And so one "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" makes it to the finish line in time for Easter 2014...

[Note: last substantially updated Wednesday morning April 16, 2014]

Just to be clear -- although clarity is hard to come by on this topic -- the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" text that will be making it to publication for Easter 2014 is the possibly-forged snippet published (at the subsequent hyperlink) as a critical edition article (since a single copy of one snippet with only a few vague words and phrases doesn't need a full book for a 'critical' edition) by Dr. Karen King and Harvard University.

This GJW is not the very full text supposedly found (by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson) in a drawer in a British museum after being supposedly lost/suppressed for 2000 years, which is probably nothing other than a translation of the well-known 1st century romantic poem Joseph and Asenath. Totally and completely different texts, but the marketing histronics around each of them are kind of similar. For details about the non-King GJW, our article from October 2013 still seems to be the most recent information.

No, this is a fragment of a late Coptic text, scribed no earlier than the 600s. Marc Goodacre collects the most important current links (all from Harvard one way or another) here. The translation (and the Coptic original for anyone who cares) is public information now, so here is the full best English translation currently available of the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife":

1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
2 ] .” The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
3 ] deny. Mary is (not?) worthy of it [
4 ]…” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[
5 ]… she is able to be my disciple . . [
6 ] . Let wicked people swell up … [
7] . As for me, I am with her[1] in order to . [ [1 Or: “I exist with it/her”; “I dwell with it/her.”]
8 ] . an image … [
1 ] my moth[er
2 ] thr[ee
3 ] … [
4 ] forth …[
5-6 ] (untranslatable) [



Setting aside the still unresolved (and probably unresolvable) question of whether this is a forgery to begin with (though in its favor the ink does not seem to have pooled into the cracks, per one forgery expert)... what?

1.) What does this have to do with Easter?

Literally nothing other than the topic is Jesus. It might possibly perhaps maybe be a scene indicative of post-resurrection teaching, which was a popular setting for most spuriously late texts in their entirety. Or it might not. It might have been part of a text that also had post-res appearances though this one isn't. It might not have anything at all to do with the resurrection of Jesus (or of anyone else). Nothing in the text itself indicates one way or another.

2.) What does this have to do with the historical Jesus?

There was also a guy in history named Jesus who had disciples and knew someone named Mary who might be regarded as unworthy of something. Even that's kind of pushing it: the text doesn't say Mary is the woman unworthy of something. The context in which the text was found indicates this was produced by a Christian community somewhere, and so the text is talking about Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples and so also about someone connected to Jesus named Mary. (Excuse me, I mean the context in which the text might have imaginably been found. The provenance trail for the text, tracing where it physically came from, is one of the most terrible I've ever seen, and lends initial suspicion to it being a forgery fadged up to rake some money from rousing some kind of scandal in people's imaginations. To be fair, at least a book wasn't launched on the topic this Easter. Just a raft of promotional news releases.)

3.) What does this have to do with Mary?

Which Mary? Mary the mother of Jesus (not called that here directly)? One of the other Marys mentioned in the canonical Gospels as knowing Jesus? Some Mary (the most popularly attested name for Jewish women in the 1st century) not mentioned in the canonical Gospels? Some Mary mentioned in another text not the canonical Gospels? Some Mary never mentioned anywhere else but this text? A historical Mary? A purely fictional Mary?

3.1) ...uh... just, whichever Mary, I guess...

Someone in this text named Mary is regarded by someone as being unworthy of something.

People are making guesses based on a couple of other late unhistorical texts, plus similar form of wording found in this text, that this Mary, whoever she is, is being regarded by other disciples as being unworthy of being one of Jesus' disciples. That's an educated guess, but why exactly she's unworthy of whatever by whoever, is unmentioned. The somewhat-gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which this fragment resembles in some very suspicious close exactness (like it's copying from the only known extant page of it found in modern times!), seems to think Mary is unworthy to be a disciple because she's a woman. That might or might not be the case here, too. (If my reader is sensing a theme, my reader has more sense than some of the senseless sensationalism surrounding the scene of this... text. Sorry, I ran out of assonance. Maybe "text" counts.)

4.) What does this have to do with Jesus' wife?

