YCAS 2015: Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Panel

This is the final post previewing the upcoming 2015 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium to be held September 25-26 at York University in Toronto. How only a week away! Remember, if you register for the symposium, you will receive drafts of the papers in advance (and many of them are available now), thus enabling you to participate more fully in the discussions that follow. For registration information, visit the YCAS 2015 web site (HERE).

When Brent Landau and I began planning for the 2015 Symposium, we considered immediately a panel on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife as a way to capitalize on the widespread interest in the text. One of the goals of the Symposium, after all, is to draw non-scholars into the discussion of the literature. The session is intended not as an assessment of the evidence for or against forgery but as an examination of the reception of the text. Caroline Schroeder examines the gender divide apparent in the online discussions of the gospel, with male scholars often employing misogynistic language in their spirited dismissals of the text and female scholars for the most part proceeding more cautiously, waiting for the results of scientific testing and expressing their concerns about the tenor of the responses of their male counterparts. James McGrath and Mark Goodacre, themselves popular biblio-bloggers, provide further analyses of the reception of the text on blogs, and consider that the speed and collaboration that blogging offers may sacrifice the precision and accuracy that is expected from rigorous scholarship. Janet Spittler also became involved in the discussion of the text online and will provide a response to the papers.

Mark Goodacre

This is Mark Goodacre’s second appearance at YCAS; in 2013 he sat on our panel about Christian Apocrypha and the Historical Jesus. Goodacre is Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins in the Department of Religious Studies, Duke University, North Carolina, USA. He earned his MA, M.Phil and DPhil at the University of Oxford. His research interests include the Synoptic Gospels, the Historical Jesus, the Gospel of John, the Gospel of Thomas, and Jesus in film.

Goodacre is the author of four books including The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Harrisburg, PA:Trinity Press International, 2002) and Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012). He is a former editor of the Library of New Testament Studies book series. He is well known for The New Testament Gateway, the web directory of academic New Testament resources, and he has his own regular podcast on the New Testament: the NT Pod. Goodacre has acted as consultant for several TV and radio programs including Finding Jesus (CNN, 2015). For more details, see his homepage at http://markgoodacre.org/.

Abstract: “Jesus’ Wife, the Media, and The Da Vinci Code

When the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife emerged in September 2012, journalists could not resist comparing its contents to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. It was at the heart of the story, a remarkable case of history imitating art. The idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene had become so entrenched in popular culture that it provided the perfect context for the reception of the fragment. This context contrasts markedly with the pre-Da Vinci Code era, when the idea of a marriage between Jesus and Mary was uncommon. This paper investigates the changing face of popular cultural ideas of Jesus’ marriage and looks at how these impacted the media reception of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

James McGrath

James McGrath Head ShotJames F. McGrath is the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University in Indianapolis. He is the author of John’s Apologetic Christology: Legitimation and Development in Johannine Christology (SNTS Monograph Series, 111; Cambridge University Press, 2001) and The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in its Jewish Context (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Together, these two books explore the development of Christology in the Gospel of John and other New Testament sources, and situates those developments in relation to the context of Jewish exclusive devotion to one God alone. In addition to books and articles on Christology in early Christianity, McGrath has also published on the historical figure of Jesus, the Mandaeans, and the intersection of religion and science fiction.Teaching in a religion program, McGrath has seized the opportunity to branch out not only in the classes he offers, but also in his research, onto subjects that lie beyond the bounds of his primary area of expertise in the New Testament. His work on Christology and the historical Jesus has drawn on social-scientific methods, while he has approaches the treatment of religious themes in science fiction from theological, philosophical, ethical, and cultural studies perspectives. McGrath is also passionate to engage the public with perspectives drawn from the scholarly study of religion, and has been blogging for many years at Exploring Our Matrix.McGrath is involved in chairing program units for both the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion annual meetings, having scholarly research interests which span the two organizations. A graduate of the University of Durham (PhD, 1998) and the University of London (BD, 1995), McGrath is currently working on completing a collaborative project to produce the first complete English translation of the Mandaean Book of John, as well as a commentary on the text.

Abstract: “Slow Scholarship: Do Bloggers Rush in Where Jesus’ Wife Would Fear To Tread?”

