Saturday, September 29, 2012

Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity Conference this week!

Speaking of Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, I should mention that the conference on Criteria in Historical Jesus research is at hand.  It takes place in Dayton, Ohio on Thursday and Friday this week and there is still time to register:

Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity

I will be there and I am planning to live blog the conference as far as possible.  It should be an excellent occasion.  I look forward to meeting some of you there too.

Update (2.54pm): the full conference schedule is available here, with thanks to Anthony Le Donne.

Interview with me on The Jesus Blog

Over on their thriving new Jesus Blog, Anthony Le Donne and Chris Keith have posted an interview with me in four parts.  It ranges from Historical Jesus research, with special reference to the forthcoming conference in Dayton, Synoptic Problem, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Jesus Wife fragment.  I like the Star Trek reference in part 4 below:

On Multiple Attestation in Jesus research

On using criteria in teaching

On the Gospel of Thomas and Q

Is the Gospel of Jesus' Wife a fake?

Thanks to Chris and Anthony for the opportunity to chat to them about these issues.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Christian Askeland on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife: Forgery?

This short video presentation from Christian Askeland on the question of the authenticity of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment deserves a blog post of its own:


"This video attempts to graphically illustrate some peculiarities of the Jesus' Wife Gospel which have persuaded Coptologists that the fragment is in fact a modern forgery. The presentation is targeted to a non-academic audience."

The video is about the length of an episode of the NT Pod, so it won't take too much of your time.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thomas and the Gospels out in the UK too

Thanks to Todd Brewer for this pic proving that my Thomas and the Gospels is now out in the UK too!

It has a slightly different title in the UK, Thomas and the Gospels: The Making of an Apocryphal Text and a different cover.  You can order it from Amazon (previous link) although they are still giving a release date of 18 October.

I don't see the book yet on the SPCK website.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for the book in the USA, try Eerdmans (where it is now showing up as "in stock") or Amazon(which gives the release date as 24 Sept).

Revised versions of Francis Watson's Articles on the Jesus Wife Fragment

I am grateful to Francis Watson for sending over revised and updated versions of his short articles on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment.  These revised versions take account of the new findings on lines 6 and 7.  Prof. Watson explains his revisions in the main article, note 1, crediting the various people responsible for them both there and at appropriate points later.  I have uploaded the pieces to the same places as before, so the old links will all work, but the links are gathered here again for convenience.

Of the three articles, the first is for the non-specialist and the other two include discussion of the language.  The second here is the main piece:

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed
Francis Watson

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed
Francis Watson

Addendum: The End of the Line?
Francis Watson

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My new book has arrived!

Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas's Familiarity with the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012) arrived today!

A Fed Ex man personally brought a nice box full of copies to my office this afternoon.

That's my hand in the picture, just to prove that it's real and not just a pic from a catalogue.

Many thanks to the folk at Eerdmans who have done such a great job.  The British edition, from SPCK, should follow soon.

Thanks too to everyone who provided encouragement along the way.  As for me, I am not going to look at it now that I can't do anything about the contents.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: Latest News

When I was blogging about this last Thursday, just a couple of days after the announcement of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, I commented that "the story is moving fast!".  There has been no change in that pace over the last few days.  Francis Watson's three articles on the topic (plus Bible and Interpretation piece) made the papers and convinced many scholars that there is sufficient reason at least to question the authenticity of the fragment.

Watson's case is that the fragment is so clearly made up of a patchwork of pieces from our one complete Coptic textual witness of the Gospel of Thomas that scepticism about its antiquity should be the order of the day.  The issue of the parallel line break, in the very first line of the fragment, is particularly telling.  This is not a case of one text being broadly influenced by another.  It is a matter of a fragment that features a patchwork of agreement in Coptic with a specific textual witness of a work probably composed in Greek.

Watson's essay raised a couple of questions, though, about lines 6 and 7 of the fragment, which did not appear to be paralleled in Thomas.  I suggested last night that the last line is also from Thomas, something that Päivi Vähäkangas had also pointed out on Facebook (with thanks to Alin Suciu for pointing this out).  And then Oli Homron, in a comment here, noted the following parallel for line 6:

This meant that every line, practically every word, of the Jesus Wife Fragment appeared to have a parallel in Coptic Thomas as found in Nag Hammadi Codex II.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bernhard, author of Other Early Christian Gospels and the long time author of the gospels. net website, was working hard on a superb synopsis that illustrates clearly the parallels between the Gospel of Jesus' Wife and the Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas:

