Baker Academic

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The King and I: Karen King Replies to My Reply - Le Donne

Professor Karen King refers to my The Wife of Jesus twice in her Harvard Theological Review essay. Before I address her comments, let's pause to consider how the internet has changed scholarship and scholarly dissemination. Prof. King published a draft of her essay in 2012. I discuss this essay in my 2013 book and she addresses my concerns in her 2014 essay revision. So she cites a book that cites the essay that she has yet to publish. And within this bizarre time loop of cyberspace, we've managed to find Jesus' wife. Let the wild rumpus start!

In truth, neither one of us is claiming to have found the wife of the historical Jesus. In both drafts of Prof. King's essay she writes: “The fragment does not provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married but concerns an early Christian debate over whether women who are wives and mothers can be disciples of Jesus” (157). In a short section of my book I emphasize Prof. King's stated intentions. I wrote: "Despite King’s clear and repeated efforts to the contrary, the international news media sold this story as if it might reveal something about the historical Jesus" (65). In short, my interest in the "Jesus' wife" fragment is almost entirely focused on our modern reactions. Our simultaneous fascination and repulsion to this story ought to tell us something about ourselves. Really, this is the key theme of the first half of my book (the second half offers evidence for and against a literal wife of Jesus). So, where it matters, I don't think that the King and I have much to disagree about.

Prof. King adds a section in her final draft that addresses the concerns of the many scholars who argue that the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" is a modern forgery. She very briefly addresses the suggestion of Andrew Bernhard who points out a typo that matches a webpage interlinear. I cite Bernhard on this point (64) and King follows suit via my suggestion (156). I think now that Mark Goodacre deserves some credit here too. King dismisses the argument that a modern forger might have copied from Grondin's interlinear. She dismisses this argument on the grounds that it requires "proof that the statements and documentation provided by the owner are also false or forged" (156). So, according to King, the argument for deception is without merit because we cannot prove that the anonymous owner intends to deceive. I'll have to think more on this logic, but I fear that we might have another time loop issue.

On page 157 King writes:
As I mentioned above, I mostly agree with Prof. King on this point. This fragment, even if the text is ancient, should not be scandalous. She has said so from the start. If ancient, it is only one more brick in the reconstruction of Christian belief. There is nothing in the text itself to suggest a literal wife of Jesus. But—and here I must again demur—the fragment was framed as a scandal by the media. Predictably so. This isn't the fault of King, but I think that everyone involved in the dissemination of this research knew that it would be big news and knew why it would be big news. The suggestion that Jesus was literally married is a very recent scandal and an ongoing scandal at that. The text itself should not scandalize but it certainly did and to the shock of nobody. So let's not dismiss the cultural context of its reception too hastily.



  1. Why did she call it "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" (GJW)? It's not a gospel, and the (alleged) author is not Jesus' wife.

  2. Lollo: The so-called Gospel of Philip in Coptic from Nag Hammadi makes no claim to be written by Philip... it's known as that only because Philip is the only apostle named in the book.

  3. Thank you JJ, I must say that also the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke make no claim to be written by Matthew, Mark and Luke – but still they get their names from the (alleged) authors.
    If you prefer, we can say that sometimes the name may refer to the (alleged) source of the tradition underlying the Gospel (e.g. Matthew, John), which is likely the case for Philip as well. In fact, even if you consider the Gospel’s name as referring to the major character (or the most authoritative) of the story, this in my opinion still relates to the source of the story/tradition.
    Some Gospels’ names may also come from early Church tradition.

    Whatever option you choose, currently we have no elements to affirm that Jesus’ wife is either the (alleged/pseudonymous) author, or the source of the tradition behind the text of the King’s fragment. Also, we have no mention of it in early Church tradition.

    As King’s herself admits: "Solely for purposes of reference, the fragment is given the title The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife (GJW)"
    In a footnote she adds that such putative title *does not* "imply that GJW was the title in antiquity, or that “Jesus’s wife” is the “author” of this work, is a major character in it, or is even a significant topic of discussion"
    (Karen L. King (2014). “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .'”: A New Coptic Papyrus Fragment . Harvard Theological Review, 107, pp 131-159 doi:10.1017/S0017816014000133)

    So what?
    Regarding the the term “gospel” King says that "in GJW regards the probable genre of the work to which this fragment belongs".
    However, she doesn't justify such claim and in my opinion it is clear that not enough text survives to determine genre.

    On the contrary, the Gospel of Philip (to your point) is very well preserved (just have few lacunae) and – most important – it has its title explicitly preserved in the manuscript.

    Ciao, Lollo