Ten Commandments Go Digital

University of Cambridge:

Cambridge University Library is to release digital versions of some of the most significant religious manuscripts in the world – following on from last year’s release of Isaac Newton’s manuscripts and notebooks.

Launched in December last year (2011), the Cambridge Digital Library has already attracted tens of millions of hits on its website. Among the 25,000 new images being made freely available at http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/ are a 2,000-year old copy of The Ten Commandments (the famous Nash Papyrus) and one of the most remarkable ancient copies of the New Testament (Codex Bezae).

While the latest release focuses on faith traditions – including important texts from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism – many of the manuscripts being made available are also of great political, cultural and historical importance…

Rest here.


Vatican Paper Says ‘Jesus’ Wife’ Scrap Is Fake

The Huffington Post reports:

Vatican City – The Vatican newspaper has added to the doubts surrounding Harvard University’s claim that a 4th century Coptic papyrus fragment showed that some early Christians believed that Jesus was married, declaring it a “fake.”

The newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published an article Thursday by leading Coptic scholar Alberto Camplani and an accompanying editorial by the newspaper’s editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, an expert in early Christianity. They both cited concerns expressed by other scholars about the fragment’s authenticity and the fact that it was purchased on the market without a known archaeological provenance.

“At any rate, a fake,” Vian entitled his editorial, which criticized Harvard for creating a “clamorous” media frenzy over the fragment by handing the scoop to two U.S. newspapers only to see “specialists immediately question it.”

Karen King, a professor of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the finding last week at an international congress on Coptic studies in Rome. The text, written in Coptic and probably translated from a 2nd century Greek text, contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to “my wife,” whom he identifies as Mary.

The issue has had resonance since Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried, and any evidence to the contrary would fuel current debates about celibacy for priests and the role of women in the church.

As such, it’s not surprising that the Vatican would challenge the claim.

King has said the fragment doesn’t prove Jesus was married, only that some early Christians thought he was. She has acknowledged the doubts raised by her colleagues and says the fragment’s ink will be tested to help determine when it was written.

Some scholars attending the conference questioned the authenticity of the fragment, noting its form and grammar looked unconvincing and suspicious. Others said it was impossible to deduce the meaning of it given the fragmented nature of the script.

Camplani, a professor at Rome’s La Sapienza university who helped organize the conference, cited those concerns and added his own, specifically over King’s interpretation of the text – assuming it is real.

Rather than taking the reference to a wife literally, he wrote, scholars routinely take such references in primitive Christian and biblical literature metaphorically, to symbolize the spiritual union between Jesus and his disciples.

The absence of any reference to Jesus being married in historic documents “seems more significant than the literal interpretation of a few expressions from the new text, which by my reading should be understood purely in a symbolic sense,” he wrote.

Camplani nevertheless praised King’s academic paper on the subject as scientific and objective…

Read on here.


Harvard Theological Review Rejects ‘Jesus’ Wife’

Via First Things:

The rumor is that Harvard Theological Review is now declining to publish Karen King’s paper (available here as a draft pdf) on the Coptic fragment she calls the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” It’s a rumor that appears to be true, as New Testament scholar Craig Evans writes:

Is the Coptic papyrus, in which Jesus speaks of his “wife,” a fake? Probably. We are far from a “consensus,” but one scholar after another and one Coptologist after another has weighed in pointing out serious problems with the paleography, the syntax, and the very troubling fact that almost all of the text has been extracted from the Gospel of Thomas (principally from logia 30, 101, and 114). I suspect the papyrus itself is probably quite old, perhaps fourth or fifth century, but the oddly written (or painted) letters on the recto side are probably modern and probably reflect recent interest in Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The decision of the editors of Harvard Theological Review not to publish Karen King’s paper is very wise. Perhaps we will eventually learn more about who actually produced this text.

