Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New York Times story, “Jesus Wife Fragment,” judged to be a fake

Not sure how many of you are continuing to follow the story about the “Jesus’s Wife” fragment, first published in the New York Times. That now has been judged to be totally fake.

Mark Goodacre, on his academic “NT Blog”, has carried four stories by Francis Watson that pretty much definitively debunk the story.

This morning, Dan Wallace published this news:

Jesus’ Wife fragment judged a fake
Posted by Daniel B. Wallace on 26 September 2012

“News flash: Harvard Theological Review has decided not to publish Karen King¹s paper on the Coptic papyrus fragment on the grounds that the fragment is probably a fake.” This from an email Dr. Craig Evans, the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia University and Divinity College, sent to me earlier today. He said that Helmut Koester (Harvard University), Bentley Layton (Yale University), Stephen Emmel (University of Münster), and Gesine Robinson (Claremont Graduate School)–all first-rate scholars in Coptic studies–have weighed in and have found the fragment wanting. No doubt Francis Watson’s comprehensive work showing the fragment’s dependence on the Gospel of Thomas was a contributing factor for this judgment, as well as the rather odd look of the Coptic that already raised several questions as to its authenticity.

This episode, in my opinion, shows the power of the Internet as a tool that can be a servant of the truth: and New Testament scholars as a (rather disparate group) used it as a tool to quickly respond to a piece of information that has “news media” glitz. I wonder if these results will be trumpeted as loudly by the NY Times as the first story was? The world of academic New Testament scholarship responded very quickly to debunk this “discovery”. It’s true that anyone can do anything and anyone can say anything to get their five minutes of fame in the Internet age. But a group of people intent on knowing the truth and disseminating the truth have the ability to respond quickly and with certainty and to just as quickly tamp down the media glitz.

It’s a kind of “truth serum”, if honest people will only use it that way.

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Update: Wallace has now published a quasi-correction:

After I posted the news which I received from Dr. Craig Evans that HTR was not going to publish the fragment because it had been judged to be a fake, I then got news that HTR was going to publish it. Here’s the link that gives the data: ...

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Update 5:15 am September 27:

Hurtado and Wallace have both linked to further updates which eventually lead to a Huffington Post column by Jaweed Kaleem where the conclusion is a bit more muddy.

Hurtado says “According to the article, a number of Coptologists are raising doubts about the authenticity of the item (and it’s significant that they’re Coptologists, not theologians)”. But King (the Harvard scholar who made the initial announcement) says there will be “ongoing studies about the ‘scientific dating and further reports from Coptic papyrologists and grammarians.’” Hurtado says “It’s too bad that the tests in question, however, weren’t conducted earlier.”

The bottom line here seems to be that King (and the New York Times story) jumped the gun with the announcement. It still seems to me that Evans, Watson, et. al. responded appropriately in their rapid response to the news story that something significant had happened.

Stay tuned.

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