Friday, September 21, 2012
Did Jesus have a wife?
By Peter Williams, Warden, Tyndale House, Cambridge
Special to ASSIST News Service
CAMBRIDGE, UK (ANS) -- The Web is by now awash with stories of an ancient text in which Jesus says “my wife”. The story which broke on September 18, 2012, in the New York Times and some other sources, is being carried today by outlets too numerous to list.
“If genuine, the document casts doubt on a centuries old official representation of Magdalene as a repentant whore and overturns the Christian ideal of sexual abstinence.”
We are of course in a context where there is so much ignorance of basic facts about Christianity that even when the media properly relay facts they get completely distorted and misunderstood in popular perception. This can be seen in the way derivative media put spin on the story and in the online comments below the news items.
Here we try to establish a few facts.
The scholarly article upon which almost all knowledge of the fragment is based is here -- http://news.hds.harvard.edu/files/King_JesusSaidToThem_draft_0917.pdf
What’s in a name?
First, let’s start with the name. The scholar involved, Professor Karen King of Harvard, has decided to call this The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. However, it might more appropriately be named The Fragment about Jesus’s Relations, since there’s no evidence that it was called a gospel and the text mentions at least two family members. Of course, such a name would not generate the same publicity. Despite this unfortunate choice of name, Professor King is to be commended for publishing a good photograph and detailed scholarly analysis of the fragment simultaneously with the press release. Usually in the case of controversial text the media hype comes long before the availability of the text.
Genuine or forgery?
Professor King has provided pictures of the papyrus, but it is not publicly known who owns it, or where it came from. If genuine, it almost certainly came from Egypt because that is where papyri like this are found.
Because it was not found in situ it is obviously possible to doubt its genuineness. Scholars at Tyndale House think that, on the basis of the limited evidence currently available, it is possible it is genuine, though there are good reasons for skepticism – see the comments of Dr. Christian Askeland, an expert in Coptic manuscripts here -- http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.co.uk/
What about date?
It is written in Coptic, the language of Egypt which descended from the even earlier language of the Hieroglyphs. Coptic is Egyptian written in the Greek alphabet with a few extra letters. Because Coptic was only emerging as a written language in the third century and papyrus went out of use in the seventh century the 8 cm x 4 cm fragment has to be dated some time from the third to the seventh century and the scholars involved with this fragment have stated that it is fourth century on the basis of the handwriting.
Since we have virtually no firmly dated Coptic handwriting, this date is just an educated guess.
Then we turn to the date of the contents. Here Professor King puts the text in the late second century, but all that we really know is that the text is at least as old as the manuscript.
Note: This is an extract from Dr. Williams' artice. To read the complete one, please go to: http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/ReJesusWife
** You may republish this story with proper attribution.
Send this story to a friend. Share
This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.