Jesus talks to someone about "My wife". The end. Whether the Jesus of this text means a literal wife or a figurative one (like the church being a bride) is unknown. Whether he means the woman called Mary in the text (whoever that is) is unknown. He might be saying that his wife should be able to accept that Mary is able to be his disciple. It's hard to figure out what the grammar of the transition between lines 2 and 3 could mean, so the implication is that the square is cut out of a much larger page with significantly more text after the trailing lines (to the right in English). Why someone would cut out a fairly neat block of used papyrus like this, that just happens to center precisely yet with vague ambiguousness on the sole marketing reason for why anyone other than Coptic scholars would care even slightly about the text {inhaaale!}... is a mystery that only the completely unknown and in some cases anonymous trail of people behind the text, or alternately its forger, can answer.

(Along with why someone in the 600s would be using repurposed papyrus, though to be fair the carbon dating does kind of point to the page material being that old, though the first test dating back to an unusably early 404-209 BCE range would make more sense. Amazingly, either no one thought to try radiometrically dating the ink -- a material clearly made of "lamp black", a type of burnt carbon -- or the result was deemed unimportant somehow to disputes about the text being a forgery. Studying the carbon of the ink by micro-Raman spectroscopy is not the same as carbon dating the ink. It only shows what the ink is composed of materially, not the ancient status of the ink.)

5.) What does this have to do with Jesus' mother?

Someone says the mother of whoever is speaking gave him or her life at the top of one side of the page, and someone's mother is mentioned at the top of the reverse side of the page. Whether this is Jesus' mother or not is unknown; although as a general rule whenever a mother is mentioned near Jesus it tends to be Jesus' mother, so that's a reasonably educated guess.

6.) What does this have to do with the history of Christian groups in antiquity?

Assuming for purposes of argument it isn't a forgery: who knows? Whoever wrote it down in the 600s or 800s might have been responding to it, and might not have even been a Christian (though probably he was). By the 600s most Christians were trinitarian of one flavor or another, and there was never a known tradition of Jesus actually having a wife, so it isn't likely the guy writing it was trying to promote a variant Christology and/or Jesus having a literal wife.

6.1.) Wait, we thought there was at least one small tradition somewhere about Jesus having a wife...?

Jesus has a companion he kisses somewhere somehow for some purpose in the late Gospel of Philip, who seems to be one of the Marys. The term for companion might mean wife, but it might not either, and the kiss not only doesn't have to be romantic but considering the overt Gnosticality of the text it most likely doesn't: the kiss is used for transferring breath of knowledge, and Gnostic Christians weren't usually in favor of the idea of procreation to begin with (contrary to popular marketing trying to make them out to be more respectful of sexuality than the orthodox. A topic we shall return to in a minute...)

That's pretty much it. No tradition anywhere makes an overt claim about Jesus having a literal wife, though some traditions (notably the orthodox!) like to talk about the body of believers being corporately the Bride of Christ. Starting in the late 2nd century different authors (including the orthodox) start making an overt point about Jesus not having a wife, but in order to promote the honor of celibacy (in various ways) not to combat a competing notion of Jesus having a wife.

Think about it: if there was an obvious claim of that sort, little dinky vague fragments like the GJW, or esoteric interpretations of well-known romantic poems about someone else completely, wouldn't have such ridiculous popular marketing value. Dr. King herself (in a rebuttal article I'll link to below) calls the detail "startlingly new". She's right that this is not itself evidence of forgery, of course; but that's another admission that there is no extant competing tradition about Jesus being married.

6.2.) Why would the history of Christian groups in the 600s to 800s be even slightly important in popular marketing anyway?

It wouldn't. But the idea that Christianity might have 'originally' been radically different, or that a bunch of radically different Christianities had equal (and at best equally faulty) historical merit to what Jesus actually taught and intended people to believe, does have marketing value to tease or threaten a bunch of people who haven't read up enough not to be impressed with such teases or threats. Consequently, you'll see a lot of talk about how this might have been copied from an earlier Coptic text which itself might have been copied from an original Greek text which itself might have been composed as far back as the late second century (after 150 CE). Which Dr. King and other scholars directly involved with the work admit still makes not the slightest difference in favor of what the original Jesus taught or intended others to learn and pass on, thus makes not the slightest difference even in favor of radical original diversity theories. But after multiplying hypotheses through the power of innuendo, it only takes one more hypothesis to suggest by the faintest innuendo that this might after all have something to do with early Christian origins.

