CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth


In my time debating the truth of Christianity, I have observed some skeptics (not all) ask questions for the same end to which Rumpelstiltskin asked people to guess his name. They ask questions not expecting an answer, but rather to watch the people asked squirm; i.e., they ask questions with unwarranted confidence that the people asked will not have the answer. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that the questions they ask aren’t worth asking. Rather, the motivation is false; the questions are being asked not to get information to make an honest evaluation of the facts, but rather they ask because they want to hear the Christians stumble about trying to answer.

I heard one such Rumpelstiltskin call in to a talk radio program a few days ago. His words were something to the effect of: 
Hey, Jim, I can prove that God doesn’t exist. God’s omniscient, right? Well I’m an atheist and that means that God knew when he created me that I would be going to hell, right?
I have a question: what are the chances that this particular skeptic was looking for an answer to his question? This Rumpelstiltskin, like many of his kin, asks the question because he thinks that he alone, among the millions of skeptics who are collectively infinitely smarter than he, has found the Jenga block which, if removed, will cause the entire Christian edifice to collapse. So Rumpelstiltskin asks his question and laughs while the poor Christian stumbles about seeking the answer. He knows that the Christian will not have the answer because there is no answer – or so he thinks. But until he gets answered, he will run around spouting his question to unsuspecting Christians.

Let me be clear: the question Rumplestiltskin asked would be legitimate if asked honestly. Rumplestiltskin didn’t ask the question honestly seeking an answer. Rather, he used the question as a sword to slash at Christian belief. To that extent, responding to Rumpelstiltskin ultimately proves pointless because Rumpelstiltskin doesn’t want an answer. But what about the honest skeptic who wants to know if an answer to this question exists, or the church member who hears the question and wants to understand how the God who she knows exists could do such a thing? Should there be an answer for him or her? I will try to respond to this question not for the sake of Rumpelstiltskin, but rather for those who want to engage in real conversation.

First, let’s acknowledge that the answer to the question posed by Rumpelstiltskin is not easy. There is no single Bible verse of which I am aware that answers this question. The Bible is not intended to answer every question about God, but rather exists to tell us some of God’s attributes and to explain his plan of salvation. Keep in mind, God (assuming He exists) is not obligated to answer our every question. Rather, as Paul noted in Romans 9 and as the Book of Job points out, if God has chosen to not reveal detailed answers to man as to his reasons for doing things, mankind has no cause to complain. 
[W]ho are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
This is similar to the answer that God gave to Job when he sought an answer to why he had suffered. In the final chapters of Job, God appears to Job, but rather than answer the question directly, God pointed out to Job that Job was not God. God, being God, can do as He pleases, and mankind does not have the right to question Him. As Isaiah 55:8-9 says, 
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Moreover, mankind’s thoughts are often flawed especially when it comes to the ways of God and the flaws are even more pronounced when trying to understand those things that God has not chosen to reveal. Consider the many disagreements that occur even within the Christian church about what He is like and what he desires or commands. Must baptism be full immersion or is sprinkling acceptable? The answer is disputed. Is communion symbolic, actual transformation or real presence? Again, it depends upon the denomination and the individual.  Will there be a rapture and if so will it occur pre-tribulation or post-tribulation? We don’t know. We can make arguments, but the simple answer is that we won’t know until God does it. So, when you hear a question like Rumplestiltskin’s, even when asked honestly, it appears that the answer can change depending from which tradition the answer comes.

Thus, anyone seeking to answer Rumplestiltskin’s question must approach it with humility and a willingness to admit the possibility that the proposed answer could be wrong. Those reading the answer I will propose and disagree: I ask that you approach my response with the understanding that I am making my best effort to answer a question which, to my knowledge, is not directly answered in the Bible. If I am wrong, I welcome appropriate and respectful critiques.

