Jesus’s “Wife” Hoax: Smithsonian To Air Documentary About the Fragment

This Sunday! That was fast.

The Smithsonian Channel (unofficial motto: “Doing Our Part to Make America Dumber”) is airing a documentary about “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” on Sunday, less than two weeks after its revelation to the world. It will be interesting to hear reactions from defenders of Karen King who said she handled this discovery in the right way by presenting her work for peer review (to a journal which is rapidly backing away from her) and at an academic conference, without going through the sensational media first.

Now we have a complete Smithsonian documentary ready to roll, clearly indicating that the mass media was always part of the plan to boost the profile of this dubious document. Smithsonian needed plenty of time to plan, film, edit, and schedule this documentary, and they’re using it as a lead-in to another documentary about the Titanic. How long has King been planning this academic/media blitz? If she had that much time to make a deal for an hour-long documentary, couldn’t she have spared little time for a few more experts and some spectrometry? Were they being held back to be revealed in the documentary? If so, how does that square with academic standards?

Note the description from Smithsonian’s page: this is not being described as insight into a fringe Christian heresy (the very most that could have been claimed for the Jesus’s Wife fragment, even if it wasn’t fake), but as “a new interpretation of a religious story we thought we knew.”

They then add the nonsense statement that “It doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but raises important questions about that possibility.”

Again: no it doesn’t. Karen King was trying to maintain a veneer of academic credibility in the initial reports by saying the fragment did not prove anything about Jesus’s marital status. That’s all over now. Watch this clip:

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About halfway through the clip she says bizarre things. We’ve spent “1500 years” talking about Jesus not being married? Actually, we’ve spent 2000 years talking about it. And what does she mean when she says that after years of assuming marital imagery in Gnostic texts was not about “real sexual intercourse, it’s not real marriage,” but now because of this new fragment the “best argument” to be made is that “Jesus and Mary were married.” She just comes right out and says it.

I need to really emphasize this point. After all her boilerplate disclaimers about how this fragment says nothing about the “historical Jesus,” we have King on tape saying they were really married. That sound you hear is the last tiny shreds of her credibility flapping out the window.

Now that the academic community is coalescing around a “probably–almost certainly–a forgery” narrative, will the Smithsonian documentary address those issues? It will be interesting to see. Even if it does, skeptical segments in sensational documentaries and stories have the effect of burying the lede.

UPDATE: Why have I switched to using the word “hoax” with this story? Because in this documentary, the fragment is now being presented as evidence of the marriage of Jesus and Mary. When the story first hit, there was at least some attempt being made to say this told us nothing about the historical Jesus. Now that’s out the window, and it “raises important questions” about a “story” we “thought we knew.” That’s a hoax. There also seems to be mounting evidence that the document itself is a forgery. My personal belief? I’m about 90% of the way to believing this thing was created in modern times. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Previous stories:

The Gnostic Noise Machine and the “Wife” of Jesus (original post)

Some thoughts on the Gospel of Thomas.

Expert claims “Jesus’s Wife” fragment is probably a modern forgery.

More evidence that “Jesus’s Wife” fragment is a modern forgery.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.