More directly, Dr. King et al can market the work (slicing the baloney until it's nearly transparent, so to speak) as being a worthy competitor to mainstream orthodoxy somehow which, on a somewhat related myth, started oppressing people sometime in the 2nd century with crying effects today that ought to be rectified. More on this later.

7.)  What does this "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" have to do with being a Gospel?

It slightly resembles (due to the poverty of its contents) some texts which called themselves "Gospels" after the original (or anyway the oldest surviving) four were given that title. The later Gospels do not match by genre with the canonical four, so calling them all "Gospels" as though they are all relevantly similar is misleading marketing at best -- a salient point even back in the 2nd century, when the practice started!

7.1.) Does anyone anywhere even call it a Gospel, including its original author?

I'm sure if the original author was a modern forger he or she called it a Gospel.  Otherwise, no the only people we know for sure who call it a Gospel are its modern proponents; partly for convenience of description and partly as marketing foofaraw. Whether the person who originally wrote it, if it isn't a forgery, called it a Gospel is unknown.

7.2.) Does Jesus' wife talk about any kind of salvation in it? Or any kind of good news? Does anyone at all talk about any of that?

Nope. Not by any term corresponding to 'gospel' / 'evangel', and not more generally. Wicked people are cursed or invited to swell up. Does that count?

7.3.) Does it match the genre details of the canonical four in any way?

Jesus does appear to be teaching someone something in it, the only legible detail being that some woman, who might or might not be the Mary mentioned on the previous line, is able to be his disciple. That's it. The original text (if not a forgery) might have had more common genre markers, or it might not have.

8.) So why is this rather technical Harvard Divinity School article (link provided again for ease of reference) being released with popular marketing trumpets at Easter...?!

Because publishers are in the business to make money and/or get attention for their university departments. I'm sorry if that sounds horribly cynical, but then her publishers shouldn't have tried to release and market a text on Easter week which (I must emphasize) HAS NOT EVEN ONE SLIGHTLY SIGNIFICANT THING TO DO WITH EASTER PER SE (even if the text is legitimate instead of forged).

9.) What does the Harvard FAQ page have to say about it?

It emphatically agrees (with an italicized "No") that the fragment doesn't prove Jesus was married (nor prove he wasn't married the FAQ hastens to add); provides zero evidence about the historical Jesus and what he actually intended to teach; was certainly written in the late 600s to early 800s if legitimate (though naturally they lean conveniently on the early date); by someone who was a non-professional Coptic author of the sort to copy magical books or write copy-book exercises; and is only called "the Gospel of Jesus' Wife" as an invented reference for convenience of discussion, due to the Gospel's most (or rather only) distinctive claim. It also agrees that we can know practically nothing about whoever wrote the actually existent text; and that the tiny fragment cannot provide even much information about the character of Jesus' wife or what that means within the context of the work. It's pretty straightforward and even detailed about the provenance of the fragment being (my words not theirs) extremely crappy.

10.) Does the Harvard FAQ misrepresent the situation in any ways?

Does the Pope wear a tall hat? Answer: sometimes.

The FAQ thinks the "primary" reason people suspected from the beginning the text is a forgery, is "because its contents are so unfamiliar" -- but the contents are barely detailed enough to vaguely describe, aside from Jesus calling someone "my wife" -- "or because they suspect someone might have an agenda to prove that Jesus was married or use the forgery to get rich." Protip: releasing a scholarly article with suggestive marketing during a season when the article has no topical relevance other than strong interest in Jesus, is not a good way to alleviate suspicions about profit motive. Productive university departments in the news get grants after all. Protip2: wildly overstating the "significance" of the text on multiple levels while downplaying the various hypotheses and vagaries involved, is not a good way to alleviate suspicions about ideological motives from an author with previously (and currently) vocal ideological agendas on the topic of Christian attitudes about marriage, sexuality, and reproduction.

The FAQ contrasts this "primary" reasoning from suspicious innuendo (and to be fair even some scholars sceptical of the legitimacy of the text, do resort to such suspicion from suspicious innuendo) to the "procedures" of "scholars". But the primary evidence in any forgery case, including this one, starts with a suspiciously vague and convenient lack of provenance. The FAQ admits the lack of provenance later, and in some admirable detail, but totally neglects to talk about its highly important relevance to suspicions of forgery.