I will continue this in part 2

In looking at my Yahoo! mail page, I came across the article I expected to find much earlier in the month. It was entitled Whither the birthplace of Jesus? O little town of Bethlehem vs. the littler village of Bethlehem of the Galilee. The sum and substance of the article is that an Israeli archaeologist, Aviram Oshri, has made the claim that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem of Judea, as reported in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (and as alluded to in John). Instead, he argues that Jesus was born in a little town of Bethlehem of Galilee. The article quotes Mr. Oshri as saying:

I had never before questioned the assumption that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. But in the early 1990s, as an archaeologist working for the IAA, I was contracted to perform some salvage excavations around building and infrastructure projects in a small rural community in the Galilee. When I started work, some of the people who lived around the site told me how Jesus was really born there, not in the south. Intrigued, I researched the archaeological evidence for Bethlehem in Judea at the time of Jesus and found nothing. This was very surprising, as Herodian remains should be the first thing one should find. What was even more surprising is what archaeologists had already uncovered and what I was to discover over the next 11 years of excavation at the small rural site--Bethlehem of Galilee.
Since some people won't search back into the archives here at CADRE Comments, I point out that I have already made a rather detailed response to Mr. Oshri's claims in Part V of my series on whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem and Galilee. In sum, I think that Mr. Osrhi's claims are not well supported, and I invite the reader who is interested to read some of the evidence that Mr. Oshri seems to conveniently overlook.

With the recent school shooting in Connecticut, I wouldn't be surprised if Christmas sermons leaned a little more than usual this year on the incident of Herod slaughtering the baby boys in Bethlehem.

I would however be surprised if many Christian sermons bothered to talk about the Old Testament verses being referenced by Matthew (or whoever authored/compiled/redacted/whatever the Greek text of The Gospel According to Matthew--but for ease of reference I'll go with Matthean authorship hereafter).

That's because many Christian preachers would have good reason to be nervous about looking into why Matthew cites this incident as fulfilling a prophecy from Jeremiah.

I on the other hand think Matthew's reference is hugely important and relevant, not only in regard to Christian hope for innocent victims, but also in regard to Christian hope for those who slaughter the innocent!


...what? Hope in Christ, and in the grace of God, for Herod and for his murderous thugs?! Hope for modern murderers, too, even if they have already died in their sins?!?


If you aren't already tired of Christian preachers piggy-backing on horrible tragedy for our sermons, and want to read something you probably aren't going to hear from most of us this year (plus a few apologetics along the way in favor of the historicity of the Bethlehem Slaughter), click here on the jump to proceed!


First, a bit of catchup for those who don't have a Bible handy.

Herod the Great, probably in his final days of murderous paranoia, has heard from a group of (probably pagan) astrologers that the Messiah has recently been born. Naturally they thought they ought to check his palace first, but Herod's own wise men indicate the Messiah is supposed to be born in Bethlehem--either way, Herod is not of the line of Davidic kingship, but is actually an Idumean: basically he descends from Esau, the older son of the Jewish patriarch Isaac, not from Jacob Esau's (slightly) younger twin, much less from King David (descended from Judah, son of Jacob). So the news of the Branch of David having finally been born is something he would regard as a threat.

Allow me a moment of digression: the term "branch of David", sometimes used by the Jewish prophets to talk about God's coming Anointed King or King Messiah, is probably what Matthew is referring to when he connects Jesus growing up in Nazareth and being thereby called "a Nazarene" to Jewish prophecy: in Hebrew "branch" would be a pun for Nazarene. That's admittedly rather a stretch to find some way to fit the Messiah coming from Nazareth, but in terms of ancient Jewish "midrash" commentary it works well enough, and more importantly it indicates that the Gospel reports of Jesus coming from Nazareth weren't opportunistically invented to fulfill prophecy after the fact: it's an embarrassing historical detail the authors had to work around in various ways. This method of dealing with annoying historical details will come back soon in a far more important way!

Anyway, at this time, late in his life, Herod responds to threats by making sure those threats stop living: he has already slaughtered enough of his own friends and family (including his beloved wife) thanks to irrational paranoia, as we can discover from non-Biblical sources, so killing this baby fits his historical attitudes. He decides to use the Magi (the wizards, as we might call those astrologers) to find the child and report back so that he can come worship, too--except by 'worship' he really means 'kill dead'.

