Monday, August 10, 2020

Reviews of Sabar’s New Book on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

Ariel Sabar’s new book on the saga of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife releases tomorrow and already there have been a slate of glowing book reviews. My copy is on pre-order so I have not read it. But all accounts so far are that it is a page-turner with important lessons for those of us who ply the scholarly trade. Here are some excerpts for you from the reviews I’ve read so far.
Veritas book cover

Lucas Wittmamn at Time Magazine
In our moment of truthiness, to borrow a term from Stephen Colbert, Veritas offers a vital lesson less about Christianity than about what happens when a scholar decides that the story is more important than the truth. King had spent her career presenting an important scholarly narrative about the need to re-evaluate and reinterpret the canonical story of Christianity, to allow for women to play a central role and to question some of the central tenets of how established churches told the world’s most famous story. But in Sabar’s convincing and damning assessment, when it came to Jesus’ wife, she bypassed the facts, ignored peers who warned her something was amiss and failed to thoroughly interrogate how Fritz came to possess this stunning artifact.
Katherine A. Powers at the Minneapolis Star Tribune
You could not find a better demonstration of the central truth about forgeries: that historical verisimilitude does not lie in reflecting the sensibility of the past but rather in fulfilling the persuasions and aspirations of the present. But there is more to this story than wishful thinking. Why did King suddenly change her mind about the authenticity of the scrap of papyrus and decide to accept it? Why did she move so quickly in presenting it to the world?

It would be unfair to tell you, for, in truth, the book is as good as a detective novel, possessing plot, subplots, hidden motives, bees in eccentric bonnets and startling revelations.
Alex Beam at the Wall St. Journal (paywalled)
‘Hotwife’ Pornographer Gulls Harvard Prof With ‘Wife of Jesus’ Hoax.” The headlines could have been worse for Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University. But not much worse.
David Mikis in Tablet
Veritas is a gripping thriller, and a perfect beach read. I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t reveal the possible involvement of Harvard’s administrators in the Jesus’ Wife fiasco. Suffice it to say that Harvard, not just King, fell for Fritz’s tantalizing papyrus. Sabar’s book adds to one’s sense that the ivory tower is tottering, with professors peddling wishful thinking that masquerades as scholarship, and letting their progressive values freely rewrite history.
Candida Moss in The Daily Beast
The negative reviews raise questions as to why King went ahead with her announcement and why the editors of HTR would allow publication to proceed. Under ordinary circumstances, it would have been rejected. HTR had been spooked, Sabar reveals, but published it in 2014 and without peer-reviewing the scientific data supplied in her article. (The editors at the time have recently been replaced.) Sabar adds that King refused to allow a (negative) response to be published alongside her article in HTR and that when she released her story to the press she did so on the condition that they only speak to pre-approved scholars. Had King not been a senior figure in the field, and had the editors of the journal not been her immediate colleagues, the outcome might have been different.


  1. On Oct. 29, 2015 I emailed Prof. King the following, to which she did not reply:
    The papers of Peter Munro are archived at the Museum August Kestner in Hannover.

    Munro was formerly director of the museum. Now Dr. Christian E. Loeben is curator of the Egyptian and Islamic collections. Dr. Loeben wrote an obituary of Munro, available here:

    Dr. Loeben was a student at Free Uni. Berlin in the 1980s; his teachers included Munro (with whom he also dug in Egypt) and Gerhard Fecht (who taught him Coptic).

    Dr. Loeben has very kindly offered to compare contemporary (including 1980s) archived documents of Munro, whose signature he knows well, with the content and signature of the offered provenance documents.

    I include Dr. Loeben's contact information after my signature. I hope this is helpful, and I look forward to further results of research.

  2. So, with the case against this forgery so crystal clear, why is Harvard University allowing this video to remain online in its name?

  3. Ariel Sabar's book discussed Morton Smith. so:

    Did Morton salt Mar Saba?
    There’s no consensus yet, but it may be, partly by unintended consequence, slowly arriving.
    Geoffrey Smith recently showed persuasively (in that the letter by “Clement” (his quotation marks) was composed sometime after Eusebius’ History, so not by Clement. And, I add, if Clement of Alexandria disappears from this, likely so does the Secret Mark of Alexandria—apparently not know to Origen, nor anyone else, before Morton Smith. Geoffrey Smith, and co-author Brent Landau--who dismissed some proposals, but only some targets easier to caricature, not Smith seen in full (e.g., his humor)--propose it was written after Eusebius but before Morton Smith. Yet Michael Zeddies has demonstrated (JECS 2007; HTR 2009) that a very detailed revisionist setting can be argued, even if not finally persuasively. But Origen (Zeddies’ choice) stated that he had not met Carpocratians (correcting Harpocratians with Henry Chadwick and an assist from A. D. Nock; c. Cels. 5.65). Origen was not trickily addressing dead Celsus, an option M.S. offered in a 1984ff article (see below), but addressing his contemporary Christians, including patron Ambrose. Post Eusebius, Carpocratians were likely extinct; Epiphanius had to content himself for his disdain by quoting earlier writers. M. S. found in them a parallel to a version of Sabbatai Sevi’s tikkun, though Scholem demurred. Who else had similar motive? A forthcoming book (Yale UP) may attempt to answer that. After Origen and after Eusebius, Clement’s reputation was diminished by guilt by association with Origen—perhaps not a great pseudepigraphic pick to allege a Secret Gospel.
    Morton Smith in a detailed article in JTS archive (box 10, folder 1), unpublished (though marked up for publishing), perhaps intended to be “the Score” after two decades, brazened it out, saying, in effect, of course this was Clement. Never you mind that the language is hyper-Clementonian and the content is non-Clementite, because the letter is his secret writing, as opposed to his other writing that Morton Smith repeatedly characterized as his writing in public. So difference to be expected, see? It does not take super imagination to find a subtext not far to seek: this is Clement, fools, because I wrote it as Clement! (More sermons by Augustine discovered in a Mainz library did not have changed doctrine.)
    Some of his students, even without including Neusner, apparently think he was capable. At least one scholar Smith listed as accepting Clement authorship has denied that.
    To say (with Brent Landau) that Smith was “ethical’ by leaving the book at Mar Saba begs the question whether he planted it there, pre-inscribed.
    So far the most detailed paleographic publication is by Agamemnon Tselikas. Voss page 11 had ink and pen tests (Greek). (Minor note: Latin text used in the binding.) Book Provenance indications were ripped away.
    Did M. S., as has been suggested, have an accomplice? I doubt the few available expert suspects would trust Smith nor he them. Not to deny as possible, though, that he may have practiced other writing and been critiqued by an expert or two, unaware of the real purpose. (Compare, in admittedly quite different and worse context, those who trained as pilots, only to crash planes).
    M. S. of Philadelphia, if I remember, though I’ve lost the reference (anyone know?) deposited a “manufactured in the United States” 1958 near fair copy of his with a named Philadelphia bookdealer. Quite speculative: is that from whom he bought 1646 Voss?) Of course, not the final word. Corrections welcome.