Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Emily Litella, Bible Scholar

Litella was a character played by the late Gilda Radner, who would comment on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" sketch and then go off on some sort of rant about something she thought was wrong, like "violence on television." It always turned out she'd heard wrong, and the item which had aroused her ire was innocuous, like "violins on television." When anchor Jane Curtin would tell her of her mistake, Radner would smile and and say, "Oh. Never mind."

Back in 2012, Harvard professor Karen King announced what was identified as a scrap of papyrus on it with material supposed to be from an early branch of the Christian church. The Coptic Christian Church, which still exists today in Egypt, had some ideas about Christian teaching that were a little out of the mainstream, so when this scrap suggested that Jesus had been married, news outlets could not resist and fell all over themselves promoting "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife."

Although Dr. King cautioned against speculation, the fact that she had announced the papyrus before it was completely tested to see how old it was made the caution a little more moot than she might have liked. Dr. King's paper was put on hold by Harvard's theological journal.

So now, it seems that the scrap is certainly a forgery. Reporter Ariel Sabar has a long piece in this month's Atlantic magazine outlining the case against it. Dr. King, after reading the piece, commented that it tipped her towards believing it was a forgery. Kudos to her for accepting evidence that contradicted what she had thought was true. There are a lot of scholars, Biblical and otherwise, who don't do that. There are a lot of people who don't do that, either, but scholars are supposed to be a little better about accepting facts even when they don't like them.

And kudos to the Atlantic for printing this piece; usually these kinds of "shake the foundations of Christianity" events get lots of publicity at the front end when they're still uncertain but not so much at the back end when it turns out questions about them can't be answered. Which is probably what will happen with the other outlets that puffed the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" story, making the magazine even that much more of a standout amongst the Litellas.

(H/T First Things)


latoberg said...

That is....I don't know how to describe it.

It is like all of the bad theological suspense plots worked into one story then wrapped around a very bad '80's espionage plot with a modern voyeur-centeric milieu aimed at progressive theological scholarship.

Friar said...

As though Dan Brown teamed up with Chuck Barris and John Shelby Spong to write a movie for Golan-Globus?