The Wife of Jesus Coptic Fragment: Another Update
The New York Times online science page published a short article today wherein scientists who have examined the Coptic fragment that has Jesus referring to his wife (“my wife”) is more likely authentic than not.
The issue isn’t really if the papyrus is ancient. The issue is whether the content is contrived. Am I the only person who remembers Irving Wallace’s thriller, The Word? (The novel was about how a forger used ancient materials to forge a phony gospel).
As I blogged back in 2012, Coptic specialists have reason to believe the text is phony — a clever splicing of lines and words from existing Coptic texts forged into this “new” text. Here’s a short (six page) essay by Francis Watson, a Coptic specialist who described how he thinks it was done. Here’s another longer explanation by a different specialist in early gospels who works in Coptic. If either of these explanations are correct (and they are coherent), then the age of the payprus is meaningless to the issue of authenticity. (See the footnote below for the latest information on the forgery argument.)
At best, if the text itself (the content) is genuine, we don’t have proof that Jesus was actually married. We’d have evidence someone thought he was married or wanted to cast him as such. As Coptic scholar Christian Askeland notes: “Karen King´s initial argument that this fragment demonstrates a fourth century literary manuscript of the ‘the Gospel of Jesus Wife’ is now officially dead, by her own admission. We are left with a deflated seventh to ninth century semi-literary scrap … or a fraud.”1
Personally, it wouldn’t matter if Jesus was married, theologically or historically. The gospels never claim to be an exhaustive repository of everything Jesus did or the entirety of his life. They are by nature and intent selective. They deliver a theological message.
[Addendum: Francis Watson, the Coptologist who proposed the text was faked back in 2012, has put forth a preliminary response to the latest testing on the fragment. In a word, he still ain't buying it. MSH]