The Magi don't suspect foul play, but are later warned by an angel in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they leave the area by another route. Joseph, the father of the baby Jesus, is also warned about Herod in a dream, and flees with Jesus and mother Mary to Egypt.

By the time Herod realizes the Magi aren't coming back, Jesus is safely out of the way, but Herod doesn't know that. Since he doesn't know which baby to target, he tells a group of soldiers, most likely from his own court guard (thus fellow Jews, not part of the Roman cohort stationed in the region to support him), to go kill every boy in and around Bethlehem, from two years old down.

That wouldn't actually be many boys, considering how small Bethlehem was; and if Herod sends his own troops they could be easily disguised as Idumean raiders--thus explaining why only Matthew out of other surviving sources (even in other Gospels) records the raid. For non-Christian historians it might not be important enough to even have heard about; but even Christian historians would be edgy about including it, because innocent children died as an apparently unintended side-effect of the birth of the Messiah!

I'm not just speculating about Christian historians being uncomfortable about including it either. There's evidence in GosMatt itself that Matthew thought it was an embarrassing historical detail: he has to reach really reeeaaaally hard to find some way of demonstrating that the tragedy had some kind of meaningful purpose after all.

Specifically, Matthew thinks he can show that the Slaughter of the Innocents was allowed by God as another sign that the Messiah had at last been born. So he quotes Jeremiah 31:15 as a prophecy fulfilled by their deaths:

A sound in Ramah is heard! 
Lamentation and much anguish;

Rachel lamenting her children;
and she would not be comforted,
--_for they are not_.

That seems very impressive, right? And so, his purpose accomplished, Matthew moves along with his version of the Nativity story.

But there's a big problem.

That verse, and its surrounding prophecy, has less than nothing to do with mourning over innocent children slain unjustly by a murderer.

In fact, there's nothing in that prophecy specifically about the coming Messiah either.

Instead, that particular verse is about righteous Israel (poetically typified by Rachel, wife of the Patriarch Jacob) wailing in lamentation and anguish over the deaths of her rebel children slain in their sins by God in the Day of the Lord to come!

Now, one could argue that even this vastly huge difference would be par enough for the course by standards of Jewish midrash commentary. But on the other hand, vastly huge differences of this sort are why most Christians (and most non-Christians!) don't have a particularly good opinion of rabbinic midrashing.

I can guarantee this is one big reason why most of my readers won't be hearing about the Old Testament contexts of Matthew's application of the Slaughter of the Innocents as fulfilled Messianic prophecy. Not from Christian preachers or apologists anyway: it looks a lot more like evidence against taking Christianity seriously! A canonical author is willing to go this far off base in a desperate attempt to deal with a bothersome historical detail?!--how can we trust him to be fair and honest or even accurate about interpreting other historical details!?


But then comes a subtle and important corollary to that criticism:

It can't be made without acknowledging that Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and the subsequent slaughter of the baby sons in and around that town are at least most likely historical details!

You see, it's very popular among anti-Christian apologists to try to argue that Luke and Matthew invented the Bethlehem stories in order to fit a prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, not from Nazareth--a concept even John's Gospel seems embarrassed about.

This in itself would be strong internal evidence that Jesus not only existed but (at least) grew up in Nazareth!--thus also that Nazareth existed in some (apparently insignificant) form in those days. As I previously noted, we can see Matthew trying hard to make Nazareth fit prophecy somehow by appealing to a pun on one of the nicknames of Messiah Son of David.

But he has to try hard about such things, because Matthew regards the details of Jesus' childhood as facts he feels obligated to work with rather than ignore; thus if the facts are inconvenient, he does his best to provide them with a proper justification. This, by the way, is how prophecy-after-the-fact normally works: important historical events happen, and they're attached to prophecies after the fact. The more of a reach to fit the prophecies, though, the more likely we afterward can regard the disputed detail as being actually historical (where we don't have corroboration otherwise).

"He shall be called a Nazarene"?--definitely a reach to match a prophecy with an unexpected embarrassing historical fact: Jesus grew up in Nazareth. (Similarly, if Jesus is rejected by His fellow Nazarites in embarrassing ways, and bases His ministry out of Capernaum, that points toward His childhood in Nazareth and various embarrassments in His ministries there as annoying but historical facts.)

