Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: Update and Thoughts from a Rabbi

The story of the papyrus fragment labelled “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” has taken some significant turns in the week since the news of it was first reported. While the jury is still out regarding the authenticity of this document, it is important to note that there are significant questions in this regard. A recent post by Dr. James McGrath offers a roundup on this score. In my view, this aspect of the story is beneficial because it helps the larger public see how scholarship is conducted. Academics do not offer carefully worded statements simply to be opaque but rather because they appreciate that establishing certainty and fact can at times require time, effort, and careful investigation. In a context in which many governments seem eager to lay the axe to funding humanities programs in colleges and universities, offering a public example of how such disciplines go about their work is a good thing.

Another key aspect of the discussion about this papyrus is it returns attention to the historical Jesus and his Jewish context. A common trope is that it would have been out of the ordinary for a Jewish male not to have been married in the first century. On his blog, Tony Jones posted a guest opinion by Rabbi Joseph Edelheit in which he argued that divergence between Jews and Christians about the marital status of Jesus offers an opportunity for dialogue. Edelheit argues that Jews would assume the marital status of Jesus because of his identity as a Jew but Christians focus on Jesus as the risen and incarnate Messiah for whom marriage is not a possibility. He urges Jews to understand that when they engage with Christians, they are talking to believers whose faith is located in but transcends history. “But if the rabbi wants to understand how Christians must intellectually multi-task, having both a Jesus in history and a Christ beyond history, then listening might be the best tactic.” This suggests a divide that must be crossed in dialogue.

While I am sympathetic to what Edelheit is up to in terms of encouraging dialogue, I wonder about some of the underpinnings of his argument. Is it a priori that Christian faith requires a celibate Jesus?  More important for the work I do in Jewish-Christian relations, he seems to assume that it is appropriate for Christians to abandon belief in Jesus as a first-century Jew and maintain a belief in the Christ beyond history. There has been much work in Christian circles to retrieve the Jewish Jesus and we have only just begun to sort through the theological implications of this move. I would prefer that the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” move us to more deeply consider the Jewish context of Jesus than assume that it is rightly abandoned by Christian theology.


Filed under Early Christianity, Gospel of Jesus's Wife

Reading Richard Hooker, Book V.2-5

For this week, we read Book V, chapters 2 through 5. The most interesting dimension of this section is the issue of superstition. Here Hooker addresses the Puritan critique that superstitious practices in the worship of the Church of England reveal that it is not a truly reformed church. In addressing this critique, Hooker echoes arguments contained in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as found in its Preface and Of Ceremonies.

Hooker seeks to establish that the worship of the Church of England is not superstitious. He does this first by arguing that its worship is distorted neither by zeal (given over too much to argumentation) or fear (lacking true understanding in regard to worship of God) (V.3). For Hooker, “Superstition is, when thinges are either abhorde or observd, with a zealous or fearfull, but erroneous relation to God” (V.3.2).

Building upon this definition, Hooker goes on to distinguish what he means by proper worship. Two things can be meant. The first is an inward, reasonable form of worship belonging to God. The second is “all manner vertuous duties that each man in reason and conscience to Godward oweth” (V.4.3). As fitting the controversy with the Puritans, Hooker is intent on addressing only the second aspect of worship in order to show that the worship of the Church of England is not superstitious. Notable in this distinction is that Hooker assumes that his Puritan opponents agree with him that the Church of England is reformed in theology. His goal in this book is to persuade them tht it is also properly reformed in practice.

Here we see that in the late 16th century, the operating assumption was that the Church of England was a national church that participated in a broader reformed consensus as opposed to seeing itself as a middle way between Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions.

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Sermon for Thursday of Proper 19

Thursday of Proper 19
1 Cor. 15:1-11
Psalm 118:14-29
Luke 7:36-50

Prof. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski
All Saints Chapel
Church Divinity School of the Pacific

September 20, 2012

When she came in did you see her?

You are lying around the banquet table with the others.

Perhaps you missed her when you rearrange the pillow you are resting on.

Or you are listening closely to what Jesus and Simon are talking about.

You are riveted by their conversation.

