Over the last few years, I have quietly followed the productions and developments of the Green Scholars Initiative (GSI) and the Green Collection, along with the public statements made by those involved with their projects. Back in 2012, I raised questions concerning statements made by one of the former directors of the GSI, Scott Carroll, who no longer works in that capacity. Roberta Mazza has recently raised similar questions. In the post below, I provide some additional information about the Green Collection recently culled from the web.
In this video, Scott Carroll is interviewed on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, an American evangelical television network. Referring to a cuneiform tablet, the host says to Carroll, “I understand that our mutual benefactor, Jonathan Shipman, actually surprised you this very day and presented this [i.e., the cuneiform tablet] to you.” So, who is Jonathan Shipman? A Google search revealed Shipman’s Linkedin account. Apparently, Shipman was involved in acquiring at least some (if not most) of the Green items. He is president of Shipman Rare Books in Dallas, Texas, and, according to his Linkedin, he has “bought Millions of doallars [sic] in each area of these items also including Antiques and Antiquities, Have purchased over 7,000 Rare signature, From early Americana to early Greek, Syriac, Palestenian [sic] Aramaic, Arabic, and Coptic Papyrus writings of early known written things in the world.” His Linkedin continues: “A historian by research, not a schooled scholar of languages, but expert in the location to purchase of [sic] some of the rarest Books or objects sold in Modern times. Have traveled the globe in search of collections and objects helping lead to creation of several new planned Musuems [sic], and currently represent Museums, Private Collectors, Libraries, and other insitutions [sic] who desire similar things.”
But the Greens apparently cut ties with Shipman. In an interesting article on the Dallas Observer dated 23 August 2010, Jim Schutze reproduces two letters from the Green family indicating that they no longer were dealing with Shipman: “Please be advised that effective August 1, 2010, Mr. Johnny Shipman no longer represents the Green Collection, Mr. Steven T. Green or Dr. Scott Carroll, whether on behalf of the National Bible Museum or any other entity or organization.” The "National Bible Museum" was actually co-founded by Scott Carroll according to this website, and Shipman was the CEO. At least in March 2010, Hobby Lobby was "assisting the National Bible Museum," but by August 1, they had separated. So, what are the reasons for this split? And what are Shipman's sources for purchasing antiquities worth "millions of dollars"? Is the split with Shipman the reason why the Greens decided to establish their Bible museum in Washington D.C. instead of Dallas (Shipman's location), as previously planned?
On the personal website of Josh McDowell, an American evangelical Christian apologist, there is a very interesting post about an event called "Discover the Evidence," which took place on 5-6 December 2013. At this event, it is said that "each attendee actually participated in the extraction of papyri fragments [sic] from ancient artifacts. This had never been attempted with such a large group before. That was historic!" [NOTE: This quote has since been revised on Josh McDowell's site to the following: "We watched as papyri were carefully extracted from ancient artifacts. That was historic!"] The artifacts may be part of the collections amassed by Carroll, who was a main speaker at this event, since his bio at the bottom of McDowell's article states that "he and his wife have established both the Scott Carroll Manuscripts & Rare Books and a non-profit – The Manuscript Research Group, which provides access to scholars who identify and prepare for publication cuneiform tablets, papyri, Dead Sea Scrolls, biblical manuscripts and Torahs of enormous significance." So, apparently Carroll has now branched off from the Green Collection and Hobby Lobby to create his own collections under the auspices of the "Scott Carroll Manuscripts and Rare Books" and "The Manuscript Research Group." I am very interested in learning more about Carroll's organizations and the "Discover the Evidence" event and what took place there. What did the "extraction of papyri fragments [sic] from ancient artifacts" actually involve? Extraction from what? And why were (non-specialist?) attendees given hands-on access to unpublished artifacts? The article also mentions that "over 50 papyri fragments out of nearly 200 papyri that were discovered have been identified." 200 papyri? Where were they "discovered?" What is their provenance? Were these purchased by/via Shipman?
From all the videos and articles about the Green Collection (see, for example, this video featuring Carroll), it is clear that the antiquities are being used for apologetic purposes. Consider McDowell's statement about how the new manuscript "discoveries" will be used in this regard:
"These biblical manuscript fragments will be used of God to bring many young people to Christ. I plan to take these manuscripts, scrolls and masks with me as part of the Heroic Truth Experience to help provide an “a-ha” experience for young people and their parents, providing hands-on exposure to ancient evidence for the historical reliability of Scripture. Pray with me that these discoveries will be blessed of God to bring people to Christ and ground believers in the true faith so they can “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have [in Christ]” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). It will take several years to publish all these discoveries. We still have about 40 manuscripts to identify, who knows what else we will find?"