In the online discussions about the papyrus fragment known as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, we witnessed the positive potential of blogging scholars to make better and faster progress than is normally possible using traditional modes of scholarly communication. The combination of diverse scholarly skills, and the fast sharing of images, documents, suggestions, and ideas, allowed a combination of New Testament scholars, papyrologists, linguists, and other interested individuals to correlate data and make discoveries, finding that not only did the GJW fragment closely match an online edition of the Gospel of Thomas, but that an accompanying fragment, with part of the Gospel of John in Lycopolitan Coptic, precisely matched a published edition as well, indicating beyond reasonable doubt that forgery was involved. That, however, is only half the story. Some bloggers had clearly made up their mind long before such decisive evidence was available Moreover, the fact that some drew comparisons with the Secret Gospel of Mark, assuming the latter to be inauthentic despite there being a strong case for its authenticity, only compounds the sense that there is cause for concern not only about the speed with which some drew conclusions on the basis of incomplete evidence, but also about the analogies made and other aspects of the process. Once a stance has been adopted, it is often hard to revise it in light of new evidence. This paper will therefore explore what we can learn from the case of the treatment of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife in the biblioblogosphere, and how we might harness the advantages of the speed and collaboration that blogging offers, as illustrated by this case, without adopting an approach which moves so quickly that we lose the precision and accuracy that has come to be expected from rigorous scholarship.

Caroline T. Schroeder

Carrie Schroeder headshotCaroline T. Schroeder is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of the Pacific. She is the author of Monastic Bodies:  Discipline and Salvation in Shenoute of Atripe (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), which examines the asceticism and theology in what is the largest corpus of historical and non-hagiographical writings from a late antique Christian monastery.  In addition to numerous articles on early monasticism, the history of sexuality, and women in late antique Egypt, Schroeder also co-directs the Digital Humanities project Coptic Scriptorium, which provides open-source and open-access texts and technology for the study of Coptic language and literature.

Schroeder is a cultural historian of religion whose research primarily concerns asceticism and monasticism in early Christianity, with particular interests in both gender and Egypt. Her work is interdisciplinary, integrating traditional methodologies of textual history, historical theology, and social history with literary theory and anthropology in the study of early Christianity. It also frequently incorporates material culture, including art, architecture, and inscriptions, in order to develop a richer picture of life and society in late antiquity. Known for scholarship informed by literary theory and cultural studies, Schroeder’s research is also grounded in traditional philological methods. She is active on social media and believes that online engagement strengthens scholarly networks and increases the public profile of our academic research.

In addition to teaching courses on New Testament, the history of Christianity, and Digital Humanities, Schroeder currently serves on the advisory board of the Journal of Christian Studies and was a member of the board of the North American Patristic Society from 2010 to 2013. She was the Director of the Humanities Center at the University of the Pacific from 2012 to 2014. A graduate of Brown University (AB, 1993) and Duke University (PhD, 2002), she is presently working on a monograph, Children and Family in Late Antique Egyptian Monasticism, and an edited volume (co-edited with Catherine M. Chin), Melania: Early Christianity through the Life of One Family.

Abstract: “Gender and the Academy Online: the Authentic Revelations of the Jesus’ Wife Fragment.”

The debate over the authenticity of the Jesus’ Wife Fragment in social media and other online spaces is one example of the way digital scholarship is forcing academia to confront our current metrics for peer review and for evaluating scholarly authenticity. The paper will interrogate the divide between traditional scholarly practices on the one hand and social media and blogging, on the other, looking at how formal and informal digital scholarly communications telescoped a conversation that would have taken years to conduct using traditional scholarly media such as conferences and publications. This paper will pay particular attention to the influence of gender, academic status, and access in the online debates about the fragment. Social media and digital publishing has sometimes been hailed as a democratization of the media, providing a communications platform for people from all walks of life (and in the case of academia, students, tenured professors, independent scholars, and folks of any status). The internet has also been critiqued recently as a misogynistic space, where attacks on women online continue unchecked.  And finally this object was a touchstone for an online conversation the potential perils of producing scholarship using objects and sources of unknown provenance, raising questions about secrecy and openness in “authentic” scholarship.  This paper will untangle intersecting threads about authenticity of scholarship that were underlying the debates over the authenticity of the fragment.

Janet Spittler

Janet Spittler headshotJanet Spittler helped to organize the panel and will respond to the papers. She is Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Virginia.  The majority of her research to date centers around the Christian Apocrypha, particularly the apocryphal acts of the apostles. Her first book, Animals in the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), explores the literary context and significance of the animal-related episodes that are so common in the acts, and in subsequent articles she has treated various other aspects of these texts.

Her current research project involves a little-known genre of Greek literature dubbed “paradoxography” by modern scholars. These texts are essentially collections of “miraculous anecdotes” and “amazing stories,” ranging from reports of fabulous plants and animals to accounts of human beings that can bilocate, fly, and return from the dead. She is currently preparing an edition, translation and commentary of one paradoxography (Apollonios’ Amazing Stories) for Jacoby’s Fragmente der griechischen Historiker.

This entry was posted in York Christian Apocrypha. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *