Papyrus fragment gone wild!

Remember the ridiculous “Mrs. Jesus” papyrus fragment flap?

L’Osservatore Romano, taking a break from commentary on The Simpsons, has offered a view.  This time, however, the editor, they seem to be on target.

A papyrus adrift

“Harvard scholar’s discovery suggests Jesus had a wife”. With this title Fox News continued the reporting on the conference held on Tuesday evening, 18 September, by Karen L. King during the 10th international conference on Coptic The fragment of a papyrus presented by Karen L. Kingstudies at the Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, only a few metres away from Vatican City. Of similar tenor, but with variations of tone and critical understanding, as well as, the barely pertinent references to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, was the news buzzing around the European and Italian media in the following days. The news was quickly reported. In the course of the conference the scholar presented a fragment of a papyrus which bears phrases, translated from Coptic, of a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples about a woman, Mary, whom he describes as “his wife” (ta-hime / ta-shime, which in Coptic corresponds to what we call “woman” or “wife”). There is nothing unusual about this for a scientific congress. However, in this case, the excessively direct link between research and journalism – that makes short shrift of the long periods required by more serious scientific discussion – had already occurred before the conference, given that the very premature news in the American press on Tuesday depended on an an interview that the Harvard academic had already given before leaving for Italy.

In spite of the drift in the media marked by tones which are quick to shock, unlike so many other items presented at the conference, the papyrus was not discovered in the process of excavation but came from an antiquarian market. Such an object demands that numerous precautions be taken to establish its reliability and exclude the possibility of forgery.

Alberto Camplani

My mother has a small papyrus bed growing in her back yard in Florida.  Maybe I could put something together.   Hmmm….

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Kevin says:

    If if it’s not a forgery, perhaps it’s just an ancient Coptic equivalent of the Fishwrap? On a more serious note, academics and their employability these days are often judged by their “research impact” among the general public, which means precisely this sort of sensationalist, unsubstantiated, media-friendly soundbite. Academics are usually much less certain about anything (let alone individual, isolated papyrus fragments) than the impatient “flavor of the second” journalists give them credit. Unfortunately these same lazy journalists provide the only real way for an academic to make an impact upon the general public – thereby meeting their quota – since few people are willing to engage with the subtleties and intricacies of true academic research papers. This is why the most prominent academia-related stories in the media end up with titles like: “Jesus had a wife”, “Shakespeare was gay”, “the Pope’s not a Catholic”, etc. Thus I would agree entirely with the statement above that the essential problem here is “the excessively direct link between research and journalism”, something that can be blamed on journalism by its somewhat virulent nature and institutional academia as it has become in recent years, pursuing money and fame at the expense of truth.

  2. mike cliffson says:

    Just so! Even were it to be proven physically genuine of its period, papyrus ,ink, coptic characters, and translation, the which is NOT the instantaneous job a CSI viewer has come to expect, it would still be most probably its own times’ Fishwrap,(yours) or bitter Pill, (UK) equivalent, among the gnostics.

    I’m indebted to a good riposte for my danbrownite workmates:
    If the Holy Shroud of Turin’s status still hangs fire after so much research by so many over so much time..
    How come we must accept , but already,this zero provenance papyrus on zero research by zero people over zero time?

  3. VexillaRegis says:

    No no no no no, we’ve got it all wrong folks! George @ Convert Journal said in the first Mrs Christ thread, that we can not assume the gender of this “wife” from the “evidence” given. He’s right, but only partially: The truth is, that Jesus was a transvestite woman who had a lesbian wife. They managed to keep this a secret for nearly 2000 years, however the gnostics now think it’s time to reveal this “gnosis” to the world. Yep.

  4. Philangelus says:

    If you use the papyrus in the back yard, be sure to soak the papyrus in limestone water to artificially age the radiocarbon signature.

    I suggest you make a copy of Jesus’s baptismal certificate and leave the marriage line blank. ;-)

  5. bookworm says:

    There’s an absolutely hilarious satirical article at Catholic World Report by “Nick Bottom” on the riots spreading through the Bible Belt over the newly discovered “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”:

    “In Devil’s Elbow, Missouri, a group of about two hundred men, women, and children, all blood relatives of one sort or another, dressed in their Sunday best and carrying large Bibles, stormed through the downtown, chanting, “Those who mock the Lord, will surely taste the sword; Liars say he had a wife, liars deserve to taste the knife.” At least eighteen were injured from blows and bursts of righteous indignation, and two men were slain in the Spirit, although they were apparently not harmed physically.

