Larry Hurtado Provides an Excellent Summary of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Results in Harvard Theological Review

The so-called

The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”, a Coptic papyrus fragment whose authenticity is in dispute. Harvard Theological Review has recently dedicated an entire issue to the issue of the fragment’s authenticity.

Please make note of Dr. Larry Hurtado’s post, entitled, “Jesus’ Wife” Articles in HTR: Initial Thoughts“, which provides an excellent summary of the recent tests published in Harvard Theological Review.

Do read his post. I’ll provide a few snippets from his post here, specifically those concerning the scientific results, and one summarizing what this all means.

On the scientific tests:

As for the scientific tests, those on the ink produced results consistent with the item being old, not modern.  The two radio-carbon tests, however, are both a bit puzzling and interesting.  The proposed dates of the two tests are out from each other by several hundred years.  The one report (by Hodgins) notes the curious date-result (405-350 BCE and/or 307-209 BCE), about a thousand years earlier than the date from the other carbon-dating test (659-969 CE), and Hodgins suggests some kind of contamination of the sample.  But I’d assume that a contamination would come from something later than the ancient setting, and so skew the date later, not earlier.

Note that in Gregory Hodgins‘ report, the AMS radiocarbon results read:

Accelerated Mass Spectrometry Radiocarbon Determination of Papyrus Samples
Gregory Hodgins,
NSF Arizona AMS Laboratory, University of Arizona

AA-101793
Sample Gospel of John  (for comparison purposes)
δ13C −9.2‰
Fraction of modern carbon: 0.8568±0.0033
Uncalibrated Radiocarbon Age: 1242±31 14C yrs BP
95.4% Calibrated age ranges: 681 cal c.e. to 877 cal c.e.

AA-101794
Gospel of Jesus’s Wife
δ13C −14.3‰
Fraction of modern carbon: 0.7526±0.0035
Uncalibrated Radiocarbon Age: 2283±37 14C yrs BP (before present) 2 sigma,
95.4% Calibrated age ranges: 405 cal b.c.e. to 350 cal b.c.e., OR
95.4% Calibrated age ranges: 307 cal b.c.e. to 209 cal b.c.e.

Thus, the calibrated AND uncalibrated ranges place the sample to 400-200 yrs BCE.

Note that Dr. Hurtado also points out Dr. King’s note on the later, less ancient dating of the fragment.

To come to Prof. King’s article (the main piece in the issue), I think she takes a careful line, seeking to defend her view that the item on balance seems authentic, but trying to take account of data that require some modification of her earlier judgements, and granting in the end that complete certainty is not possible.  Prominent in the modifications of her earlier view is the intriguing statement in the appended note at the end of the article that the carbon-dating (taking the dating by Tuross) now seems to demand a date sometime in the 8th century CE (not the 4th/5th century CE dating in her earlier paper).  As she notes, this takes us well into the Islamic period of Egypt, and so raises the question of whether, in fact, the fragment might reflect in some way the influence of Islamic ideas about Jesus.

And what does this all mean? Hurtado states:

Certainly, as Prof. King has rather consistently emphasized all along, whatever the date and provenance of the item, it has absolutely no significance whatsoever for “historical Jesus” studiesContrary to some of the sensationalized news stories, that is, the fragment has no import for the question of whether Jesus was married.

I’d also draw your attention to Dr. Leo Depuydt’s rebuttal, which was first outlined at Dr. Mark Goodacre’s blog here.

The fact is, the results of the scientific tests are highly inconclusive, and even if the ink and the papyrus are “ancient”, the dates on the scientific tests range from a period from centuries before the time of Christ, written by a poorly trained scribe with a bad hand, all the way to a period “well into the Islamic period of Egypt”, raising “the question of whether, in fact, the fragment might reflect in some way the influence of Islamic ideas about Jesus.”

Add this to the possibility that a forger scraped ink from an ancient inkwell (these things exist – see the final paragraphs of Dr. Jim Davila’s post here) and rehydrated the ink, and wrote it on an ancient fragment of papyrus from a different period, copying onto it text from a pdf of the Gospel of Thomas available online, which preserved errors present in the pdf. (See Francis Watson’s article on Dr. Goodacre’s site.)

