Dating Jesus’ Wife

Dating Jesus’ Wife September 28, 2012

Discussions continue in the blogosphere about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. The most important thing to work out, if we can, is the date of its composition – dating the text is important both in terms of figuring out whether the text is authentic, but also, if authentic, what period in history it tells us about.

The text seems to depend directly on the Gospel of Thomas in Coptic, and thus is unlikely to be a Coptic translation of an earlier Greek text, if it turns out to be authentic.

Some will remain skeptical of the authenticity of the fragment even if analysis of the ink suggests that it is ancient. But then the question will be whether a forger who took the trouble to forge ancient ink would not also have written the text in a manner more like what an ancient scribe would typically produce.

At the moment, it does not seem that there is any evidence available that decisively points in one direction or the other. But perhaps some readers disagree? Perhaps the most interesting and important question to ask is what evidence, if any, would persuade you that the text is most likely inauthentic or most likely authentic.

What do readers think? How would you answer the questions above?

For more on this topic around the blogosphere, see the posts by Jim DavilaBrian LePort, and of course, the Vatican (HT Jim West)

UPDATE: CNN also mentioned the Vatican’s reaction, as did Skeptic, while also linking to a post on the blog Skeptical Humanities. Paul Barford tells why he feels that the authenticity question matters. Bill Heroman tells why he thinks Jesus remained single. Florin Paladie offers reflections on the wife of Jesus and authority.

UPDATE: Tony Le Donne interviewed Mark Goodacre about the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” There are also spoof posts, one by Michael Peppard about another fragment concerning Jesus’ wife, the other by Jeff Gill on the possibility that Jesus had a dog.

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  • Stephen Goranson

    The many inkwells of Qumran sparked my interest in them and related subjects. (A related question is whether two items claimed to be date palm fiber pens from Qumran are in fact that.) Egyptologists may know the following better than I do; I could at least give some bibliography, e.g.: William John Tait, “Rush and Brush : the Pens of Egyptian and Greek
    Scribes,” Proceedings of the XVIII Int. Congress of Papyrology,
    Athens, v.2
    1988, 477-481. And Willy Clarysse “Egyptian Scribes Writing Greek”
    d’Egypte 69 (1993) 186-201. Long ago in Egypt they wrote hieroglyphics using rush brushes and palettes. But, with Hellenistic influence, scribes switched, for alphabetic writing, to reed pens and inkwells. From my first sight of this fragment it looked fake to me, apparently made, not with a pen, but with a brush.
    As others have mentioned, spectroscopy could reveal modern chemicals not expected in ancient carbon soot ink, but, lacking that, will not prove it ancient.
    C14 can date the papyrus, but then, few, if any, doubt that that is ancient. If it is much more ancient than c 4th c, then multi-spectral imaging might be worthwhile to see if it a palimpsest. Or it may have been cut/torn from a blank part of an old scroll.

    • Susan Burns

      The tradition of holy writing came from Jerusalem so why not check with your nearest Sofer? This skill and the 150 laws for each letter has not been lost. This is something no Greek or Egyptian can tell you. If you want to know what kind of writing implement was used on this manuscript check with your nearest calligrapher.

  • OK, I’m sorry but the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw “Dating Jesus’ Wife” was that it could be even more dangerous than dating the the wife of the local head of the Hell’s Angels.

  • Stephen Goranson

    Though I think the text is not authentic, it is a fair question what evidence would cause me to rethink this case. I came up with possibilities that I imagine are vanishingly small:
    1) If this text or a very similar text was found in a dated, ancient, sealed locus in an archaeological excavation.
    2) If the putative text from which this was imagined to be cut/torn, and somehow the additions make a coherent text–despite the fact that no one has offered any coherent connections, and the draft HTR article did not even try.
    3) An authentic letter of Epiphanius is found in which he remarks that he knew of folk in Egypt who would play a game, after memorizing Coptic Thomas. They would write, with an inappropriate implement a pastiche of fragments from Thomas, but make some changes, and play “what’s wrong with this picture,” or a sort of reverse of “Where’s Waldo?”
    I think a more likely scenario was, to borrow from the Washington Post interview:
    “‘I didn’t believe it was authentic and told him [“the anonymous collector”] I wasn’t interested,’
    King said. After cajoling, however, King relented and agreed to have the
    fragmented examined by scholars.”

