Worth Reading - 6/17

1. Every so often, a new text pops up on the world's radar that claims to undermine the authority of the Bible. Some scholars and many pundits jump on these "new" texts to claim that Christianity is just a farce, where a bunch of nasty, power-hungry men picked the books of the Bible and kicked everyone else out. That happened a few years go with the dramatic announcement of the "discovery" of a papyrus that was supposed to demonstrate at a very early date that Jesus had a wife. Through some amazing investigative journey, Ariel Sabar was able to cast significant doubt on the origins of that document. The story is shady, almost so preposterous that it is unbelievable, and super long. However, it's worth your time to read it.

On a humid afternoon this past November, I pulled off Interstate 75 into a stretch of Florida pine forest tangled with runaway vines. My GPS was homing in on the house of a man I thought might hold the master key to one of the strangest scholarly mysteries in recent decades: a 1,300-year-old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” The fragment, written in the ancient language of Coptic, had set off shock waves when an eminent Harvard historian of early Christianity, Karen L. King, presented it in September 2012 at a conference in Rome.
Never before had an ancient manuscript alluded to Jesus’s being married. The papyrus’s lines were incomplete, but they seemed to describe a dialogue between Jesus and the apostles over whether his “wife”—possibly Mary Magdalene—was “worthy” of discipleship. Its main point, King argued, was that “women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.” She thought the passage likely figured into ancient debates over whether “marriage or celibacy [was] the ideal mode of Christian life” and, ultimately, whether a person could be both sexual and holy.
King called the business-card-size papyrus “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.” But even without that provocative title, it would have shaken the world of biblical scholarship. Centuries of Christian tradition are bound up in whether the scrap is authentic or, as a growing group of scholars contends, an outrageous modern fake: Jesus’s bachelorhood helps form the basis for priestly celibacy, and his all-male cast of apostles has long been cited to justify limits on women’s religious leadership. In the Roman Catholic Church in particular, the New Testament is seen as divine revelation handed down through a long line of men—Jesus, the 12 apostles, the Church fathers, the popes, and finally the priests who bring God’s word to the parish pews today.
King showed the papyrus to a small group of media outlets in the weeks before her announcement—The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and both Smithsonian magazine and the Smithsonian Channel—on the condition that no stories run before her presentation in Rome. Smithsonian assigned me a long feature, sending me to see King at Harvard and then to follow her to Rome. I was the only reporter in the room when she revealed her find to colleagues, who reacted with equal parts fascination and disbelief.

2. This week was the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Usually the resolutions portion of the meeting is either particularly dull or an exercise in making public pronouncements about things that should be pretty obvious already. This year, however, in addition to an extremely exciting presidential race (where there were two high quality candidates, unlike in the good ol' US of A.), an important resolution was passed. Below is the video of former SBC president, James Merritt, making a speech in support of a resolution encouraging Christians not to fly the Confederate flag.

3. I've enjoyed the Babylon Bee's style of humor, though there have been some instances where authors seemed to have written too harshly or the timing of articles was poor. There is promise, however, in a theologically informed satire that points out the errors in Christianity in ways that straight commentary will not. Recently, Christ and Pop Culture published an essay that offers a friendly critique of the Babylon Bee in light of the longevity and humor of Weird Al Yankovic.

I know that there are those who are still squeamish at the thought of a Christian flat-out mocking something, and I understand their concerns. Let’s face it, though: there are things in our Christian culture worthy of mockery. But we don’t have to be so harsh when we do it. That’s the danger of parody. Anyone can do it, but few do it well.
When we have an artiste par excellence in our midst, we’d be remiss to ignore his talent and impact. We have a man in Weird Al who can show us all how poking fun doesn’t have to be so harmful, and not every joke about another human being creates an enemy.  Parody with kindness doesn’t happen often, but when it does, we tend to live in a better place.

4. Another important moment at the SBC was this call for religious liberty by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It's worth watching.

5. Ideas matter. That is nowhere more important than in the contemporary movement to ignore arguments based on the common good in light of arguments for personal rights. In many cases these rights are not drawn merely from a desire for self-fulfillment and the mythical notion of absolute equality.

With this notion of the “self,” arguments about “the good,” especially those concerning the “common good of the society,” become meaningless. The more citizens become aware that they are lacking any independently convincing rational justification for their own judgments about what is for the good of the nation, the more they will come to doubt the rationality of their opponents. The suspicion that all such arguments are merely “masks” for a person’s will to power causes each side to suspect the hidden motives of its opponents.
When it comes to many of the fiercest political battles of our day, both sides have been intractable precisely because this notion of the unencumbered self is at stake. Challenging the Rawlsian resolution of abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and transgenderism is taken to be a challenge to the very conception of the unencumbered self that undergirds the entire Rawlsian and modernist project. It is a challenge to the self as autonomous and totally self-defining. What is at stake is precisely any notion of the human person that might regard us as obligated to fulfill ends we have not chosen—ends given by nature or God, for example, or by our identities as members of families, peoples, cultures, or traditions. Encumbered identities such as these are at odds with the liberal conception of the person as free and independent selves, and thus must be treated, for political purposes, as impermissible attacks on the very foundation of the system.