It’s not surprising that you don’t notice her at first.

After all, Simon has put on a public feast for Jesus.

At these kinds of things all sorts of people crowd in along the walls to hear the conversation flowing around the table.

And the people in town really want to hear Jesus.

He had preached in the synagogue earlier and now Simon has put on this banquet for him.

People want to hear more.

Some think he is even a prophet.

Simon himself wonders if this might be true.

That’s why he has hosted this banquet in the first place.

So you are there with the invited guests lying around the table.

And then there are the other men and women along the walls.

You really don’t know if she has been there all along or if she came in later.

But then while Jesus is talking, she kneels down by his feet.

You see it all happen because you are just across the table from him.

At first you think she is going to rub the ointment in her little jar on Jesus’s feet.

You and others at the table saw how Simon had forgotten to offer Jesus water for his feet.

Simon had been so busy getting ready that it just didn’t happen.

You think at first that maybe Simon had sent this woman to clean Jesus’s dusty feet.

But then she bursts into tears.

Jesus doesn’t know she is behind him and he is startled.

But he lets her weep.

He does not move.

Soon the tears bathe his feet.

Then she surprises you even more.

She undoes her head wrap and uses her hair to wipe his feet.

And then, even more surprising, she kisses his feet over and over.

Only after that does she do what she came to do and rubs ointment on his feet.

Of course you know her.

Everybody does.

Simon sure does.

You can see it on his face.

And everyone looks around.

Doesn’t Jesus know who she is?

Isn’t that the sort of thing a prophet knows?

And now you remember that you had seen her earlier today.

She was there when Jesus taught this morning.

That was when he had spoken of God’s forgiveness

She was in the crowd around him afterwards.

And now Jesus turns gently to Simon.

He can tell what Simon is thinking and he tells a story.

He is explaining that this woman has been forgiven.

Her sins have been forgiven and Jesus has done it.

He forgave her of her sins after his talk today.

She wanted to show her gratitude with the ointment but burst into tears before she had a chance.

Is that all it took for her to weep so much?

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:29)

And you see the face of Simon – how it changed from annoyance to tenderness.

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:29)

And you wonder, can you be forgiven too?

What would it take for you to weep like her?

“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. “ (Psalm 118:19)

You are moved by it all so much that you get up and leave the table.

People are talking to their neighbors so you think no one notices.

But Jesus follows you outside.

You turn to him.

“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me.” (1 Cor. 15:8)

He looks at you.

And it all comes tumbling out of you, out of your mouth, from your heart.

All of it – everything you have kept hidden.

Everything you thought nobody but God knew.

All of it – every last bit of anger and pettiness and jealousy and greed.

And now you hear his words.

He tells you that you have been forgiven.

He assures you of God’s love.

And he tells you to sin no more.

Your heart is ablaze.

“But by the grace of God, I am what I am.” (1 Cor. 15:10)

And then he goes back into Simon’s house.

And you return to the banqueting table.

“This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.” (Psalm 118:20)

You are at the table.

The woman is on one side of you.

Simon is on the other.

And from across the table, Jesus looks into your eyes as he hands you the bread.

You take it and you eat it and you pass it.

The banquet goes on.

Your heart is ablaze.

And you weep.

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:29)

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Reading Richard Hooker

At CDSP I have led the Richard Hooker Reading Group since the fall semester of 2009. The purpose of this group is simple: to read through Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity from beginning to end. If you have ever tried reading this work, you know this is a massive task. In the critical edition, this is a three-volume work full of challenging late Elizabethan prose. To make this task manageable, I decided that reading Hooker would involve people sitting together and simply reading his words out loud for about an hour.

The process is simple. One person reads until they get to the end of the sentence. Then the next person reads. Then the next. I offer explanations as we are reading, either drawn from my own learning or by utilizing the commentary from the Folger Library critical edition.

This semester at CDSP we have finally gotten to Book V of the Laws. For Anglican this is probably the most famous part of the Laws due to his detailed defense of the worship of the Church of England and his articulation of sacramental theology and participation in Christ via the sacraments.

