I may be a country parson, but I’m a city boy. It shows. I don’t know one seed from another. I wouldn’t know what to feed livestock; I can’t help with calving, lambing, or pigleting(?). When I hunt, the only way I can come back with anything is if someone takes me and says, “Go over that, and shoot that one.”
But there are a few things even this city boy knows about country living. If the wind is from the West in our little town, then the smell of money is the smell of cow money. From the East, it’s the smell of pig money. Yes, they are very different smells. And when walking through a field, I know how to identify and avoid cow money, pig money, and various other livestock moneys. Even a city boy can learn that.
As a country parson, I do not know all the latest dating techniques for vellum or papyrus or ancient ink. I can not date script from the first century as opposed to the tenth century. I do not have any special expertise in manuscript forgery detection. But that does not mean that I can not smell the… money when it comes to a “shocking recently discovered manuscript” that purports to turn Christianity on its head. The latest is the supposed “Jesus’ Wife” Fragment. Allegedly, it includes reference to Jesus wife. Pictures show an old bit of paper with some strange lettering on it. The letters are Greek, but if they were in Cyrillic, I doubt most Americans would notice. It is old and strange looking, so when the link comes up in the Facebook Feed, people are tempted to click on it. Of course, that’s what the news organizations want. More traffic=more money.
As surely as Easter is in the spring, these things always show up in the two or three weeks before Easter each year. Remember the “Gospel of Judas” that made such a stir about two or three years ago? At the time, it had been published for four years, and the document had been known for decades. But Easter is when people click on “Jesus” links, so that’s when news organizations invariably spend time publicizing those links. Every year I warn my people, “Come Easter, there will be a new discovery of something that ‘disproves’ scripture.” And sure enough, every Easter, there is.
This one does not pass the smell test. A few quick sniffs and you can spot the money:
1) The fragment, even if it is authentic is from 800 years after Jesus. That would be like me “finding” a letter from the Muslim leader of Jerusalem to the pope asking for help from the pope in defeating an invasion of Martians. It turns out, the crusades were a combined war against Aliens, not a religious war between humans. That is how far past Jesus this fragment is. It is old, but not even close to the time of Jesus.
2) It’s only a few scattered words. The rest of the text is missing. Imagine if someone claimed that the entire US constitution was a fraud because they found a torn scrap of parchment with 15 words on it. How persuasive would that be?
3) Those scattered words are stolen from the Gospel of Thomas. You say you don’t have the Gospel of Thomas in your bible? Not surprising. It is a very late Gnostic Document. How late? Even the Gnostic heretics that come up with their own list of what books should be in the bible do not include the Gospel of Thomas on their lists. It is not that this was excluded by some council. It was never included by anyone, and is an obvious and late fraud.
So, we have a scrap of parchment with a few scattered words, from 800 years after Jesus, based on a document from 400 years after Jesus, which document was never included in the canon of scripture, even by those who were in favor of the theology that it promotes, is of questionable provenance, and is now being shopped around by someone who stands to gain a great deal of professional reputation / money if it is found to be authentic.
Again, I do not claim to be an expert. But I smell something. Watch your step.