Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Like Papyrus Fragments in the Desert Wind

I've once again stolen the title, this time from where I do not recall, in honor of what appears to be the denouement of the whole Jesus Wife Fragment. Once again, the scholarly focus is more on the Gospel of John fragment that accompanied it, which appears to be in the same hand and has suspicious parallels to a modern edition of another text whose language is inappropriate for the period. But another detail has emerged in further examination: there's a hole near the top of the page, and on one side the scribe as written around the hole, while on the other, he has not. Now, it's not unread of for a text to be written on a damaged page, and for the text to be fitted around the damage; it's extremely hard to justify, however, that on one side, there was damage, and on the other side, there was not.

More details about the supposed origin of the document have also turned up in Owen Jarus's article on the LiveScience site. Supposedly these texts came out of the collection of one Hans-Ulrich Laukamp, who supposedly obtained them in Potsdam in 1963. This story, it turns out, has many difficulties. It does seem that Laukamp was living in West Berlin at the time, but Potsdam was then in East Germany, and Laukamp could not have travelled there. But in any case, Jarus was able to contact the executor of Laukamp's estate, and Jarus was told that Laukamp, a toolmaker, had no interest in old texts and did not collect antiquities. Another acquaintance gave the same story. Further investigation revealed that the German antiquities authorities had no knowledge of the parchments.

Thus the legitimacy of the text continues to dissolve. And finally, the major media, those who pushed this story, are yielding in their defense of the fragment. The Wall Street Journal ran a story on the story; other negative stories ran in Slate and the Daily Mail. Even Laurie Goldstein of the New York Times, who was one of the chief media advocates for the text, came out with an article recounting the extent of the doubts. Far from delivering revelations about the early church, or even about Gnostic heresy, all we are left with is revelation of the gullibility of those who long for such exposes.

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