Evangelical Textual Criticism

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Was Mrs Jesus Pimped?

I know of no excuse for hyping a fragment whose origins and significance are so uncertain.  A reporter in Rome informed me that his media outlet had an agreement with King to interview only persons on a list.  In exchange, his publication got a jump on the story.  At least one newspaper had a similar deal, and a slew of journalists were on the scene for (it seems) two press conferences.  One colleague told me that this was the new way of doing things.

More than a week after Karen King's spectacular public unveiling of the new gospel fragment, discussion and speculation continue.  (N.B. the Harvard Theological Review will publish her article -- the only question is when.)  Generally speaking, the debate has turned to composition and readings from Thomas (Watson et al., HT: NTBlog).  My concerns still lie with the likelihood of forgery, and I would like to raise this issue one final time before I move on.

The issue of dating has essentially been ignored.  King's citation of the Schøyen Middle Egyptian Matthew, the Nag Hammadi Genesis cartonnage, and other manuscripts did more to hurt than help her fourth century date, since they bear no close resemblance to the relevant fragment.  Although a few older scholars still assign dates paleographically, the practice is broadly considered indefensible by those in the guild (e.g. Layton, Emmel, Schüssler, and many others).  Hugo Lundhaug and Alin Suciu have outlined their various concerns about the fragment's authenticity in a key post on the subject, here.  Below, my own video describes some the key peculiarities of this manuscript which potentially support the forgery hypothesis.  The video is intended for a non-specialist audience.

We know what the media does with these stories. Consider the following misinformation which has King making statements which seem to blatantly contradict her article.  Never let facts get in the way of a good story!

Other interesting posts (to be updated)


  1. There are by now so many reasons to suspect that this ms is a fake that it is difficult to keep up with all of them. Usually if two of three reviewers suggest a ms is fake, that would be enough reason not to accept for publication. Curiously, an extraordinarily-learned papyrologist who first thought it fake (like many, including [non-papyrologist] me) somehow came to think it likely genuine, and in effect contributed to the article for a theology journal which gave the ms an unreliable date.
    Given the publicity blitz, it may be fair to consider Christian's hoax (on her) suggestion, relying on correspondence mentioning now-deceased Professors at the Free Uni, Berlin. Coincidence that Prof. King studied there in 1982-3? Perhaps so. But, in any case, by now, the story of the modern Rezeptionsgeschichte may be more interesting than that of the repurposed papyrus itself.

  2. Thanks for a very helpful post, Christian. And thanks especially for the youtube video, which is very nicely done.

    Interesting comment, Stephen. I would like to see the hand-written note that came with this piece published too -- this is surely material evidence in the question of the origins of the fragment. What is your source, Stephen, for Prof. King studying there in 1982-3?

  3. Mark, King's CV states it clearly that she was at Freie Universität in 1982-3, where she worked with "members of the Berlin koptische-gnostische Arbeitsgruppe. Her CV also mentions that she was there on a research stipend for doctoral research. Interesting!


  4. Thanks, Mark. Stephen is referring to my Deutsche Welle interview. King's stay in Berlin at that time is a bizarre coincidence. I also find it fantastic that of all the people to be approached to publish such a fragment, it was someone who had published along similar ideological lines.

  5. I didn't know scholars used such words as "pimped". :)

    I learn something new everyday.

  6. Why can I see the first video but the second one is just a big black hole with a "block" tab on the upper right?

  7. Thanks for those helpful comments. At this stage, one of the things I would really like to see published is the hand-written note about the fragment.

  8. Christian wrote: "I also find it fantastic that of all the people to be approached to publish such a fragment, it was someone who had published along similar ideological lines."
    I'm not sure what you mean by "fantastic" here. If it is a forgery, then you need an academic enabler (think Philip Davies and those metal codices), who is a) ideologically involved; b) technically under-equipped; and c) in an influential position.

    One thing that I think is interesting is the idea that the anonymous owner first approached King in 2010 with a photo and she said she wasn't interested (thinking it was fake) (http://harvardmagazine.com/2012/09/new-gospel). The logical next step for the owner would be to contact someone else! But he waits a year, contacts King again, and this time she takes the bait!

    Another thing I don't believe is this guff about the collector being bothered by people wanting to buy the thing! All collectors are interested in market value.

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