"Out of Egypt I shall call My Son"? -- that prophecy from Hosea 11 isn't at all about God calling the Messiah to come to Israel from Egypt, much less as God's son. It's about rebel Israel, typified as Ephraim, being called out of Egypt, and then being ungratefully treacherous and unjust, and then being handed over to the king of Assyria to be slain for his sins. Yet despite God outright promising to hand rebel Ephraim over to die in his sins, He also (in the same chapter) declares He still loves Ephraim and somehow won't kill him but will have mercy on him and restore him instead! This will be even more relevant later, but anyway it definitely isn't about the baby Jesus going to a Jewish colony across the Egyptian border to flee an insanely murderous king from Edom's heritage. It isn't a Messianic prophecy at all!--so why would Matthew have invented the flight to Egypt and call it a fulfillment of this prophecy?! Rabbis in the Talmud sure weren't impressed by the notion Jesus came from Egypt: they attribute His miraculous power to pagan magic learned there instead! It looks more like the shuffling to Egypt and back again, realistic enough in the confused and hostile political climate, was an embarrassing fact Matthew thought he ought to try to prophetically justify.

"Rachel lamenting her children, for they are not"? -- absolutely not about innocent children being slain by an unjust king instead of the Messiah while He escapes an otherwise helpless fate.


So what, then? Am I not sacrificing theological relevance for historical verification? And how does any of this amount to good news in God through Jesus for innocents unjustly slaughtered?!--much less for those who unjustly slaughter the innocent!

I did say the good news would be unexpected, didn't I?

You see, the story of Ephraim, rebel Israel slain in sin (and probably meant to recall King David's son Absalom, slain by a spear while hanging from a tree with a bleeding scalp, during an armed rebellion against his father), isn't over yet in that prophecy.

Rachel, righteous Israel who survives the coming of God in the Day of YHWH, refuses to be comforted concerning the death of Ephraim. Apparently she isn't comforted by explanations like how her children were warned they'd be zorched if they continued on, and they continued on, so God zorched them, and they were rightly zorched because they were evil unjust men and women, oppressors of the poor and weak, slayers of the innocent, ungrateful and treacherous. She isn't comforted that they got the punishment they deserved. How much less would a mother be comforted that her innocent children had been slain!

Would she be comforted by God telling her that her apparently innocent children were also sinners who deserved to die? That might in some way also be true, but what mother could be comforted by that?

Would she be comforted by God telling her that He had never had any intention of saving her wicked children from their sins to begin with?

Would she be comforted by God telling her that although He had intended to save them from their sins, that time is now forever gone, because He failed to get it done in time, or other people failed to get it done, or He had in fact never made any provision to get it done for them even though He had intended to save them, too?

Would she be comforted by God promising to give her new children better than those worthless (or innocent?) ones she has lost?

Maybe some mothers would be comforted by one of those things.

But God doesn't promise any of those things in that prophecy from Jeremiah.

What He does promise, is that He still does love rebel Ephraim, and still loves His rebel daughters, and that even though "they are not", Ephraim will finally learn repentance, and learn to do justice instead of injustice: God promises that Rachel's slain rebel children will one day be restored to her, no longer bad children, but good children instead.

That's how God comforts Rachel, weeping in anguish over her slain rebel children.


It's one thing to comfort someone over a lost child slain in their innocence (or their relative innocence), that they weren't bad children and so God will one day restore them to their mothers who love them. That may be true, but it doesn't help comfort the mothers of evil children, and anyway what does it do to offset the horrible fact that God allowed evil children to murder the good children!?

Okay, maybe God allowed it because He refuses to make His children into puppets, even when they make horrible contributions to the story of history. He lets them be bad children rather than not children at all. But if those bad children never learn better, then the good children were sacrificed for nothing!--less than nothing, because it turns out God didn't love the bad children enough to keep leading them to be good children. Or God never loved them at all to begin with, in which case this must all be some inscrutable plan for God to show off how powerful He is by providing Himself someone to punch on for doing bad things.

