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The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: Textual Evidence of Modern Forgery*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 June 2015

Andrew Bernhard*
Affiliation:
Willamette University (Affiliated Scholar), Salem, Oregon, USA. Email: andrew.bernhard@gmail.com

Abstract

The present essay summarises textual evidence indicating that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is essentially a ‘patchwork’ of words and short phrases culled from the lone extant Coptic manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas (Nag Hammadi Codex ii), prepared by a forger using Michael W. Grondin's 2002 PDF edition of this manuscript. The text contains at least five tell-tale signs of its modern origin, including the apparent replication of a typographical (and grammatical) error from Grondin's edition. A direct link between it and Grondin's work also seems to be confirmed by the earliest known English translation of the fragment.

Type
Assessing the “Jesus' Wife” Papyrus
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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Footnotes

*

Special thanks: Milton E. Bernhard.

References

1 The collector, who remains anonymous by request, initially contacted King about the fragment in July 2010 and personally delivered it to her in December 2011. A. Sabar, ‘The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus’, Smithsonian.com, 17 September 2012, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-inside-story-of-a-controversial-new-text-about-jesus-41078791.

2 K. L. King with contributions by Luijendijk, A., ‘“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus’, Harvard Divinity School (2012) 152Google Scholar, at 3, 5–12, https://web.archive.org/web/20120919115852/http://news.hds.harvard.edu/files/King_JesusSaidToThem_draft_0917.pdf.

3 King, ‘Coptic Gospel Papyrus’, 13.

4 King, ‘Coptic Gospel Papyrus’, 1.

5 The term ‘forgery’ is used here, as it has been throughout debate on GJW, as a label for ‘a fake prepared with the intention to deceive’.

6 After receiving critical feedback from two of the three anonymous peer reviewers in August 2012, King consulted with noted Coptic linguist Ariel Shisha-Halevy, who stated that specific grammatical features of GJW did not ‘warrant condemning it as a forgery’. King, ‘Coptic Gospel Papyrus’, 3–4.

7 Watson released a series of articles about GJW, all of which were announced on the NT Blog (see http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Francis Watson). One of Watson's most prescient observations in these articles was that GJW shared a line-break with the lone extant manuscript of GTh in Coptic.

8 Gathercole and Homron pointed out parallels in GTh to line 6 of the dialogue in GJW; Goodacre did the same for line 7. Depuydt submitted a draft article arguing that GJW was a modern forgery to the editorial board of HTR within a week of King's presentation in Rome, but it did not become widely available until it was published ‘mostly unchanged in its original state’ in HTR in April 2014. Depuydt, L., ‘The Alleged Gospel of Jesus's Wife: Assessment and Evaluation of Authenticity’, HTR 107 (2014) 172–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Bernhard first suggested that a forger had used ‘Grondin's Interlinear’ on 27 September 2012. He released a series of articles about GJW, all of which remain available on his website, http://www.gospel-thomas.net/gtbypage_112702.pdf.

11 For a helpful summary of the forgery debate in 2012, see M. W. Grondin, ‘A Question of Content: How I Saw the Internet Furor Over the Jesus' Wife Fragment’, The Gospel of Thomas Resource Center, http://gospel-thomas.net/x_gjw.htm.

12 King, K. L., ‘“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’”: A New Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, HTR 107 (2014) 131–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 154.

13 Swager, T. M., Azzarelli, J. M., Goods, J. B., ‘Study of Two Papyrus Fragments with Fourier Transform Infrared Microspectroscopy’, HTR 107 (2014) 165Google Scholar.

14 According to tests conducted in March 2014, the calibrated age range for the papyrus of GJW was determined to be between 659 ce and 869 ce (median date: 741 ce), and the calibrated age range for the John papyrus between 648 ce. and 800 ce (median date: 718 ce). N. Tuross, ‘Accelerated Mass Spectrometry Radiocarbon Determination of Papyrus Samples’, HTR 107 (2014) 170–1.

15 J. T. Yardley and A. Hagadorn, ‘Characterization of the Chemical Nature of the Black Ink in the Manuscript of The Gospel of Jesus's Wife through Micro-Raman Spectroscopy’, HTR 107 (2014) 162–4.

