depuydt's response on Paleojudaica, concluding with the comment "I am still quite skeptical that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is an ancient artifact, but King has made a real effort to keep the tone high and the skeptics should do the same."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Jesus Mysteries, National Geographic Channel

Mary Magdalene (Alice Marshall), The Jesus Mysteries
(Juniper TV; National Geographic)
This weekend, National Geographic Channel are showing a two hour documentary entitled The Jesus Mysteries.  It is written and directed by David Caldwell Evans for Juniper TV and it is being shown internationally, including Australia (Friday 18th), the UK (Easter Day, 20th; Radio Times), Sub-Saharan Africa (Easter Day, 20th), and the USA (Saturday, 19th).  Here's the series blurb:

Jesus Christ is one of the most famous names in the history of mankind. But Gospel writers left out crucial details about pivotal events in Christ's life - historical moments that have been adapted, embellished and rewritten over the course of hundreds of years. This special re-examines elements of Christ's life and ministry, such as the nativity, the miracles and the crucifixion - questioning basic modern assumptions to reveal some surprising and often shocking details.

There are a couple of clips available.  The first focuses on "Rabble Rousing" and discusses the temple incident and features Bart Ehrman, Helen Bond, Larry Hurtado and me:

The second discusses Mary Magdalene, "Prostitute or Disciple", and features Kate Cooper and Helen Bond, alongside Alice Marshall as Mary Magdalene:

I was interviewed for this in July in St Andrews, Scotland, just before Helen Bond was interviewed too.  Although I have not seen it yet, I like the look of the mix of drama and CGI reconstructions with scholars' interviews.  And the handsome Jesus figure is played by Nick Simmons, son of Gene Simmons from the legendary rock band Kiss.  Here he is in the boat with Joseph of Arimathea:

Nick Simmons as Jesus in The Jesus Mysteries, National Geographic

This and other photographs suggest that there will be some idiosyncratic elements covered, including legends like Jesus in England.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Jesus' Wife Attempts a Comeback: Initial Response, Francis Watson

I am grateful to Prof. Francis Watson, Research Chair of Biblical Interpretation, Durham University, for permission to post here his initial response to the recent re-emergence of discussion on the Jesus' Wife Fragment (see The Jesus' Wife Fragment is Back):

Jesus' Wife Attempts a Comeback: Initial Response
Francis Watson

Earlier pieces by Prof. Watson on the fragment are gathered here.