Friday, September 11, 2015

GJW latest


First, Andrew Bernhard piles it on with yet another blog post, this one on Bart Erhman's blog: Back to the Forgery of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

Second, Joel Baden and Candida Moss step back to reflect on some of the larger implications of the GJW debate: Why Scientists and Scholars Can't Get Their Facts Straight. The ongoing dispute over the authenticity of a scrap of papyrus from the ancient world highlights a larger question of how history is established (The Atlantic).
It may seem as if the cottage industry of debate surrounding this papyrus—which has now produced multiple funded lab reports, a slew of scholarly articles, and innumerable blog posts—is self-sufficient to the point that each side would continue to work irrespective of whether anyone continued to argue back. But perhaps debating against an opponent isn’t really anyone’s goal here. It is the nature of scientific inquiry to find the next frontier: These latest lab reports were generated not by interest in the GJW in particular, but by the development of new technology in ink analysis more generally. And scholarship in the humanities is virtually defined by the belief that every question can be reopened for discussion, even to reinforce a preexisting consensus.
I certainly agree with the last sentence.

The arguments of King et al. for authenticity are based on the antiquity of the materials used - the papyrus and perhaps the ink. But not only is it possible in principle to use old materials for a forgery, there are cases of it having been done as far back as the nineteenth century. The forger Constantine Simonides produced a fake palimpsest (a manuscript whose writing has been erased and written over with a new text) using an authentic ancient manuscript for the upper text. He also produced a fake ancient manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew using a genuine ancient hieratic manuscript whose text he had (imperfectly, it developed) erased. I don't know of a verified case of ancient ink being used in a forgery, but we know that ancient ink has been recovered and in principle it could be reconstituted with distilled water. In any case, let's see those tests of the ink published in peer-review publications before we start worrying about them.

These considerations seem to me to weaken the arguments for authenticity based on material factors. No corresponding considerations that I know of weaken the many compelling arguments against authenticity based on literary analysis and manuscript layout. Not that one can't come up with a response individually to each argument, but the cumulative effect is to argue that in the case of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife we won the lottery. People sometimes do win the lottery, but that doesn't make for a persuasive scholarly case.