16 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 154–8; ‘Response to Depuydt, Leo, “The Alleged Gospel of Jesus's Wife: Assessment and Evaluation of Authenticity”’, HTR 107 (2014) 190–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 135.

18 Harvard Divinity School's current GJW website (http://gospelofjesusswife.hds.harvard.edu) includes images of the John fragment in supplements to two articles: Swager et al., ‘Fourier Transform Infrared Microspectroscopy’; Yardley and Hagadorn, ‘Micro-Raman Spectroscopy’.

19 C. Askeland, ‘Jesus had a Sister-in-Law’, Evangelical Textual Criticism, 24 April 2014, http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com; cf. Thompson, H., The Gospel of St John according to the Earliest Coptic Manuscript (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1924)Google Scholar.

20 A. Suciu, ‘Christian Askeland Finds the “Smoking Gun”’, Patristics, Apocrypha, Coptic Literature and Manuscripts, 24 April 2014, http://alinsuciu.com; M. Goodacre, ‘Illustrating the Forgery of Jesus’ Wife's Sister Fragment’, NT Blog, 25 April 2014, http://ntweblog.blogspot.com.

21 S. Emmel, ‘The Codicology of the New Coptic (Lycopolitan) Gospel of John Fragment’, Patristics, Apocrypha, Coptic Literature and Manuscripts, 22 June 2014, http://alinsuciu.com.

22 Askeland, C., ‘A Fake Coptic John and its Implications for the “Gospel of Jesus's Wife”’, TynBul 65 (2014) 110Google Scholar, at 4.

23 Blank pieces of papyrus ‘are available for purchase on the antiquities market’ and ‘would pass a Carbon 14 dating test’. King, ‘Coptic Gospel Papyrus’, 11. Testing ink by spectroscopy ‘can only falsify the document – it can't demonstrate authenticity, as many others have already noted. In addition, an ancient formula of carbon ink is not difficult to make.’ M. Peppard, ‘“Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” – One Year Later’, Commonweal Magazine, 5 December 2013, https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/gospel-jesus-wife-one-year-later.

24 As Bagnall astutely noted, the two fragments ‘are very similar and are likely to have been produced close in time … [they] are if not in the same hand at least extremely close’. C. Allen, ‘The Deepening Mystery Of the “Jesus’ Wife” Papyrus’, Weekly Standard, 28 April 2014, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/deepening-mystery-jesus-wife-papyrus_787462.html.

25 Askeland, ‘Fake Coptic John’, 7.

26 Choat, M., ‘The Gospel of Jesus's Wife: A Preliminary Paleographical Assessment’, HTR 107 (2014) 160–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 161. It seems doubtful that a brush would have been used as a writing instrument during the seventh–ninth centuries ce. Schwendner, G. W., ‘The “Gospel of Jesus Wife” as a Questioned Document: What Would Simulated Ancient Writing Look Like?’, Academia.edu (2014) 113Google Scholar, at 4–5, https://www.academia.edu/6860965/THE_GOSPEL_OF_JESUS_WIFE_AS_A_QUESTIONED_DOCUMENT_What_Would_Simulated_Ancient_Writing_look_like.

27 See King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 138.

28 After analysing GJW directly, Malcolm Choat reported that he was unable to ‘adduce an exact parallel’ for the handwriting on the fragment and refrained from suggesting even an approximate date for it on the basis of palaeography. Choat, ‘Paleographical Assessment’, 160–2.

29 Cf. Peppard, ‘One Year Later’.

30 If further study of this papyrus fragment seems warranted, additional adjustments to King's edition might become necessary. For example, the beginning of →4 probably contained text ending in an upsilon before ⲡⲉϫⲉ (rather than blank space before an oblique stroke). See Choat, ‘Paleographical Assessment’, 162; Peppard, ‘One Year Later.’

31 For ϣⲁϥⲉ̣<ⲓ>ⲛⲉ, King has: ϣⲁϥⲉ ⲛⲉ.

32 For ‘n[ot (?)]’, King has: ‘(not?)’.

33 For ‘will be’, King has: ‘is.’

34 King omits ‘and’.

35 For ‘No wicked man brings (forth)’, King has: ‘Let wicked people swell up.’ The difference in English versions is the result of different readings of the Coptic text. The English text given here is not a translation but a rendering of what the line was apparently intended to mean (see discussion of →6 below).