Synopsis of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife and the Coptic Gospel of Thomas

And he has an article that discusses the parallels:

Could the Gospel of Jesus' Wife be a "Collage" of Words and Phrases Culled Exclusively from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas?
By Andrew Bernhard

It's a detailed, clear and also well-measured piece, that draws together others' discussions (above) though in discoveries that Bernhard made independently of them.  It also features the intriguing suggestion that a modern forger could have used not a printed edition of Coptic Thomas but Mike Grondin's interlinear edition on the net, alongside a rudimentary knowledge of the first few pages of Lambdin's grammar.  To keep up to date with Bernhard's postings, see his page at

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife

When a story like this is moving so fast, it is great to have James McGrath around.  He has continued to post updates and today has produced a great round-up with the amusing header:

Is Jesus' Wife Turning into Thomas?

I do not want to give the impression that opinion has all coalesced against the authenticity of the fragment, though.  Michael Peppard tonight adds the following thoughtful piece:

Is the "Jesus wife" papyrus a forgery? And other queries

And it's worth adding that the issue of whether or not the historical Jesus had a wife continues to be discussed, including this lively piece by Heather Hahn for the United Methodist Church:

Did Jesus have a wife?

The piece even has a little quotation of me, and has other new material including quotations from Mark Chancey of SMU.

At this point, though, there does not seem to be much doubt about the way that the wind is blowing, and there does seem to be sufficient doubt about the authenticity of the piece for most to feel ill at ease with some of the more sanguine assessments that were being made only a week ago.

Then this evening it was reported that Harvard Theological Review had "decided against publishing Karen King's paper on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife" (Update on the the Gospel of Jesus' Wife (from Craig Evans), via Brian LePort on Near Emmaus).  If this report is indeed accurate, I suspect that this may be a good decision given the questions that have been raised about the fragment over the last week, but of course time will tell whether there will be further twists in the tale.

I'd guess that the impact of the Smithsonian Channel's documentary (Youtube clips) will be lessened in the light of the questions over the fragment's authenticity, but I will certainly be watching and hope to live blog it too.  It's scheduled for broadcast on Sunday at 8pm and again at 11pm, either side of a documentary about the Titanic.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gospel of Jesus' Wife: the last line is also from Thomas

Francis Watson's essay, The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: How a Fake Gospel Fragment was Composed, argues, I think persuasively, that the Gospel fragment that has been at the centre of so much discussion over the last week or so was composed by means of collecting together a patchwork of pieces from the Gospel of Thomas.

Watson suggested that the last line of the fragment (line 7), however, was taken over not from Thomas but from Matthew.  I would like to suggest that in fact this line is also derived from Thomas.

Here is the last line of the fragment:

] . ⲁⲛⲟⲕ  ϯϣⲟⲟⲡ  ⲛⲙⲙⲁⲥ ⲉⲧⲃ ⲡ [

" . I am with her on account of . . . "

This bears a striking resemblance to the last part of Thomas 30:

ⲡⲙⲁ ⲉⲩⲛ̅ⲥⲛⲁⲩ ⲏ ⲟⲩⲁ ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ϯϣⲟⲟⲡ ⲛⲙⲙⲁϥ

"The place which has two or one, I am with him"

Here we have the same three words in Coptic in sequence, ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ϯϣⲟⲟⲡ ⲛⲙⲙⲁ(ϥ / ⲥ), "I am with her / him", with just the switch from male to female.  Moreover, even the last word and a bit of the line is found in the same context -- ⲉⲧⲃ ⲡ . . ., "on account of ?" comes twice in Thomas 29, ⲉⲧⲃⲉ  ⲡ̅ⲛ̅ⲁ̅, "because of spirit" and ⲉⲧⲃⲉ ⲡⲥⲱⲙⲁ, "because of the body".  

I would like to suggest, then, that Francis Watson is bang on the money in finding the Gospel of Jesus' Wife to be a patchwork of pieces from the Gospel of Thomas, and to offer this suggestion as extending and so confirming his excellent case.

Note: I have used a Coptic unicode font above.  If you can't see the Coptic, please see this PDF of the post instead.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Francis Watson, Addendum: The End of the Line?

