Thursday, March 09, 2017

Gospel of Jesus' Wife Updates

It would be easy to think that there would be nothing new to say about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife after the dramatic events of last June (chronicled here under the headings The Owner of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is Unmasked and Gospel of Jesus' Wife: Last Chapter Round-up), but as I was preparing to teach the topic today in my Non-Canonical Gospels class, I came across several elements that are worth noting.

First, New Testament Studies has just published a follow-up to Andrew Bernhard's earlier article that showed how the Gospel of Jesus' Wife was dependent on Michael Grondin's online Gospel of Thomas Interlinear. Bernhard's latest article develops material first posted here (The End of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife Forgery Debate; The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: “Patchwork Forgery” in Coptic . . . and English (Recap); The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: “Patchwork” Forgery in Coptic . . . and English) and it's great to see this material now developed and published in NTS:

Postscript: A Final Note about the Origin of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife
Andrew Bernhard
NTS 63/2 (April 2017): 305-17
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0028688516000370  Published online: 06 March 2017
The owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife provided Karen King with an interlinear translation of the text. Like the Coptic of the papyrus fragment, the English of this interlinear translation appears dependent on ‘Grondin's Interlinear Coptic/English Translation of the Gospel of Thomas’. It shares a series of distinctive textual features with Grondin's work and even appears to translate two Coptic words found in the Gospel of Thomas but not in the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Consequently, the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife seems undeniably to be a ‘patchwork’ of brief excerpts from the Gospel of Thomas created after November 2002.
Congratulations to Andrew on the publication.

While I was preparing my class, I wanted to update my powerpoint to incorporate the key developments of the last eighteen months since I last taught it -- Walter Fritz, the Owner's Interlinear, and of course the utterly compelling article by Ariel Sabar. A lot has happened! In checking the official Harvard Divinity School website about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife to grab a copy of the Owner's Interlinear, I was surprised to see that it (the Interlinear) had been removed. But also the site has been significantly stripped down, and the statement conceding forgery has been removed. Here's the link to the revised version of the site:

Gospel of Jesus's Wife

To elaborate: back in June, Harvard Divinity School had updated the site to include a formal statement by its dean, David N. Hempton (reproduced here), in which he noted the article by Ariel Sabar, and the comments on it by Karen King, that the investigation "tips the balance towards forgery." I wonder why the decision was made to remove that statement and the other material?

The site retains an error. The "Imaging" page mentions that digital images of the Gospel of John fragment are available on the site, but they are not; that's why we had to extract the images from the PDFs of the scientific reports in order to see them.

I would also like to draw attention to two further elements of interest. The first is a short introduction to the text for a useful site called E-Clavis, posted as part of NASSCAL (North American Society for the Study of the Christian Apocryphal Literature):

Gospel of Jesus' Wife
Ian Brown

The entry includes a good bibliography, with lots of the major publications and posts on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife included.

The second is a a new summary by Andrew Bernhard of the case for forgery just posted:

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: Summary of Coptic and English Evidence of Forgery (March 8, 2017)

Thanks to Andrew for letting me know about this. Note: this is different from the formal NTS post listed above.

For previous posts on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, please see this link: Gospel of Jesus' Wife. That's fifty-one posts in total!

Update (2.36pm): Although the images of Lycopolitan John are still not found on the official Gospel of Jesus Wife page (see above), they do appear in a really superb HD version now on the Harvard Library website:

MS Coptic 12. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Gospel of John fragment : manuscript, undated

The same site also provides the same kind of HD images for the Gospel of Jesus' Wife Fragment here:

MS Coptic 11. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Gospel of Jesus’s Wife : manuscript, circa 741

Note, however, that the date of "circa 741" is the date of the papyrus it was written on; the date of the text is, of course, twenty-first century.



Sunday, March 05, 2017

Finding Jesus Season Two

Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery returns tonight for its second season. Tune in to CNN at 9pm ET/PT. Here's the trailer:




The first episode deals with Pontius Pilate and focuses on the Pilate stone. There's a clip here (featuring Candida Moss, Robert Cargill and me):





I've been doing some publicity for the series over the last few days including multiple radio interviews, but it was a special pleasure to talk to our own Duke Today:

The Historical Jesus: Separating Fact from Fiction

It's worth keeping an eye out on CNN this weekend too for interviews with Obery Hendricks and Robert Cargill.

