Hello blog! Long time, no see. Getting started early on my resolution to blog more often. That way I can blow it sooner in the new year. Anyhow, I’ve been doing a bit of work with the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (learn more about it here) and I am left with a few questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have any.
1) Since doubts about the authenticity of the fragment were raised, publication of Dr. King’s article in HTR was suspended. As such, we do not have a formal publication of the find. Dr. King has provided many resources on a webpage devoted to the fragment, but lacking any formal proposal about how to treat the artifact scholars have been limited to online conversations and informal papers. This raises curious questions about the seriousness of online scholarship. Can we have legitimate scholarly interaction through informal papers and blog posts? Must we wait for the formal publication in (print) journals before we publish our own research? How is biblical and theological scholarship changing (or how does it need to change) in the digital age?
2) The issue of private (and anonymous) ownership of ancient manuscripts and other artifacts creates significant issues and can lead to dubious scholarship. To what degree are important manuscripts our common human heritage? How is private ownership adversely impacting our ability to understand the past? In the present case, private ownership is directly impeding our ability to solve the riddle of the fragment’s date by blocking (or at least moving very slowly on) the testing of the ink. Would the whole fiasco have been avoided if money were not an issue?
3) Perhaps related, what responsibility do historians and other scholars have to the public when presenting potentially sensational finds? What obligation do we have as the people who have been entrusted with safeguarding and transmitting knowledge? How is our work being distorted (or at least pushed in certain directions) in the midst of a torrent of sensationalist treatments? What safeguards can (or ought) we put in place?
4) Finally, what does this episode suggest about the work that we do as historians? History to a certain degree is always fictive and mirrors the zeitgeist. It has only been in recent years that the question of Jesus’ marital status came into question. Through works such as Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code the possibility that Jesus could have been married entered popular consciousness. That two eminently careful historians could be hoodwinked (if indeed the fragment is a modern forgery) by something that so clearly mirrors contemporary concerns gives reason for pause.