36 For ‘I dwell with her’, King has: ‘As for me, I am with her.’

37 A. Suciu and H. Lundhaug, ‘A Peculiar Dialectal Feature in the Gospel of Jesus's Wife, Line 6’, Patristics, Apocrypha, Coptic Literature and Manuscripts, 27 September 2012, http://alinsuciu.com.

38 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 136.

39 Choat concurs, ‘The letter in question should certainly be dotted’ (pers. comm., 23 April 2014).

40 The iota would have had a shape similar to the second iota in →1 or the iota in →3. Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine with certainty what kind of epsilon–iota hybrid was intended: an iota corrected to an epsilon, an epsilon corrected to an iota, or a combined epsilon and iota.

41 Gregg Schwendner deserves credit for calling attention to the phenomenon of ‘patching’ in GJW in ‘A Questioned Document’, 7–11.

42 There are two clear examples of correction by overwriting in GJW: sigma in ⲙ̄ⲙⲟⲥ in →3 and nu in ⲛⲁⲉⲓ in →5.

43 Even if the third-from-last character in →6 is regarded as an epsilon, the omission of iota could still be a simple copying error.

44 Lundhaug, H., ‘Shenoute of Atripe and Nag Hammadi Codex ii’, Zugänge zur Gnosis (ed. Markschies, C. and van Oort, J.; Leuven: Peeters, 2013) 201–26Google Scholar, at 209–10.

45 For a discussion of the dialect of NHC ii, see B. Layton, Nag Hammadi Codex ii, 2–7 together with xiii,2*, Brit. Lib. Or. 4926(1), and P.Oxy. 1, 654, 655, vol. i (NHS XX; Leiden: Brill, 1989) 3, 6–14.

46 Images of the Nag Hammadi manuscript of GTh were first published in Labib, P., Coptic Gnostic Papyri in the Coptic Museum at Old Cairo, vol. I (Cairo: Government Press, 1956)Google Scholar. For an annotated bibliography of modern editions of GTh, see http://www.gospels.net/thomas.

47 The first modern edition of GTh containing the Coptic text was published in English, French, German, and Dutch in 1959. The English version is Guillaumont, A., Puech, H.-Ch., Quispel, G., Till, W., ʻAbd al Masīḥ, Y., The Gospel according to Thomas (New York: Harper, 1959)Google Scholar.

48 The only other publication that might be said to present the text line-by-line is apparently Robinson, J. M., The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices: Codex ii (Leiden: Brill, 1974)Google Scholar. This volume contains images of all the pages of NHC ii, but it is not what would usually be considered an edition (with critical text, translation, etc.).

49 Notably, the standard critical edition by Bentley Layton and the popular edition by Marvin Meyer segment GTh by modern textual divisions but also use vertical lines within the Coptic text to indicate manuscript line-breaks. See Layton, Nag Hammadi Codex ii, 52–93; Meyer, M., The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1992) 2265Google Scholar. Layton's edition was reprinted in Robinson, J. M., The Coptic Gnostic Library: A Complete Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices, vol. ii (Leiden: Brill, 2000)Google Scholar.

50 M. W. Grondin, ‘An Interlinear Coptic-English Translation of the Gospel of Thomas’, The Gospel of Thomas Resource Center, http://gospel-thomas.net/x_transl.htm.

51 Neither ⲉⲓ ⲁⲛ ⲧⲁⲙⲁⲁⲩ nor ⲁⲥϯ ⲛⲁⲉⲓ ⲙ̄ⲡⲱⲛϩ is found in any other passage in GTh.

52 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 138. Cf. Layton, B., A Coptic Grammar (Porta Linguarum Orientalum 2/20; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2011 3) 6870Google Scholar (¶¶ 85–6); 17 (¶ 16[a]).

53 Layton, Coptic Grammar, 135 (¶ 173).

54 M. Peppard, ‘Is the “Jesus's Wife” Papyrus a Forgery? And Other Queries’, Commonweal Magazine, 25 September 2012, https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/jesuss-wife-papyrus-forgery-and-other-queries.