When this reading group first began, I kept a weekly blog summarizing the weekly discussion. Unfortunately, after the first year I fell out of practice with this. I am hoping, however, to blog through Book V as there is more general interest in this portion of Hooker’s work.

With that in mind, this past week we read the first chapter of Book V. In it, Hooker seeks to rebuff Puritan critiques of the worship of the Church of England. As he did at the beginning of the Laws, Hooker starts with first principles. Specifically, he argues that any well ordered society contains within it a form of religion that guides citizens towards the common good. Hooker allows that all religions serve this purpose, even imperfect ones, such as Roman religion in his example. His overarching point is that Puritans must be very careful in critiquing the worship of the Church of England. This worship has been designed to ensure that the entire commonwealth of England is oriented towards the highest good. In Hooker’s mind, the worship of the Church of England is ideally suited for an English context due to the royal supremacy over the church. Trying to impose a more reformed, Genevan style of worship, as is the Puritan’s desire, would ill fit the English context.

The overarching lesson rests in recognizing how for Hooker worship and good ordering of the English commonwealth is meant to go hand in hand. I would venture that this notion is far from most theological perspectives of contemporary Episcopalians.


Filed under Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Ecclesiology, Richard Hooker

Questions about “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”

As I imagine most of you now have heard, Dr. Karen King of Harvard Divinity School yesterday announced the discovery of a papyrus fragment which appears to make reference to the wife of Jesus.  I urge any who are interested to go to this page and read the report on it and the draft essay by King available in PDF format. It is worth the read.
Yesterday and today there has been an active discussion on my Facebook wall between myself, Dr. Scott Carroll, and Dr. Rebecca Lyman. Carroll was my first ancient history professor when I was a student at Gordon College and the man who taught me Coptic. Lyman was my predecessor in church history at CDSP and the GTU. Both are outstanding scholars in the field of early Christianity.

I offer below a transcription of their conversation we have had. It raises questions about the origins and purpose of this papyrus and the complexity of early Christian movements. As the conversation unfolds, you will see that question of use, readership, and the usefulness of categories like orthodoxy and heresy emerge.  The Rev. Craig Uffman posted an earlier transcript on his blog.  This transcript extends the conversation.  I hope you find it useful.



Dan JoslynSiemiatkoski  Regarding the second century fragment on the wife of Jesus, I quote Karen King, the scholar who brought this all to light: “It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married, given the late date of the fragment and the probable date of original composition only in the second half of the second century. Nevertheless, if the second century date of composition is correct, the fragment does provide direct evidence that claims about Jesus’s marital status first arose over a century after the death of Jesus in the context of intra-Christian controversies over sexuality, marriage, and discipleship.”


My first ancient history prof and the man who taught me Coptic, Scott Carroll, posts the following observations about the “Jesus’ Wife Papyrus.” I think we could debate about how to weight the various observations he makes, but they are worth putting out there: “1. It dates between 400-450 (hardly a reliable sole witness)

2. The writing and format of the text is extremely suspect and odd resembling an amulet (sorry more explanation and space is needed)

3. The Sahidic Coptic word for wife is misspelled–may be dialectical making it even more marginal or another word

4. Coincides with the earliest Mary Magdalene traditions

5. Likely Gnostic (heretical)

6. The church was heavily influenced by asceticism at this time making it highly unlikely to be an orthodox composition

7. If orthodox then the reference to wife meant the church or the biblical ‘bride of Christ'”


Scott Carroll So . . . let’s debate! I am really most concerned about the issues surrounding the paleography and textual evidence.


Dan JoslynSiemiatkoski Could you clarify point 6 and what you mean about the relationship or distinction between asceticism and orthodoxy?


Scott Carroll Yes–Peter Brown etc–the church was on an ascetic trajectory as illustrated with the popular rise of monasticism (clearly not the only impetus). The point being in that context and especially given that this was likely written in the shadow of a monastic context–such an anti-ascetic notion of Jesus would be repudiated.


Dan JoslynSiemiatkoski Ah, I see your point. So thus you argue the most likely interpretation is a spiritualized one. Yes?


Scott Carroll Unless he lived married and celibate–the ultimate test of valor–but the text does not allow such a reading.


