Daniel Burke writes:
There’s a rumor circulating the Internets about Harvard Theological Review rejecting Karen King’s research paper on the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”
Not so, says Harvard Divinity School spokesman Jonathan Beasley.
In an email this morning, Beasley told me:
“Dr. King’s `marriage fragment’ paper, which Harvard Theological Review is planning to publish in its January, 2013, edition – if testing of the ink and other aspects of the fragment are completed in time – will include her responses to the vigorous and appropriate academic debate engendered by discovery of the fragment, as well as her report on the ink analysis, and further examination of the fragment.”
In my prior post reporting the rumor, I mentioned the tension in journalism between getting it first and getting it right, and of course here we are. Note, however, that Beasley’s quote suggests publication depends on testing (somehow) the age of the ink. In my mind, that should have been done before the paper was submitted and the media contacted, and if not by carbon dating, at least through spectrometry, as King suggested she might have done at some point. If the paper is published at all, it will also require serious revision to include King’s responses to “the vigorous and appropriate academic debate engendered by discovery of the fragment.”
That debate has been carried out largely on the internet. Again, we can and should ask all sorts of productive questions about scholarship in an internet and media age. I’m glad major scholars have been able to use the internet to respond to the initial claims made through major media like the New York Times, but again, the process feels rushed to me, on both King’s side and on that of those responding to her work. Much of this would have been avoided in any event if the age of the ink had been tested in some way.
UPDATE: Here’s the latest, courtesy of HuffPo:
Facing mounting doubts over the legitimacy of a business card-sized Coptic papyrus fragment that appears to quote Jesus Christ discussing his wife, the Harvard professor who acquired the artifact said Wednesday that she stands behind her findings, but is “open to questions about authenticity.”
Karen L. King, the Harvard Divinity School professor whose announcement at a Coptic studies conference in Rome last week about a 1½-by-3-inch fragment inspired “Jesus’ Wife” headlines worldwide, said the badly damaged artifact has been sent for testing. She said the tests should determine if it is from the fourth century as originally proposed, or if parts of it are a modern forgery, as an increasing number of scholars of Coptology and papyrology have suggested.
Helmut Koester, a professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School and a former 25-year editor of the journal, said in an interview that he heard “they did not want to publish because of doubts from two respected scholars.” Koester, who specializes in early Christianity and early Christian archaeology, added that after seeing an evaluation of King’s work from a colleague in the field, he was “absolutely convinced that this is a modern forgery.”
A call to the Harvard Theological Review was redirected to a Harvard spokesman, and Kevin Madigan, the journal’s co-editor, did not reply to an email. But in an earlier Associated Press article, Madigan said King’s paper had only been “provisionally” accepted for a January publication. He said that there would be ongoing studies about the “scientific dating and further reports from Coptic papyrologists and grammarians.”
King, however, said on Wednesday that her work is on track to be published in January.
Craig Evans, a New Testament professor at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, is one of the scholars who still has questions. Evans blogged Wednesday on Near Emmaus, a biblical history website, that he thought “the papyrus itself is probably quite old, perhaps fourth or fifth century, but the oddly written letters are probably modern and probably reflect recent interest in Jesus and Mary Magdalene.”
“It’s usually the science that precedes the big announcements. These things aren’t usually left untested, especially where a papyrologist has not uncovered it in Egypt,” said Evans in an interview.
King said Wednesday that she is “very anxious” to see what testing determines and that she is working on additions to her paper in response to criticisms. She also plans to report on the ink and papyrus analysis. It’s unclear when testing will be complete.
“The idea was precisely to put it in the hands of scholars so we can began the discussion, to get opinions about authenticity, what they see in the fragment and what they think it is, what the conversations are,” King said. “That’s what we are seeing … This is the academic process.”