Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Gospel of Jesus' Brother-in-Law

So, in the last few days the whole "Jesus Wife Fragment"/"Gospel of Jesus' Wife" episode has taken another twist. Christian Askeland's article title this time is a bit too not nice to use but I had to come up with something. Anyway, here's the story: the mainstream press articles haven't said much about the context of the JWF, but those who have followed the story more closely know that it arrived with several other fragmentary texts supposedly from the same collector. Well, one of those has been now shown to the world, and it is a bit of the Coptic Gospel of John, in what looks like the same hand as the JWF, and on papyrus of comparable age.

And according to some scholars, it looks to be forged, in the same manner that the JWF is thought to be forged.

The problem is this: the text matches that of the Qau Codex. But not only does it match, it even follows the set of line breaks of a specific modern edition in an eccentric manner, to the point of having a glitch at a page break, and this edition is (like the Gospel of Thomas edition thought to have been used to compose the JWF) available on-line. This, however, presents another problem: the Qau Codex is in a dialect of Coptic which, by the date this appears to have been written, had died out.

So why should a churchman care? Well, on one level, all of this fuss ought to be immaterial. Whether the JWF represents a modern forgery or an ancient gnostic text, it stands well outside the orthodox canon; in a sense, the question is whether it is a modern or ancient forgery. It's all about the world-changing hype. King, whose baby this is, has connections to the Elaine Pagels/Jesus Seminar/"we can learn about early Christianity through the gnostic material" people. But this fragment has now been cut loose from this because of its late date, to the point where its importance in that wise would be indicating a significant survival into a time around Charlemagne's reign. The mainstream media is looking, for whatever reason, for another Coluphidist "well, that just about wraps it up for Christendom" wildly overstated story, and Harvard and Company played off this desire and got an endorsement of King's claims that was emphatically undeserved.

If you want a non-hyperventilating mainstream story reviewing the whole thing you can try this one from the Weekly Standard. And if you want a larger perspective on the novelty of these claims, you can see this column by David Jenkins that came out after the first round of JWF stories. But you can just as well ignore the whole thing, and dismiss anyone who tells you that this or that find challenges orthodox doctrine. Sure, you'll get called a traditionalist (as if that were a bad thing) and accused of burying your head in the sand, but you'll save yourself a lot of grief sorting through the nonsense.


rick allen said...

I do think that an ordinary Christian layman can be concerned that this constant stream of Jesus variations--magician Jesus, mushroom Jesus, warrior-Zealot Jesus, gay Jesus, married Jesus, fictional Jesus, apocalyptic Jesus, Merovingian Jesus, hidden-years-Hindu Jesus, cynic Jesus--will have some influence on the half-attentive public, who will little notice or care how inconsistent these images are with each other, or how little foundation they are shown to have in the follow-up stories, but may nevertheless almost unconsciously infer that Jesus is such an ephemeral figure that the only acceptable response to Him is either a detached bemusement, or making sure that one is up to speed on the latest astonishing revelation that will, at last, blow the lid off of Christian orthodoxy.

C. Wingate said...

The message is therefore that, as Paul teaches, a certain tenacity in one's commitment to the ancient teachings is required. I happen to have the connections and interests to seek out the specialist blogs and journals where these things get discussed, plus I have the theological education to understand the lingo well enough to get the gist of the discussion even if I can't deal with the fine points. Most people aren't that well-equipped, so they need to learn to be wary.

That said, you do have a point. The endless bombardment with these "revelations" is wearing, and it makes evangelism more difficult because of the need to debunk so much.