Some of the items in the Green collection are part of a traveling exhibition, which Roberta Mazza has just reviewed in light of her own visit to the Verbum Domini II exhibit in Italy. In Mazza's post, she makes reference to the Coptic papyrus of Galatians that I identified on eBay back in 2012. I gave an online "edition" of this papyrus on my old blog, and will soon migrate that post over to this site. On the basis of that edition, this papyrus was registered in the official list of Coptic New Testament manuscripts with the number "sa 399." It is interesting to hear that this papyrus is being featured in the exhibit. I would like to know more about the provenance of this item as well as others that may have been purchased off eBay by the Green Collection. It is hoped that these details will be clearly explained in the publication of such items, including the Coptic papyrus of Galatians, which is apparently "undergoing research" with the GSI.
The big questions that we are all interested in are: Where are these thousands upon thousands of antiquities coming from, all of a sudden? Who is involved in these transactions? What is the provenance of these cultural artifacts? Will the religious motivations behind the procuration and use of these items restrict academic study of them? I look forward to learning answers to these and similar questions over the coming months.
Here is an extract from proceedings of a murder trial from a 6th century Greek papyrus (P.Mich. XIII 661 + P.Palau inv. 70). In this papyrus, Theodoros accuses the soldier Menas of murdering his brother Victor. Read the entire report in both Greek and English at the link below.
Defendant: "The soldier Flavius Menas said: 'I did not murder anyone and I also can prove it [...] The same presbyter feeling nauseous stayed in the church and I in Antaiou (polis), and an abscess came out of the throat of the presbyter and he died thereof.'"
Plaintiff: "Flavius (defending Theodoros) said: 'In the last days of the past month Mesore of the past seventh indiction, the devoted Menas forced my brother Victor, who also is a presbyter, outside and murdered him having shot a piece of wood from a crossbow into his left arm and having (placed) many blows to his stomach from the fifth hour till the evening of the same day. And I lay out against him the appropriate law to me against murderers. And if I shall not prove that he murdered my brother I shall die instead of him.'"
I just learned that there is a facsimile edition (or perhaps replica is a better designation) of P.Bodmer VIII, part of a famous (and somewhat mysterious) codex containing the texts of 1-2 Peter, among other things. The facsimile is crafted by a Spanish company, and it comes in a nice wooden case along with an introductory booklet containing a "Traducción y Transcripción" (translation and transcription). According to the website at the link above, it sells for a steep €806 ($1,113). The images look nice. Does anyone know anything about this facsimile? I would love to know what the quality is like and if the material is papyrus. For $1,113, it better look just like the original! This is a great way for libraries or departments to facilitate learning of ancient Greek manuscripts.
The web is blowing up with articles and blog posts on the topic of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (GJW), discussions prompted by the recent publication of the latest issue of the Harvard Theological Review, which features the official publication of and scientific reports on the GJW. I have known about this papyrus for a long time and have repeatedly been asked to respond to claims being made in the media but I have refrained, until now. Today, I wish to address the provocative GJW but I shall avoid making claims about its authenticity or inauthenticity. Rather, I wish to address the scholarly enterprise around this piece in the hopes that it will create a momentary space for disciplinary self-reflection. Toward that end, I shall speak to two things: 1) historiography and 2) Western intellectualism and power differentials.
The famous French scholar Michel de Certeau contended that the past becomes comprehensible to us only through the historian’s discourse of “facts.” The sine qua non of making history is, according to de Certeau, “an endless labor of differentiation” between a former period and the present. That is, meaning is formed through the process of negotiating the past and present. Such differentiation, according to de Certeau, takes place “along the margins which join a society with its past and with the very act of separating itself from that past” (The Writing of History, 37). It is only when accounts of the past and their interpretation in the present meet that something new is created. It is a “back and forth” between two poles of the “real.” The goal of historiography for de Certeau is the relocation of the past (preserved) into the conceptual (and narrative) framework of present discourse that unfolds or resuscitates the lost through labors of differentiation.
This idea of the past rupturing into the present is nothing new of course; it is largely a critique of positivist history so dominant in the 18th and 19th centuries. But what interests me is the way in which narratives of or about the past shape our own identities. In other words, there is a social role of narratives concerning the past. Frank Ankersmit questions why it is that “our relationship to the past has become ‘privatized’ in the sense that it primarily is an attribute of the individual historian and no longer of a collective disciplinary historical subject” (Historical Representation, 153). We are now more than ever invested in retrieving the past because it is tied—whether consciously or unconsciously—to our search for personal identity. This is what Pierre Nora means by “modern memory” when he writes: “Modern memory, is, above all, archival. Fear of a rapid and final disappearance combines with anxiety about the meaning of the present and uncertainty about the future to give even the most humble testimony, the most modest vestige, the potential dignity of the memorable” (“Between Memory and History,” 13).
