Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus Wife, by Ariel Sabar (Doubleday, Aug. 11, 2020; ISBN 9780385542586), reviewed by Alex Beam in The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 3, excerpts:
The first line of act I of “Veritas,” Ariel Sabar’s mesmerizing five-act real-life melodrama, is “Dr. Karen Leigh King had reached the summit of her field as a dazzling interpreter of condemned scripture.” We join Ms. King at the apex of her career, her September 2012 unveiling of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” at the International Congress of Coptic Studies, held a stone’s throw from the Vatican in Rome. Speaking to three dozen colleagues, Ms. King describes the tiny papyrus fragment that had come into her possession, lingering over its fateful line 4: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’ ”
The papyrus presented problems from the start. Before the Rome event, two of the three anonymous peer reviewers retained by the Harvard Theological Review suggested Ms. King’s fragment might be a fake—although none of the scholars assembled in Rome knew that. Ms. King’s reviewers examined only a digital photograph of the “Gospel,” and “something felt off,” Mr. Sabar reports. One expert said the script “looked like twenty-first-century handwriting.” On closer inspection, small imperfections manifested themselves: missing characters and the “grammatical monstrosity” of an impossible double conjugation.
Brown University Egyptologist Leo Depuydt called the papyrus’s grammar a “colossal double blunder,” arguing that its creator was less likely to have been “a very incompetent ancient scribe” than “a modern author who might have benefited from one more semester of Coptic.” ….
…. Nineteen months after the Rome reveal, the Theological Review published her article defending the fragment’s authenticity, backstopped by testing carried out at Harvard, Columbia and MIT. Harvard issued a triumphant press release: “Testing Indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Papyrus Fragment to Be Ancient.” Ms. King and the as-yet-unidentified owner of the fragment exchanged a sigh of relief…..
…. It is curious, we learn, that Ms. King had urged the Theological Review to scotch a dissenting article by Mr. Depuydt that was printed in the 2014 issue devoted to the papyrus. It is equally curious that the Columbia and MIT “authentications” of the fragment were performed by scholars with “close personal ties” to Ms. King and to one of her key allies. The MIT man was the son of a family friend and “an expert in explosives detection.” The ink analyst from Columbia “had no experience with ancient objects.” Oops.
His conclusion is devastating: “[Ms. King’s] ideological commitments were choreographing her practice of history,” Mr. Sabar writes. “The story came first; the dates managed after. The narrative before the evidence; the news conference before the scientific analysis.”
Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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