Photograph by Karen L. King, via the New York Times (see URL http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/us/historian-says-piece-of-papyrus-refers-to-jesus-wife.html?pagewanted=all)The Vatican has decided enough is enough, when it comes to the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” that I blogged about back when it was released. They just aren’t having any part of it. Not only are they rejecting its content, as Reuters reports, they took to their house organ, L’Osservatore Romano, to declare the thing a “fake” (WebCite cached article):

An ancient papyrus fragment which a Harvard scholar says contains the first recorded mention that Jesus may have had a wife is a fake, the Vatican said on Friday.

“Substantial reasons would lead one to conclude that the papyrus is indeed a clumsy forgery,” the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said in an editorial by its editor, Gian Maria Vian. “In any case, it’s a fake.”

Joining a highly charged academic debate over the authenticity of the text, written in ancient Egyptian Coptic, the newspaper published a lengthy analysis by expert Alberto Camplani of Rome’s La Sapienza university, outlining doubts about the manuscript and urging extreme caution.

I looked at L’Osservatore Romano online and was unable to find the editorial. I did, however, find Camplani’s piece, which is essentially an anti-media whine (cached). It doesn’t say very much about the manuscript fragment itself; it just says that the insolent worldwide mass media ought never to have mentioned it to anyone. Other than the complaint about the media — which is nothing new for the R.C. Church, they’ve been spewing paranoid rhetoric about how the media are trying to destroy them for years now — I don’t see anything substantive here, explaining how they know the fragment to be “fake.” No Vatican officials have examined it (again, that I’m aware of) so I don’t see how they can be this sure of it.

What it looks like they’ve done, is to react to a phantom, that being the idea that this scrap somehow proves Jesus was married, which of course would totally contradict centuries of Catholic doctrine … and especially would fly in the face of priestly celibacy.

Unfortunately for the Church, no one has seriously made such a claim, nor anything like it … not Prof Karen King who first revealed it, and not any of the reporters who’ve turned in stories about it. If anything, like this Reuters report, they go to great lengths to point out that this is not what the fragment tells us and that King never said so:

During the conference King stressed that the fragment did not give “any evidence that Jesus was married, or not married” but that early Christians were talking about the possibility.

Why the Vatican would react to this phantom notion, I have no idea. Except that, perhaps, it fits into the prevailing sense they have that the media are trying to destroy them. Even if the media were trying to do so, reporting on this fragment doesn’t help them in that regard.

Few facts are really known with any certainty about the document known as “the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” As I posted earlier, this means skepticism is in order. It may well turn out to be a modern fake. Questions abound, and conclusions are hard to reach. But even if it’s determined that the fragment is precisely what it appears to be … i.e. a classical-era Coptic text … that still does not tell us the slightest thing about Jesus. All it would tell us is that one 4th century Coptic Christian wrote down a text which contained those words … and because of that, one might reasonably assume, s/he believed that Jesus had a wife. Still, it’s clear that such a belief — assuming anyone held it, back then — must have been a minority view in classical Christendom (since there are no other documents that mention Jesus having been married).

Really, people need to stop going off the deep end over this manuscript fragment. Campliani’s statement that the media shouldn’t have reported it, is especially asinine. The Vatican is boxing shadows here. It really needs to move on and stop whining about things that aren’t relevant to it.

Photo credit: Karen L. King, via the New York Times.

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