While many in the media have put there spin on the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, I think Stephen Colbert’s reporting may be the best! Watch his ‘Wife of Jesus’ segment.
Sadly, Colbert is not as hilarious and sensational as Simcha Jacobovici who is probably pondering how to approach making his next documentary (i.e., a paycheck) out this “discovery.” (The Smithsonian Channel already has a show titled The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife slated to air.) Although every scholar I have read has said that this fragment tells us nothing about the historical Jesus, Jacobovici seems convinced that it settles the matter that Jesus was married. At least that is what it seems like if you read his recent “Jesus Was Married. Something Has Changed!” If you are short on time I recommend Colbert over Jacobovici. (HT)
Of course, Jacobovici may want to be a tad more patient. Francis Watson is challenging the authenticity of the manuscript saying it seems to have borrowed from the Gospel of Thomas. You can read his argument here.
Also, according to Simon Gathercole, there was some more doubt expressed at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome, see “Did Jesus Have a Wife?”
Others continue to share their thoughts like Craig A. Evans, Larry Hurtado, Tom Verenna, Daniel B. Wallace, and Ben Witherington III.
I’ve been quite annoyed at the various evangelical responses to this. Sure, the fragment may turn out to be a forgery. Sure, it doesn’t give us any information about the historical Jesus (not that any credible scholars are arguing this). But to make such points the central issue and emphasis illustrates their basically defensive, circle-the-wagons, and automatic-skepticism attitudes towards anything receiving public attention that does not square with traditional narratives and models of early Christianity. Such evangelical scholars are participating every bit as much in “hyping” this as are various news reporters who try to turn King’s modest suggestions into an earth-shattering story.
Would be nice to see, instead, evangelicals responding with the same historical curiosity that my colleagues in the university tend to have about this: e.g., if it’s credibly argued by the experts (i.e., papyrologists, coptologists, and scholars of Late Antique Christianity…in other words, not NT scholars) to be “genuine” (e.g., a legit 4th-ish century Coptic fragment), be excited that we now have more data for studying the landscape of early Christianity. Why must the normative and theological questions so immediately determine and drive folks’ responses to this?
To be clear, since his contribution has been mentioned, I’m not dismissing Francis Watson’s argument as mere theological knee-jerkism. He’s a detail oriented scholar and, to the extent he brings up possible indications of the fragment being dependent upon modern editions of ancient sources, he’s bringing up relevant points of evidence for consideration, especially consideration by papyrologists and coptologists. That said, people who move from Watson’s arguments to claims about the fragment being a forgery because it seems to reflect ideas and language seen in, for example, the Gospel of Thomas need to think critically for a moment: much early Christian literature re-uses, recycles, redeploys, innovates with and within, etc., earlier and more broadly seen materials, ideas, myths, sayings, positions, sources, etc. If this is one’s standard for dismissing a writing as a modern forgery, then (as I’ve seen others joke about recently) it’s time to remove Matthew and Luke from one’s Bible 😉
Agreed, there is no reason to circle the wagons, at least for evangelicals (maybe for Christians who use Jesus’ singleness as a model of discipleship). I think scholars like Watson, Hurtado, and Evans have been level headed. I think people like Jacobovici are those who are taking this discovery too far. If it is authentic it tells us a bit about what some Christians believed about Jesus’ married life long after his death. If not, then it is nothing.
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