Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife - Why it Matters

A reader pointedly questioned why the fuss over a Coptic fragment that may or may not have mentioned Jesus having a wife, presumably Mary Magdalene.

Briefly,

1) Historical criticism and manuscript studies aren't going away. The 20th century was marked by achievements in both fields, such that their value has been demonstrated. One gaff doesn't invalidate either discipline and we will likely find another manuscript haul that sheds more light on the context of early Christianity.

2) The body of extant evidence implies our picture of the earliest centuries of Christianity is incomplete. Plainly, in the process of forming a coherent religion, much of was removed and some traditions that pre-date the definition of orthodox Christianity were lost. The actual content of the early Christian kergyma, the diversity of churches in the early centuries, these things are coming more into focus and the emerging picture is one of a religion we might only vaguely recognize.

3) It is the business of scholarship at work. If a forgery, the fragment raises questions about the methods for acquiring ancient manuscripts employed since the dust settled on the Dead Sea Scroll and Nag Hammadi codices. It also raises questions about what, if any, ideological bent is guiding the scientific research into early Christianity at some of our leading universities. By all accounts this should have been flagged early on, yet it somehow escaped such critique and was almost a major publishing event for Harvard University and Dr. Karen King.

4) Were it authentic, the fragment would have added to already complicated picture of Christianity's earliest centuries, attesting to a belief largely unknown in the extant material.

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