Prof. Francis Watson has written another piece on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife which I am happy to post here:

Francis Watson

There are therefore three articles in total, which I will gather here for the reader's convenience.  The first is for the non-specialist and the other two include discussion of the language:

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed
Francis Watson

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed
Francis Watson

Addendum: The End of the Line?
Francis Watson

Update (Monday): Francis Watson has now written a fourth piece over at Bible and Interpretation, with thanks to both Francis and to Jim West for sending me the link:

Inventing Jesus' Wife
Francis Watson

The essay summarizes the case for non-specialists and goes on to answer several key questions that arise from the analysis.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Francis Watson's Introduction and Summary on the composition of a fake Gospel-fragment

I am grateful to Prof. Francis Watson for following up his earlier article, The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed, with a piece providing an introduction and summary, which will be particularly helpful for non-specialists:

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed
Francis Watson

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed, by Francis Watson

I would like to thank Francis Watson, Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University for the opportunity to publish the following short article:

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed
Francis Watson

Update (9.49): see now also Watson's Introduction and Summary for non-specialists.

Update (15.24): The story has made The Guardian:

Gospel of Jesus's Wife is fake, claims expert
Scholar says papyrus fragment believed to provide evidence that Jesus was married is a modern forgery
Andrew Brown

(Note: there are three errors in the piece; (1) "Karen King from Harvard university holds the papyrus fragment that has four words written in Coptic, which are believed to prove
Jesus was married".  She does not believe that these prove that Jesus was married.  Rather, she holds that some Christians believe that this was the case in the second half of the second century.  The fragment has a lot more than "four words" too.  (2) In the second half of the article, Francis Watson is called "Martin" by mistake. (3) In Secret Mark, it is not correct that "Jesus spent the night with naked youths"; he spends the night, of the duration of this passage at least, with just one naked youth.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: The Story is Moving Fast!

The internet age really has changed the way that news stories like this develop, for good and for bad.  It's only 48 hours since I last had a moment to blog about The Gospel of Jesus' Wife and in that time, the story has developed at a dramatic pace, with news outlets all over the world publishing stories on the find, with scholars attempting to analyze the new find, and the bloggers trying like mad to keep up with everything that is going on.

At times like this, I am really grateful for ninja-bloggers like James McGrath, who has updates that scour the blogs for comments, in 2 Jesus' Wife and 3 Jesus' Wife, with lots of links of interest (and he still has time to blog on Doctor Who too -- you've got to admire that), and Jim West who, while outspoken, is often the first to get to a story.

But I'd like to comment on four things that have got my attention tonight:

(1) There is no doubt that this story is massive.  I expected it to get some media coverage and interest when it emerged on Tuesday, but I did not expect the huge amount of interest that it has picked up. It is bigger, I would say, than the James Ossuary in 2003, the Gospel of Judas in 2006 and the Talpiot Tomb in 2007 and 2012.  This story, which enables journalists to use "Jesus' wife" in the title of an article, sounds totally compelling.   This can be a problem for scholars of early Christianity -- the phone rings, the emails pour in, and everyone wants to know what you think about "Jesus' wife".  And getting on top of the scholarship on the fragment in a short time frame can be daunting, especially if you are deep into teaching, meetings and other things.

(2) It is becoming clearer all the time that many of the experts doubt the authenticity of the fragment.  It seems "too good to be true" -- it fits the Zeitgeist (Jim Davila; see update) and it seems remarkable good fortune that so tiny a fragment now coming to light from a mysterious stranger just happens to talk about Jesus' wife.  Since papyrology is not my expertise, I am inclined to defer to the experts on this one, and it is troubling that so few people appear to want  to endorse the fragment's authenticity.  Christian Askeland's arguments, which incline towards the suggestion that it is a fake, sound persuasive to me (and read the fascinating comments thread). And he's not alone.  Stephen Emmel and Alin Suciu have both expressed their Doubts over Harvard claim of 'Jesus' wife' papyrus and I am looking forward to hearing more from them in due course.  This is how bad it is at the moment, on day 3: it is difficult to find any expert other than those involved with the publication of the piece who think that it is genuine.

(3) I must admit to a little disappointment in finding out tonight, after having praised the careful, sober, scholarly treatment of the release on Tuesday, that there is -- after all -- something of a dramatic, sensational TV documentary at hand.  It has clearly been in production for months and Smithsonian are branding it as a "sensational" find of  "Biblical proportions" that will cause people to "reassess Christian theology".  "She knew that it was a blockbuster."  Of course, this kind of thing is simply part of the publicity machine of the channel, but there is something a touch disappointing about finding out that after all, the press releases were timed to coincide with the the pre-publicity for the documentary (which airs on 30 September).  I may be being unfair here but I can't help feeling that this takes away from some of what I and others admired about Harvard's handling of the release on Tuesday.