See also Dr. Chris Rollston’s post about this process, especially where he states:

Also, it is also possible for someone to scrape off (e.g., from a papyrus) ancient ink from the words of some mundane ancient inscription….and then add a little water to the dried ink which had been scrapped off and then resuse the ink. Some people (including some scholars) assume that modern forgers are not all that bright (and thus would not be that clever in forging something). In contrast, I believe that modern forgers (at least from the final quarter of the 20th century and on) are quite sharp…..and for good reason they try to be very clever: after all, there is much money to be made and modern forgers knows this….so, as for this piece, I remain very suspicious of its authenticity. Perhaps it’s ancient….but I doubt it.

So expect to hear those heavily invested in the authenticity of the fragment (e.g., those who really want Jesus to have been married to Mary Mags for various, often financial reasons) to declare victory and that the fragment was proved “authentic”, and those who have no skin in the game to remain highly skeptical about the highly inconclusive results and the persistent problems with the text.

Happy Easter.

 

Thank you to all who sent letters in support of Chris Rollston

Thank you noteI’d like to offer a very big THANK YOU to all who sent letters in support of Dr. Chris Rollston.

According to Professor Rollston, the case involving his attempted termination has been “amicably resolved”. (I’m guessing there was a substantial cash settlement involved that kept Emmanuel from a further embarrassing and certainly losing effort in court. Please correct me if there was no cash payment involved in said “amicable resolution”.)

I want to thank my colleagues who sent letters to this blog and/or posted them elsewhere in support of Dr. Rollston. It was wonderful to see so many members of the academy, graduate and undergraduate students, alums, and friends, from such a wide spectrum of religious, doctrinal, and disciplinary perspectives, from around both the county and around the world, all rally behind academic freedom and the gross mistreatment of one of their own.

Dr. Rollston has voluntarily resigned the Toyozo W. Nakarai Professorship of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, and has accepted an offer at George Washington University in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations beginning in the spring of 2013, where he can work with our colleague, Dr. Eric Cline, and the remarkable faculty there. This, too, is wonderful news!

Thank you again for standing up publicly, especially for matters as important as academic freedom, tenure integrity, and for someone as gracious, poised, and humble as Chris Rollston. Thank you.

Letter from Dr. Matthew Suriano in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Matthew J. Suriano of The University of Maryland, which I am posting below. I have added the letter to Dr. Rollston’s list of public supporters here.


Dr. Matthew J. Suriano

Dr. Matthew J. Suriano

Dear President Sweeney and Dean Holland,

I add my voice to those of my colleagues in asking that you halt the termination proceedings for Professor Christopher Rollston, Toyozo W. Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies, at Emmanuel Christian Seminary.  Prof. Rollston is one of the most prominent Semitic epigraphers in our field, and his contributions are considerable.  Therefore, I should think that his services to your seminary be held in the proper esteem.  Indeed, I find your treatment of this scholar inappropriate, and moreover, unfitting for an institution that recently added “Christian Seminary” to its name.  I feel that such a name change would bring with it a sense of duty to operate with a higher standard of ethics that bear witness to the institution’s purpose.  Instead, the situation is such that I must write this letter to you protesting the unethical treatment of a member of your faculty.  Even more disturbing is the fact that Professor Rollston has done nothing that contradicts the basic tenets of Christianity.  I state this because it seems that the controversy you have created has little to do with higher education inside the confines of a confessional institution.  To the contrary, the situation is nothing more than the suppression of intellectual freedom for reasons that are less than academic.

I urge you to reverse these actions against Professor Rollston.  It should be clear to you that the very integrity of your seminary is at stake in this matter.

Sincerely,

Matthew J. Suriano
Assistant Professor
The Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies
University of Maryland
http://dev.profile.arhu.umd.edu/msuriano/

Letter from Anat Mendel in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Anat Mendel of The Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which I am posting below. I have added the letter to Dr. Rollston’s list of public supporters here.


Anat Mendel

Anat Mendel

I am writing this letter following the ordeal that Dr. Chris Rollston is facing lately. I could not help writing it to express my highest appreciation of Dr. Rollston and to humbly defend him through this latest upheaval.

