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The Gospel of Jesus's Wife: A Preliminary Paleographical Assessment*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 April 2014

Malcolm Choat*
Macquarie University


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The remarks below are based on autopsy of the papyrus on November 14 and 15, 2012, at the invitation both of Professor King and of Professors Madigan and Levenson in their capacity as editors of the Harvard Theological Review, and on high definition images subsequently provided to me.


1 Witness most obviously the continuing controversy over the Artemidorus papyrus. I do not take any account here of analysis of the textual content or scientific testing, both of which are also required to make a judgment on authenticity.

2 Specifically, correct positioning of the dislodged fibers at the beginning of lines 2–5 on the “front”; see further below.

3 As the discussion concerning this fragment has taken place almost exclusively online or via the media since it was made public, I respond here inter alia to points that have been raised by various commentators both in conversation (which I have not attributed) and in fora such as blogs: the latter include Peter Head, “More questions on Jesus’ Wife Fragment,” Evangelical Textual Criticism [blog], October 3, 2012,; Hugo Lundhaug and Alin Suciu, “On the So-Called Gospel of Jesus's Wife: Some Preliminary Thoughts by Hugo Lundhaug and Alin Suciu,” Patristics, Apocrypha, Coptic Literature and Manuscripts [blog], September 26, 2012,; and the remarks of Christian Askeland on the fragment (“JesusWife,” video clip, 9:43, September 28, 2012, See also Michael Peppard, “ ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’—One year later,” dotCommonweal [blog], December 5, 2013, I should emphasize (with apologies to others who have contributed paleographical observations) that this list is not exhaustive and that I do not respond here to every point made in these blogs.

4 One might also note in this connection that the fact that there are six lines of text on the “back” and eight on the “front” is not uncommon in less formal contexts.

5 Now well attested: see P. Lond. 6.1920–22, P.Ryl.Copt. 268–276, and the documentary papyri published in Coptic Documentary Texts from Kellis: P. Kell.V (P. Kell. Copt. 10–52; O. Kell. Copt. 1–2) (ed. Iain Gardner, Anthony Alcock, and Wolf-Peter Funk; Dakhleh Oasis Project 9; Oxford: Oxbow, 1999). For the abbreviations for papyrus volumes used here, see Roger S. Bagnall et al., Checklist of Greek, Latin, Demotic and Coptic Papyri, Ostraca and Tablets, June 1, 2011,

6 See, e.g., the irregular and informal script found in magical texts such as P. Bad. 5.126 (VI–VIII), P. Mich. inv. 594r (VI–VII), or P. Köln inv 20806r (IV–VIII) and, among educational texts, papyri such as such as P. Rain. UnterrichtKopt. 15 (VIII/IX?), 268 (VII), or 279 (X–XI). I cite these papyri here only as examples of less formal hands, and I would not compare the hand of the GJW papyrus specifically to them, especially not for dating purposes.

7 Sometimes letters are made very “chunkily,” at other times not: compare, e.g., the tau of in →1 with that in in →2.

8 See, e.g., the nu of in →1; the final pi in →1; the ti in →1; and the first mu of in →2. See also especially the first epsilon (?) and the nu of in →6; many other examples could be cited.

9 E.g., P.Cair.Zen. 2.59243r and P.Mich. 1.29. On the use of the brush in Ptolemaic texts, see Tait, William J., “Rush and Reed: The Pens of Egyptian and Greek Scribes,” in Proceedings of the XVIII International Congress of Papyrology, Athens, 25–31 May 1986 (ed. Mandilaras, Basil G.; 2 vols.; Athens: Greek Papyrological Society, 1988) 2:477–81Google Scholar; Clarysse, Willy, “Egyptian Scribes Writing Greek,” ChrEg 68 (1993) 185201Google Scholar; Sosin, Joshua D. and Manning, Joseph G., “Palaeography and Bilingualism: P.Duk. inv. 320 and 675,” ChrEg 78 (2003) 202–10Google Scholar.

10 Depauw, Mark, The Demotic Letter: A Study of Epistolographic Scribal Traditions against Their Intra- and Intercultural Background (Demotische Studien 14; Sommerhausen: Zauzich, 2006) 7677Google Scholar.

11 See, e.g., P.Rain.UnterrichtKopt. 279, an educational text from the 10th or 11th cent. c.e.: the editor (Monika Hasitzka) remarks simply “Breiter Kalamos” in her introduction to the edition (compare the remarks on the GJW papyrus of R. S. Bagnall quoted by King: “the pen itself may have been blunt and not holding the ink well”). For an image of this text, see the Tafelband for P.Rain.UnterrichtKopt. (in which it is Taf. 100) or search for “P.Rain.UnterrichtKopt. 279” on the website of the Austrian National Library Papyrus Collection:

12 See, e.g., the first alpha of in line →3, where there is a tiny hole in the papyrus at the bottom right of the alpha.

13 E.g., to the bottom right of the first alpha of in →3 and in the diagonal stroke before (→4), where I can see neither the hole that was noted in the draft edition, nor ink pooling around it.

14 See especially the first of .

15 Note that the scribe varies letter forms elsewhere (compare the upsila in → 4 and 5 [] with that in →6 []), and something like] or] ] might be considered.

16 On the “front,” there appear to be no remains of a line above line →1: a trace of ink on a partially detached fiber above the second alpha of probably comes from the alpha itself.

17 Such cuts are commonly made in modern times (e.g. to cut up a text to sell to different buyers), but similar breaks also occur in papyri discovered in archaeological context.