Historical Jesus


"Jesus said to them, 'My wife'" highlighted.

“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife'” highlighted.

I had previously written about the so-called Jesus’ Wife fragment that was brought to the public’s attention in 2012 by Karen King of Harvard Divinity School (here, here, and here). It was greeted by a lot of controversy regarding its authenticity, with the evidence leaning heavy in the direction of forgery. We had been waiting for tests to be performed on the papyrus and ink for well over a year to see if they also pointed in the direction of forgery. Those results finally came out in April 2014. It turns out that the materials are old (~8th century A.D.), but not nearly as old as King initially suggested and the paleographic evidence indicated (4-5th century A.D.).

Despite the ~300 year difference between estimated age and actual age of the papyrus, this seemed to be a vindication for King against those who argued that it is a modern forgery.  But is it?  Couldn’t it be a modern forgery using ancient materials?  After all, no forger buys his paper at the local Wal-Mart!  We would expect a forger to use an old papyrus for his forgery, so an analysis of the materials alone is not sufficient to tell us whether this is a forgery (it can confirm forgery, but not preclude it).  The analysis of the contents (vocabulary, grammar, writing style, etc.) is equally important, if not more important than the material composition itself for evaluating authenticity.

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Dr. Craig responds to an op-ed piece in The Washington Post by Reza Aslan titled “Five Myths about Jesus: Challenging Everything You Think You Know.”

This story continues to fascinate me.  It’s like CSI Miami for Biblical nerds!  And new insights and arguments continue to be offered for and against the authenticity of the GosJesWife.

Christian Askeland has a nice 10 minute video demonstrating some of the peculiarities of the writing on the GosJesWife which cause scholars to doubt its authenticity.

Hugo Lundhaug and Alin Suciu discuss the problems around dating the GosJesWife and evidence that a paintbrush was used for the writing.

Timo Paananen disputes James Watson’s methodology for concluding that the GosJesWife is a patchwork of the Coptic GTh.

Peter Head examines some of the reasons King et al concluded that the writing was authentic, including the lack of ink in a hole created by an insect, the lack of ink where fibers have gone missing from the papyrus, ink on the frayed edges, and the faded ink on the recto and finds them wanting.

“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife'” highlighted.

The web continues to be abuzz with The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.  So much is being written that it’s hard to keep up!  Here are the latest and most important developments.

James Watson has written two more papers (here and here) further developing his original thesis that The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is a collage of various words and phrases culled from the Gospel of Thomas to form a new composition that is supposed to appear like a new gospel.  Andrew Bernhard has also tested Watson’s thesis in two papers (here and here), and agrees that “a modern author could have created the text of GJW simply by using short excerpts culled exclusively from Coptic GTh.”[1]  Both of Bernhard’s papers present an excellent visual and summary of the extensive semantic borrowing of the GosJesWife from the Coptic GTh.  He notes that only 14 out of 139 legible letters on the recto of the GosJesWife do not correspond to the Coptic GTh.  Eight of these 14 letters make up the phrase “my wife.”  Of the other 6 letter differences, they are either due to gender shifts in the pronoun or uninterpretable because they are single letters that come at the beginning or end of the line and lack sufficient context for reconstruction.

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Karen King, professor of divinity at Harvard and specialist in Gnostic Christianity, recently announced the existence of a small (3” x 1.5”), late-4th century[1] fragment in which Jesus speaks of his wife. Written in Sahidic Coptic with black ink[2] on papyrus, the fragment contains eight lines of text on the recto and six lines of text on the verso, with all margins missing.[3]  The extant text on the recto side reads:

1  Not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe
2  The disciples said to Jesus
3  deny. Mary is worthy of it.[4]
4  Jesus said to them, “My wife
5  she will be able to be my disciple
6  Let wicked people swell up
7  As for me, I dwell with her in order to
8  an image[5]

Although the text bears some striking resemblance to known Gnostic texts (particularly the Gospel of Thomas[6], and to a lesser degree the Gospel of Philip), it does not match any known apocryphal or Gnostic gospel.  This may be an independent Gospel of unknown character (Gnostic, apocryphal, etc.) or, as Francis Watson has argued, it may be a modern forgery created using key words from the Coptic version of the Gospel of Thomas (more will be said concerning this momentarily).

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In the former post I mentioned The Burial of Jesus, a collection of essays published by the Biblical Archaeology Society.  All but one of the essays in that collection addressed ancient tombs.  One essay, however, written by Richard Bauckham and titled “All in the Family: Identifying Jesus’ Relatives,” attempted to provide information regarding Jesus’ family in the early history of the church from both Biblical and extra-biblical sources.  I found the topic and article quite interesting, and wanted to share Bauckham’s findings with you here.

The NT tells us very little about Jesus’ family.  First Corinthians 9:5 and Galatians 1:19 speak of “the brokers of the Lord.”  Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 identify them by name: James, Joseph/Joses, Judas, and Simon.  They also tell us Jesus had sisters, but do not specify how many or identify them by name (although I would argue that Matthew’s reference to “all His sisters” makes better sense if Jesus had at least three sisters since one would ordinarily refer to a group of two individuals using “both” rather than “all”).  The Protoevangelium of James 19:3–20:4, the Gospel of Philip 59:6–11, and Epiphanius Panarion 78.8.1 and 78.9.6 identify Jesus’ sisters as Mary and Salome.  Since the name Salome was very popular in Palestine and very rare outside of Palestine, this tradition may be historically accurate.

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I recently read The Burial of Jesus, a collection of essays published by the Biblical Archaeology Society (the organization that publishes Biblical Archaeology Review).  It provided very valuable archaeological data regarding ancient Jewish tombs, and assessed whether or not the Garden Tomb or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre could possibly be the tomb of Jesus. What follows is a summary of the articles, as well as my own personal contribution.

The Gospels tell us that after Jesus’ death, He was hastily buried in a cave tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who was also a member of the Sanhedrin (Mt 27:57-60; Mk 15:42-46; Lk 23:50-53; Jn 19:38-42).  Only upper-middle and upper class Jews could afford a rock-hewn tomb.[1]  The poor in the 1st century buried their dead in trench tombs.  Trench tombs were about 5-7’ deep, and had a niche in the bottom for the bodies.[2]  Bodies would be wrapped in a shroud (and sometimes placed in wood coffin) and lowered into the niche.[3]  Had Joseph not buried Jesus, Jesus may have been buried in a trench tomb, or thrown into a field as the Romans were oft to do with crucified victims.

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