Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Report on the Temple Conference in Logan

A very brief report on the Temples conference in Logan may be found here.


Perhaps one of the more neglected aspects of Halloween is that it is followed by All Saints Day or Hallow Day. It was originally a shortened version of All Hallow Even. All Saints Day, in turn, was a Christianized form of the Celtic New Year. It seems almost a shame that the Celtic artwork is no longer associated with the festivities.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mesoamerican Apostasy

Mark Wright has a way of providing sensitive readings of the Book of Mormon from a Mesoamerican perspective and he has a recent article available over at Interpreter.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Why the Gospel of Jesus's Wife is a Forgery

In September 2012 Karen L. King announced a scrap of papyrus that she called “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” at the International Congress of Coptic Studies. Professor King argued for the authenticity of the fragment and the work contained therein. In one of the news report, Stephen Emmel expressed uneasiness with the fragment’s authenticity. Others have since expressed various reasons for doubting the authenticity. I will not repeat that discussion here but will give some of my own reasons. This will be a more technical discussion, so if you are not interested skip to the last paragraph.


Although it is not certain because all I have seen is low resolution photographs, the document looks like it is written with a brush rather than a pen (kalamos). The brush fell out of use by the end of the second century B.C. The writing instrument would be anachronistic.

My colleague, Thomas Wayment pointed out to me that the writing is columnar, with each letter taking approximately the same amount of width. This is very unusual in a trained scribe, and even unusual in an untrained scribe.

Wayment also notes that there are five different types of episilon in the document. Normally a scribe will have only one or two forms of a letter.

The djandje at the end of the second line is improperly formed, with rounded corners rather than the marked points typical of Coptic scribes.

Now, lets take a look at the problems in the Coptic, line by line.

Line 1
Odd Syntax
The syntax of this sentence is possible but very rare. The syntax is:

nominal subject + conjugation prefix + subject pronoun + verb

Normally, one would expect one of two types of sentence depending on whether it was a sentence written in Coptic by a native speaker or a sentence translated into Coptic. The native speaker normally writes the following syntax:

conjugation prefix + nominal subject + verb

The translator normally uses the following syntax:

conjugation prefix + subject pronoun + verb + ⲛϭⲓ + nominal subject.

This sentence is neither. If this is a document translated into Coptic from Greek, it is not following the typical syntax for such a sentence.

Lack of a direct object marker
There should be a marker of the direct object before the word ⲡⲱⲛϩ. It should read ⲙⲡⲱⲛϩ. This is bad Coptic. It could also possibly be a scribal error.

Line 3
Impossible sentence endings
The third line of the fragment has a sentence ending in ⲁⲣⲛⲁ. This is not just unusual but unique. The normal use of ⲁⲣⲛⲁ is as follows:

The verb ⲁⲣⲛⲁ may take a direct object marked by the direct object marker ⲛ-/ⲙⲙⲟ⸗.
The verb ⲁⲣⲛⲁ may be followed by a quotation proceeded by the marker ϫⲉ.
The verb ⲁⲣⲛⲁ may be followed by a verb of speaking in the circumstantial followed by the quotation.

No other use of the verb ⲁⲣⲛⲁ is attested. In Sahidic, and in Coptic in general, the verb ⲁⲣⲛⲁ simply cannot end a sentence.

Furthermore, there are only four words in Coptic that have the letter combination ⲁⲣⲛⲁ: They are ⲁⲣⲛⲁ, ⲁⲡⲁⲣⲛⲁ, ⲃⲁⲣⲛⲁⲃⲁⲥ, and ⲕⲁⲫⲁⲣⲛⲁⲟⲩⲙ. The syntax of ⲁⲡⲁⲣⲛⲁ is like the syntax of ⲁⲣⲛⲁ, so even if it were ⲁⲡⲁⲣⲛⲁ it would have the same problems.

Line 4
Missing quotation particle
The verb of speaking ⲡⲉϫⲉ normally starts a quote with ϫⲉ. Again, this could be a scribal error but it would be a rather careless scribe.

Wrong word
By Coptic times, the word ϩⲓⲙⲉ wife has dropped out as a separate lexical entry. It is used as the plural of the word ⲥϩⲓⲙⲉ but usually has the form ϩⲓⲟⲙⲉ. So, either the scribe mismatched the singular definite article with the plural form of the word, or dropped an important letter from the singular form. I suppose we should be calling the document the Gospel of Jesus’s Wives.

Others have pointed to other problems and I will not repeat them here.

While a text may have a number of unusual features, when the unusual features are particularly dense, an explanation ought to be required. An eight line papyrus without a single complete sentence might present some oddities, but how many unusual features should we expect to find? Normally, one expects one or two scribal errors per page. There are more Coptic errors in this eight line fragment than we would expect to find on a page. These errors yield not just bad Coptic but impossible Coptic. There are also anomalies in the writing of the document. The document was written by someone who did not understand Coptic, was not used to writing Coptic, and using an anachronistic instrument, in other words, by a modern forger.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

No Comment

As I start blogging, I do so with some trepidation. Normally blogs have some sort of comment feature. The purpose behind such a feature is to have readers leave behind thoughtful comments. In reality, however, comments on most blogs that I have read are ignorant, hate-filled, and incoherent diatribes.

I am not the only one to notice the problem. Arthur Brooks in his book, Gross National Happiness, asks why ideologues are happy: “The most plausible reason is religion—not real religion, but rather, a secular substitute in which they believe with perfect certainty in the correctness of their political dogmas. . . . True political believers are martyrs after a fashion, willing to shout slogans in public for causes they are sure are good, or against causes they are convinced are evil. They are happy because—unlike you, probably—they are positive they are right.”[1] Brooks notes that true political believers tend to consider themselves happy but they delight in making those around them unhappy. “The unhappiness created by happy people with extreme political views extends far beyond those stuck behind them in traffic and exposed to their bumper stickers. There is evidence that people with extreme views affect everybody adversely, because they are less compassionate than average, less honest, and less concerned for others.”[2] They want to stir like-minded people to action. “In the extremist’s mind, it’s good if you get angry.”[3] But is it?

The Book of Mormon, as usual, has some interesting commentary on the subject. The letter of Mormon to his son Moroni preserved in Moroni 9 contains some of the most depressing passages in scripture: descriptions of the barbarous practices of the Nephites who “only a few years” previously had been “a civil and a delightsome people” (Moroni 9:12). One cause of the depravity was that “Satan stirreth them up continually to anger one with another” (Moroni 9:3). This is one reason why I am not overly enthusiastic about comments.

[1] Arthur C. Brooks, Gross National Happiness (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 34.
[2] Brooks, Gross National Happiness, 37.
[3] Brooks, Gross National Happiness, 35.

Forn Spǫll Fira

The title for this blog comes from the Vǫluspá in the Elder Edda. The forn spǫll fira means the ancient story of men in Old Norse.

The purpose of this blog is to deal with ancient stories. Most of them will probably not be about Vikings. Often there will be a modern connection but I will usually not make the connection explicit. "He who hath ears to hear, let him hear."


Ideally I hope to post something about once a week.

Someday, I hope to figure out how to fix the fonts so that they will display the necessary strange characters properly.