I'm willing to grant that the FAQ wouldn't have to mention something as relatively minor yet suspicious as the notorious handwritten note reported by Dr. King back in 2012 in her original public announcement -- where a typed note accompanying the group of fragments where this was found, signed in 1982 by a known respected expert Peter Monroe, mentioned a Sahidic copy of GosJohn being the most notable detail of the collection, but then there was also a note handwritten anonymously calling attention to the Jesus Wife fragment and its unique importance as possible evidence that Jesus was married. Who is this unknown person who noticed what someone officially and professionally cataloging the fragments for a value estimation managed to miss?? Thank whatever Dr. King believes in that someone thought to call attention to it, or it might have been lost forever in a drawer somewhere!

Anyone seriously assessing the case for or against forgery would have to continually keep that note in account on the negative side, and any professional accounting of the evidence pro and con for a public report (with a world-famous university's reputation behind it) would have to mention that note on the negative side of the scales. But I'll grant the FAQ didn't have to mention it. What the FAQ should have mentioned, since it talks about evidence for and against forgery, is that the crappy trail accounting for the fragments counts strongly as evidence against legitimacy. An argument in favor of legitimacy might be able to overcome it, but that's certainly one thing such an argument would have to overcome. And the case for legitimacy has a lot more to overcome than that.

The FAQ obscures the scholarly complaint about copying ancient phrases. The problem isn't that the phrases were copied -- after all the text could have been competing against GosThom by repurposing phrases from it. The problem is that the copied phrases begin and end precisely where fragmentary lines of the only surviving older GosThom text begin and end. This demonstrable detail is simply not mentioned (as of this date) in the Harvard FAQ, and while its existence in a legitimate document isn't technically impossible the unlikelihood strains the credulity of some scholars. So does the formation of some of the letters, which occasionally seem to betray modern printed Coptic practices including what looks like a modern Coptic punctuation mark between two parts of a word.

Relatedly, the FAQ simply ignores several problems raised by Coptic experts in translating some of the phrases. That parenthetical "(not)" in the English translation? The reason it's parenthetical is because the sentence is gibberish in Coptic, meaning whoever originally composed the sentence didn't understand Coptic very well. A copyist in the 600s might have faithfully copied an original problem without trying to correct it, but the salient point is that Dr. King is trying to build a picture of what some putative community anywhere at any time believed about "Jesus' wife" from a grammar so screwy that it's impossible to seriously guess whether the woman (whoever she is -- Mary or Jesus' wife or both) is or is not worthy of something -- something the text as it stands does not directly address. It might be discipleship, or it might not.

The FAQ also completely ignores the fact that the clause in line six, translated as "Let the wicked people swell up", is even more gibberishy in the Coptic text -- so much so that sceptics are arguing the gibberishness can be explained best by a modern forger picking up phrases from elsewhere and dropping them together: "Evil man habitually does not habitually bring". The infinitive translation of the Coptic habitual marker as "to swell" instead, is technically possible but problematic at best and still reduces to gibberish: "Evil man to swell does not to swell bring". Dr. King has yet to seriously address this problem and its relation to theories about copy-pasting.

Out of the evidence for legitimacy summarized by the FAQ, two points (papyrus age, type but not age of the ink) have very limited weight (because any halfway competent forger would deal with those details); two other points (handwriting, and clumsy Coptic grammar) are not themselves positive evidence but evidence to be defended against as also fitting a plausible theory of legitimacy; and one point (historical context) depends on massively theoretical extrapolation from the textual details as well as multiple unsubstantiated hypotheses (of no evidence whatever) to get the composition date back to the desired point. Oddly, the one impressive positive evidence mentioned in the FAQ, the lack of pooling of ink subsequent to textual damage, is not mentioned in the summary. On the other hand, the FAQ tends to conveniently phrase references to the micro-Raman spectroscopy so that a reader who doesn't know what that is might get the impression it's dating the ink (perhaps through radiocarbon dating); when in fact the spectroscopy is totally limited to studying how the ink would be made, whether by an ancient author or by a modern forger. Demonstrating the ink isn't modern ballpoint is important, but demonstrating it's lamp black (maybe with touches of vine black) is at best only minor evidence in favor of authenticity.

It must also be said that the FAQ strongly under-reports the doubts of the two carbon dating scientists about even the results of the second test, presenting the results as solidly settled. How two highly divergent dating sets both returned probabilities over 95%, seems to be a mystery. To be fair, however, the text material might perhaps be both as old as the original carbon dating and as new as the 600 to 800s, due to multiple reuse of material stored in environmentally ideal circumstances.

