Baker Academic

Saturday, January 5, 2013

At What Point is Caution Misleading Concerning the "Mrs. Christ" Fragment? - Le Donne

This blog post over at CNN by Eric Marrapodi is incomplete. Of course, by their nature, blog posts are never comprehensive or definitive statements.  One might say the same about "news reporting" in general.  But sometimes (not always) truncation can mislead.  I think that this is the case with Marrapodi's post concerning the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" fragment put forth by Harvard's Karen King. Marrapodi gives the impression that we are holding our collective breath, waiting to see how the ink tests will come out.

The scholars quoted in this post demonstrate caution about the fragment's possible fraudulence.  Who can blame them?  It is lack of caution that caused this story to unfold the way it has.  In my posts on this topic, I did my best to be cautious.  But, with just a bit of journalistic rigor, Marrapodi could have found a few well-respected scholars who might have given a more informed answer about the fragment.  Indeed, we have a few preliminary arguments; for example, and for example.

Moreover, it should be made clear that ink can be mixed for the purpose of cheating the standard tests.  It will not surprise anyone familiar with this process to learn that the ink tests for this fragment come back inconclusive.  If so, where are we left?  I would argue that we are not "left where we started", but we are left with the compelling arguments in support of fraud.  So this CNN post does not report "the latest", it suggests that most scholars don't really have an opinion. Not the case.

Please don't misunderstand me, I am not threatened in the least by the possible marriage of Jesus.  (1) We already have the Gospel of Philip which is similarly provocative - and no one doubts that this text is ancient, perhaps dating to the second or third century. (2) We know almost nothing about Jesus' life before he began his public ministry.  Moreover, I do not think it is sinful or scandalous to be married.  Jesus scholars should remain open to this possibility (I discuss this topic further in this book).  I am not concerned with what this fragment says about Jesus and Mary.  My concern here is with the document itself, and I'm not sure that "further testing" will provide an definitive proof.  It could be that the best arguments in support of fraud have already been leveled.



  1. Agreed. I had prepared the following for your earlier post on this subject, but didn't get around to it. Will repost here:

    #5 hasn't been, as far as I know, part of the critique of the fragment. On the other hand, an important part of what's missing from the summary is that all the words of the fragment except 'wife' appear also in a handful of sayings from Coptic Thomas (not scattered throughout, n.b.) The best statement of the case is currently that of Andrew Bernhard, at Two other improbabilities are that (1) the cut top of the fragment would exactly divide lines both front and back, and that (2) the same
    word ('my-mother') would appear on the first line on both sides. The major arguments for authenticity are those presented by King in her proposed paper, especially the undated note held by the collector, assumed to have been written years earlier than anyone could have copied from my interlinear. See also