Veritas

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘Hotwife’ Pornographer Gulls Harvard Prof With ‘Wife of Jesus’ Hoax.” The headlines could have been worse for Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University. But not much worse.

The first line of act I of “Veritas,” Ariel Sabar’s mesmerizing five-act real-life melodrama, is “Dr. Karen Leigh King had reached the summit of her field as a dazzling interpreter of condemned scripture.” We join Ms. King at the apex of her career, her September 2012 unveiling of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” at the International Congress of Coptic Studies, held a stone’s throw from the Vatican in Rome. Speaking to three dozen colleagues, Ms. King describes the tiny papyrus fragment that had come into her possession, lingering over its fateful line 4: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’ ”

This little snippet, Ms. King claimed, “leads us to . . . completely re-evaluate the way in which Christianity looks at sexuality and at marriage.” Ms. King considered calling the bit of papyrus the “Mary Fragment” but chose to call it a “Gospel”—“something that will stick,” she later explained. From some 30 Coptic words spread across eight discontinuous lines, Mr. Sabar writes, Ms. King had “alchemized . . . [the] case for a thoroughgoing Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.”

A married Jesus would turn the Catholic Church on its head. The papyrus hinted at a wife named Mary, presumed to be Mary Magdalene, painted as a prostitute by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century. The New Testament, however, never mentions a marriage, other than in references to the Church or holy Jerusalem as Christ’s spiritual bride. Christ’s purported bachelorhood undergirds the Catholic doctrine of priestly celibacy. If the papyrus accurately described a wife of Christ, “this means that the whole Catholic claim of a celibate priesthood based on Jesus’s celibacy has no historical foundation,” noted Ms. King, a feminist scholar and expert on the apocryphal, second-century Gospel of Mary.

The papyrus presented problems from the start. Before the Rome event, two of the three anonymous peer reviewers retained by the Harvard Theological Review suggested Ms. King’s fragment might be a fake—although none of the scholars assembled in Rome knew that. Ms. King’s reviewers examined only a digital photograph of the “Gospel,” and “something felt off,” Mr. Sabar reports. One expert said the script “looked like twenty-first-century handwriting.” On closer inspection, small imperfections manifested themselves: missing characters and the “grammatical monstrosity” of an impossible double conjugation.

Brown University Egyptologist Leo Depuydt called the papyrus’s grammar a “colossal double blunder,” arguing that its creator was less likely to have been “a very incompetent ancient scribe” than “a modern author who might have benefited from one more semester of Coptic.” Ms. King, who, Mr. Sabar reminds us, taught Coptic at Harvard, “had somehow failed to spot most of the text’s grammatical irregularities.”

The besieged Ms. King fought back. Nineteen months after the Rome reveal, the Theological Review published her article defending the fragment’s authenticity, backstopped by testing carried out at Harvard, Columbia and MIT. Harvard issued a triumphant press release: “Testing Indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Papyrus Fragment to Be Ancient.” Ms. King and the as-yet-unidentified owner of the fragment exchanged a sigh of relief. The lab tests, he emailed her, served as “the ultimate confirmation for me that we’ve been right all along, confirming again what has been obvious from day one.”

. . . .

Mr. Sabar doesn’t name the purported papyrus pusher until page 162, and the man’s bona fides seem quite unusual indeed. A former student in Egyptology at Berlin’s Free University, Walter Fritz briefly directed the Stasi Museum, housed in the former headquarters of the notorious East German secret police, before moving to Florida, becoming a pornographer, and carving out a name for himself and his wife in the state’s “vibrant swingers’ community.” Mr. Fritz is the proverbial man of many parts; one wonders why a prodigious researcher like Ms. King didn’t perform a few more Google searches or place some phone calls before dynamiting 2,000 years of patriarchal tradition on the basis of his sketchy offering.