Scott Carroll Sure, given the tensions it is either spiritual or a gnostic position (who while being superciliously ascetic you still have accounts–if trustworthy–by Epiphanius of the likes of the Phiibionites and at least one Nag Hammadi tractate The Great Thunder that elevates licentious living). Something to think about


Dan JoslynSiemiatkoski So, could you say more about the paleography and textual evidence and your questions about them?


Scott Carroll DAN: Approached by a major magazine on this and a TV producer so it may provide objectivity. While King is a competent professor she has a big axe to grind. As for the paleographical and codicological issues: 1. not much text is preserved 2. based on the orthography–shape of the letters–it clearly dates to the first half of the 5c 3. the hand is what is called sub-literary as if it was a composition not a copy–but this category can be trivialized and it is tricky 4. the composition is a small format and only written on one side–comparable to amuletic and magical texts perhaps for a woman??? 5. the nub of the stylus is blunt and the ink uneaven–it is odd no no wonder that they thought long and hard whether this is real or a forgery (my life is surrounded by such things so I am VERY familiar with such things) 6. Whille folks run around and call into question 2c papyri of the NT over issues relating to provenance–where is the complaint here?? Not satisfied that it came from a private owner not wanting to be hounded–did it come out of Egypt after 1970?? if so it is illegally on the market–and anyhow what are the specifics about its purchase and origins–I am not satisfied with promoting something like this and shrouding it in mystery–away with the facade. The point is that the text it screams private and marginal. unimportant? No. Historical significant? No.


Rebecca Lyman  Well, considering how much stuff was lost, we don’t need to rush to put it into categories, but could think what else it may tell us. I am not quite ready to move to 5-7. Spiritual exegesis and language of the soul can be creative, and not break easily into heretical or orthodox or necessarily church as bride. With the late dating I agree we are not talking about first century fact, but I am willing to let it breathe a bit.


Rebecca Lyman  Agreed that King has an axe to grind–not clear to me yet why this a gospel. Re ascetics remember Julian of Ecalnum the Pelagian bishop arguing with Augustine c. 430 was married and accused him of importing Manichee ideas re sex. Jerome and Jovian also argued about marriage/celibacy, so it is not a done deal even in mainstream circles. I resist an orderly, binary, one way history—texts and ideas circulate, teachers and exegetes invent. Odd scraps can appear which fit no categories.


Scott Carroll DAN: Furthermore–I don’t think King at Harvard works with private collections–so who came to her and knowing what? It is a very easy text to read with conveniently Jesus (IC) and wife? (Teime–sic) right in the middle??!!! Stranger things have happened. If this is legitimate–you have a text written on one side–the scroll no longer used–so a very short text indeed and certainly, although it sounds like it, not a literary text. Other issue is thaat if this represents a tradition it shows how overwhelmingly popular the notion that Jesus had no wife was because this NEVER got traction–as for those who might say the idea was suppressed–it is preposterous because history shows suppressed texts and ideas are popularly disseminated.


Scott Carroll Thanks all–of course we know very little. I am working with colleagues at Oxford on the analysis of the chemical components in ink on papyri–a new way of verifying provenance–this would be an interesting papyrus to test. As for the scroll–more technically a sheet or leaf which had a limited height–point being we could calculate how much text was there–I suspect it could have been multiple sheets but this is an odd format for something that we might be led to believe was CANONICAL in the community’s memory. The book or codex would soon be associated with the Gospels as a visual construct of authority yet this text does not follow that tradition. I have seen similar texts, if this is authentic and the hand seems to be,incorporate snippets seemingly taken out of context–usually from the Gospels and used for amuletic or apotropaic purposes. Best to you!


Scott Carroll A bit more to think about: It is common for many scholars working with later texts, particularly in Coptic, to claim that they come from a ‘now lost 2c Greek original’ so as to convey unimpeachable historicity and significance–as if a 5c Coptic text is not important in its own right and context but to make it speak to the 2c and in Greek. Such claims must be established which is obviously complicated. The similarities with the Gospel of Thomas and Mary are interesting but not more than that at this point. It also raises questions of Coptic texts translated from Greek generally and demand for Greek literature in Coptic among others.