    “Eyewitnesses report that the riotous Christians were singing a popular, militantly theistic song with the lyrics, “It only takes a spark, to get a fire going/and soon all those around, are warmed up by its glowing…”

  6. FaithfulCatechist says:

    Eyewitnesses report that the riotous Christians were singing a popular, militantly theistic song As a Fire is Meant for Burning?

    Seriously, some folks will make a lot out of fourth century fragment but won’t trust the (non-fragmentary) canonical Gospels because they were written decades after Jesus’ death.

    Time for a glass of perspective and soda.

  7. Art says:

    I’d like to see how this turns out. There’s quite a market for antique forgery in that area for the credulous. I seem to remember some lead codices showing up earlier last year.

  8. Maria D. says:

    What does the papyrus really say?

  9. Art says:

    Here is a link to a preliminary analysis of the text:

  10. Elizabeth M says:

    “Convenient” that the small fragment just happens to mention a wife of Jesus. Sounds like the devil up to his old tricks.

  11. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Vexilla Regis, have you been (re)reading Anthony Burgess’s The Clockwork Testament (1974) with its satire (in passing) on “religiolesbic organizations” and “Jesus was a woman nonsense”? (For those who have not, it is quite a rude book in all sorts of ways – bawdy abounding and then some – so please do not take this as a general recommendation!)

    The suggestion that this papyrus is a forgery stitching together ‘Gospel of Thomas’ quotations in particular, got me browsingly rereading Robert Grant and David Noel Freedman’s popular-scholarly 1960 book about that manuscript – the style and approach of which, instructively enough, compares favourably with the sloppy sensationalism of a lot of supposed academic scholarship from at least Pagel’s Gnostic Gospels (1979) on !

  12. Dr. K says:

    “(ta-hime / ta-shime, which in Coptic corresponds to what we call “woman” or “wife””

    As I pointed out in a previous post, this particular word appears much darker than the surrounding text if you closely analyze the fragment. The word was likely added in with a Sharpie marker.

  13. aragonjohn7 says:

    Agreed the whole thing looks new

    Or we have found an ancient sharpie

  14. MrTipsNZ says:

    I bet the papyrus is actually a fragment of the flyer for Joan Chittister’s talk on the “Female God” from an 4th century LCWR meeting in Carthage……..

  15. VexillaRegis says:

    If you want to be famous by using papyrus, this way would be much better:

  16. albizzi says:

    Remember the movie maker Cameron who claimed to have found the tomb of Jesus and Mary .(though the location of the Holy Sepulchre is known since 20 centuries).

  17. AnnAsher says:

    We have some copies of ancient papyrus that put the kabosh on homosexuality and fornication… Just sayin’!

  18. PostCatholic says:

    You know, I really think the story is not doing Dr King’s reputation any good.

    The papyrus fragment is interesting in that it is
    – the earliest known recorded instance of the belief
    – that Jesus had a wife, a spiritual “bride”, a senior female disciple
    – or not
    – which belief was held
    – (or perhaps, mentioned only for the sake of refutation by)
    – a geographically isolated Christian community
    – which includeed such important patristic figures as Saint Anthony
    – but decayed into what is now considered the gnostic heresy
    – which is known to have produced later works which definitively claimed Jesus was married
    – for which this document may have been a source or inspiration
    – but nevertheless the fragment can not be considered as evidence of fact concerning the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth
    – and neither can the content of the canonical Gospels, which must be accepted, if one is inclined so to do, on faith and the strength of Tradition (and this is the only controversial statement I have made.)

    So it’s deeply interesting to Christian history but only as something of a footnote. I view the coverage of Dr King’s translation and exegesis as something of a straw man argument.

  19. VexillaRegis says:

    @Venerator: I didn’t see your post until now (moderation?), and haven’t read A Burgesses book at all, however I remember it being discussed a lot a long time ago. I seem to have got the messege, though! ;-)

  20. Hieronymus Illinensis says:

    Dr K, aragonjohn7, to get this image they did apply an enhanced-contrast effect around the word tahime, which actually means “my wife,” not just “woman” or “wife.”

  21. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Hieronymus Illinensis (with felicitations on your Name Day!), how did the Copts (tend to?) translate Revelation 21:9?

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