Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The "dodgy" papyrus fragment: further comments

Nicole Winfield, writing from Rome, has written an important response to the news about the newly surfaced papyrus fragment ("Doubts over Harvard claim of 'Jesus' Wife' papyrus", September 19, 2012 [available on Bloomberg Business Week). Winfield has interviewed participants at the conference who have questioned the authenticity of the fragment:
Stephen Emmel, a professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster ... questioned whether the document was authentic. 
"There's something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow," he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference. 
Another participant at the congress, Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, was more blunt. "I would say it's a forgery. The script doesn't look authentic" when compared to other samples of Coptic papyrus script dated to the 4th century, he said.
Despite concerns about how the fragment surfaced on the market, there is the predictable comment:
AnneMarie Luijendijk, the Princeton University expert whom King consulted to authenticate the papyrus, said the fragment fit all the rules and criteria established by the International Association of Papyrologists. She noted that papyrus fragments frequently don't have a provenance, simply because so many were removed from Egypt before such issues were of concern. She acknowledged the dilemma about buying such antiquities but said refraining from publishing articles about them is another matter. 
"You wouldn't let an important new text go to waste," she said.
Perhaps the International Association of Papyrologists needs to revisit its criteria and recommendations for the "commerce in papyri" (available here). (I note the phrase "observe scrupulously".)

Winfield also draws attention to concerns about publishing recently surfaced antiquities.

I am also quoted: "This looks to me as if any sensible, responsible academic would keep their distance from it."

Perhaps King, Bagnall, and Luikendijk have been too quick in associating themselves with the fragment.

Winfield's interview is now informing other reports that have appeared elsewhere (e.g. Daily Mail, Fox News).

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