But I'll hereafter set aside (so far as possible) challenges to the texts legitimacy and move along.

There is not the slightest positive evidence the text was originally composed as early as the late second century; this is purely the thinnest conjecture based on very vaguely suggestive parallels with other texts with stronger arguments for dating back that far. The FAQ kind of admits this by being almost as qualified (at one point) about it "maybe" being the copy of a copy of etc., as I was above in this article; and then merrily treats the original composition date as established with things to testify thereby about 2nd century Christian communities. This is doubtless a holdover from back when the fragment (which really ought to be called "the Jesus Wife Fragment") was first announced to the press in late 2012, when Dr. King tried to argue on the same thinnest conjecture that it represented a 4th century (300s) copy of an actual Gospel from the late 100s. That would be slightly more plausible since people in the 400s were in the habit of trying to preserve early texts by copying. Now that the date has been pushed to the early 600s at best (but just as likely the mid 800s, or even the mid 900s!), there is proportionately less reason to allow any credence to the idea that the writer was copying something from the 100s -- which is why the FAQ (and Dr. King in her more official work) suggests MAYBE it's a copy from an earlier Coptic manuscript (for example in the 400s) which MAYBE was copying from an earlier Coptic manuscript (in the earlier Coptic language period, say the 200s) which MAYBE was copying from an original Greek in the late 100s. Just how far does a thin thread have to be ever more thinly stretched before it ceases to be in any way importantly relevant?!

Despite having stretched that tiny thin thread by at least five hundred years of length (maybe seven or even eight hundred), Dr. King and the Harvard Divinity School (who at least authorized the FAQ) have not the slightest compunction about launching into a position that the extremely vague and indistinct details of the text ("tantalizing glimpses" indeed from "this tiny, damaged fragment") should outright count as "evidence... that the whole question about Jesus’s marital status arose as part of the debates about sexuality and marriage that took place among early Christians at that time." But the text as it stands is not even slightly positive evidence about any such thing; and the clearly extant full texts of the period stand as stronger evidence that the question about Jesus' marital status arose as part of the debates about whether church leaders should be (so to speak) monogamously married in permanent faithfulness to the church (like Christ) or not. This was not a small question to them, because whether Christ is married with permanent faithfulness to the church was not (and still is not) any small question for Christian soteriology (logic of salvation).

The FAQ doesn't come out and directly say the 'orthodox' party was against sex and other Christians were in favor of it just like us in the modern day y'all! -- but it implies this by selective composition and omission. Most importantly it omits the demonstrable fact that it was the opponents of orthodoxy, especially the Gnostics (often championed by Dr. King in other works, by the way) who tended to be against marriage and sexual procreation at all. Orthodox proponents cautioned that sexual behavior led people to behave uncharitably and like depersonalized animals, and admired people with the spiritual strength and discipline to overcome those problems through celibacy, but weren't generally against marriage or even sex per se: a major thrust of the orthodox anti-heretics was that God had created nature, including animal sexuality, to be good, even though sin had corrupted that nature.

The FAQ is also rather cagey about who exactly was debating whether women could even be disciples of Christ -- the citation it uses on the topic "women are not worthy of life" (by contrast to the GJW) comes from the non-orthodox text Gospel of Thomas!

The FAQ somewhat backhandedly admits that there is no demonstrable early tradition about Jesus being married -- "Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married" -- but then tries to counterbalance this with "another newly discovered writing" (if a copy recovered over 65 years ago counts as "newly discovered"), the Gospel of Philip, "show[ing] that some Christians claimed Jesus was married". But this is a highly disputable interpretation of that text, at best, and may be deductively false in context. At least the FAQ doesn't try to cite the so-called Gospel of Mary as more evidence along this line, though that was once popular to do. A reader should at least be able to see why any text at all from any Christian (even from the 800s) seeming to directly represent a claim Jesus was married, would be tempting to promote as at last actual indisputable evidence someone somewhere ever thought of Jesus really being married, to someone professionally or otherwise invested in the idea that surely some Christians somewhere had to have thought Jesus was married. "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife makes it possible [at last?!] to say that some early Christians believed Jesus was married." Sure, it's possible to say that, or even to type it, but the GJW at best counts as very vague evidence on this; and the "significant implications for the history of ancient Christian attitudes toward marriage, sexuality, and reproduction" can only be as "significant" as the significance of whatever group (or for all we know merely one person somewhere) wrote it. Which by the nature of the case cannot possibly be much significance.
The FAQ takes such a broadly vague definition of the "genre of gospel" as to be functionally worthless: "all early Christian literature whose narrative or dialogue encompasses some aspect of Jesus' career" or since sometimes even that's missing "or which was designated as a 'gospel' already in antiquity". The mere titling of something is not a sufficient genre marker in itself; but it does help justify the marketing strategy... um, I mean the titling of the fragment for convenience of discussion, as well as to minimize the significant differences between the canonical four and other texts.

