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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Answering Questions on Scripture or related Religious Background: 2 - First Impressions on the 'Jesus had a wife' fragment

The claimed 4th Century A.D. Coptic Fragment submitted anonymously to Harvard University that Karen King says proclaims possibly that Jesus had a wife 

is CLEARLY an intentionally  altered fragment.  It is altered in such a way as to suggest it says something other than the original.

Nor am I alone in having a skeptical eye toward this fragment.

Karen King writes in her 52 page presentation of the fragment 
the following:

The papyrus currently belongs to a private collector.

...its language (Sahidic Coptic) as well as the conditions for the preservation of organic material indicate that it was found in Egypt. Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery....

…Papyrological and Palaeographical Description
The fragment is a small, honey colored piece of papyrus, measuring c. 4 cm in height by 8 cm in width, inscribed with Coptic letters in black ink. None of the margins are preserved

On the recto (), the papyrus has eight incomplete lines of script (with illegible traces of a ninth), and on the verso (), it has six.7
7 We use the terms recto and verso here to indicate the direction of the fibers, not the position of the folio in the codex. 

...A kollêsis is clearly visible in the middle of the verso. On the left side of the verso, the writing in a section measuring 4 cm in height by 4.6 cm in width has abraded, and the writing in the remaining section on the right is faded. The recto is thus better preserved than the verso.

1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
2 ] The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
3 ] deny. Mary is worthy of it
4 ]……” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[ [
5 ]… she will be able to be my disciple . . [
6 ] Let wicked people swell up … [
7] As for me, I dwell with her in order to . [

 Given that Jesus is the speaker, the possessive article indicates that he is speaking of his wife.

Copyright © Karen L. King, 2012. Forthcoming Harvard Theological Review 106:1, January 2013

Lines 1 -2 could merely say, "My mother, who gave life to me, use to pose the same questions that the disciples said to Jesus." 

Lines 3 - 4 in relating to Martha's lament abount Mary taking it easy while Martha toiled with being a good host while Jesus visited, could just as easily be in that context.  "Mary is worth of it, of resting in the presence of the LORD and whatsoever Jesus said to them."  Then switching gears, the author could be relating, in Lines 4-5, "My wife related that as Mary was able to be a disciple of Jesus, that she will be able to be my disciple."  And so on.  Is that what was said or anything close to it?  We don't know, but it shows that too much is being made of the false claim that Jesus had a wife.  If that were the case, no end of historical accusations would have raged in the Jewish Talmud, in various anti-Christian histories, and so forth from the second to fourth centuries.  Rather, there is NO credible source, only blind ignorance with blind anti-Christian bias to create controversy and disbelief for the sake of notoriety.

Let us take a step back and examine the picture.

The acclaimed altered manuscript released by Harvard University's Karen King.

Notice the SHARPLY CUT EDGE AT THE TOP OF THE FRAGMENT.   Someone took a Knife and altered this manuscript fragment in order to remove a contextual verse above it, and and then hand-picked at the fibers to the left and below.  Notice the fresh strands from where and how they cut and pulled away at the papyrus edges.  Because it is a cross threaded papyrus, it was necessary to cut and pull at the fragment from this side.   Notice also the gap between lines 5 and 6.  The cut at the top of the fragment follows the same pattern.  Whoever submitted this fragment found it essential to CUT AWAY all trace of letters above this to line, which obviously would give this fragment context and perspective other than what is being claimed.  


The reverse side

Papyrus fragment: back. Karen L. King 2012

Let's look at just the first 2 lines to get the first impressions we should have in examining before reaching the controversial translation of line 4 (which we cannot find in context because someone cut and broke and manipulated  this fragment).

Line 1, (which may as well be line 4, 11 or 17 in whatever manuscript leaf it is claimed to be from.)   
 1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
Who is speaking?   The author?  A disciple of Jesus?  A Teacher of the scribe?  Jesus?  A person unnamed or unknown?  Whose mother gave what to whom?

 Let's look at line 2.  
 2 ] The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
Okay, plain enough.  But what did the disciples say to Jesus?  Was it a quote or a summation of a quote?
     For that answer, we need to know how wide the column was, and how many letters we could expect would be missing to get from here to there. 
     Based on the picture, the leaves of the original that it may or may not have come from (if it is not simply a forgery onto a papyrus piece not much larger than this one to begin with), should run no less than 24 centimeters in height  x 16 centimeters in width with a minimum of perhaps 31 - 32 letters. 

 In effect, even if we were to later find this fragment is a genuine part of an original, each line of this fragment would therefore be missing about 14 letters a line.  Being of dubious origin, it may be a leap to so quickly suppose that it is genuine or to imagine that it necessarily -- in its present form -- came from where the language it was written in -- Sahidic --was most spoken .   Sahidic, for our general reference here, is essentially a pre-1100 A.D. language found in some Egyptian Coptic manuscripts.   The location where Sahidic was most commonly found, is what many now refer to as the Upper southern Egyptian (re: Thebes, Luxor, Karnak).

In contrast, compare the cut Karen King / Harvard Fragment with Mesokemic (Middle Egyptian Coptic) Codex Schoyen 2650 (c. 325 - 350 A.D.) dating to about the same years.  This fragment gives us a sample page of how many lines we might expect, and of the blank gap of the top of the page demands.  


Therefore, the Jesus had a wife fragment is to be dismissed as a malicious hoax.  That's my input.

 [Last updated 9/23/2012  Link added, minor typo correction]

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