The ultimate source is apparently the great Harvard scholar Helmut Koester. The academic world is quickly becoming skeptical about the ancient provenance of this fragment. Perhaps more interesting and of more enduring significance than the fragment itself is the role the internet has played in the debate. We have had a draft of King’s paper, photos of the fragment itself, and serious and measured responses from leading scholars all made available to the public, along with the typical professional hysteria in the media and amateur hysteria in the blogosphere.

Is there a downside? Perhaps. In theory, this is the sort of debate that should be carried out in journals over months and years, so scholarship can get it right. (Note the parallels with journalism: the pressure to get it first and the pressure to get it right work against each other.) In this case, I think Watson and others contesting the fragment’s authenticity are getting it right — I’m no papyrologist, but it seems to me most likely that the fragment is a modern forgery — and I think that their work has been careful and solid. Yet time and peer review are lacking. What if we will have been too hasty in dismissing the fragment?

We happen to live in a media and internet age, however, and as sensationalism abounds I think it’s well and good that sober scholars like Francis Watson and Mark Goodacre (to whom credit goes for the h/t on this story) have the ability to react in real time. Of course, they were also trained as scholars in a prior age, meaning more than ten years ago; one wonders if a younger generation of scholars raised in internet culture will be as painstaking and measured as they.

Thought experiment: How different would things have been if the Dead Sea Scrolls had been discovered in the internet age?


A New Early Christian Text, Indicates Jesus May Have Been Married?

No, it proves nothing (!) and mostly (but not exclusively though) because it has no provenance. For any given antiquity, provenance is essential for credibility and historicity. That of this ancient manuscript is as yet undetermined.

[Emphasis mine.]

A discovery by a Harvard researcher may shed light on a controversial aspect of the life of Jesus Christ.

Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King says she has found an ancient papyrus fragment from the second century that, when translated, appears to indicate that Jesus was married.

The text from the New Testament is being dubbed “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” The part of it that’s drawing attention says, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife'” in the Coptic language. The text, which is printed on papyrus the size of a business card, has not been chemically tested to verify its dating, but King and other scholars have said they are confident it is a genuine artifact.

“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King said at a conference in Rome on Tuesday. “This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry, but it was over a century after Jesus’s death before they began appealing to Jesus’ marital status to support their positions.”

King, who focuses on Coptic literature, Gnosticism and women in the Bible, has published on the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Mary of Magdala. She presented her research Tuesday evening in Rome, where scholars are gathered for the International Congress of Coptic Studies…


The fragment has eight incomplete lines of writing on one side and is badly damaged on the other side, with only three faded words and a few letters of ink that are visible, even with the use of infrared photography and computer-aided enhancement.

The private owner of the papyrus first approached King in 2010. King said she didn’t believe the document was authentic, but the owner persisted. She then asked the owner to bring the papyrus to Harvard, where she became convinced it was a genuine early Christian text fragment. Along with Princeton University professor Anne Marie Luijendijk and Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, King claims to have confirmed the document is real. The document’s owner has not been named and King said he does not want to be identified.

It’s unclear when the text was initially discovered

There is more here.

Watch as ignorant, dilettantish, sensationalist media mongers run riot with the above story and the unsubstantiated claims made in it over the next couple of days… And when you do, please remember it is an undated, incomplete, unprovenanced, fragmentary document that can be saying and meaning anything (most likely, that someone centuries after the time of Jesus was of the opinion that he may have been married). Archaeologically speaking, there is simply far too much being read into this not-so-new discovery. Moreover, it is a well-known fact that the Coptic and Gnostic writings of that period are particularly notorious for being spurious and palpably fake.

Now all that said, Dr King is a fine scholar with a good reputation. Her forthcoming journal article for the Harvard Theological Review can be read here.

See also Bible Places:

The problem with today’s headline story is not the discovery of an ancient document that suggests that someone once believed that Jesus had a wife. There were many false and unbiblical teachings in ancient times, just as there are today. The problem is the media can very easily make a minor story into something sensational that appears to threaten historic Christianity…