Religion Magazine

Jesus' Wife Fragment: Another Round-Up

By Goodacre
It's time for another quick round-up on the latest in the Jesus' Wife Fragment.  Now that the documentary has aired, and people have had time to reflect on some of the recent developments, it looks like we are at the point where the story will begin to receive less attention on the blogs, and certainly less attention in the media.  There is a kind of cycle here, and the experience of the last four weeks has been similar to the experience of September-October 2012.
The major difference this time around was that the documentary, originally scheduled for 30 September 2012, actually aired (trailer).  I must admit that I didn't watch it live, and although some of us have in the past live-tweeted documentaries like this, there didn't seem to be quite the appetite this time.  So I went to our local cinema grill to watch the first two episodes of the new 24 instead, and watched the Jesus' Wife documentary on the DVR when I got home.  I'm sorry if I sound shallow, but for me Jack wins over Jesus' Wife every time.
The documentary itself was very little changed from the version that aired in France several months ago.  There are several things I really enjoyed about the piece.  The interviews with Karen King were captivating, and I greatly appreciated her lucidity and enthusiasm -- she is an absolute natural in front of camera.  Likewise, AnneMarie Luijendijk was great.  I had not seen her on TV before, and she was also a natural.  Whereas all Prof. King's interviews appeared to take place at Harvard, Prof. Luijendijk was seen at Nag Hammadi (and we even got a retelling of the classic "find" story, jinn and all, in a single-person version, with an actor playing Mohammed 'Ali Al Samman) and the Coptic Museum in Cairo.
The documentary tended to play to a narrative that scholars of Christian origins will find familiar -- an ecclesial authority that is associated with celibacy and suppression of women is pitted against an anti-ecclesial counter-narrative in which the Jesus' Wife Fragment is now alleged to play a part.  In order to represent this visually, those speaking in favour of the fragment's authenticity -- Profs. King, Luijendijk and Bagnall -- were all presented in academic contexts, at their computers, in archaeological sites, in museums, whereas the other contributors, Dom. Henry Wansbrough and Robin Griffiths-Jones, were presented in churches and in recognizably ecclesial garb.  In so far as the forgery hypothesis came up, it was generally linked with "the Vatican", and the viewer was encouraged to think that it is only conservative types who were doubting the authenticity of the fragment.
The most disappointing element about the documentary was that it only appended one minute of additional material at the end to reflect recent developments, showing headlines in which the fragment was declared authentic.  The documentary concluded with the following statement:
"In short, there's much new evidence for its authenticity and none that it's a modern forgery.  The fragment will continue to stir controversy.  Scholars will continue to debate its meaning.  It will be some while yet before we can say whether the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is a footnote or a new chapter in the greatest story ever told" (emphasis original).
However, if the documentary itself came across as advocating very strongly for the authenticity of the fragment, the media more broadly has very much caught up with recent developments.  The highlight might just be Michael Peppard's remarkable turn on CNN:

(See the CNN HD version here). Like King and Luijendijk, Peppard is an absolute natural in front of camera -- he has a lightness of touch, and runs with the host's humour, but at the same time he is informative and lucid. By standing in front of graphic representations of the fragments, he is able to draw attention to some of the issues, including the writing round the hole.  (Yet still, we are dependent on images extracted from Harvard Divinity's PDFs; it would be wonderful to see good digital images released for detailed study).
Meanwhile, there are at least a couple of blog posts that are well worth reading for reflections on the fragment and the recent scholarly discussion.  First, Larry Hurtado comments:
The “Jesus’ Wife” Controversy: Scholarship, Publicity, and The Issues
And then Peter Head has some very helpful reflections on the lessons we can learn from this affair:
Pseudo-Gospel of Jesus' Wife as Case Study
Further, Münster has today issued a press-release that focuses on Christian Askeland's key contributions, featuring an endorsement from Prof. Stephen Emmel:
Gastforscher Dr. Christian Askeland entlarvt angeblich antikes Schriftstück / "Der sichere Beweis hatte gefehlt"
. . . . Prof. Dr. Stephen Emmel vom Institut für Ägyptologie und Koptologie der WWU, der den Nachwuchsforscher betreute, war von der Arbeit seines Zöglings fasziniert. Erstaunt habe ihn, der schon 2012 Zweifel angemeldet  hatte, die Entdeckung der Fälschung allerdings nicht, sei sie doch so offensichtlich gewesen: "Bislang hatte einfach der absolut sichere Beweis gefehlt", meint Stephen Emmel.
Dass Christian Askeland seine Wege von der Kirchlichen Hochschule Wuppertal, seinem derzeitigen Arbeitgeber, an die WWU führten, sei ein glücklicher Umstand gewesen: "Er hat über die koptische Übersetzung des Johannesevangeliums promoviert. Somit war er genau der Richtige, der das entdecken konnte", sagt Koptologe Stephen Emmel. Die Fälschung hält er sogar für recht jung. "Sie dürfte in den vergangenen zehn Jahren entstanden sein", mutmaßt der Experte.
Meanwhile, there has been some interesting discussion about the language in which some of the blog posts have been couched, culminating in a thoughtful piece on the Religion Dispatches blog:
"Gospel of Jesus’ Wife" Less Durable Than Sexism Surrounding It
Eva Mroczek
The article is well worth reading, and focuses on the issue of the language in which some of the discussion of the Jesus' Wife Fragment has been couched.  Eva is too gracious to mention that I also participated in the very thing she exposes here, by echoing language about the Lycopolitan John fragment as "ugly sister", and about which I apologized sincerely.  Since many have expressed bafflement at the use of this metaphor, and since Eva herself does not explain its origins, I should perhaps explain that it was an ill-advised attempt to play on Roger Bagnall's description of the Jesus' Wife Fragment on the day of its publication:
""We put it up on the screen, and we all sort of said, ‘Eeew,’ ” said Bagnall, one of the world’s leading papyrologists. “We thought it was ugly. And it is ­ugly. The handwriting is not nice — thick, badly controlled strokes made by somebody who didn’t have a very good pen.” (Boston Globe, 18 September 2012). 
The point was to note that its sister fragment was equally as ugly.  Nevertheless, I do see that the use of the metaphor is unfortunate and offensive, and I would like to reiterate my apology also in this context, and to thank Eva for drawing attention to it.

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