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The Jesus' Wife Papyrus in the History of Forgery1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 June 2015

Christopher Jones*
Department of the Classics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. Email:


Many forgeries pass through a cycle of fabrication, acceptance, doubt and final rejection. Consideration of a number of modern forgeries, notably those of Constantinos Simonides, illustrates how forgers exploit prevailing debates, look for persons or institutions on whom to practise their deception, and are often undone by their own errors, especially when manufacturing provenance. This ‘syntax’ of forgery can be applied to the case of the Jesus' Wife papyrus, though the participation of media corporations and the existence of the internet add a new element to the process.

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

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I am grateful to Francis Watson for inviting me to contribute to this discussion and for his advice, and to Glen Bowersock, Peter Parsons, Joseph Reed and Christopher Stray for further advice and criticism. For my information about Constantinos Simonides I have relied heavily on J. K. Elliott, Codex Sinaiticus and the Simonides Affair: An Examination of the Nineteenth Century Claim that Codex Sinaiticus Was Not an Ancient Manuscript (Thessaloniki: Patriarchikon Idryma Paterikōn Meletōn, 1982). J. A. Farrer, Literary Forgeries (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907) ch. iii, ‘Greek Forgery: Constantine Simonides’, treats Simonides gently; R. Schäper, Die Odyssee des Fälschers: Die Abenteuerliche Geschichte des Konstantin Simonides (Siedler, Munich, 2011) is a general and journalistic account.


2 Gaselee, S., The Bibliography of Petronius (London: Blades, East & Blades 1910Google Scholar, reprinted from Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 10 (1910)) 170–3.

3 Sevcenko, I., ‘The Date and Author of the So-Called Fragments of Toparcha Gothicus’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 25 (1971) 115–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Medvedev, I. P., ‘Excellent Scholar, Excellent Forger – the Case of Karl Benedict Hase’, Manufacturing a Past for the Present (ed. Bak, J. M., Geary, P. J., Klaniczay, G.; Leiden: Brill, 2014) 144–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 On this papyrus, see further below.

5 Elliott, Codex Sinaiticus, 133–4; cf. Simonides, C., Fac-similes of Certain Portions of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and of the Epistles of Ss. James & Jude: Written on Papyrus in the First Century and Preserved in the Egyptian Museum of Joseph Mayer (London: Trübner, 1861) 45–6Google Scholar.

6 Simonides, Fac-similes, 46.

7 The Christian Remembrancer, July 1863, cited Elliott, Codex Sinaiticus, 141–2.

8 The Literary Churchman, 1 September 1863, cited Elliott, Codex Sinaiticus, 142–3.

9 Babington, C., ed., Hyperidou Logos epitaphios: The Funeral Oration of Hyperides over Leosthenes and his Comrades in the Lamian War (Cambridge: Deighton and Bell, London: Bell and Daldy, 1858Google Scholar).

10 Elliott, Codex Sinaiticus, 26–70.

11 A recent case in which a printed forgery involved large sums is Mark Hoffmann and the so-called ‘Oath of a Freeman’; for a summary account, (accessed 17 December 2014).

12 Uranii alexandrini De regibus Aegyptiorum libri tres. Operis ex codice palimpsesto edendi specimina proposuit Gulielmus Dindorfius (Oxford University Press, 1855)Google Scholar. A copy of this work is in the Houghton Library of Harvard University; among the previous owners are Ingram Bywater, editor of many celebrated Greek texts, and Falconer Madan, Bodley's Librarian from 1912 to 1919.

13 For this controversy, Elliott, Codex Sinaiticus, 123–31.

14 Elliott, Codex Sinaiticus, 154–5.

15 Athenaeum, December 7, 1861, cited Elliott, Codex Sinaiticus, 145.

16 First edition: [Tyrwhitt, T., ed.,] Poems, Supposed to Have Been Written at Bristol, by Thomas Rowley, and Others, in the Fifteenth Century (London: T. Payne and Son, 1777)Google Scholar. The third edition (T. Payne and Son, 1778) appeared under Tyrwhitt's own name with the sub-title given above; the ‘Appendix’ also appeared independently (same publisher and date). Alyfed: Tyrwhitt, ‘Appendix’, 328–9. Dr Johnson's visit: Boswell, J., Life of Johnson (ed. Chapman, R. W., revised Fleeman, J. D.; London/Oxford/Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1976) 751–2Google Scholar.

17 Bryant, J., Observations upon the Poems of Thomas Rowley: in Which the Authenticity of Those Poems Is Ascertained (London: T. Payne and Son, 1781) 136–9Google Scholar.

18; (both sites accessed 12 December, 2014).

19 Gallazzi, C., ‘Un papiro falso con un frammento di Bione, cm. 6.4 X 4.3’, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 34 (1979) 55–8Google Scholar, with photograph on Plate IV. The physical similarity to the Jesus' Wife papyrus is striking.

20 Woodhead, A. G., ‘A Political Sherd’, Annual of the British School at Athens 48 (1953) 191–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar, especially 191 n. 1; L. Robert, Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 1954, 494–505.

21 On Johnson's dispute with George Macpherson, the forger of Ossian, Boswell, Life of Johnson, 576–80.

22 Gallazzi, C., Kramer, B., Settis, S., eds., Il Papiro di Artemidoro (P. Artemid.) (Milan: LED, Edizioni Universitarie di Lettere Economia Diritto, 2008)Google Scholar; Canfora, L., The True History of the So-Called Artemidorus Papyrus (Bari: Edizioni di Pagina, 2007)Google Scholar. Janko, R., Classical Review 59 (2009) 403–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar, reviewing both the 2008 publication of the papyrus and two of Canfora's book-length attacks on it from 2007 and 2008, concludes that Canfora's case is ‘extremely strong’, and adds arguments of his own; I am not convinced.

23 Watson, F., ‘Beyond Suspicion: On the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark’, JThS 61 (2010) 128–70Google Scholar, especially 163–70.

24 J. Biden and C. Moss, ‘The Curious Case of Jesus’ Wife', The Atlantic, December 2014, 80.

25 A. Sabar, ‘The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus’, The Smithsonian Magazine, September 17, 2012, (accessed 12 December, 2014); Biden and Moss, ‘Curious Case’, 80.

26 Sisman, A., ‘The Expert’, Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2010), 475506Google Scholar.

27 gospelofJesus'; gospelofJesus''s-wife-papyrus-fragment-be-ancient (both sites accessed 12 December, 2014).