Baker Academic

Monday, April 28, 2014

DeConick on the Jesus' Wife Fragment

April DeConick has a lovely new webpage! She comments on the latest developments in the Jesus' Wife scandal here:



  1. DeConick writes: "I do not think that the blog is the best venue to vet manuscript finds like this. Why? Because the distribution of knowledge happens too quickly on blogs, before we have had time to really sort through everything, test our hypotheses, ask more questions that our hypotheses raise, and change them as necessary. People make fast claims to be the first like a 'news flash', sometimes very bold and sensational, and then, because blog posts are public, reputations end up on the line. So it becomes personal very fast. And this can crowd out the truth which most often is slow in coming after a long process of reflection and revising."

    If this comment alone is not worth a Nobel Prize, it's at least worth a fruit basket.

    1. I don't fully agree, unless the criticism points to dr. King, Bagnall and all those who immediately published their articles (even if preliminary) on the Harvard Divinity School’s website. I think *they* did everything in a hurry.
      DeConick talks of “truth which most often is slow in coming after a long process of reflection and revising”. Why then King & C. quickly supported the making of a documentary which will be aired on USA TV on May the 5th?

      Wasn’t it a bit premature, considering the “long process of reflection and revising” required for the truth to be known? Maybe someone was concerned by the fact that the fragment could be recognized as a fake before the documentary was sold to the TV?

      All in all, it seems to me that DeConick's respectable opinion in defense of “traditional” scholarship doesn't properly address the issue here: as Caroline T. Schroeder correctly pointed out "Social media and blogging really transformed scholarship in this case [...] A conversation that would have taken years in print and at conferences has played out much more rapidly online. We need to develop better mechanisms for integrating our online scholarship and traditional scholarship".

      I believe we should accept and leverage this new type of “distribution of knowledge”, making good use of it.

    2. Lollo, exactly who or what would have been hurt if the conversation had played out more slowly, in print and at conferences?

      I doubt that analysis of ancient documents done by a large group on the basis of a few photographs over the space of days can beat the same analysis done by a smaller but select group on the basis of the actual evidence over the space of years.

      No question, the biggest story here is that social media transformed this particular piece of scholarship. But the suggestion that this is a model for how all scholarship might be done in the future is, I think, incorrect. I would argue that this particular text fragment is not particularly important to the work performed in any field. We already know that the fragment is no proof that Jesus was married, and we already know (even if the fragment is a fake) that some people in antiquity asked this question. The fuss about the fragment has more to do with the fact that it grabs public attention. There will be perhaps one piece of Jesus scholarship every few years that's good for this kind of publicity, where the "distribution knowledge" you describe can be "leveraged" in this way, for good or for ill. The remainder of Jesus scholarship (including, arguably, all the really important stuff) is being conducted largely by the old-fashioned "traditional" slower techniques.

    3. Ciao Larry, thank you for your comment.
      I don’t want to be misunderstood, I’m not against the “traditional” scholarship process and I agree with you: no-one would have been hurt if such traditional/slower/safer process was adopted. At the opposite, it would have been beneficial.

      However, dr King published quickly her draft on the web, and then supported the making of a documentary. There’s been nothing slow nor printed at this stage.
      DeConick is now criticizing blogs’ activity (“distribution of knowledge happens too quickly on blogs”), but such blogs’ activity has just been the natural/expected result of dr. King’s quick “distribution of knowledge” over the web. IN theory she had to publish on paper, get peer-review and so forth. As a result, she wouldn’t have got half of the attention she actually got - I guess.
      Papyrus Egerton 2 is much more ancient and important than King’s fragment, it has better chances to be part of a (lost) gospel, but it lays somewhere almost unknown to the public ... it actually misses an attractive name!

      So, although I agree with you on the value of traditional scholarship’s processes – I believe we have to consider the likely future, which is based on blogs and social networks (where many scholars actually participate).
      I don't think it's a matter of “old fashioned” vs. “trendy”, I rather see it quite *inevitable* for everything which concerns information and communication. I don’t even assume that such changes will be always for good, although I think there’s been positive aspects for what concerns the current debate on GJW fragment.
      I do subscribe the last sentence of Schroeder in my previous quote “We need to develop better mechanisms for integrating our online scholarship and traditional scholarship”

    4. I don't know that Dr. King "published quickly." I had thought she had this fragment in her possession for quite some time before she initially published. Granted, once she published, she also went the "National Geographic" route towards the splashy TV documentary, but when the initial criticism surfaced, she pulled (or was involved in pulling, or acquiesced in the pulling -- not sure) the documentary.

      I don't have any business criticizing anyone with a doctorate, but I agree with others I've read: the name "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" seems to overstate what we've got and the most optimistic understanding of how we got it. So, I agree with you about the "attractive name" thing.

      There has been a tone in some of what's taken place online that I don't much like. If I knew the field better, I could be more precise here. I have the feeling that folks are taking familiar sides in this discussion, that there are some (perhaps Dr. King is among them) who actively seek to recover voices (memories) of early Christians that were lost or marginalized when Christianity became orthodox, and that there are others who think that there was a strong early consensus on what Christian doctrine should be.