Gospel of Jesus' WifeIt’s been awhile since it was a hot topic in the news, but the so-called “gospel of Jesus’ wife” is in the news again. The New York Times reports that, after some non-destructive tests have been done on it, the fragment is probably of classical or early-medieval origin (WebCite cached article):

A faded fragment of papyrus known as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” which caused an uproar when unveiled by a Harvard Divinity School historian in 2012, has been tested by scientists who conclude in a journal published on Thursday that the ink and papyrus are very likely ancient, and not a modern forgery.…

The papyrus fragment has now been analyzed by professors of electrical engineering, chemistry and biology at Columbia University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who reported that it resembles other ancient papyri from the fourth to the eighth centuries. (Scientists at the University of Arizona, who dated the fragment to centuries before the birth of Jesus, concluded that their results were unreliable.)

The test results do not prove that Jesus had a wife or disciples who were women, only that the fragment is more likely a snippet from an ancient manuscript than a fake, the scholars agree. Karen L. King, the historian at Harvard Divinity School who gave the papyrus its name and fame, has said all along that it should not be regarded as evidence that Jesus married, only that early Christians were actively discussing celibacy, sex, marriage and discipleship.

The last time I blogged about the GJW, I’d commented on a rather rash Vatican dismissal of any possibility that the fragment could be genuine. Now that some tests have actually been done — which hadn’t been the case back when the Vatican pitched a fit over it — I don’t doubt they’ll still refuse to accept it might be genuine.

That’s a shame, because quite obviously, whether or not GJW is genuine, doesn’t mean Jesus had to have been married. It only means some classical or early medieval Coptic Christians wrote as though he had been. Sure, it seems a really bizarre idea to modern eyes, but there were lots of Christian groups that believed a lot of different things in antiquity, and a lot of those ideas were strange (even to other Christians). If you want to read a really weird account of Jesus’ childhood, for example, read the (possible) 2nd century Infancy Gospel of Thomas. In it, a young Jesus literally curses people to death. No Christians today take that seriously, but some Christian definitely wrote it, back in classical times. There really isn’t any rational reason for anyone … the robed denizens of the Vatican included … to get their knickers in knots over this.

Hat tip: Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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