There are several other things I could list, but I'll try to add more in the coming days and weeks as the episodes go out. One thing worth mentioning is a companion website for pastors available here:

CNN Finding Jesus Resources


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Number of the Beast on Bible Mysteries

I get to the last lecture in my Introduction to the New Testament course tomorrow, and it provides the opportunity to talk about Revelation. I generally find that the subject matter is so interesting that I ask myself why I don't try to teach a whole course on Apocalyptic and the Apocalypse. 

One issue that has to be on the agenda is the number of the beast, something I have occasionally blogged on. On one of those occasions, I linked to a video in which Ian Boxall, sitting on Patmos, explains how it works, using pieces of pottery. Alas, that video long since disappeared. The clip was from a BBC series, Bible Mysteries (2003), which has never been commercially released. I am happy to have found a copy recently from which I have extracted the relevant clip. 

  video

As well as Prof. Ian Boxall (now of Catholic University of America), we see Prof. David Parker, OBE, of the University of Birmingham.

Monday, August 15, 2016

How to email your students

I have just come across this delightful piece of advice to students about how to email their professors (HT: Laura Lieber, with thanks!):

How to Email Your Professor (without being annoying AF)
Laura Portwood-Stacer

There is some great advice there, but I couldn't help thinking of those professors out there who do not know how to email their students. So here are some of my thoughts on this problem that occasionally rears its head:

How to Email Your Students (without being annoying)

(1) Don’t ignore your students' emails. One of the most frequent complaints that advisors hear is “The professor did not respond to my email.” This is rude and unprofessional, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

(2) Commit to responding as quickly as possible. Your students will love it if you respond in a timely fashion, and it will create a good vibe, which will improve the classroom relationship too.

(3) Actually read your students' emails. Don’t just toss off a hasty response that does not take their concern seriously. If you write a hasty, unhelpful response, you place them in the difficult situation of having to email you back again. This can make them feel awkward and embarrassed and it wastes their time and yours.

(4) Write as full a response as is necessary. Not too much; not too little. Don’t go over the top or you may come across as a wordy, head-in-the-clouds professor with no understanding of the issue at hand.

(5) Be encouraging. If the email asks a good question or makes a great point, congratulate your student on the intellectual stimulation that they have provided.

(6) Conclude the email by asking if this been helpful and if it has resolved their issue. Suggest that you would be happy to meet with them in person to discuss things further. Remember that many students are intimidated by their professors and are reticent to speak to them after class, or to come to office hours.

(7) Treat your student emails as part of an intellectual conversation. It is a wonderful privilege to be a professor in a university, and we are here to teach our students. We are engaged in an intellectual journey together in higher education. There are lots of people who would give their right arm to do what we are doing. Treat it as the privilege that it is.

(8) Try your best not to be pompous. Your students will not respond well to arrogance and condescension. You were a student once too. Try to remember what that was like!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Gospel of Jesus' Wife: Last Chapter Round-Up

Since the remarkable piece of investigative journalism from Ariel Sabar was published last Wednesday (The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus' Wife), in which the owner of the fragment, Walter Fritz, was unmasked, the discussion in the media has taken off at a pretty pace. In this post, I'd like to draw together several of the key developments. 

On Thursday, Christian Askeland filled in some further details on Walter Fritz in the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog:

More on the Gospel of Jesus Wife and Walter Fritz

And then on Friday, Owen Jarus of Live Science explained the key role he played in following leads on the text's provenance and finding his way to Fritz:

Gospel of Jesus's Wife Likely a Fake, Bizarre Backstory Suggests

Meanwhile, Karen King herself responded to Ariel Sabar's article and called him to say that she found it "fascinating" and "very helpful". In a short follow-up, Sabar explained that for Prof. King, the new information "presses in the direction of forgery":

Karen King Responds to ‘The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife’
The Harvard scholar says papyrus is probably a forgery

These reported comments led to further media reaction as more read and digested Sabar's compelling story. One of the three original journalists to cover the story on 12 September 2012, Lisa Wangsness, author also of a fine piece entitled "Is the 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife a Revelation or a Hoax?" last November, returned again to the story in the Boston Globe:

‘Jesus’s wife’ papyrus likely fake, scholar says

Wangsness featured more comments from Karen King, as well as a tidbit from me. One of the questions in the article was whether there ought perhaps to be some kind of comment on the latest news from Harvard. A comment was soon forthcoming. Today (Monday 20th June), they added an update to the Gospel of Jesus wife website:

