'Wife of Jesus' reality checks, doubts and debunkings

We've all had our fun with the bride of Christ stories. While the mainstream media is not going to win any awards for doing a good job covering this story, I did want to highlight a few stories that stood out for not being ridiculous. A reader suggested this Huffington Post article be highlighted, commenting:

It's far from perfect but at least the crucial word "Gnosticism" makes it into the article at all. The NYT article is very Indiana Jones.

... but so far I haven't seen any article which touches upon the fact of a separate Gnostic tradition in which this sort of thing is common. The fact that it's in Coptic tends to point to it being Gnostic, and I'll bet if Dr. King were actually asked she would state right out that she believes that it is so.

And do they HAVE to bring up Dan Brown???

I don't know. The word "Gnosticism" does make it into the article but not in any substantive way. And to answer the question, "Yes, 'they' do have to bring up Dan Brown." It's in the Journalist Code Of Conduct we all sign annually. Sorry.

Readers also sent in this piece that ran on an NBC News blog. Unlike many other stories about this explosive fragment that will undermine everything we know about Christianity (or whatever), the headline gives you a sense of where the piece is going: "Reality check on Jesus and his 'wife'." It does just that, explaining Gnostic thinking in some detail and showing how any significance that might be attached to the fragment isn't to Jesus so much as to, well, Gnosticism. I was particularly impressed considering that the piece's author is NBCNews.com's science editor. He even called different scholars for some well balanced feedback and such.

And then the Associated Press took a radically different approach with its story on the explosive findings that will rock Christianity and particularly the Roman Catholic Church. Headlined "Doubts over Harvard claim of 'Jesus' Wife' papyrus." The piece basically catalogues the many questions posed by scholars and experts in the illicit antiquities trade:

Stephen Emmel, a professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster who was on the international advisory panel that reviewed the 2006 discovery of the Gospel of Judas, said the text accurately quotes Jesus as saying "my wife." But he questioned whether the document was authentic.

"There's something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow," he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

Another participant at the congress, Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, was more blunt.

"I would say it's a forgery. The script doesn't look authentic" when compared to other samples of Coptic papyrus script dated to the 4th century, he said...

Wolf-Peter Funk, a noted Coptic linguist, said there was no way to evaluate the significance of the fragment because it has no context. It's a partial text and tiny, measuring 4 centimeters by 8 centimeters (1.5 inches by 3 inches), about the size of a small cellphone.

"There are thousands of scraps of papyrus where you find crazy things," said Funk, co-director of a project editing the Nag Hammadi Coptic library at Laval University in Quebec. "It can be anything."

He, too, doubted the authenticity, saying the form of the fragment was "suspicious."

We get some responses from the Harvard scholar and some background on the shady antiquities trade.

We learn that some archaeologists think that Harvard acted unethically, given how the fragment has no known provenance or history of where it's been.

"There are all sorts of really dodgy things about this," said David Gill, professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk and author of the Looting Matters blog, which closely follows the illicit trade in antiquities. "This looks to me as if any sensible, responsible academic would keep their distance from it."

He cited the ongoing debate in academia over publishing articles about possibly dubiously obtained antiquities, thus potentially fueling the illicit market.

The whole article is full of information that was not in those front page stories the day prior that were praising the find. For instance, the Archaeological Institute of America won't publish articles about antiquities whose provenance is unknown. And it's not just about not wanting to fuel the illicit trade but also because looting antiquities without benefit of their historical context also robs scholars of a wealth of information.

The article ends with the director general of the Coptic Museum in Cairo saying that the fragment was never heard of before this week and that, as a researcher, he doesn't think it's authentic since there would have been some mention of it. I'm sure we can squeeze a few more stories out of this before we all move on to whatever the next story that will destroy Christianity is.

And I'm sure -- absolutely sure -- that all of those media outlets that talked about Jesus' wife will be explaining all of this with equal prominence.

Photo of a guy who doesn't quite buy the latest sensationalist attack on the foundations of Christianity via Shutterstock.

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