Posts Tagged “coptic”

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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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)I’m sure this will throw a lot of Christians into hysterics, but it seems there’s this 4th century papyrus fragment, in the Coptic language, that quotes Jesus as having had a wife. The New York Times reports on a historian’s disclosure of this discovery (WebCite cached article):

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’”

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”

The finding is being made public in Rome on Tuesday at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by the historian Karen L. King, who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.

There are a lot of caveats that go along with this. Among the foremost of them, is that the document’s nature is shaky:

The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous.

Skepticism is definitely in order here. Prof King has had the fragment reviewed by papyrologists and they seem to have agreed it’s not a forgery, so it may just be what it seems to be.

Now, it’s possible to take this a bit too far, and I’m sure the media will do so. To be clear, though, this is a fourth-century document. It does not tell us whether or not Jesus had a wife — or that he ever really existed at all. At best, all this fragment does is show that at least one Coptic writer in the 4th century believed Jesus to have had a wife. But I must point out, there’s not enough context here to be sure even of that much. For all we know, Jesus’ mention of having a wife within this text had been intended as metaphorical, allegorical, or suppositional. We really need more of the text, in order to understand what the writer had been doing.

Despite Prof King’s work on it to date, the jury is still out as to the authenticity of this fragment, as well as its meaning. It’s possible that scholars may investigate this document for decades without arriving at any definitive answers. Where the real fireworks will be produced over this, is in the realm of pop culture. This is noted in the final paragraph of the Times article:

The notion that Jesus had a wife was the central conceit of the best seller and movie “The Da Vinci Code.” But Dr. King said she wants nothing to do with the Code or its author: “At least, don’t say this proves Dan Brown was right.”

While Prof King disavows any link to the insipid antihistorical tripe produced by Dan Brown, he’s got a lot of fans, many of whom will no doubt be quick to assert this fragment is “proof” than Brown was correct — even though The Da Vinci Code was demonstrably predicated on a hoax.

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

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Egypt sectarian violence / Christian, Muslim youths clash in Cairo / A dozen people have been killed in the clashes that occurred in the Cairo district of Imbaba (Aljazeera)Hosni Mubarak may be out of power, but all is not well in the Land of the Nile. Religious violence has become an increasing problem in Egypt and its new government is having difficulty dealing with it. Al Jazeera reports on a renewed eruption of religious strife in Cairo, in the wake of a woman’s conversion from Christianity to Islam (WebCite cached article):

Egyptian troops are out in force in central Cairo after weekend riots left 12 people dead and more than 200 injured.

Clashes between Muslims and Copts have raised fears that more sectarian strife could erupt in the country which remains under military rule three months after former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power. …

The bloodshed began on Saturday evening when word spread around the Imbaba neighborhood that a Christian woman who had converted to Islam had been abducted and was being kept in the Virgin Mary Church against her will.

About 500 ultraconservative Salafi Muslims gathered at the church, calling on Christians to hand over the woman.

Both sides traded gunfire, firebombs and stones, witnesses said.

Soldiers and police fired shots in the air and used tear gas to separate the sides but stone-throwing went on into the night.

Al Jazeera offers an excellent video report, but for some reason there’s no option to embed it, so I can’t do so here.

The idea that religious conversions must be met with violence is, quite obviously, absurd. No one is required to be happy about a conversion, but to hold her in a church and then exchange gunfire and Molotovs over it, is beyond rationality. It just goes to show that Egypt has a long way to go before it matures sufficiently. That’s ironic, since her civilization is among the oldest on the planet, meaning its people have no excuse for not having grown up enough to deal with things like this.

Note that the uptick in Muslim/Christian violence predates the revolution that toppled Mubarak. On January 1 of this year, a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria was bombed, killing 21 people.

Photo credit: Snapshot from Al Jazeera video.

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