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Another new papyrus about Jesus' wife! (P.Chels. 1)

Late last night, during a lavish banquet at an exclusive address in Chelsea, my Indiana Jones moment finally arrived. A mysterious man approached our dinner table and handed me a small box. "It's a gift. Just for you--" he said, and vanished.

"Who was that?" I asked my dinner companions. "He said his name was 'Grant,' but he smiled mischievously as he said that," reported one onlooker. Clearly "Grant" was a pseudonym, and a clever one at that. For what this middle man had given me was truly a gift.

By asking around at the fundraiser, I learned that this new papyrus -- hereafter P.Chelsea 1 (or P.Chels. 1 for citation) -- had been "granted" to me by an anonymous collector. Since I have recently been blogging so much (too much, I fear) about new papyri, this anonymous collector thought I would be the perfect person to evaluate the contents of P.Chelsea 1. My editio princeps is forthcoming in the premier journal, Collecteana: L'Revue d'Anne Papyrologique (CRAP), but my initial commentary follows below the photo:

Upon close inspection, this is not a papyrus at all! Rather, it's a parchment or vellum similar in texture and size to P.Dura. 24. It has survived the centuries well, and perhaps was folded and carried as an amulet. A peculiar feature is its smell: it has a stain in the center that resembles the odor of shoes -- or barbecue sauce. My preliminary conclusion -- pending further tests, of course -- is that this is an ancient parchment originally used to clean barbecue sauce off of someone's shoes.The scribal hand is competent but not elegant, clearly the work of a semi-professional, probably not someone whose primary work is the crafting of language.

Of orthographic interest is the first word of line 3. What is frustrating is that, just at the crucial point in the text, " I was saying, my wife -- she's the ......," the end of that sentence is difficult to discern. Did Jesus say "my wife is the church" or "my wife is the cherub?" The final "h" of church looks more like a "b" than an "h" for this unpracticed hand. (Cf. line 5 where "b" and "h" are properly formed without false oblique strokes.) And we know that chureb was a common variant (by metathesis or parablepsis) for cherub in texts of the time period.

The reading of this word greatly influences the meaning of the text. Was Jesus' wife metaphorically the church, as in the New Testament? Or was Jesus' wife really a cherub, an angelic being, as in some Gnostic texts from antiquity? Professors Crispin Fletcher-Louis, Bogdan Bucur, and other experts in angelomorphic Christologies from antiquity could not yet be reached for comment.

The provenance of the fragment is obviously of great concern to us. Its language (English) would seem to indicate an origin in an English-speaking country, and yet we know from our canonical texts that Jesus dined with disciples after his glorious Resurrection (Luke 24; John 21) AND that the disciples were spiritually empowered to speak foreign languages (Acts 2). Nothing about the papyrus then necessarily demands a modern date.

Its discovery in New York, however, may provide a clue. Its focus on the issue of Jesus' marriage, coupled with staunch congregationalism ("elect your bishops"), calls to mind an English-speaking Christian group with roots in upstate New York: the Mormons. It is possible, though unverified, that this fragment comes from a revelatory meal dialogue, post-Resurrection, post-Redescension, in North America. Such a theory coheres well with the indisputable smells of shoes and barbecue sauce.

Therefore, my preliminary conclusion is that we have here a fragment from a similar textual tradition and milieu as the recently discovered Coptic papyrus. The connection is encouraged by line 1, which says, "[cont. from previous long-lost fragment]." On the other hand, line 1 seems to be written by a different hand ("Hand 2" in forthcoming critical edition), which I have concluded is that of the anonymous modern collector. Having seen the news last week about the Coptic papyrus, he himself wrote this helpful instruction at the top in square brackets. My assessment then, is that this new fragment represents a branch of the same textual stemma as the Coptic papyrus, but this one carries us across the ocean, likely in the pocket of the cloak of Jesus himself, to the New World. After Jesus dined with his disciples in the New World, he washed their feet (John 13), thus cleaning off the barbecue sauce (a New World food) that had splattered during their meal.

Those skeptical of Mormon provenance point to the fragment's evident interest with issues of interest to modern American Catholics (e.g., "the cup" instead of the "chalice"). On the other hand, "women deacons" were well attested in antiquity and late antiquity, as were episcopal elections. Liturgical dance goes all the way back to David himself (2 Sam 6:14), and thus cannot help us date the fragment.