Update: June 20, 2016
Statement from HDS Dean David N. Hempton on the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”
The June 15, 2016 issue of The Atlantic Monthly published an article entitled The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus's Wife. The article called into question the provenance and authenticity of a papyrus fragment, purportedly stating "Jesus said to them, My wife" that is the subject of research by Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School. 
Reached for comment by The Boston Globe after publication of the Atlantic article, Professor King was quoted as stating that "It appears now that all the material [owner Walter] Fritz gave to me concerning the provenance of the papyrus ... were fabrications." 
On June 16, 2016, The Atlantic published an interview with Professor King by the same author, in which Professor King stated that the Atlantic's investigation "tips the balance towards forgery” and that the preponderance of the evidence now presses in that direction. 
The mission of Harvard Divinity School, its faculty, and higher education more generally is to pursue truth through scholarship, investigation, and vigorous debate. HDS is therefore grateful to the many scholars, scientists, technicians, and journalists who have devoted their expertise to understanding the background and meaning of the papyrus fragment. HDS welcomes these contributions and will continue to treat the questions raised by them with all the seriousness they deserve. 
David N. Hempton
Dean, Harvard Divinity School
Over the weekend and today there have been more and more articles on the story. Most of them simply repeat, summarize and comment on The Atlantic, Boston Globe and Live Science pieces, though there is a fresh piece from the Associated Press that is finding its way into several places, including The Guardian:

Jesus' Wife Papyrus Probably Fake, Say Experts
New evidence indicates the fragment in which Jesus refers to ‘my wife’ is likely to be a modern forgery

They interviewed me for this piece too, just after a Skype interview on CBN that is available here:




Debunking the Myth: Did Jesus Really Have a Wife?

Also today, the Boston Globe followed up its earlier article with a comment from Harvard Theological Review:

Harvard Theological Review won’t retract ‘Jesus’s Wife’ paper
. . . . Jon D. Levenson and Kevin J. Madigan, editors of the Harvard Theological Review, said in a statement Monday that their journal “has scrupulously and consistently avoided committing itself on the issue of the authenticity of the papyrus fragment.” 
The editors say King’s article and the articles on scientific tests King commissioned on the fragment “were represented or misrepresented in some circles as establishing the authenticity of the fragment.” . . . . 
There have also been several comments in the blogs that are worth viewing. As well as Christian Askeland and Peter Gurry on Evangelical Textual Criticism, there is interesting commentary from Roberta Mazza on Faces & Voices, Carrie Schroeder on Early Christian Monasticism in the Digital Age (Provenance, Provenance, Provenance, More on Social Networks and Provenance, and On Kindness and Critique), Jim Davila on Paleojudaica, and Malcolm Choat on Markers of Authenticity. I have certainly missed others; please let me have any links that I should add.

I don't have much fresh to add, at this point, to what I've already said. Perhaps I will say more in due course. My overwhelming feeling at this point is a profound sadness about the whole affair. Yes, it's been fantastic to see scholars like Christian Askeland and Andrew Bernhard exposing the hoax so skilfully. And it is true that the twists and turns of the story over the last four years have made fascinating reading. But at the same time it's very sad that we have all spent so much time and energy on what, in the end, is someone's attempt to dupe the academy. We are all victims of this appalling episode.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Owner of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is Unmasked

In September 2012, four journalists were granted special interviews on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, published the day that Karen King revealed the manuscript in Rome. One of them, Lisa Wangsness, returned to the topic last November in a follow-up article in the Boston Globe. Now another of them, Ariel Sabar, who wrote a compelling and lengthy article for The Smithsonian, has also returned to the topic in a quite brilliant piece of investigative journalism, published this time in The Atlantic:

A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story requires a big leap of faith.
Ariel Sabar

Karen King has always protected the anonymity of the owner of the papyrus but his identity is now no longer in doubt. Quite simply, this is a superb piece of investigative journalism. Sabar unmasks Walter Fritz in a detailed and compelling story that is the result of intelligent and detailed research. It will take you a while to read, but it will be worth it.

I could excerpt pieces of the article, but I'd rather not spoil it by doing that, especially as it is structured so beautifully. I will, however, say that I am delighted that Walter Fritz has such confidence in the scholarship of those who exposed the forgery, whom he describes as "'county level' scholars from the 'University of Eastern Pee-Pee Land'”.