I am a PhD candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the field of Northwest Semitic epigraphy and archaeology. It is a general consensus that Chris is one of the world’s leading West Semitic epigraphers and palaeographers working today; his methodological essays are groundbreaking. As a young scholar sharing Chris’s field, his work has been a source of admiration and inspiration to me. It is filled with awe that I arrived at our first meeting this last January in Jerusalem. The moment we met (Chris was accompanied by his youngest daughter, Rebekah) I discovered that this great scholar I was so looking up to was an extremely gentle, modest man. During my latest presentation, at the ASOR annual meeting in Chicago, we were scheduled to be presenting at different places at the same time. I cannot describe how deeply moved I was as Chris attended my entire lecture. I would forever be grateful to Chris for his generosity and his kindness.

The most important thing I learned throughout my years of higher education, including Chris’s books and articles, is to always question old notions and to challenge preconceived “truths”. In the popular article that started this upheaval Chris only pointed out some undeniable verses in the Old and New Testament that outline the status of women in the Bible, remarking about its irrelevance to life in the 21st century. How troubling that expressing his scholarly views would cause a modern scholar to fear for his position.

I consider Chris as a mentor, a role-model as a scholar and as a human being, and a friend. Emmanuel is truly blessed to have him in its ranks. To let him go would be a great loss to that institution and to its students.

Sincerely,

Anat Mendel
PhD Candidate
The Institute of Archaeology
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Letter from Dr. Ronald Hendel in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Ronald Hendel at the University of California, Berkeley, which I am posting below. I have added Dr. Hendel’s letter to Dr. Rollston’s list of public supporters here.


Dr. Ronald Hendel

Dr. Ronald Hendel

Dear President Sweeney and Dean Holland,

I join my colleagues in attesting to the superb scholarship of Prof. Chris Rollston.  He brings credit to your seminary.  His views expressed in a column in the Huffington Post ought not to be a concern to an accredited institution of higher learning.  Infringement of this principle would be a very serious matter to accrediting institutions, the AAUP, and the membership of the SBL.

Sincerely,

Ronald Hendel

Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies

University of California, Berkeley

Letter from Dr. P. Kyle McCarter in Support of Chris Rollston

Dr. P. Kyle McCarter

Dr. P. Kyle McCarter

Dr. P. Kyle McCarter, the William Foxwell Albright Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at The Johns Hopkins University, has written a lengthy letter in support of Dr. Chris Rollston regarding the present scandalous efforts at Emmanuel Christian Seminary to terminate Dr. Rollston from his tenured, endowed chair.

The letter can be read on Dr. McCarter’s site here.

I’ve included the conclusion of the letter below, calling academics into action, as this affects us all:

I’ve written this public letter because I’ve watched the treatment of Chris Rollston by Emmanuel Christian Seminary closely, and what I’ve seen so far has me deeply troubled both professionally and personally, as I’ve explained.  My sense is that events are now beginning to move rapidly, so that declarations of concern at this point will be very timely.  I’ve expressed the hope that we will be vigilant and attentive to the process, and I believe that it might help if we directly notify the institution of our general concern and our intention to play a watchdog role.  We can do this by contacting the chief academic officers of the Seminary.  The President is Michael Sweeney (msweeney@ecs.edu) and the Academic Dean is Jack Holland (jholland@ecs.edu).  Even brief messages to President Sweeney and Dean Holland will demonstrate the sincerity of our interest.  Those of you (and there are many) who have knowledge of specific issues and events (things I’ve deliberately omitted from this letter for reasons already explained) may wish to address those things at some length, but (to repeat) short messages will help too.  Many of you will have already written, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t write again.  You might also consider writing to Emmanuel’s accrediting boards, mentioned above.  The representative at SACS is Steven Sheeley (ssheeley@sacscoc.org), and the representative at ATS is Tisa Lewis (lewis@ats.edu). Some of you, moreover, may have special knowledge that could be particularly useful.  If, for example, you have worked in any capacity with either of Emmanuel’s accrediting boards (SACS or ATS, see above), you may know a more direct way to call their attention to this issue — I feel confident they will want to investigate, but I don’t know if they are yet involved.  If by chance any of you knows one or more trustees of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, you might be able to play a particularly valuable role.  As I said above, considering the inevitably positivistic character of Chris’s epigraphic work, it’s surprising to me that he hasn’t found support within even the conservative spectrum of Emmanuel’s constituencies, and I wonder if all the trustees have been told the whole story.

