RNS NEWS BRIEFS
By ALESSANDRO SPECIALE
(RNS) — The Vatican’s newspaper declared the controversial “Jesus wife” papyrus fragment “a fake” on Sept. 28.
L’Osservatore Romano devoted two articles to Harvard professor Karen King’s claim that a fourth century Coptic papyrus fragment showed that some early Christians believed that Jesus was married.
The announcement of the discovery on Sept. 18 made headlines worldwide but was met with skepticism by scholars who questioned the authenticity of the fragment.
In the Vatican daily, a detailed and critical analysis of King’s research by leading Coptic scholar Alberto Camplani is accompanied by a punchy column by the newspaper’s editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, who is a historian of early Christianity.
Vian writes that there are “considerable reasons” to think that the fragment is nothing more than a “clumsy fake.” Moreover, according to Vian, King’s interpretation of its content is “wholly implausible” and bends the facts to suit “a contemporary ideology which has nothing to do with ancient Christian history, or with the figure of Jesus.”
“At any rate, it’s a fake,” he concludes.
Camplani’s analysis is more nuanced but reaches the same conclusions.
The Coptic scholar takes issue with King’s claim that the fourth century papyrus fragment bears passages of an older, Greek text dating back to the second century. This text, in King’s analysis, would be proof that the “conjugal condition of Jesus” was debated by Christians a century after Jesus’ death.
But this mistakes the “spiritual intimacy” between Christ and his disciples — a common idea in the Gnostic circles where the text could have originated — for an “affirmation of Jesus’ married status.”
Camplani also notes widespread doubts over the authenticity of the papyrus. The fragment’s origin is unknown, and it was “not discovered in the process of excavation but came from an antiquarian market.” This calls for extra “precautions” in order to “ascertain its authenticity” and exclude the possibility of a “forgery.”
Moreover, he notes, the Coptic script it employs differs dramatically from other contemporary texts.
Despite his criticism, Camplani praises King’s academic paper on the fragment, which she submitted to the Harvard Theological Review, as scientific and objective.
Harvard Divinity School spokesperson Jonathan Beasley said HTR is planning to publish King’s paper in its January edition “if testing of the ink and other aspects of the fragment are completed in time.”
Beasley added that HTR will include King’s responses to the “vigorous and appropriate academic debate engendered by discovery of the fragment, as well as her report on the ink analysis, and further examination of the fragment.”
By DANIEL BURKE
WASHINGTON (RNS) — President Obama’s support among Catholic voters has surged since June, according to a new poll, despite a summer that included the Catholic bishops’ religious freedom campaign and the naming of Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic, as the GOP’s vice-presidential candidate.
On June 17, Obama held a slight edge over Mitt Romney among Catholics (49-47 per cent), according to the Pew Research Center. Since then, Obama has surged ahead, and now leads 54-39 per cent, according to a Pew poll conducted on Sept. 16.
Among all registered voters, Obama leads Romney 51-42 per cent, according to Pew.
Obama and Romney are essentially tied among white Catholics, which some pollsters call the ultimate swing group.
On Sept. 24 Romney unveiled his Catholics for Romney Coalition, which includes numerous politicians, beer magnate Pete Coors and Princeton University intellectual Robert P. George. The Obama campaign also has a Catholic coalition.
From June 21-July 4, the U.S. Catholic bishops held a “Fortnight for Freedom,” with masses, prayer groups and presentations in dozens of dioceses nationwide. The campaign was directed in part against an Obama administration mandate that requires some religious institutions, such as colleges and hospitals, to provide cost-free contraception coverage to employees.
John C. Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron in Ohio, said Obama’s surge among Catholic voters does not mean the bishops’ campaign was ineffective. But religious freedom is not the most salient issue for Catholics during an election dominated by economic concerns, he said.
“It’s not the issue that most middle-of-the-road Catholics are responding to,” Green said.
In mid-August, Romney named Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin and lifelong Catholic, as his vice-presidential nominee. While many conservative Catholics cheered the move, Romney received no “Catholic bounce” from selecting Ryan, according to the Pew poll. Obama’s vice-presidential running mate, Joe Biden, is also Catholic.
Liberal Catholics, including some nuns, have chastised Ryan for using his Catholic faith to defend his GOP budget plan, which lowers taxes on the wealthy while cutting programs for the poor.
Among white evangelicals, another crucial religious constituency, Romney’s support has inched up since July, from 69 to 74 per cent, according to the Pew poll, while Obama’s percentage declined.
Despite concerns that Obama’s support for same-sex marriage would alienate African-American Protestants, 95 per cent still back Obama over Romney.
Obama also leads among Americans with no religious affiliation, 65-27 per cent. Romney leads among Americans who attend worship services at least weekly, 51-42 per cent.
The margin of error for the September survey of Catholic voters is plus or minus 5.1 percentage points, according to Pew.
By ALESSANDRO SPECIALE
VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has reportedly told the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) that they must accept the Second Vatican Council, a move that might seal the fate of years of negotiations to bring the group fully back into the Catholic fold.
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