Friday, October 19, 2012

The Silliest Thing I Read All Week

It would seem that the Jesus Wife fragment controversy is going into the home stretch.  I would imagine that they are testing the papyrus and will finally determine whether it was written in antiquity.  As I have noted on many occasions, I couldn't care less if the fragment is authentic.  I have never come across any ancient sources which identified Jesus as married.  As such there is a low probability that a new fragment should come along with a muddled provenance and be determined to be authentic.

I take issue with scholars like Mark Goodacre, Stephen Carlson, Francis Watson and the like who try and connect the controversy surrounding this fragment and Mar Saba 65 (the so-called 'Secret Mark' fragment).  The only parallels which exist between these two discoveries come down to the common culture that they share - i.e. a sensationalist media, a mindless culture hungry for novelties of any kind.

The Jesus Wife fragment - if it turns out to be a forgery - has profit as its motive.  The person who owns the text would presumably fetch a nice price at an auction.  By contrast Morton Smith left his discovery at the same monastery he discovered it.  There was no profit motive of any kind.  The Columbia University professor even lost interest in the find and ultimately moved on to new things.

Yet I came across this annoying post at Goodacre's blog which was passed on to me by Roger Pearse. The Duke University associate professor thinks that we shouldn't even need to test the ink to determine that the Jesus Wife fragment is a hoax.  We should view people like him, Carlson, Watson and other glorified humanity professors - people who are one step away from zumba instructors - as 'partners' in the process of uncovering forgeries.

As the Duke University professor writes:

Another theme that has emerged in some discussions has been a kind of dualism between “science” and textual study, with the suggestion that “science” alone will be able to settle the question of authenticity, and that textual scholarship is a kind of parlour game that can be played by anyone. The way that scholarship actually works is as a collaborative enterprise, in which different scholars study the evidence, talk to one another, try out ideas, put forward hypotheses and test them. Physical examination of manuscripts has a very important role to play in discussions like this, but it is one part of the discussion, not inately superior to the work done by experts on Coptology, papyrology, textual criticism, source criticism and so on.

I cringe when I read nonsense like this.  These pompous folks are the reason why we have subjective standards in scholarship.  They are the problem, not the solution.

At best someone like Goodacre, Carlson or Watson are similar to a food critic.  They can consume a text and explain it in a better way than the average man on the street.  But they haven't been trained as document examiners and worst of all they apply the most subjective standards to their investigations.  Here is what we should do instead - make ink testing standard procedure not only on new discoveries but existing ones too.

I happen to correspond quite frequently (at least every other month) with one of the top authorities on Biblical manuscripts.  In private he told me that almost all the dates for Biblical manuscripts are pushed back as far as reasonably possible.  They stretch the limits of credibility because quite simply everyone wants to increase the value of the information we have.  My friend said that despite efforts to give the Codex Sinaiticus a dating from the fourth century, the text could well be as recent as the seventh century.  And let's not forget that the greatest forger of all time Constantine Simonides confessed to forging that text.

Yet the most stunning confession that has come from my friend is how many manuscripts of the New Testament should be considered possible forgeries.  The problem of course is that many of them represent our oldest witnesses to the New Testament canon.  In particular he said that P46 - the so-called Chester Beatty Papyrus - has so many red flags associated with it he would not be surprised that it was a modern forgery.  The problem of course is that it is used by conservative scholars to hold up the antiquity of orthodoxy.  No one will ever test the ink of that mysterious text with no provenance because it upholds the inherent presumptions of the very scholars trying to tear down Mar Saba 65.

My point in criticizing Goodacre's article is that we don't need people like him to help 'weed out' which texts should be tested.  Let's simply test all manuscripts, old and new and do away with any reliance on subjective analysis.  I don't want the 'inner voice' of a conservative homophobe or misogynist to determine which manuscripts we scrutinize any more than they want to allow their enemies to do the same.  Let's do away with the pretense of academic fairness and leave everything up to science or at the very least people whose technical expertise go beyond zumba instructors.

BTW Mark is giving a lecture on Secret Mark which we should all take very seriously because after all, he is an objective, dispassionate, scientific observer:

Bible Archaeology Fest XV, November 16 - 18, 2012 The Secret Gospel of Mark: Primitive Gospel or Modern Hoax?
Professor Morton Smith announced his discovery of the Secret Gospel of Mark in 1958 and scholars have been in debate about this extraordinary text ever since. Does Jesus' nocturnal initiation of the young man hint at homosexuality? Was it originally part of the Gospel of Mark? Could it shed light on the evolution of the Gospel tradition or is it in fact an ingenious modern hoax, created by Morton Smith himself? This presentation will take a look at the text of the Secret Gospel and the history of the scholarly debate and ask whether Morton Smith had the genius to pull off what would have been a remarkable literary forgery.

Should be very enlightening indeed.  I could say a lot more but I will save that for another time.  Dear God, if prayers have any power please Lord, just this once do something for me ...

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