The FAQ says the fragment "discusses discipleship in terms similar to select passages in other early Christian gospels", where GosMary and the Gospel of the Egyptians are considered effectively as "early" as the Synoptics -- only a hundred years' difference or more! The similarity of select passages can only be as similar as the extremely few phrases of the GJW allow, however; and so far as the Synoptics are concerned the phraseological similarities basically begin and end with "the disciples said" and "Jesus said to the disciples". Which is to say that the similarities to the Synoptics, so far as they go, mean nothing. The similarities to exact partial phrases and words in GosThom, where those phrases begin and end with damage, is rather more important; but not, ironically, in any way that helps compare the text as legitimately 2nd century! Relatedly, I defy anyone anywhere to argue that the phraseological similarities to GosMary and GosEgyptians, such as they are, are significantly more significant (so to speak) than the demonstrable and suspiciously exact relationship to the modern surviving copy of Coptic GosThom.

(In a reply to one charge of forgery -- one that unfortunately does rely partially on suspicions of innuendo -- Dr. King admits along the way of agreeing that the phrases are broadly capable of being found in GosThom, though not in particularly exact forms insisted by the scholar arguing for forgery, that the phrases are too common or too limited to be truly comparable to other works. She does not in this article mention the case for portions of lines 1 and 2 starting and stopping in synch with damaged remains of an old GosThom text known to modern scholars.)

When discussing the approximate date of original composition, the FAQ tries to argue that the composition "had to have been written after the first century c.e." "since it refers to Mary, Jesus and his disciples". What must be a truly amazing rationale behind this necessary restriction ("had to have been"!) being based on the mere reference to three topics, is sadly left to the imagination of the FAQ's reader. Surely it can only be a coincidence, though, that a project connected to the practical equivocation of importance among Gospel texts, happens to accidentally leave an implication that if a text (like, say, just for example, the canonical four) happens to mention those three topics then that text must have been written no earlier than 2nd century and so (as the FAQ notes earlier in such a case) "its late date means the author is not someone who knew Jesus [or Jesus' immediate followers] personally".

Who exactly in the Harvard Divinity School thought releasing any of this would bring more academic respect to that branch of the university?! -- or was it academic respect the authorizers of this mess were reaching for at all? If I financially supported them, I'd be furious that the prestige of the school was being sacrificed in such a laughingstock fashion, and for the sake of what exactly!

11.) We notice that the charge against the text, about two lines matching with photocopies of a damaged GosThom text, seems either to have been dropped or oddly ignored in recent discussion.

Me, too, O fictional FAQ interlocutor! -- and I don't know what to make of that. Neither have I read anyone anywhere yet refuting this observation. Still, since to me that would be the second main evidence in suspicion of forgery, after the ludicrously poor provenance tracing of the text; and since I might as well admit that sometimes legitimate texts also have ludicrously poor provenance tracing (due to the often shady nature of the antiquities market as well as substandard accounting prior to 20th century standards); I also might as well go on to ask what does it matter if the text is legitimate instead of forged.

11.1.) So what would it matter if the text is legitimately from the 7th to 9th centuries instead of a modern forgery?

I think it must be stressed (as I have tried to do above) that even if the text is genuine, extrapolating it back to a 2nd century milieu is wishful speculation at best, and trying to use that wishful speculation as any kind of positive evidence for the history of early Christian communities is professionally irresponsible at best.

The case does (perhaps inadvertently) highlight the huge differences involved in arguing for composition dates of the canonical Gospels and Acts (and, to a lesser degree the various epistles and RevJohn). Despite some definite oddities in their 2nd century transmission, those texts don't exist in a historical vacuum, and their richness of many kinds of internal details at least allows several kinds of dating arguments (from early to late) to be attempted.