But if the bad children learn to do better someday: that's good news for everyone!

Or it's almost good news. God sits up high above and allows (or fosters?!) such tragedies for other people to suffer, the innocent suffering for the sake of the guilty?!

No. That might be some other kind of theism; that might even be a non-orthodox kind of Christianity.

But it isn't orthodox Christianity.

We think God voluntarily suffers with the innocent, too, in being victimized by the guilty.

We even think God Most High voluntarily suffers with the guilty, too, while they are being rightfully punished!

If we're right, that's the point of Immanuel: God being with us in and as Jesus Christ.

It's also something, if we're right, that undermines the one best argument of the unfaithful: that God, if He exists, is only a most powerful tyrant on high, imposing His will on those who are weaker than He is.

Instead, to help bring about the restoration of rebel Ephraim, justly slain, as well as innocents slain by the unjust....

...Jehovah has begotten a new thing in the earth:
a woman will encompass a man!

That is the riddle with which God ends the particular prophecy through Jeremiah, quoted by Matthew in regard to the slaughter of innocent children by guilty children in Bethlehem.

It's also probably why Matthew was inspired to refer to this as a Messianic prophecy.

Because on that day long ago, in historical Bethlehem, in a cave that was used as a manger stall...

God did something new in the earth
as a woman encompassed a man.


God's hope to all our readers around the world
this Christmas weekend
and every day
forever!


Jason Pratt
Dec 21, 2012

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 The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann is not a very Christmasy book. It has no mangers or babies wrapped in swaddling clothes. It's not about the birth of Christ but the death and resurrection. I always used to read it at Christmas, however, and I still think of it when Christmas comes around; I think the birth of Christ is about the death of Christ and the death is about the resurrection.

The Crucified God (Jürgan Motlmann). I haven't read it in a few years because in 2007 we had an apartment flood and I haven't seen my copy since. Last a mentioned this and a good friend sent me a new copy! I'm reading it again now. It's one of the best books to read for Christmas because it sets the atonement in context with the incarnation and orients it in Hegelian fashion toward the resurrection as a synthesis of incarnation by the father and rejection by the father.. This book has it all, moving passages that reflect for of and for Christ, and abstruse theological and philosophical points that only a seminarian could love, and a German cultural bias. Hot dog (Wienerschnitzel) it's just made for Christmas.

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 Moltmann

Christmas is about the baby Jesus and celebrating his birth. Yet lurking behind this innocent facade is the brunt of Christian Trinitarian theology. The whole point of baby Jesus is the cross and the empty tomb. Why did he manifest in hsitory as a man (beginning as baby) but to die on the cross for the sin of the world and raise from the dead. Why do that anyway? What's it all about. That's the true point of Christmas. The holiday is the hopeful side of it all because it starts with unfulfilled potential of the baby Jesus and looks forward to what he will do in the future when he grows up. The resurrection is positive but not hopeful because it's the fruition of the thing. It's not hoping in something; it's obtaining it. The Christmas story is hope because it looks to the future.

I am going to do at least two if not more summaries of Moltmann's book and I hope the reader will get hold of a copy. There is an online copy on Google books the reader can use now. It's not complete and I hope the reader will buy a copy or at least go to the library and get a copy.

The time I was leaving Perkins (school of theology SMU--1990) Moltmann was being called "the greatest living Protestant theologian." I don't know who get's that title today, as far as I know Moltmann is still alive. He was born in Hamberg in 1926. His family was secular. He grew up interested in German Idealism and philosophy. He was drafted at 18 in 1944 and taken prisoner at the end of the war. Those experienced started him on a theological search. He studied at Göttingen University under Barthian influenced teachers. Something of a rarity he is a Calvinist not a Lutheran. The kind of Calvinist he is I have only encountered in seminary. I would call thm "liberal." Predestination is not important to them. I guess they are neo-orthodox that's what Barth was. He was not a Calvinist.