55 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 140. King lists four analogous examples of the use of ϯⲛⲁ⸗ without the direct object marker from three fourth-century personal letters (P.Kell.Copt. 22.42, 54; 34.16; 36.18–19). Cf. Gardner, I., Alcock, A., Funk, W.-P., Coptic Documentary Texts from Kellis, vol. i (Dakhleh Oasis Project Monographs 9; Oxford: Oxbow, 1999) 176, 221, 229Google Scholar.

56 Grondin has polished GTh 101 in his interlinear since 2002. For his current text, see: http://gospel-thomas.net/interlin/log101.htm.

57 The missing ⲙ̄ in NHC ii 50.1 has appeared in all non-PDF versions of ‘Grondin's Interlinear’ from 1997 through the present. It was evidently deleted by accident in the creation of the 2002 PDF version. M. W. Grondin, ‘Did a Forger Use my Interlinear?’, The Gospel of Thomas Resource Center, http://www.gospel-thomas.net/x_gjw_ps2.htm.

58 The phrase ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲙ̄ⲙⲁⲑⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲛ̄ⲓ̅ⲥ̅ ϫⲉ indicates the beginning of speech by the disciples in GTh 12 (NHC ii 34.25), 18 (36.9) and 20 (36.26). Jesus’ response is introduced by the phrase ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓ̅ⲥ̅ ⲛⲁⲩ ϫⲉ in GTh 12 (NHC ii 34.27–8; cf. →4), by ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓ̅ⲥ̅ in 18 (36.11), and by ⲡⲉϫⲁϥ ⲛⲁⲩ ϫⲉ in 20 (36.28).

59 The verb ⲁⲣⲛⲁ can be either intransitive or transitive. It is intransitive in GTh 81 (NHC ii 47.17) and transitive in GTh 110 (NHC ii 51.5). In →3, ⲁⲣⲛⲁ must be intransitive because ⲙⲁⲣⲓⲁⲙ is not preceded by a direct object marker (ⲙ̄–). Cf. King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 140.

60 The phrase ⲙ̄ⲡϣⲁ ⲙ̄ⲙⲟϥ ⲁⲛ also appears in GTh 56 (NHC ii 42.32) and 111 (NHC ii 51.10).

61 The name ‘Mary’ is spelled ⲙⲁⲣⲓⲁ, ⲙⲁⲣⲓϩⲁⲙ or ⲙⲁⲣⲓϩⲁⲙⲙⲏ in the Sahidic New Testament, Papyrus Berolinensis 8502, Codex Askewianus, Codex Tchacos and all the pertinent Nag Hammadi texts with only a single exception. In the version of the First Apocalypse of James in Nag Hammadi Codex v, the name is spelled ⲙⲁⲣⲓⲁⲙ once (NHC v 40.25).

62 As already noted, the phrase ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲙ̄ⲙⲁⲑⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲛ̄ⲓ̅ⲥ̅ ϫⲉ indicates the beginning of speech by the disciples in GTh 12 (NHC ii 34.25; cf. →2), and Jesus’ response is introduced with ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓ̅ⲥ̅ ⲛⲁⲩ ϫⲉ (NHC ii 34.27–28). The phrase ⲡⲉϫⲉ ⲓ̅ⲥ̅ ⲛⲁⲩ ϫⲉ also appears in GTh 14 (NHC ii 35.14–15).

63 The letter sequence ⲙⲛ̄ appears as the beginning of a new word more than twenty-five times in GTh.

64 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 140.

65 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 140. Cf. Layton, Coptic Grammar, 297 (¶ 373), 302–3 (¶ 380). Layton classifies ⲡⲉϫⲉ–, ⲡⲉϫⲁ⸗ as a ‘suffixally conjugated verboid’.

66 E.g. GTh and the Manichaean Kephalaia. King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 140.

67 Sabar, ‘Inside Story’. Sabar reproduced the translation of this line in his original Smithsonian article, noting specifically that ‘King would refine the translation as “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife … ’”’

68 Peppard, ‘Forgery?’; King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 156.

69 Crum, W. E., A Coptic Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939)Google Scholar 385a, 877.

70 The similar phrase ϥⲛⲁϣⲣ̄ⲙⲁⲑⲏⲧⲏⲥ ⲁⲛ ⲛⲁⲉⲓ ⲁⲩⲱ is found in GTh 55 (NHC ii 42.26–7).

71 Cf. GTh 55 (NHC ii 42.26) and 101 (49.33, 35–6).

72 The English given here is not a translation but a rendering of what the line was apparently intended to mean.

73 It also appears two additional times in GTh 45 (NHC ii 40.34, 41.5).

74 Layton, Coptic Grammar, 327 (¶ 404).

75 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 142.