11.2.) And what if solid evidence actually showed up indicating 2nd century authorship?

The significance of the authorship would be exactly proportional to the contemporary impact it had (which by all known evidence so far is none), and proportional to the cultural importance of whoever wrote it. If we had numerous strong reasons to believe it was written, for example, by the president of a catechetical seminary for some wing of non-orthodox Christianity in Alexandria, Egypt (Panneus or Clement of Alexandria being orthodox contemporaries in that time and place), that would be proportionally strong evidence for its importance in the history of diverse early Christian communities. Marcion; Valentinius; Tatian and Tertullian (in their later non-orthodox phases); these represent communities competing with the proto-orthodox party or parties. This text doesn't even have the impact in Christian culture of the Ebionites (sparse though our evidence is for them), or even the orthodox forger of Paul's Epistle to the Laodicians, much less the popular romance fable The Acts of Paul and Thecla or, heck, literally any other text known to have existed in that day -- even ones mentioned but now lost to us.

How could that possibly be a basis for adducing any weight of evidence to what Christian cultures and communities were doing in the 2nd century? It might have been written by the 2nd century version of a guy typing away alone in his office one afternoon! (Ahem....) 

 11.3.) And what if solid evidence actually showed up indicating it had some kind of demonstrable contribution to the shape of 2nd century Christian development history?

After registering deep scepticism any such evidence will ever appear -- that evidence, whatever it might be, would for all practical purposes totally eclipse the evidence from the text itself, which on its own merits is next to nothing. The short little three line messages passed back and forth (fictionally or otherwise) between Jesus and King Agaba (since Dr. King mentions that in passing during a rebuttal article) feature more solid data about the intentions meant in their composition.

In other words, any evidence strong enough to make this wisp of a snippet culturally relevant, would be important enough that we would be interpreting the snippet by that evidence. The snippet itself would remain functionally next to worthless, although still important for students of paleography perhaps. (Though this Spanish paleographer thinks not.)

12.) But what if, instead of reading the perfectly free Harvard articles linked to above, we absolutely have to spend our hard-earned money on a substantially heavy book, chock full of primary source references, published just this year, providing evidence for a fuller and more accurate history of the diverse forms, practices, and ideas held by Christians in the earliest centuries after the death of Jesus, of a sort that might not only really upset a lot of "traditional" Christians, but even has some direct connections to Easter week thematically?

You could do a lot worse, even when it comes to physical exercise, than to heft around Dr. Ilaria Ramelli's massive hardback tome The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena. If you hurry, you might be able to nab a used copy from an Amazon reseller (not me, I'm keeping my copy) for only a little less than $200 plus shipping! I guarantee you will not only build your forearm muscles and possibly cripple your wrist tendons, but you will learn an utter oil-tankerfull of (pretty-)well demonstrable facts about orthodox vs non-orthodox parties in early Christianity and the impact of their struggles on a particular area of Christian life and practice over a span of more than 600 years. (I do have one grievous nitpick, but correcting it doesn't sink the rest of the monograph.) Seriously, this is meant as a library reference book, not for mass market -- thus the high cost and lack of popular promotion, so I figured I'd take a moment to give it some Easter-relevant good recommendation. I don't personally know Dr. Ramelli, and I'm pretty sure we've never once even corresponded, so I have no personal benefit involved.


Jason Pratt said…
Registering for comment tracking.

Jason Pratt said…
The Cadre journal recently lost, by accident, comments for about a hundred posts, ranging from around June 2013 to very early January 2015.

Trying to recreate my comments on most of those posts is a lost cause; but I'm pretty sure I had a comment here adding in postscript (as it were) that, in case it makes any difference (which to some people it will), I am NOT against the idea of Jesus being married, to MaryBeth or MaryMag (if they were not the same woman, though I strongly suspect they were) or to any other woman. I don't find any even distantly solid evidence for this at all (and at least minor evidence Jesus declined to marry), but it wouldn't bother my trinitarian theism one jot if it happened.

Much less am I against women being disciples, prophets, or even apostles, though historically that seems to have been the exception rather than the rule.

My only "ideological" problem, is with people trying to score a profit at a religious holiday by using ridiculous arguments which at any other time would be rejected for their blatant paucity -- and then blaming critics for being first and foremost ideologically uncomfortable with the implications of the argument (or the suspicious innuendo rather).

So there. {g}


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