In 2012, Dr. Karen King, a star professor at Harvard Divinity School, announced a blockbuster discovery at a scholarly conference just steps from the Vatican: She had found an ancient fragment of papyrus in which Jesus calls Mary Magdalene "my wife." If early Christians believed Jesus was married, it would upend the 2,000-year history of the world's predominant faith. Award-winning journalist Ariel Sabar has documented this remarkable find in a new book featuring an international detective story of fierce intellectual rivalries at the highest levels of academia. He joined Ian Punnett (Twitter) to discuss the manuscript's authenticity and the origins of this tiny scrap of papyrus that set off a firestorm in the religious studies community.
Dr. King was contacted in 2010 by an anonymous manuscript collector about an alleged ancient Coptic papyrus fragment containing text which appears to describe a dispute among Jesus' disciples about his wife, Sabar explained. The fragment shows eight partial lines with the phrase "Jesus said to them, 'My wife...'" framed in the center, he added. Sabar acknowledged King as a dazzling interpreter of marginalized texts, but in this case she may have placed meaning onto the text from her area of expertise while ignoring the document's questionable origin.
"[King] did not investigate provenance, she basically took what this anonymous collector told her and sort of went with it," Sabar continued, noting King's first article on the fragment was rejected by the Harvard Theological Review. Peer reviewers identified multiple tells of forgery, violations in Coptic grammar, and issues with the handwriting and ink, he reported. Further investigation of the text led scholars to conclude it was copied from the Gospel of Thomas. Sabar also talked about Walter Fritz, previous owner of the fragment and likely its forger, and how he may have had financial motives for the forgery. It is easy to acquire ancient papyrus and make the same ink the ancients used, he noted.
In the first half hour, Ian was joined briefly by Emmy award-winning journalist and Kansas State University professor Andrew Smith, who detailed his battle with COVID-19. Smith was hospitalized for a week, suffering from high fever, double pneumonia, hepatitis, blood clots, and deep vein thrombosis. "Sometimes, still, I feel some of those after effects," he said. Ian and Smith chatted about a recent report of a Nevada man who became the first in the United States to catch COVID-19 twice, and whether or not immunity against the disease is possible.
The remainder of hour one was devoted to Open Lines.