In sum, all of us who hold academic positions, whether in secular or religious or confessional institutions, have a stake in what’s happening in Johnson City, Tennessee.  Many of you don’t know Chris personally, but even some of you who don’t know him personally have already taken bold positions on his behalf, and you have and deserve the special respect of us all.  For those of us who do know Chris, who know the quality and integrity of his work, and who know the quality and integrity of the man, we can’t help but ask ourselves:  Is this a man whose job performance is such that he should be threatened with dismissal for cause?  This man?  Chris Rollston?  The notion is so absurd that it stops all thought processes, leaving only confusion.  How did things get to this point?

Respectfully yours,
P. Kyle McCarter
William Foxwell Albright Professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies
The Johns Hopkins University

Please take the time to read Dr. McCarter’s excellent letter.

Also, please write a letter of your own in support of Chris. If you send them to me (robert-cargill@uiowa.edu), I shall post them here on my blog and add your name and letter to this fast-growing list of supporters who have written publicly in support of Dr. Rollston.

Letter from Dr. Bruce Wells in Support of Chris Rollston

I received the following letter from Dr. Bruce Wells, which I am posting below. You may read the PDF version of the letter here.


Dr. Bruce Wells

Dr. Bruce Wells

November 12, 2012

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing this letter to support Dr. Christopher A. Rollston, the Toyozo Nakarai Professor of Old Testament and Semitics at Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tennessee. I first met Chris in 1997, when I entered the Ph.D. program in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Chris was several years ahead of me in the program and much more than that ahead of me in terms of his skill and expertise. The department had him teach the year-long seminar on textual criticism, in which I was a student. And he taught the second semester of Ugaritic that I took. He and I also had extensive conversations about religion, the Bible, the academy, and society in general.

During my years at Hopkins, Chris was a genuine friend who gave in unbelievably generous ways of his time, his resources, and his knowledge. He was never one to keep ideas or insights or “inside information” (e.g., about some university process) that he had learned to himself for the sake of his own advantage. Because of his readiness to help and his personable style of relating, I often turned to him for advice.

I can vouch for the fact that Chris is an outstanding scholar with an outstanding reputation in the field of Hebrew Bible studies and, more specifically, in the subfield of epigraphy. He worked harder than just about any student I knew at Hopkins, and he served a small church as its pastor during most of his time in Baltimore. I envied his breadth of knowledge in the field and his skills with ancient languages, but he was not the kind of person that I could be envious of. His kindness to me was such that I could hardly wish for anything but success and happiness for him and his family.

I do not know a great deal about the current controversy at Emmanuel. I understand that an article (or blog post) of his in the Huffington Post about the marginalization of women in the Bible is playing a significant role. For the most part, I agree with what Rollston had to say in the article. On the other hand, I can understand how it could have rankled some members of the Emmanuel community. I come from a very conservative evangelical background, although not linked with the Stone-Campbell movement, and I know of many people who would have been upset by an article like this. While I basically agree with Rollston’s position in the article, it is not terribly surprising, at least to me, that a controversy has resulted.

What I would like to stress, though, is that I do not see why the controversy can be resolved only by means of removing or threatening to remove Chris from his position at Emmanuel. If the article is the only reason or even the main reason for seeking to terminate Chris, I find that very problematic. I identify myself as Christian, and, as I look back over the history of my tradition, it is not hard to find all manner of issues that Christian thinkers and writers (and many others) disagreed about. It seems to me that a way forward could be found that allows Chris to remain in his position. Issues such as this deserve to be discussed and argued over, but Protestants (again, my tradition) have probably been too hasty over the years (and centuries) to part ways with other Protestants because of similar disagreements. This situation presents an opportunity, I would think, for a Christian institution to demonstrate to itself and to other observers how controversy can be handled with kindness, grace, and even, in the end perhaps, with the parties involved agreeing to disagree. Therefore, I earnestly hope that Chris can stay on in an endowed chair that, as far as I can tell, he has done more than enough to deserve. From an academic perspective, having Chris on its faculty is a genuine feather in the cap of the Emmanuel School of Religion.

I admit that there may be a host of issues of which I am not aware. But, if this is the case, I think that it would behoove Emmanuel to explain what those issues are publicly. Doing so may not convince its critics that it has made or will make the right decision. Probably not. At the very least, though, it will be able to claim that it was not hiding anything relevant to the controversy form the public.

Respectfully yours,

Bruce Wells, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
Saint Joseph’s University
Philadelphia, PA 19131
bwells@sju.edu

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