Moltmann first gained recognition in the mid '60s with his ground breaking work Theology of Hope.(on line text). The Crucified God came out in 1968 it coincided with the times. 1968 was a seminal year for the counter culture and the political movements from Parish (May '68) to Mexico (the massacre of the students at the university in Mexico City), the the riots at Columbia (in New York). Not to mention the police riot at the Dem's convention in Chicago. The Crucified God served as a justification theologically for taking part in the protests. It served as a lunching pad for the liberation theology and the struggles of Latin America. Moltmann was no sooner hailed as a liberation theologian than he was denounced by those wishing to lead such movements and feeling their third world origins deprived them of leadership. They disparaged his contribution. Moltmann was undaunted because he didn't care about leading he cared about the struggle.

The reason the book serves in this way was a liberation is because of the new light it sheds on the atonement. Motlmann changes the focus on the meaning of atonement from the efficacy of the act itself to the meaning of the act and it's wider implications due to that meaning. This is not a spoiler.It is the crux of the book. You get this concept here you know what the book says it's still well worth reading in my opinion. This is no more a spoiler than revealing that the allies win in the movie The Longest Day. It's a concept I have called participatory atonement. I've talked about it on this blog I have a page about on Doxa, it's my view of the atonement.

The basic idea is that the atonement is not a commercial transaction or a work of magic. It's not because Jesus shed blood that it atones but because the act itself is a statement of solidarity. It is in creating a mutual solidarity between us and God that the ground for forgiveness is created. That means if we are in solidarity, we signify this by acceptance of God's statement of solidarity, that is by placing faith in Jesus act of atonement, we are in solidarity with God and we can't be held in condemnation.

To get to this point Moltmann begins by talking about Christian identity. He asks where should we find a Christian on Sunday morning? Should we find one in the pew doing the religoius thing? Or should we find one on the barricades fighting the government? He concludes we should find a Christian on the barricades (very '60s, you see). This is more than just a sense of identification "I am a Christian and I feel good about it." But the question of "what makes one a Christian?" Doctrine alone doesn't do it, he finds. Of course we know just taking part in ceremony and being present in church doesn't do it. Just touting a doctrine is not personal - it doesn't engage one's life. Moltmann finds that living God's love engages our lives in the sense of identity. We live that by taking God's act of solidarity into the world. So having solidarity with the poor ourselves is an expression of God's act of solidarity for all humanity.

There's a lot more going on here than just "live out your faith by being a protester." In this coming month I'll try to unpack it. I hope as the reader reads all of this that he/she will think about it in relation to Christmas as the celebration of all of Christ's work not just his birth. WE embrace the hope of the infant in the manger because we know how the story wound up.

Our old friend, the increasingly irrelevant Bill Maher, has said that Christianity uses the devil to scare people into church. Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason has put up a short (5 minute) video responding to this claim. Rather than duplicate his effort, I just want to refer to Alan's video as a good response.


Remember the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”? A couple of months ago, Professor Karen King, from the Harvard Divinity School, announced she had discovered a tiny 4th century fragment of papyrus in Coptic language containing the phrase "Jesus said to them, 'my wife'", reports Vatican Insider.

***

Right from the start - as Vatican Insider wrote in a previous article on the subject - there were those who expressed their doubts about the authenticity of the fragment, pointing out a number of oddities. But now, Andrew Bernhard, an ancient Gospel scholar who studied at Oxford, goes much further, explaining that according to him “this fake” was forged. (How thefake papyrus on Jesus' 'wife' was created)

Doubts? I know that I had doubts when I reported on the fragment. But I thought that it had been put to bed that this particular “Gospel” was not authentic. But then, today, I was surprised to come across the article entitled Jan publication of Jesus' wife research unlikely
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard's divinity school says research purportedly showing some early Christians believed Jesus was married likely won't be published by its scholarly journal next month, as originally announced.

A spokesman says that tests aren't completed to authenticate a papyrus fragment containing Coptic text, in which Jesus is quoted using the words "my wife." The spokesman said Monday he didn't know when the tests would be done.

In September, Harvard said Professor Karen King's research would be published in January's Harvard Theological Review, the divinity school's quarterly, peer-reviewed journal.

But the journal's co-editors later said they'd committed to January publication only pending further verification of the fragment, including scientific dating.
King announced the research in Rome in September. But several scholars immediately expressed doubts.

