Jesus' Wife Papyrus? Seriously?
Remember the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”? A couple of months ago, Professor Karen King, from the Harvard Divinity School, announced she had discovered a tiny 4th century fragment of papyrus in Coptic language containing the phrase "Jesus said to them, 'my wife'", reports Vatican Insider.
Right from the start - as Vatican Insider wrote in a previous article on the subject - there were those who expressed their doubts about the authenticity of the fragment, pointing out a number of oddities. But now, Andrew Bernhard, an ancient Gospel scholar who studied at Oxford, goes much further, explaining that according to him “this fake” was forged. (How thefake papyrus on Jesus' 'wife' was created)
Doubts? I know that I had doubts when I reported on the fragment. But I thought that it had been put to bed that this particular “Gospel” was not authentic. But then, today, I was surprised to come across the article entitled Jan publication of Jesus' wife research unlikely
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard's divinity school says research purportedly showing some early Christians believed Jesus was married likely won't be published by its scholarly journal next month, as originally announced.
A spokesman says that tests aren't completed to authenticate a papyrus fragment containing Coptic text, in which Jesus is quoted using the words "my wife." The spokesman said Monday he didn't know when the tests would be done.
In September, Harvard said Professor Karen King's research would be published in January's Harvard Theological Review, the divinity school's quarterly, peer-reviewed journal.
But the journal's co-editors later said they'd committed to January publication only pending further verification of the fragment, including scientific dating.
King announced the research in Rome in September. But several scholars immediately expressed doubts.
Waitaminute, I thought, hadn’t this “Jesus’ Wife” papyrus been found to be an obvious forgery? So, I double-checked and came across the following paper (HT: Patheos) By Andrew Bernhard, Master of Studies, Oxford University, entitled Notes on The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife Forgery which gave an excellent overview of the question of the authenticity of the fragment. As the title suggests, Mr. Bernhard doesn’t think much of the chances that the fragment is authentic. But he doesn’t just make a bald assertion: he backs it up.
I think it is now fair to begin openly describing [the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, “Gos. Jes. Wife”] as a modern forgery. Although it is admittedly a novel type of forgery, its text can be explained too easily and too completely as a “patchwork” of words and short phrases drawn from the Gos. Thom. by a forger relying on Grondin’s Interlinear. The possibility that Gos. Jes. Wife is a genuinely ancient writing seems extremely remote.So, what’s the game? The answer is that much as Mr. Bernhard’s arguments make logical sense, if the test of the papyrus fragment and the ink on the fragment date to the fourth century (as Dr. King believes it will), then we need to re-evaluate Mr. Barnhard’s arguments. But rather than waste too much time speculating, I simply note that I will await the results of the testing of the fragment to see if scientific study can fix an approximate date.
Gos. Jes. Wife is intended to appear as a basic dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, and the words of both Jesus and his disciples are introduced using the same words found in the basic dialogue of Gos. Thom. 12. Every word in Gos. Jes. Wife (except one) can be traced back to Gos. Thom., and every line of text in Gos. Jes. Wife contains words found in close proximity to each other in Gos. Thom. – even when there is no obvious relationship between them (e.g., line 3). Where a word might easily have been spelled differently in the different texts, both Gos. Jes. Wife and Gos. Thom. have the same spelling (i.e., NAEI). In addition, the forger’s redactional tendencies, namely switching third-person pronouns from masculine to feminine (lines 2, 5, 7) and attempting to invert affirmative / negative statements (lines 5 and 6), can be identified. The forger has also inadvertently included several tell-tale peculiarities in grammar and spelling that reveal the modern origin of Gos. Jes. Wife.
The forger’s “fingerprints” are discernible in every line of text that has more than one word in it. In line 1, the forger has reproduced a typographical error from Grondin’s Interlinear (the omission of a direct object marker) and a line break from NHC II. The second line has been copied verbatim from Gos. Thom. 12, except the forger has changed a third-person pronoun from masculine to feminine. In line 3, the forger has used a Coptic spelling for the name “Mary” that is barely attested in antiquity but could well be derived from the English translation in Grondin’s Interlinear. In line 4, the forger has omitted a conjunction (JE) that would ordinarily be expected, probably as the result of a line break in NHC II. Line 5 contains a simple inversion of a negative phrase found in Gos. Thom. 55, and the forger has switched its subject from masculine to feminine. Once the intended text of line 6 is recognized, it seems clear that a forger tried to compose the line of Coptic while thinking in English; relying on the translation in Grondin’s Interlinear, the forger attempted to transform an affirmative statement from Gos. Thom. 45 into a negative version but made a pair of grammatical errors in the process (i.e., two verbal prefixes modifying a single infinitive; a non-definite noun modified by a relative). In line 7, the forger has merely rearranged text from Gos. Thom. 29 and 30, switching a masculine pronoun to its feminine equivalent (for the third time in seven lines) in an effort to mask the identity of his or her source.
In the end, only a single Coptic word in Gos. Jes. Wife could not have been copied directly from Gos. Thom. This word, which instantly transformed Gos. Jes. Wife into an international sensation, appears near the center of the small papyrus fragment. It is a compound of a possessive article and feminine noun that could easily have been formed by anyone using Grondin’s Interlinear and the most widely available Coptic-English dictionary in the world: TAHIME (“my wife”).
But, just for the record, even if an early date is initially set by whoever is doing the test, some of us recognize that science can be used for political purposes. I, for one, will not immediately accept any pronouncement of ancient age without wanting a few questions answered.