All of this has much relevance for the appraisal of cultural artifacts such as the GJW, and particularly those cultural artifacts which impinge on one’s religious identity. In the case of the GJW, the question about whether or not Jesus was married cannot simply be reduced to a concern about history; it is a religious question disguised as a historical one. So why is the question of Jesus’ marriage important anyway? Because it seeks to anchor one’s beliefs in a material reality. This is how history is often used. But it’s also not just about Jesus or religion in general. Even those scholars who admit that the GJW says nothing about the historical Jesus are participating in a discourse that is going nowhere. But why is it that scholars are so concerned about whether this text was written in the 2nd century, the 8th, or the 21st? Why have we privileged this text over against all the other texts on papyrus that get identified on a daily basis?
That brings me to my second point. Western intellectualism has often been described in terms of hegemonic discourse that privileges knowledge produced by the intellectual elite over against the kinds of knowledge produced outside of the academy. Feminist and post-colonial scholars have done a lot to advance this idea, and I believe it is very relevant to the current discussion. I hasten to agree with Hector Avalos, when he says:
"Relevant knowledge must be grounded in an awareness of how knowledge is used to create class distinctions and power differentials. Biblical scholars, for example, are almost solely devoted to maintaining the cultural significance of the Bible not because any knowledge it provides is relevant to our world but because of the self-serving drive to protect the power position of the biblical studies profession" (The End of Biblical Studies, 23).
It is time we stop and reflect on the extent to which the discussions about the GJW are a product of Western political, economic, and social interests (on this point, see Spivak’s Can the Subaltern Speak?). Why has a first-rate academic journal devoted almost an entire issue to a piece of papyrus whose authenticity is questionable? Why are scholars so vehement about answering the question of its authenticity? Why are certain scholars given space to voice their view while others are silenced? What are the motives behind those producing blog posts and articles concerning this cultural artifact? Why did Harvard University create a website specifically for the GJW? Why was a historical documentary on the GJW produced so soon after its discovery (and before its publication!)?
I am currently editing, among other things, an unpublished Coptic papyrus fragment right now housed in an Ivy League institution that contains an unknown text that mentions Jesus, his cross, disciples, and cites a New Testament verse. Should the history channel run a documentary on this? Should Harvard Theological Review--or some other journal, for that matter—devote nearly a entire issue to this papyrus fragment? Should my institution create a website for it? We as historians should think long and hard about the production and dissemination of knowledge and the potential effects it might have on society as a whole. Is what we are doing relevant and meaningful for society and human progress? Are we encouraging and promoting intellectual hegemony through our own discourses about history (in this case, the GJW)?
It is also extremely interesting to me that the GJW has been submitted for such drawn-out testing, which is unprecedented. Yet no one expects these procedures for any other ancient document. It has always been the practice of papyrologists (those who study ancient texts and writing materials) to make judgments based on observation, but when it comes to highly religious texts (e.g., Gospel of Judas), we must test them “scientifically.” As one of my colleagues so astutely averred recently, “it also raises questions about our own scientific expertise: we’re not able, any more, apparently, to decide if those things are genuine, with our own Wissenschaft: we have to call on the ‘real’ scientists” (personal correspondence).
The terms “forgery” and “fake” are also worth reflecting on in light of the discussion. Why are some (most?) scholars inclined to discount an object’s significance simply because it might be a forgery or fake? It is because we privilege what is historically “real” and “pure” and disregard those things which do not fit the bill. But modern forgeries are also very significant because they reflect our own, present historical imaginations and representations, even if the goal of the forger is to deceive. If we think of it in this sense, almost every early Christian text (including the New Testament) is a forgery, insofar as these authors sought to legitimatize their theological claims by contextualizing them within a historical framework that is often highly imaginative. So why are ancient historical imaginations privileged over modern ones? Because we are most interested in the foreign realities and minds of the past. This is a clear case of academic “othering” and intellectual elitism.
In closing, I would simply like to suggest that we as historians stop over-privileging historical artifacts like the GJW. The question about the papyrus’ authenticity is less important, in my opinion, than the agendas and socio-political realities that drive the question itself. We want firm answers about the GJW, but we will not get the “facts” we want unless a living forger comes forward or the dead author (ancient or modern) comes back to life to tell the complete story. This is precisely how the writing of all history works and we should respect the “fragile and necessary boundary between a past object and a current praxis” (de Certeau, The Writing of History, 37). Let us move on as historians to other historical ideas, topics and artifacts instead of continuing to find ways to make the debate around the GJW more and more relevant.
UPDATE: A fuller version of this post is available for download as a PDF here.