Waitaminute, I thought, hadn’t this “Jesus’ Wife” papyrus been found to be an obvious forgery? So, I double-checked and came across  the following paper (HT: Patheos) By Andrew Bernhard, Master of Studies, Oxford University, entitled Notes on The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife Forgery which gave an excellent overview of the question of the authenticity of the fragment. As the title suggests, Mr. Bernhard doesn’t think much of the chances that the fragment is authentic. But he doesn’t just make a bald assertion: he backs it up.
I think it is now fair to begin openly describing [the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, “Gos. Jes. Wife”] as a modern forgery. Although it is admittedly a novel type of forgery, its text can be explained too easily and too completely as a “patchwork” of words and short phrases drawn from the Gos. Thom. by a forger relying on Grondin’s Interlinear. The possibility that Gos. Jes. Wife is a genuinely ancient writing seems extremely remote.

Gos. Jes. Wife is intended to appear as a basic dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, and the words of both Jesus and his disciples are introduced using the same words found in the basic dialogue of Gos. Thom. 12. Every word in Gos. Jes. Wife (except one) can be traced back to Gos. Thom., and every line of text in Gos. Jes. Wife contains words found in close proximity to each other in Gos. Thom. – even when there is no obvious relationship between them (e.g., line 3). Where a word might easily have been spelled differently in the different texts, both Gos. Jes. Wife and Gos. Thom. have the same spelling (i.e., NAEI). In addition, the forger’s redactional tendencies, namely switching third-person pronouns from masculine to feminine (lines 2, 5, 7) and attempting to invert affirmative / negative statements (lines 5 and 6), can be identified. The forger has also inadvertently included several tell-tale peculiarities in grammar and spelling that reveal the modern origin of Gos. Jes. Wife.

The forger’s “fingerprints” are discernible in every line of text that has more than one word in it. In line 1, the forger has reproduced a typographical error from Grondin’s Interlinear (the omission of a direct object marker) and a line break from NHC II. The second line has been copied verbatim from Gos. Thom. 12, except the forger has changed a third-person pronoun from masculine to feminine. In line 3, the forger has used a Coptic spelling for the name “Mary” that is barely attested in antiquity but could well be derived from the English translation in Grondin’s Interlinear. In line 4, the forger has omitted a conjunction (JE) that would ordinarily be expected, probably as the result of a line break in NHC II. Line 5 contains a simple inversion of a negative phrase found in Gos. Thom. 55, and the forger has switched its subject from masculine to feminine. Once the intended text of line 6 is recognized, it seems clear that a forger tried to compose the line of Coptic while thinking in English; relying on the translation in Grondin’s Interlinear, the forger attempted to transform an affirmative statement from Gos. Thom. 45 into a negative version but made a pair of grammatical errors in the process (i.e., two verbal prefixes modifying a single infinitive; a non-definite noun modified by a relative). In line 7, the forger has merely rearranged text from Gos. Thom. 29 and 30, switching a masculine pronoun to its feminine equivalent (for the third time in seven lines) in an effort to mask the identity of his or her source.

In the end, only a single Coptic word in Gos. Jes. Wife could not have been copied directly from Gos. Thom. This word, which instantly transformed Gos. Jes. Wife into an international sensation, appears near the center of the small papyrus fragment. It is a compound of a possessive article and feminine noun that could easily have been formed by anyone using Grondin’s Interlinear and the most widely available Coptic-English dictionary in the world: TAHIME (“my wife”).
So, what’s the game? The answer is that much as Mr. Bernhard’s arguments make logical sense, if the test of the papyrus fragment and the ink on the fragment date to the fourth century (as Dr. King believes it will), then we need to re-evaluate Mr. Barnhard’s arguments. But rather than waste too much time speculating, I simply note that I will await the results of the testing of the fragment to see if scientific study can fix an approximate date. 

But, just for the record, even if an early date is initially set by whoever is doing the test, some of us recognize that science can be used for political purposes. I, for one, will not immediately accept any pronouncement of ancient age without wanting a few questions answered.

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