(4) It is perhaps not surprising to see Simcha Jacobovici endorsing the new discovery as corroborating his claims about the Talpiot Tombs, which he alleges to have belonged to Jesus, his family, and some of his earliest disciples (Jesus was married.  Something has changed!).  I doubt that Karen King will be pleased with the endorsement, not least given her repeated caution about the fragment being useless for historical Jesus work.

There is certainly lots more to come.  I hope to find time to write about the fragment again tomorrow, and in particular to look at how the media misconstrues what scholars mean by "authenticity".

Note: Smithsonian are offering a trailer and a sneak preview of the documentary.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife

You know when it's a big breaking news story when your phone is pinging all day with people asking, "Hey, have you heard about this?", "What do you think?", "Is there anything in it?" and so on.  Actually, it's going to provide a fantastic teaching opportunity (or two) for me this semester, especially as I am running my Non-canonical Gospels class at the moment, and we are in the middle of looking at the Gospel of Thomas, with other important related texts like the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip to come.

I am referring, of course, to what has been labelled The Gospel of Jesus' Wife, announced today and covered in many media outlets, two of the fullest and most prominent of which are the following:

by Laurie Goodstein (New York Times)

Lisa Wangsness (Boston Globe)

A quick google news search will reveal many, many more pieces.  I rather like the Globe headline, which illustrates nicely why it is that other news outlets go for something a touch more sensational.  

The gist of the story is that Prof. Karen King from Harvard Divinity School has published a papyrus fragment that appears to date to the late fourth century, a fragment that appears to be from a hitherto unknown, unpublished Gospel.  No one knows where the piece comes from or what the date of the literary work might be.  It is therefore labelled by means of its most distinctive feature, where Jesus seems to refer to "my wife"!

Not surprisingly, the bloggers have been doing sterling work on the story all day, with an excellent round-up of lots of the key posts over on James McGrath's Exploring Our Matrix.

It is difficult to get on top of the find in one evening, especially when it's an evening that has been filled with all the other usual grind through emails and admin., but I'd like to offer one or two initial impressions, with the hope that I will be able to offer more in due course.

(1) The way that this has been handled by Karen King and the others who have been involved (Harvard Divinity School; AnneMarie Luijendijk etc.) is exemplary.  They have avoided sensation, they have not rushed to judgement and they have not used the media as the primary outlet for publication.  Harvard Divinity School have published a helpful press release:

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus

It features a high-definition picture of the fragment in question, an FAQ aimed at journalists, and most importantly a draft of King's forthcoming article offering a detailed and balanced study of the fragment:

“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus
by Karen L. King
with contributions by AnneMarie Luijendijk

The article runs to a whopping 52 pages (and a lot of typos) but it is clear and informative and it is a nice gift to scholars and students to make this peer-reviewed article available several months ahead of publication in Harvard Theological Review.  (See also the New York Times piece for a superb magnifying glass effect for looking closely at the fragment).

[Note added 24 October: the draft article now appears also appears here, and this is now the version linked on the above site.]

(2) The fragment appears to be genuine but some will definitely want to place a question mark over its authenticity until more study can be done.  The fact that it has a bit of Da Vinci Code frisson inevitably inclines one to question the piece, but sometimes fascinating discoveries do coincide with popular cultural obsessions.  The Gospel of Judas, for example, is a genuine ancient text in spite of the fact that its fascination with Judas coheres with our culture's interest in the character over the last generation or two.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to read in Karen King's article that one of the three referees, for Harvard Theological Review, was sceptical about the authenticity of the piece.

(3) Karen King and others have repeatedly, rightly stressed that the fragment tells us nothing about the historical Jesus and whether or not he was married.  It is a fragmentary witness of a work that may date as early as the late second century, but it is a work that does not tell us anything about Mrs. Jesus.  It's not what the press will want to hear, and there is no doubt that there will be lots of hang-wringing and stomping up and down from scholars all too eager to spoil the media's party.

(4) The text really does seem to presuppose that Jesus had a wife.  In Jesus' speech, he uses the Coptic phrase tahime, "My wife".  He speaks similarly, in the same fragment, of "My mother", tamaau.  Jesus also refers to "Mary" but the text is too fragmentary for one to be able to conclude whether the name refers to his wife or mother or both.

