Baker Academic

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Interview with Mark Goodacre (Part IV: The Voyage Home)

Parts I, II and III can be found herehere and here.

ACLD: Francis Watson just published three short articles arguing that the "Jesus' Wife" fragment is an amalgam of Coptic phrases taken from Thomas. You might be aware that at least one of these was published on your blog. Is his chosen venue for publication indicative of a shift in media culture for biblical studies? What, in your mind, is lost and gained by the use of electronic and social media for the dissemination of original academic argumentation?

MG: That's a great question. I think we are still finding our way. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we'd had the internet, blogs, social media and the like back in 1960 when Morton Smith announced his discovery of Secret Mark! The greater exposure that the internet gives to finds of this kind enables more pairs of eyes to look at them. And that can be a good thing -- they can provide expert opinion from unexpected sources and they can help in the crystallizing the key questions. On the other hand, it can be a dizzying and confusing business, giving the opportunity for fringe views and rushes to judgement.

So I have mixed feelings. It might well be a generation before we can be sure about the best way, in this blogging and social media age, to handle exciting new discoveries and dramatic new research. Most academics are basically digital immigrants and struggle to come to terms with the different way that things develop on the internet, and they feel uncomfortable about it. What has been fascinating about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife has been the way that it combines both old and new media. The peer-reviewed draft article for HTR and the high quality digital image are what the academics are most interested in, but these were released at the same time as video clips, FAQs and press-releases for journalists, alongside a big TV documentary. And naturally, that kind of invitation to great publicity naturally brings with it an invitation to great scrutiny. It's an invitation that many scholars were happy to accept.

ACLD: Do you think that this new Coptic fragment is a fraud?

If I were a betting man, and I am not, I would probably put a fiver on it. The key point for me, at this early stage in the analysis of the fragment, is that it appears to be dependent on a patchwork of pieces from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas. Not the Gospel of Thomas (the work) but the one specific Coptic edition of the Gospel of Thomas that we have, in Nag Hammadi Codex II. Now if that judgement is right (and it is provisional), then there are two choices. Either the author of the fragment copied from that specific edition of Coptic Thomas, in Nag Hammadi, before it went into the jar and was buried, in the late fourth century, or he copied from it after it came out of the jar. On balance, it is much more likely that he gained access to Codex II via one of the multiple modern editions than that he gained it in from that one copy before it went into the jar.



  1. Many thanks for posting, Anthony and Chris. Minor typo at the end. "the jar in balance, it is much more likely . . ." should be "the jar. On balance, it is much more likely . . ."

  2. Corrected. Revisionist history underway.