It now appears likely that The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is a forgery. (See what I have written here, along with links.) Professor Karen King and her Harvard colleagues have some mud on their faces, which may be useful to cover up their blushing. It seems that Professor King was fooled by a clever forger, though she had not yet admitted this to be true. Perhaps she’ll mount an argument for the defense of the authenticity of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the evidence is stack up high against her.
I expect one could come up with many morals for this story. I will suggest one.
Dr. Karen King is a serious scholar. In fact, she now holds the oldest and arguably most prestigious chair at Harvard University, the Hollis Chair of Divinity. Professor King has contributed substantially to the study of early church history, and, though she has not shied away from hot issues, she is not prone to silliness and sideshows.
When Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, got everybody excited about the non-canonical gospels and their portrayal of women, King jumped into the fray with her book, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle. Yet, her treatment of this gospel was more scholarly than sensational. King took central place among scholars of this gospel and the role of women in gnostic versions of early Christianity.
As I understand it, when King first heard about the manuscript in question in 2010, she considered it to be a forgery. Later, though, she became convinced of its authenticity. She was not aware of the newly discovered reasons to believe that the fragment is a forgery, so she went ahead and treated the fragment as if it were authentic. This now seems to have been a mistake, though, in academia, you can never be quite sure that new evidence or arguments will not muddy the water.
But, for the sake of the moral of this story, let’s assume that the inauthenticity of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife becomes widely accepted among scholars. King and her Harvard colleagues were bamboozled by a clever forger. What can we learn from this?
I would suggest that King should have been much more skeptical about the peculiar coincidences surrounding the “discovery” of disputed fragment. It does seems strange, doesn’t it, that this fragment was “discovered” in a time when the question of Jesus’ marriage was hot. What are the odds that a genuine piece of ancient writing testifying to the “wife” of Jesus had “come to the kingdom for such a time as this”? That seems pretty fishy to me.
Further, consider the “coincidence” of what we actually have in the fragment. According to Karen King’s translation of the Coptic, here’s what the fragment says;
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 . [
8 ] an image [
Now, doesn’t it seem amazing that the only part of this gospel that remains includes specific mention of “Mary” and a statement of Jesus calling her “My wife”? What are the odds of such a thing happening, and happening right at a time when the issue of Jesus’ marriage is a lively one? If it smelly fishy, there’s probably a fish here somewhere.
Of course coincidences do happen. But as I look at this particular set of coincidences, it seems to me that we either have an outright miracle or a forgery. Either God dropped this fragment into our hands at just this time, or someone else created the fragment for certain reasons (money? influence the debate? or?). Now, as one who believes that God does miracles, I am not closed to the possibility of supernatural interventions. But, it does seem unlikely to me that the Almighty is the one who preserved and delivered the disputed fragment.
So, what’s the moral of the story, for Karen King and for the rest of us? If something is too good to be true, it’s almost certainly too good to be true . . . unless it’s a miracle.