Harvard Theological Review is reporting today that a text, written on Egyptian papyrus is likely real, including its reference to a married Jesus.
“I’m basically hoping that we can move past the issue of forgery to questions about the significance of this fragment for the history of Christianity, for thinking about questions like, ‘Why does Jesus being married, or not, even matter? Why is it that people had such an incredible reaction to this?’ ” Harvard professor Karen L. King tells the Boston Globe. She revealed the text nearly two years ago in Rome, where it was routinely dismissed as fake by other scholars.
Critics have dismissed the fragment as a ham-handed pastiche of bits of the Gospel of Thomas, a noncanonical gospel, mashed together by someone with an elementary grasp of Coptic. One scholar found that the fragment seemed to contain a typo found in an online edition of the Gospel of Thomas, a discovery that some academics said offered powerful evidence of a forgery.
Leo Depuydt, an Egyptologist at Brown University who offers a rebuttal to King’s thesis in the new edition of the Harvard Theological Review, said none of the test results alter his view that the document is a fraud, a modern-day cut-and-paste job with several glaring grammatical blunders that a native speaker of Coptic would never commit.
He believes the forger may have “wanted to put his or her own spin on modern theological issues,” such as the role of women and celibacy in Christianity.
“Nothing is going to change my mind,” he said in an interview this week. “As a forgery, it is bad to the point of being farcical or fobbish. . . . I don’t buy the argument that this is sophisticated. I think it could be done in an afternoon by an undergraduate student.”
In her article in the Harvard Review, King notes the authenticity of the document does not mean Jesus was married:
The most historically reliable early Christian literature is silent about Jesus’s marital status, and the GJW fragment does not change that situation. It is not evidence that Jesus was married, but it does appear to support the favorable position on marriage and reproduction taken by the canonical 1 Timothy, and it stands on the side of Jesus as he refutes the statement of Peter in Gos. Thom. 114 that “women are not worthy of life.”
Although we cannot know whether this damaged fragment supported the ancient patriarchal household order or argued that females should become male as these writings do, it does seem to enter debates over whether Jesus’s incarnate life pointed toward marriage or celibacy as the ideal mode of Christian life. Ultimately such questions raise theological issues of whether sexuality belongs to being fully human or necessarily compromises holiness. In my reading, however, the main point of the GJW fragment is simply to affirm that women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.
More religion: Survey finds Americans more skeptical of the Bible (CBS News).