Other scholars have demanded that I have the ink tested prior to publication. That would not be normal operating procedure in papyrology, and it's quite expensive and time-consuming. I would like to satisfy the demands of these scholars, but my research budget is precisely zero dollars. Therefore, I will be taking up a dreaded "second collection" at church this weekend to try to cover those costs. Alternatively I might agree to do a television special in order to defray the costs of the ink tests sure to be demanded from all corners of the blogosphere. If you'd like to contribute to further study of P.Chels. 1, and other legitimate papyri, click here

About the Author

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University, author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard.



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Very funny!

Among seminarians in the late 1950's, there was some speculation that the Third Secret of Fatima would be revealed, when the envelope was opened by the pope in 1960, to be the caterer's bill for the Last Supper. I wonder whether it could usefully be compared to this new fragment.

The factlacking creativity inspired by the Shard of Jesus's Wife? (SJW? 1) has been noteworthy. Its most significant impact, however, has been the new preeminence it has brought to the logical technique of arguing to definitive conclusions from the absence of evidence, the Latin name for which slips my mind at the moment. (See The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Talib, 2007) The potential for unprecedented insight and absolute conviction when unfettered by evidence has particular appeal when, for the first time that I can recall, papyrology and politics are sharing the front pages. Your analysis is notable for considering New York but failing to recognize the obvious extension to Missouri. Is there still some question about that state's linguistic connection to an English-speaking country, as some Northerners have asked in years past?

When I was a child in the 70s, I was told by an adult in my life, that the envelope when opened really said "April Fool", which is why you never heard anything about the Third Secret. When Sr. Mary Cephas told us about the mystery of the Third Secret in school, I shared the "April Fool"theory with Sister and 35 fifth graders. Sister was very nice about it, but said that the Third Secret was probably about the terrible happenings at the end of the world. She said that the Pope, after he opened the envelope, was so upset by the contents that he got down on his knees and prayed very hard every night for the world that the prophecy wouldn't come to pass.Sister Cephas was a fabulous teacher with a nice flair for the dramatic. She is in heaven now, but I know she is as disappointed as her former fifth graders about that now-revealed Third Prophecy.

That's some bull vellum you're peddling. ;)

Since I'm a believer in conspiracy theories, let me suggest these questions:a) when was the last time papyrologists en masse hit the front pages of the world press?b) could it be that the whole kerfluffle (including the appearance of the mysterious "Grant" at your dinner party) is all part of world-wide conspiracy among world papyrologists to raise their visibility so that the academy will have to pay them as much as (for instance) junior critical theorists?On grounds of social justice, of course. Hence "Grant," as in "Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee. . . "

Sure, we're interested in the papyrus because we're interested in the historical Jesus. But I think that a lot of the interest is quite childish in a good sense of the word. We all love a mystery, It's part of our humongous tendency to wonder. Mysteries about the ancient, the unusual, the hidden, the secretive, the ambiguous are even more attractive than easily solved question about our boring repetitive lives. Mystery novels remain the most popular of all genres in the U. S., and detective novels remain enormously popular in spite of their age. We just love clever detection from apparently trivial data. And the new scrap re "my wife" fits a lot of bills.

The thought of examining the name "Grant" with an added ivory tower perspective does not come automatically to those outside the walls but is suggested by Nicholas C.'s mention of "academy". Many new questions arise. Where does a "Grant" come from? Is there government in the background? Which government and why? If from a non-profit, where is the profit to be gained? How much accounting is required and to whom? What happens next year?

The Chronicle of Higher Education interviews Professor King who is surprised by the reactions and says maybe she should have chosen another title. HMMM!

What the Gnostic writings has to do with the true gospel of salvation? Through history many people had and still tried to strip Jesus of His deity.The marriage is taken to be proof that He was not God in the flesh,but only a mortal man.Lies sell very well,the truth does not.Anything based on a lie is a lie and the truth always prevails.The Holy blood Holy grail pretend that Jesus escaped death on the cross and married Mary Magdalene.Then da vinci code pretend a secret marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the real blood of the grail is inside Mary based on the painting of the last supper by leonardo da vinci.Now a scholar has a writing words on a papyrus about Jesus wife and titled that papyrus in the shape of a credit card,a gospel!!! Actually in the above fake stories there is a very dangerous and deceiving lie about the real blood and the wife.The truth is that REAL and HOLY blood is on Jesus' forehead and not in the womb of Mary Magdalene or any other woman.This is revealed by souheil bayoud in the true story the coin of the temple.As for the wife,the impossibility of the marriage of Jesus is like the physical resurrection which cannot be seen by the blinds and is not and will not be revealed to disbelievers and opponents to Orthodox Christianity.

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