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Jesus ‘wife’ papyrus hits another snag

NASHVILLE (BP) — Professor Karen King has hit another snag in her efforts to publicize a papyrus fragment on which she says Jesus refers to a “wife,” as the Harvard Theological Review has postponed publication of her anticipated article, awaiting the results of further testing.

The Review was to publish in January a major article aimed at answering questions raised about the authenticity of the fragment, after King announced last September its discovery at an international conference of biblical scholars in Rome.

But King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, said the article is postponed because testing on the fragment is not complete, according to news reports. The postponement is believed to further discredit the fragment’s authenticity, which academics and theologians have questioned.

Harvard Divinity School spokesperson Kathryn Dodgson said the undisclosed owner of the fragment is making arrangements for further testing on its origin and authenticity, including “testing by independent laboratories with the resources and specific expertise necessary to produce and interpret reliable results,” CNN reported.

The Review has posted a provisional draft of King’s article on its website and plans to publish a finalized version after testing is complete, CNN reported.

“Until testing is complete, there is nothing more to say at this point,” Dodgson said in the CNN story.

Last October, the Smithsonian Channel delayed release of a film about the fragment, awaiting further testing.

The fragment, as translated, only includes portions of sentences, one of which is interpreted as “…’ Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…,’ ” the Review reports.

Jesus, God incarnate, lived on earth in the first century A.D. as a single, celibate teacher for approximately 33 years before His crucifixion on the cross and His resurrection, Christianity teaches.

King, who dubbed the text of the fragment “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” has never presented the fragment as proof of any claim that Jesus was married. On the Review’s website King writes the “fragment does not provide evidence that Jesus was married.”

The fragment’s fourth-century dating “argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus,” King writes, but also posits there is no “reliable historical evidence to support the claim that (Jesus) was not married….”

The papyrus fragment, smaller than a business card, includes eight lines of handwritten text in the Coptic language. Derived from the Greek alphabet, Coptic is essentially the Egyptian language represented with an alphabet rather than hieroglyphics. Some who have commented about the fragment note a strong resemblance to the non-canonical Gnostic manuscript known as the Gospel of Thomas.

Francis Watson of Durham University and Simon Gathercole of Cambridge have pointed out what they believe are tell-tale signs of forgery. Watson, in a paper posted online at www.markgoodacre.org/Watson.pdf, argues that the text appears to be constructed by a modern author rather than an ancient native Coptic speaker.

“Watson shows how the fragment looks as if a forger took snippets of quotations from various Coptic sources — mostly the Gospel of Thomas — and patched them together,” Leonard said. “Indeed, one line of the fragment ‘coincidentally’ ends at the same place where the text is broken off in the corresponding line of the only extant manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas.”

Simon Gathercole at Cambridge sees another reason for concern: the most inflammatory statement in the manuscript is squarely in the center of the fragment. While the shocking statement is in the middle, key explanatory information is missing because of where the document is torn.

Bill Warren, New Testament professor and director of the Haggard Center for New Testament Textual Studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, has followed the discussion about the new discovery. Warren said the “clean cuts” and careful framing of “my wife” without the surrounding words to provide context creates suspicion about the document’s authenticity.

“If we assume that the fragment is authentic, the placement of the main statement being discussed about Jesus saying ‘my wife’ right in the center of the fragment is at best suspicious, and the lack of a fuller context for knowing what exactly was being said lends itself to speculations that may be far off the mark if only a fuller context was known,” Warren said in September. “For example, was Jesus answering a question about ‘my wife’ and so used the wording from the questioner? We simply don’t know the context.”
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Diana Chandler. With reporting by Gary D. Myers, director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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