An Interview with the Discoverer of ‘Jesus’ Wife’

My conversation, with Karen King, the scholar who claims to have discovered “The Gospel of Mary,” has just been published by Time.

When Karen King, a historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, unveiled last week a fragment of papyrus, on which Jesus says the words my wife, she was greeted with a mix of excitement and dismay. Could a tiny strip of barely legible papyrus call into question some of the church’s most well-known teachings? King spoke to TIME about the controversial fragment’s authenticity, its relation to the New Testament and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

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The Aquila Earthquake Verdict: Where the Guilt May Really Lie

Time has just published my story on the convictions of seven Italian experts for not having warned the city of Aquila of the risk of an earthquake.

When a judge in Italy ruled Monday that seven experts were guilty of manslaughter for having failed to adequately warn citizens in the city of Aquila of a major earthquake, the verdict was met in the courtroom by stunned silence. Internationally, it was greeted with outrage. Scientists claimed that science itself was on trial. Columnists compared the conviction, in which each man was sentenced to six years in prison, to the persecution of Galileo. In Italy, on Tuesday, the head of the country’s disaster management agency resigned in protest. But whatever one thinks of the judgment–and there are more reasons than not to be concerned–the greatest danger may lie elsewhere: that anger over the verdict will distract from the very real lessons the case has to offer.

At issue is a meeting of the seven defendants, then members of a board called the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, in Aquila on March 31, 2009. Small tremors had been rocking the area for months, light shocks that rattled buildings and sent frightened citizens into the streets. To make matters worse, a local resident who wasn’t a scientist was using an unproved method of earthquake prediction, analyzing concentrations of radon gas to forecast the time and place of tremors. His findings–which proved unfounded–were being picked up by the local media, adding to the sense of panic.

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Seeds of Change

Time has just published my story on using insurance as a hedge against climate change.

The Tigray region in the Rockstrewn highlands of northern Ethiopia isn’t the type of place where you’d expect to find an innovative financial product. Its residents are mostly farmers, poor and vulnerable to crop failure resulting from persistent droughts. That’s precisely why the region has been chosen to serve as a test range for a new kind of insurance that could help poor countries cope with climate change.

The idea is simple. Instead of relying on food aid to help farmers after drought has hit, aid agencies can sign them up for crop insurance before disaster strikes. When the rains fail, a farmer can use a crop-insurance payout to buy food without dipping into the assets needed for the next planting. “It allows you to smooth out your income,” says David Waskow, director of the climate-change program at Oxfam America, which is coordinating the project. “Otherwise, you can fall off a cliff.”

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How to Improve a British Royal Scandal? Add Berlusconi

My piece on the Kate Middleton scandal has just been published by Time.

In Paris, the British royal family were seeking an injunction against the further publication of pictures of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, topless on a terrace during a vacation in southern France. On Tuesday, they got their wish with the French court ordering the publisher of Closer to hand over all digital copies of the topless photos and blocked further publication of the images. In Ireland, the tabloid that ran the grainy photographs risks being shut down by its furious owner. In the U.K., no paper has dared send the images to the printers.

Compare that with the situation in Italy, where “Scandal in the Court: The Queen Is Naked” is the headline on the cover of Chi, a tabloid magazine owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and managed by his daughter Marina. In the country that gave the world the word paparazzi, the publication of the pictures has largely been greeted with a shrug. “In Italy, public figures have a reduced amount of privacy,” says Candida Morvillo, a columnist for Italy’s RCS media group and former editor of the Italian tabloid magazine Novella 2000. “It’s not so important to us if it’s in the public interest. For us, there’s only a single question: Were the pictures taken legally or not?” Few Italian lawyers would believe the snaps, taken from a public location, were illegal.

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