Update (Thursday 16 June, 5.08pm): Christian Askeland helpfully fills in some further details on Walter Fritz in the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog:

More on the Gospel of Jesus Wife and Walter Fritz

Update (Thursday 16 June, 11.30pm): Only twenty-four hours after Sabar's article, he has this follow-up:

Karen King Responds to ‘The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife’
The Harvard scholar says papyrus is probably a forgery

And so we have reached the final chapter of this affair, after almost four years of discussion. 

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

St Thomas Basilica

Following on from my recent posts about St Thomas Mount and Little Mount, this one explores another key Thomas location, St Thomas Basilica in Mylapore, Chennai, India. This is the place where Thomas's tomb is allegedly located and an impressive neo-Gothic cathedral is on the site.

Once again, I recorded my thoughts and edited them in the latest episode of the NT Pod:

NT Pod 79: Santhome Basilica

The magnificent white church building was built by the British in the late nineteenth century but the basilica was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century (cf. the church at Little Mount). I decided to make the journey by bus, which is something of a challenge, not least because the buses in Chennai are so unbelievably crowded. But they are also unbelievably cheap. A one-way journey lasting an hour (over about 17 km) cost me just 12 rupees (about 12p or 18c).




There is one huge advantage that this site has over the previous two that I visited -- it has a museum dedicated to the Apostle Thomas. And the museum features several items of interest. Unlike St Thomas Mount, it is not just about John 20 and "My Lord and My God". There is much more by way of the apocryphal Thomas traditions, perhaps most interestingly this relic of the lancehead that supposedly killed Thomas.
There is also a double-sided pedestal that references King Gondophores and the legend of the log on the one side (a legend also illustrated in a relief that is on the wall of the museum), and Thomas in teaching mode on the other side.

Somewhat frustratingly, a lot of the other material in the museum is labelled only in the most vague way imaginable. So there is an entire display of ancient pottery apparently discovered at the site, with dating only to "the olden days"! So too another display of bones is said to be from that same period.

The museum itself is situated above Thomas's tomb. The tomb is at the front of a chapel with pews where people pray and reflect. There is not a lot to see -- it's a colourful, relatively modern representation of Thomas in glass casing.

Although in the podcast I say that I could not take a photograph in there, I later managed to return to the site when it was empty and I took a quick pic while no one was looking.

I should also mention the large golden "pole of St Thomas" which stands tall to the side of the cathedral. It is reminiscent of the similar poll at St Thomas' Mount, although this one is taller and has a much smaller cross at the top.

Inside the cathedral itself, I should mention a nice statue of Thomas that sits to the left of the altar. Thomas is holding the legend "Deus Meus" (My God), so here, for once, we do not get the whole Johannine confession. Again, we were not supposed to be taking photographs, but my visit happened to coincide with a coachload of pilgrims from Nagaland, all of whom were snapping away with gay abandon (and rather bizarrely, they also all wanted to get pictures with me! I sat with various members of the group outside the cathedral for a good ten or fifteen photos!).

I was a touch disappointed that the promised twenty minute film about Thomas, which is very proudly advertised just outside the museum, was nowhere in evidence. At least I found it impossible to find anyone who could tell me any more about it.

Another curiosity of my visit, and this is partly reflected in the podcast, is the pursuit (one might say harassment) by several auto rickshaw drivers. One of them followed me around the entire site, usually on foot, but sometimes in his auto. At first, he made out that he was connected with the site and I foolishly engaged him in conversation. But soon it became clear that he wanted my business.

Once I'd shaken him, I got another, who even sat next to me in the cathedral. Once rid of him, and after the photographing session with the people from Nagaland, a third one began to pursue me. This one was the worst, and pursued me down the road after I left the site, even driving ahead of me, hiding behind a tree and jumping out in front of me.

Gandhi, on the beach at Mylapore, Chennai
A fourth auto driver was honest enough to tell me why they were so keen for business -- a group of four local shops selling hand-crafted goods were offering a 5kg bag of rice to any auto driver who brought them a new customer. Much later in the day, after my Veg Maharaja Mac at McDonald's, I happened to meet this guy again at the beach, where I was heading in the direction of the bus-stop for my journey back, and I rewarded his honesty by going on the little shop-tour so that he could pick up his bag of rice. But of course no good deed goes unpunished. We parted on bad terms because I would not also pay his rent for the next month.