In October 2012, I told BreakPoint listeners about a Smithsonian Channel documentary that examined a fourth-century papyrus fragment in which Jesus purportedly refers to His “wife.”
At the time, I noted that even if it weren’t a blatant forgery, there was ample reason to be skeptical about what the fragment purported to tell us.
Well, now the fragment is back in the news, and not only is skepticism about the fragment itself still warranted, but we should also ask ourselves what lies behind the continuing interest in the fragment and similar documents.
When the discovery of the document was announced, scholars pointed to “grammatical errors,” its “resemblance to other gospels” and even “inconsistencies with traditional Egyptian Coptic script” which called the fragment’s authenticity into question.
Earlier this month, the Harvard Theological Review published a series of articles claiming that the fragment wasn’t a forgery, and instead, “probably dated from between the sixth and ninth centuries and might be even older,” the mostly likely date being around 859 A.D.
Mind you, that’s at least four centuries after what the historian Karen King first claimed. Which also puts it four to five centuries after the various ecumenical councils that defined Christian orthodoxy.
Yet, King insists that “we can turn away from the question of forgery and talk much, much more about the historical significance of the fragment and precisely how it fit into the history of Christianity and questions about family and marriage and sexuality and Jesus.”
Leo Depuydt of Brown University disagrees. In a companion piece to King’s in the Review, he wrote that there is “not the slightest doubt [those are his words] that the document is a forgery, and not a very good one at that.” He reiterates early objections to the fragment and insists that none of them has been satisfactorily addressed.
To him, the text is “surreal,” and he wonders how “something so patently fake could be so blown out of proportion.”
Click here to read more.