As the reader moves through acts III and IV, Mr. Sabar continues to tantalize us. It is curious, we learn, that Ms. King had urged the Theological Review to scotch a dissenting article by Mr. Depuydt that was printed in the 2014 issue devoted to the papyrus. It is equally curious that the Columbia and MIT “authentications” of the fragment were performed by scholars with “close personal ties” to Ms. King and to one of her key allies. The MIT man was the son of a family friend and “an expert in explosives detection.” The ink analyst from Columbia “had no experience with ancient objects.” Oops.

. . . .

“[Ms. King’s] ideological commitments were choreographing her practice of history,” Mr. Sabar writes. “The story came first; the dates managed after. The narrative before the evidence; the news conference before the scientific analysis.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

2 thoughts on “Veritas”

  1. The celibacy of Jesus is an argument from absence of evidence – not evidence of absence. A relatively late tenet of the Roman Catholic Church, primarily put forth by Pope Siricius (c. 385) to maintain the independence of the Church and the complete obedience of the officials.

    (Note that this says nothing about the quality of the “evidence” put forward by Dr. King. Whether Jesus was celibate or not, other documents do not say. St. Paul was the only known celibate among the apostles; several were definitely married and fathered children.)

  2. I had great fun at the start of the pandemic when I stumbled across the videos of Richard Carrier on YouTube.

    – He talks about how Jesus was invented, mythical.

    He’s a Ph.D. from Columbia. The latest book he’s written was peer reviewed. What’s fun, is that he basically told his supporters, that if they would pay off his student debt, that he would investigate anything they wanted. They did, and he has. Now that’s what Kickstarter should be like.

    I have not read his book yet. After watching so many of his videos I get enough sense of what he is saying to run with it. BTW, It is nice to see someone using Bayesian theory to study the various religious texts. That way the discussion is science based rather than simply opinion. More history needs to do that to discover what is actual history rather than the religious dogma that pretends to be history, but I digress.

    I blame the various 17th Century Philosophers for all of the confusion about Religion. They sat around in Coffee Houses, getting high on caffeine, sugar, tobacco, among other things. They were “experimenting” with so many different drugs to try and increase their “vision”.

    To get a list of names and their whacky ideas:

    wiki – 17th-century philosophy

    Most useful for my Story folders. I have great fun collecting the various “heresies” and using them to build stories.

    – “Heresy” is the Greek word for “choice”.

    Every “one true path” is just a series of “choices”. When I point that out to people and mention someone else’s “choice”, they correct me and say, “No, that’s Heresy.” Yes! I know.

    There are so many great stories to tell following combinations of each “Heresy/Choice”. What blows my mind, is that each time I put together what I think is a unique set of “choices” I end up describing an actual religious sect. Yikes!

    When “Young Earth Christians” knock on my door, I “Steelman” their concept to try and improve their argument. Their eyes grow larger as I show where they are wrong in their argument, that the Earth is not 6k years old, it is much younger. You see, they base the age of the Earth on the timeline created from the ages of the Patriarchs. Take someone like Methuselah, 969 years old. Divide by 12, and you will get a more realistic age. The early parts of the Bible used the “month” as their calendar, not the “year”. Work through the Patriarchs and at some point the answer will be wrong. That’s when they started using “year”. I suspect this change occurred during the Babylonian captivity. This slices off thousands of years right from the start. Then when you consider that the Catholic church under Pope Gregory ordered a new calendar to be made, back-dating the Jesus event by a thousand years, you slice of even more.

    – They walk away from my door, and never bother me again.

    Now, if you really want to burn your brain:

    Wiki – Omphalos hypothesis

    BTW, When I get like this, I start hearing the choral music from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

    – I’ll go sit and read Weber, until it’s time for yoga and and then supper.

    Have fun…

    2001: A Space Odyssey, black monolith
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHWs3c3YNs4

    2001: A Space Odyssey – The Monolith On The Moon
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU4Rk0NATNs

    2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY 03 Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs & Orchestra
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3escvQEziag

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