I can't resist coming back to the subject of reliability of ancient documents, given all the interest at the moment about an ancient scrap of papyrus that mentions Jesus having a better half. The story goes that Harvard has translated a genuine fragment of 4th century Coptic that says, amongst other things, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife...she will be able to be my disciple...'"
The excitement is something of a media beat up, because that scrap was first translated by a German scholar about thirty years ago. Nobody got too upset back then. In fact, he was totally ignored. I guess Harvard has a better PR department. Be that as it may, I thought it might be fun to look at this as if it were a bit of book research for one of my ancient murder mysteries...could I use this in an historically accurate novel?
First off, just because something was written a long time ago, it doesn't mean it's true! A lot of people assume that ancient writings are inherently credible.
The ancient world was as well stocked for crazies as the modern. If you were to collect random scraps of paper from our modern age, and accepted all of them as true, you would certainly come to the conclusion that people in the 21st century were regularly kidnapped by space aliens, that men never walked on the moon, and that 911 was a CIA plot. Imagine if someone in the future discovered a scientology text. How embarrassing would that be? So one possibility is we're looking at the 4th century equivalent of scientologists.
The provenance is unknown. The papyrus might be from a coffin (they often used old papers to build cheap sarcophagi), or maybe a rubbish tip. The papyrus appears to be a copy of an older text. The original could have been written any time in the previous three hundred years. How close the original dates to 30AD is rather important. (I once wrote an article about the degree to which I trust historical sources.) On the evidence, we just don't know. But the closer it is to the real event, the happier I'd be.
So the next question is, is there any cross-reference to corroborate? (I use this test all the time for book research.) The answer is no, not really. Plenty of speculation about that Magdalene girl, but nothing concrete.
How about archaeological evidence? No, zero.
Does the information look credible? Sure it does. The fact that it's written in Coptic gives it street cred. There were a lot of Bibles being written in Egypt at at that time in Coptic. We might be looking at something that got chopped in final revisions. You know how editors can be. Also, the original Bible was compiled in Koine Greek by scholars in Egypt who were probably the great great grand dads of the guys doing the Coptic versions.
The ultimate test for any historical novel is, does the idea break history? This idea doesn't, so it's fair game.