Hershel Shanks Weighs in on the “Jesus Wife” Fragment

Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review has weighted in on the “Jesus Wife” papyrus fragment controversy with a provocative article titled:

Is the Harvard Theological Review a Coward or Did Dr. Karen King Do Something Wrong?

Poor Karen King. The prestigious Harvard Theological Review (HTR) has withdrawn her article from its publication schedule—at least temporarily. It was supposed to go into the January 2013 issue. Not anymore! What did she do so wrong?

Professor King is not some young scholar with a fresh Ph.D. At the Harvard Divinity School, she is the Hollis Professor of Divinity, the oldest endowed academic chair in the United States.

And of course everyone is talking about it. Google her name and (supposedly) more than 34 million entries are listed in less than a third of a second.

The article, as almost all of you know, is about an ancient Coptic papyrus text the size of a business card in which Jesus refers to “my wife.” (See “A ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ on a Coptic Papyrus.”)

King is an old hand at this kind of scholarly article. She has published lots of books and articles with this same scholarly heft. Her HTR article is long and heavily footnoted. It is cautious and restrained. And she has consulted a number of equally prestigious scholars to make sure her scholarship is sound. One, AnneMarie Luijendijk, a leading papyrologist from Princeton University, is listed as a contributor right under King’s name, almost as a co-author. Numerous other scholars are referred to in the article, including Roger Bagnell, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, to whom King refers as a “renowned papyrologist” and expresses her “sincere gratitude.”

So what did King do so wrong to deserve this?

You can read the rest of his article on-line here. I have to agree with Shanks on this issue. I was just re-reading the pre-publication PDF of the article for Harvard Theological Review yesterday which is available on-line here, and it seems to me that most of the issues being raised by those who have charged the fragment is a forgery have been addressed in the original HTR paper–not only the expert opinions of AnneMarie Luijendijh and Roger Bagnell, as Shanks notes here, but also the input of none less than Prof. Ariel Shisha-Halevy, Coptic expert at Hebrew University who has quite thoroughly discussed the various grammatical peculiarities of this text.