76 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 132–3.

77 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 138, 152.

78 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 138.

79 King, ‘Coptic Gospel Papyrus’, 10.

80 Suciu and Lundhaug, ‘Peculiar Dialectal Feature’.

81 Crum, Coptic Dictionary, 610.

82 King seems to have recognised the interpretive problems associated with identifying ϣⲁϥⲉ as the infinitive in →6. She ‘initially suggested that the infinitive might be ϣⲁϥ, a previously unattested form of ϣⲱϥ (be destroyed)’. King, ‘Coptic Gospel Papyrus’, 19–20. Yet, ϣⲁϥⲉ really was the only available option if the fragment were to be regarded as authentic.

83 The saying (‘An evil person brings forth evil things . . . ’) in GTh 45 has close parallels in Matt 12.35 and Luke 6.45. Jesus uses this saying in the context of teachings related to discipleship in Luke 6.39–45.

84 The dialect of GTh is ‘Sahidic with a fluctuating mixture of features from Lycopolitan’. Layton, B., Coptic Gnostic Chrestomathy (Leuven: Peeters, 2004) 189Google Scholar. As a result, the prenominal negative aorist conjugation base can appear as ⲙⲁⲣⲉ– (rather than as the standard Sahidic ⲙⲉⲣⲉ–).

85 The phrase ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ϯϣⲟⲟⲡ ⲛⲙⲙⲁϥ does not appear in any other passage in GTh.

86 The preposition ⲉⲧⲃⲉ before a word beginning with ⲡ is also found in GTh 4 (NHC ii 33.8), 29 (38.32) and 61 (43.31).

87 King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 156. Cf. Peppard, ‘Forgery?’; T. S. Paananen, ‘Another “Fake” Or Just a Problem of Method: What Francis Watson's Analysis Does to Papyrus Köln 255?’, Exploring Our Matrix (2012) 1–5, http://blue.butler.edu/~jfmcgrat/GJW/Another Fake Or Just a Problem of Method by Timo S. Paananen.pdf.

88 Cf. King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 156.

89 The simple ‘cut and paste’ method used to create GJW can hardly be compared to the complicated compositional strategy employed in the later Synoptic Gospels. Cf. F. Watson, ‘Inventing Jesus’ Wife’, The Bible and Interpretation, 27 September 2012,http://bibleinterp.com/articles/wat368023.shtml: ‘Where one gospel rewrites another – as Matthew rewrites Mark – the same story, dialogue, or saying is usually recast in significantly different words. In the Jesus’ Wife fragment, the relationship of sameness and difference is reversed: the same words and phrases are used to construct a quite different dialogue.’

90 As King notes, ‘[T]he claim that Jesus had a human wife is rare, if not unique’ in ancient Christian texts. King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 157. In 2003, Dan Brown popularised the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married in his novel The Da Vinci Code, which was on the New York Times bestsellers list for more than two years (2003–5) and made into a major motion picture in 2006. Brown, D., The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday, 2003)Google Scholar.

91 It is remarkable that such a suggestive, content-rich dialogue could be created out of snippets of GTh with only minimal alterations to the text. Someone with internet access to ‘Grondin's Interlinear’ and Crum's Coptic Dictionary (online since 2004) could have prepared GJW with nothing more than rudimentary knowledge of Coptic. For the date Crum's Coptic Dictionary was posted online, see https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.metalog.org/files/crum.html.

92 Bernhard pointed out all five of the suspicious textual features mentioned in this article in the ‘Notes on The Gospel of Jesus's Wife Forgery’ that he posted online on 9 November 2012. See http://gospels.net/gjw/notesonforgery.pdf.

93 Cf. King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 156.

94 Even if they are attested a few times in all of Coptic literature, notable textual features b and d should really be labelled ‘grammatical errors’; the presence of notable textual feature e must be denied altogether for GJW even to be considered an authentic ancient text.

95 Cf. King, ‘Coptic Papyrus Fragment’, 157.

96 See discussion of →4 above.

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