Rebecca Lyman  Agreed–second century original needn’t be the case for fourth century scrap nor the assumption it is for private reading–this is about “authority” and “heresy” which seem to be less skillfully applied than paleography in these discussions.


Scott Carroll You have raised the issue of the intended purpose of this–for private reading a few times. It is a valid observation. The hand would indicate such a use (and I reject King’s assertion that this indicates a lack of education, an impoverished church and Christianity subject to the harsh lash of the persecutor–after the 5c??). The format itself obviously indicates it was for private reading (or use not reading–simply to have a printed text evoked power from ancient times in Egypt–which would mean that it was produced for amuletic or apotropaic purposes–and would be interesting if the rectangular cut shape was intentional for that purpose so a once literary text was used in a 2ndary context for other purposes which I have seen many times not for what it said but that it was writing). That said, typically I would assume that literary texts that enjoyed private distribution were already popular.


Rebecca Lyman What do you make about the argument that it is not folded, so not for amulet use? I agree that the shape seems to indicate that it was for apotropaic purposes–a very interesting question about use of texts in 4/5th centuries and which texts one wanted etc as opposed to the old gender or canon arguments. The public/private thing has been overused rhetorically re “heresy”, when we know so little about ancient communities, is why I picked it up.


Scott Carroll I agree. As for the ‘not folded’ observation–papyrus is extremely resilient. It is clear to me that the scholar(s) who worked with this in the German? collection relaxed this papyrus–carefully hydrated and blotted it, flattened it under glass (the glass you see in the photo, no doubt (I would be very surprised if this was done by the present professors working with it). The fibers have been carefully straightened which can be seen. The point being–it would be difficult to know if it was rolled or folded without close inspection–some texts used for such purposes were simply cut and kept flat, too. The shape is very symmetrical.


Rebecca Lyman I finally read the full article this morning–I think one needs to take seriously how much is going on religiously beneath the textbook or ecclesiastical radar, not illegitmately, just the mess of history and forcing things into categories too soon reveals our needs rather than historical reality. As David Brakke argues in recent book “The Gnostics” the categories are blurred. So, these sorts of gender/image arguments range across the boundaries we impose–Hippolytus defending prayer after intercourse, Irenaeus on Adam/Eve typologies, or the infinite stuff about the soul and Christ in spiritual progress with sexual/marriage analogies.

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Meditation on the Feast of the Holy Cross

This meditation was delivered today in All Saints Chapel at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, CA.



You have in front of you something called a carmina figurata.

In English, this phrase would mean something like a “picture poem.”

It was a form of writing and meditation popular in the 8th and 9th centuries in the theological circles of the court of Charlemagne.

This poem is by the great theologian Rabanus Maurus, abbot of the monastery at Fulda. It was composed sometime in the 820s.

This carmina figurata is titled In honorem sanctae cruces, or, In Praise of the Holy Cross.

We have here an image of Jesus as a stiff body with open eyes.

This is sometimes called the Christus Rex – Christ as an unvanquished King.

We have here Christ hanging on the cross but also defeating the cross, showing forth his immortality and defeat of the cross.

Indeed the cross has entirely disappeared.

It has been replaced by words praising Christ and proclaiming his victory as the fully human and fully divine King of kings and Lord of lords.

Those are the words we read around his nimbus, his halo – King of Kings, Lord of Lords.

This poem hails Jesus Christ as the author of the cosmos, the one who is of the same substance with the Father.

He has conquered death and conquered it so thoroughly that we now use the cross as a sign of victory.

Rabanus intended his viewers to meditate on this picture poem.

He wanted his viewers to not only to look at the images but to sense their spiritual reality.

I invite to spend some time meditating on this image with these words from the Gospel of John in mind:

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ (John 12:32)

Christ has been lifted up from the earth upon the cross.

He draws all to himself and as he does the cross disappears and the embrace of his arms remain.

I invite you into meditation.


For more on Rabanus Maurus and this poem, I recommend: Celia Chazelle, The Crucified God in the Carolingian Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

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