Worrying questions about the supposed new NT papyri from mummy cartonnage

In my last post, I noted that Peter Head pointed out that we have a forger active among us, who knows how to play to the predispositions of scholars.

I have just seen a very sound post by Roberta Mazza, discussing the supposed discovery of a bunch of interesting papyri from mummy cartonnage – papyrus reused to stuff the packing of mummies, and make up the coffins etc in the late period.  No doubt cartonnage contains much of interest.

But Dr Mazza is absolutely right in pointing out that we have NO previous examples of New Testament papyri from mummy cartonage; and noting the rather confused reportage coming out of the Green collection.

These are very sound questions.   Failure to see that the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” was too good to be true is what undid Karen King and Harvard.

A first century fragment of the New Testament?  Exciting if true.  But … too good to be true?  Quite possibly.  Particularly when we note that the recipient of the material is predisposed to believe that the material is genuine; just as the hapless Karen King was.

At the moment all we have is various bits of excited and not-too-knowledgeable comment from amateurs involved in helping in menial capacities.  I think the Green collection are absolutely right to be open-access with their finds; indeed it is essential to bring all available talent to bear.

We have an enemy of learning active in the world at the moment, remember.  Only a fool would neglect every precaution.  Particularly when a find might be too good to be true.


8 thoughts on “Worrying questions about the supposed new NT papyri from mummy cartonnage

  1. Great, I’m glad the fragment has been deemed a forgery, but the damage is already done. Forgive me for saying this, but scholars should be more suspicious when an anti-Christian item has been found.
    Now, thanks to the irresponsibility of Dr. King, other scholars and the media, millions think that Jesus may have had a wife.
    Thanks academics, once again you’ve done more damage than good.

  2. Scholars should be more suspicious, period.

    There used to be tons of pro-Christian forgeries, one might recall, and tons of pretty Egyptian picture forgeries, and mummy forgeries, and scarab forgeries. There’ve been tons of other fashions in forgeries.

    It all depends on the market.

  3. And what to think of those Sappho fragments? Personally, I want to believe that they are genuine, but the clumsy way they have been announced is not exactly contributing to a feeling that everything is indeed okay.

  4. I think the Sappho fragments are genuine. The verses are so mundane that it is unlikely that their content was forged. If, on the other hand, they had provided evidence that Sappho was a transgender lesbian cross-dresser who suffered from child abuse, instead of the respectable matron we know her to have been, I would have been a bit more suspicious. 🙂

  5. Yes, if they were highly controversial or supported some establishment or other agenda we should be much more suspicious.

  6. Yes I am suspicious as well and worried. However, I think the real issue is not forgery but misattribution or in the case of biblical manuscripts, giving unjustifiably early dates. The scale of forgery would simply have to have been immense and of a level of skill which we have not yet seen. Perhaps some of the manuscripts are forgeries, but I cannot imagine that most of them are.

    If in fact the green initiative has as many valuable manuscripts as they claim, it would actually do some work in explaining why things have been announced so clumsily. It would mean that there are many many people involved in these manuscripts and, if national governments and Secret Service agencies can’t keep secrets, then I doubt we can expect a large brand new academic apparatus to do the same. Leaks will be inevitable. And, as is the nature of leaks, probably somewhat inaccurate and incomplete.

    Optimistically, it is a good sign that they have inked a deal with Brill and some of the scholars involved with these manuscripts are indeed the best in the world.

    But yes color me skeptical.

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