    • Susan Burns

      Lamed vav that I have been searching for is the LV of the lulav but I will keep an eye peeled for your Waldo.

  • Stephen Goranson

    In item 2) after “cut/torn” I mistakenly left out “was found”

  • Stephen Goranson

    More on Egyptian writing implements, if anyone’s interested:
    Elephantine Aramaic texts, according to Peter T. Daniels, JNES 43 (1984)

    55-68, were written with split reed pens (held upsidedown) and not with

    brushes. Is that true? Apparently, there is some disagreement about when

    Egyptian scribes switched from brushes to split pens.

    According to Daniels, the idea that reeds were chewed to make them

    more brush-like is first attested by J. H. Breasted, American J. of Semitic

    Languages and Literatures (July, 1916) 230-49. (Is that the earliest?)

    According to A.Lucas and J. R. Harris _Ancient Egyptian Materials and

    Industries_ (4th. ed; London, 1962) 364-5 on “pens,” Egyptian scribes

    “until about the third century BC” used, “as proved by numerous specimens,”

    “a particular kind of rush (not reed, as generally stated [[e.g., by

    Breasted]]) Juncus maritimus,” which is plentiful in Egypt. H. Ibscher

    demonstrated for Lucas the production by chewing this rush–not reed. Then,

    with Greco-Roman influences, the reed (Phragmites communis) was introduced;

    it was cut to a point and split. There have been attempts to associate rush

    brushes (and palettes) changing to reed pens (and inkwells) due either to

    Greek scribes, alphabetic writing, or the introduction of a harder writing

    surface (parchment).

    Back to Elephantine. Charles E. Wilbour obtained six scribes’

    palettes (i.e. pen/brush holders with indentations for ink) from the same

    women from whom he got the Aramaic texts now in Brooklyn (Emil Kraeling,

    _The Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri_, 1953, p. 10; two are photographed on

    plate XX). These include brushes. Bezalel Porten in BA 42 (1979) 76 shows

    one of these and gives the impression that “the two reed [[technically,

    rush?]] brushes” are the type tools used for this writing. Kraeling

    indicated he would later publish an Aramaic inscription on one of these

    wooden items. But that publication (promised for BASOR) and the other four

    palettes apparently have not been published, at least from a look at J.

    Fitzmyer and S. Kaufman, _ An Aramaic Bibliography, Part One_ (1992).
    Date palm fiber has been used for according to W.M.F. Petrie, Objects of

    Daily Use (v. 42, British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 1927) as a
    palm fiber pen.

  • Susan Burns

    Christians use Genesis 49:10 (The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.) as a fulfilled prophesy. This sceptre (shavet) has been translated as a sign of authority but it is more closely related to the decrie of justice. The scepter of justice is the stylus (shavet) that has been passed to Jesus.

  • Susan Burns

    If the ink is 1st century it is a fake. If the papyrus is 1st century it is a fake. If the verbage is copied from another souce it is a fake. If the verbage is unlike any other source it is a fake. Those who “believe” it is a fake must gain their inspiration from their God who still has no room in his heart for the feminine. Luckily, this fragment can be saved until the technology becomes available to determine the date the ink was placed on the papyrus. That is, unless it becomes “lost”.

  • Susan Burns

    The sceptre of the lawgiver is the palm frond. Ancient coins depict elaborate sceptres woven from palm fronds. The tip of the stem can be cut at a 45 degree angle to resemble a seven or chevron. A chevron shaped writing device will draw a stylized ellipse resembling a flame. The lulav is also a conduit to the patriarchs but only if the tip has not begun twinning. When Jesus entered Jerusalem he was greeted with palm fronds. Perhaps the people were aknowledging him as Lawgiver.