(5) Even though the fragment has only a few lines, it definitely evokes the atmosphere of other second and third century Gospels, especially the Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Mary.  One of the strongest passages in King's article looks at the similarities between the new find and two famous passages in the Gospel of Philip.  The fragment instantly reminded me of Gospel of Philip 59, which speaks about Jesus' relationship with his mother, his sister and his companion, all of whom were called Mary (King, 37-9 etc.).

(6) I am not a papyrologist but I can't get over how amateurish and blotchy the fragment's text looks.  It is clearly written by someone using a thick nibbed pen and it looks weird.  Several letters are particularly bold, as if someone has written over them them for emphasis, including TA, the "my" in "my wife".

Well, these are just a few initial thoughts.  I'm looking forward to reading more and hearing more about the unknown gnostic Mrs Jesus in this mysterious fragment of an enigmatic work.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Jesus Blog - Le Donne and Keith

I've been enjoying the new blog from Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne.  Its focus is on historical Jesus research and it intersects in a timely way with the release of their new co-edited book, Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity (London & New York: T & T Clark, 2012).  It also acts adds to the sense of anticipation ahead of the associated Conference in Dayton, Ohio in a couple of weeks (4-5 October).

The Jesus Blog

There is more, though, than just reflections on the book and the forthcoming conference.  There is the first part of an interview with Helen Bond and a top ten on why not to start a blog, which includes the point that "Martin Hengel never blogged".  I think that that fact would encourage me to start a blog, but that's just me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Conference on Douglas Campbell's work on Paul

Spotted this over on Jim West's blog:

A Critical Engagement with Douglas Campbell’s "The Deliverance of God"
Duke Divinity School
November 9-10, 2012
This conference will engage Douglas Campbell’s book, "The Deliverance of God" (Eerdmans, 2009). It will summarize and critically discuss his proposals concerning the modern interpretation of Paul’s justification language, argumentation, and resulting version of the gospel. It will cover broader church historical and theological issues, key questions of close exegesis, and the politics of interpretation, especially in the modern American context.
Scholars, students, ministers, and interested lay people are all welcome to attend.
Speakers include Alan Torrance and Chris Tilling as well as a number of locals including Stephen Chapman, Stanley Hauerwas and Susan Eastman.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Bible in the Public Square Conference

The Bible in the Public Square conference is now well underway here at Duke and so far it has been an excellent event, with a lively and very stimulating paper last night by Jacques Berlinerblau on the Bible and American presidential politics, continuing this morning with four presentations on the intersection between the Bible and American popular culture by Adele Reinhartz, David Stowe, David Morgan and Rubén R. Dupertuis.  These were all excellent but given my interest in the Bible and film, I particularly enjoyed Adele Reinhartz's presentation about the Cecil B. DeMille Ten Commandments.  

I will continue to live tweet the event with the hashtag #biblepublicsquare.  So far, not many others joining in on that one though the events have been well attended.

If you weren't aware, you can catch the live stream of the conference on UStream.  Just navigate your way to Watch the conference live! on the site's main page.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Private Eye on the Telegraph's plagiarized obituary of Marvin Meyer

This week's Private Eye (issue 1322, for 7 September 2012) has a feature on The Telegraph's plagiarized obituary of Marvin Meyer (see Plagiarism in the Telegraph's Obituary of Marvin Meyer, exposed here last week).  If you are in the UK, the issue is in the shops now and you will find the article on p. 27 under the subheading "Gospel Truth".

The article is nicely done, with due credit to Todd Brewer who first spotted the plagiarism, and a mention of me and my blog.  I particularly liked this sentence in the closing paragraph:
"Moral of the story," Goodacre tells the Eye: "if you are going to plagiarize, don't do it when writing obituaries of scholars whose work involves source criticism of texts."
Many thanks to Richard Bartholomew for sending me a scan of the page.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Nine years old today!

Happy blogiversary to me!  The NT Blog is nine years old today.  The first blog post, back when it was called the NT Gateway Weblog, was on 2 September 2003.  I don't blog quite as often now as I did then, but I still enjoy the blog and hope I'll still be here for the tenth anniversary next year.

And it's happy blogiversary also to David Meadows at RogueClassicism whose blog is a few days older than mine.

Previous blogiversaries are self-indulgently labelled here.

August Biblioblog Carnival

Jim West has put together an excellent round-up of all the blogging posts of interest for the month of August, It’s The August Biblioblog Carnival! The ‘Look, There’s a List of Biblioblog Twitterers’ Edition.  The twitterers link isn't working for me at the moment, but otherwise it's all good stuff.

Update (22.25): The Bibliobloggers who tweet link is now working again.