When it comes to Jesus, the gullibility of the religious academy and its media know no bounds.
This past Easter, the U.S. media buzzed with excitement over the announcement of an ancient Coptic (Egyptian) papyrus fragment with the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife….’” One more footnote for the story of how a powerful ecclesiastical elite suppressed the diversity of Christian voices and made its own variation “orthodoxy.”
Harvard Divinity School has long been a place where “alternative Christianities”—especially Gnosticism—are defended with “fundamentalist” zeal. Karen L. King, Hollis Professor of Divinity, has been a distinguished evangelist for this “other Christianity.” Properly skeptical journalists might have paused before rushing to the keyboards and cameras. Not with this story. I saw headlines with words like “Certain,” “Confident,” and “Proved.” No question about it: the fragment is authentic and demonstrates that Jesus had a wife, the public was assured.
The New York Times ran with it, although with slight reserve: “…More Likely Ancient Than Fake.” This story included the doubts of Leo Depuydt, Egyptologist at Brown University, who said that the forgery was so obvious that it “seems ripe for a Monty Python sketch.” Nevertheless, the Harvard Divinity School press team was burning the midnight oil to stir popular interest for a salacious religion story on the verge of Easter.
“Too convenient for some,” the Times article added, the fragment “also contained the words, ‘She will be able to be my disciple,’ a clause that inflamed the debate in some churches over whether women should be allowed to be priests.” There wasn’t any supporting example of inflamed debate in churches over Easter weekend, but I suspect that an example wasn’t needed. For a culture—and especially a liberal academy—that is more inclined to believe ancient Gnostics and Dan Brown than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, even if there isn’t an inflamed debate in the churches, there should be.
Well, none of this matters now, because the fragment has been proved a forgery. On April 24, Coptic scholar Christian Askeland demonstrated that it was “a match for a papyrus fragment that is clearly a forgery.”
On May 2, the Wall Street Journal reported “How the ‘Jesus’ Wife’ Hoax Fell Apart.” I’m waiting to see the media frenzy over this one—especially since it’s far more conclusive than the press releases of Harvard Divinity School. But I’m not holding my breath.