Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jesus' Wife Fragment: Further Evidence of Modern Forgery

Just when you might have thought that the story of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife was dying down, there is another twist in the tale.  Andrew Bernhard has just published the following piece:

How The Gospel of Jesus' Wife Might Have Been Forged: A Tentative Proposal

I am going to cut to the chase and offer an "executive summary" of what I regard as the most important contention::

Line 1 of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment copies a typo from a website interlinear of Coptic Thomas

And now a little more detail.  One of the difficulties with the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment is that it appears to be dependent, on every line, on words and phrases from our one extant Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas (See Francis Watson's articles; see too Leo Depuydt's forthcoming report; see also Andrew Bernhard).  The difficulties that this poses for the authenticity of the fragment are serious (see my reflections).

Now, one of the questions that this has raised is how a forger might have gone about his or her business.  A week or so ago, Andrew Bernhard raised the intriguing possibility that the forger might have been dependent not on a printed edition of Coptic Thomas, as many of us had thought, but on Michael Grondin's Interlinear Coptic-English Translation of the Gospel of Thomas.

For a while, this was no more than an interesting piece of speculation.  But in the interest of exploring it further, I raised questions on the Gospel of Thomas e-list about places where the fragment might show knowledge of Grondin's Interlinear, including the dropped ⲙ̅ (M+supralinear stroke) before ⲡⲱⲛϩ (PWN2, "life") on the first line of the fragment.  This is an oddity that was difficult to fathom.  Why was the fragment's author missing out this direct-object marker, especially if he was dependent on Coptic Thomas which includes it?

I must admit that I never thought to look at the page-by-page PDFs, looking instead only at the web version.   But yesterday, Mike Grondin himself made a telling observation on the Gospel of Thomas e-list.  While the level of accuracy in Mike's excellent website is very high, there is one place in the PDFs where he has a typographical error, and the error corresponds precisely to the same oddity in the Jesus' Wife fragment -- it is the missing ⲙ̅ (M+supralinear stroke) before ⲡⲱⲛϩ (PWN2, "life") on the first line of the fragment.

Please take a look.  This is a close up of the first line of the Jesus' Wife fragment, focusing in on that odd missing ⲙ̅ (M+supralinear stroke).  Look at the top line:

Close up of the top right hand corner of the Jesus Wife Fragment showing NAEIPW[N2] --  missing ⲙ̅ (M + supralinear stroke) between iota and pi.

And here is a close up of Mike Grondin's Interlinear (PDF version) of Coptic Thomas 101.

Close up of Mike Grondin's Interlinear Coptic Thomas PDF featuring a typo -- missing M

It should read ⲛⲁⲉⲓ ⲙ̅ⲡⲱⲛϩ (NAEI MPWN2), which is what is in Coptic Thomas.  But here there is a simple typographical error -- the ⲙ̅ (+ supralinear stroke) is missing, just as it is in the Jesus' Wife fragment.

Is this the smoking gun?  It certainly looks like the author of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment betrays his or her knowledge of Mike Grondin's interlinear by reproducing this one, rare typographical error, resulting in strange Coptic.

I was happy to spend some time chatting about this yesterday with Andrew Bernhard who made the original suggestion two weeks ago that this might be a forgery based on Grondin's Interlinear.  Andrew has now worked the suggestion up into an incisive and very helpful article, posted this morning, which features a discussion also of other possible examples of the fragment's dependence on Grondin's interlinear.

There are more things I would like to discuss, but in the interest of focusing on the key point, I am going to limit this post to this telling point.


30 comments:

Stephen Goranson said...

tentative chronology (corrections welcome):
2nd century claimed date of Greek "gospel"
2nd-4th c. claimed date of a Coptic Gospel of John ms
4th century claimed date of ms
1960s claimed date Laukamp purchased in East Germany
1961 G. Fecht in Orientalia suggests Gospel of Truth was composed in Coptic not Greek
1982 July 15 letter from Munro to Laukamp
1982-1983 K. King at Free Uni, Berlin
1983 Egyptian antiquities law
1987 Fecht FS
1997 claimed purchase from German-American collector
1997ff copyright dates of Mike Grondin online Coptic Thomas
2001 Hans-Ulrich Laukamp death
2006 Gerhard Fecht death
2008 Peter Munro death
2010 July 9 email, collector to K. King
2011 Dec. ms to K. King

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Stephen. The 1997 coincidence is interesting.

Stephen Carlson said...

If the fragment is dependent on Mike's website, would this suggest that the German correspondence backdating the fragment is also forged?

Peter M. Head said...

Co-incidence in omission is perhaps less telling as a smoking gun.

Mark Goodacre said...

Yes, it would have to, Stephen, which makes it all the more important to see the handwritten correspondence.

Mark Goodacre said...

Someone who believes in Q would think that, Peter. :-)

But the point is surely that this feature was already a serious oddity in a text that appears to depend on Coptic Thomas. So the carrying over of the typo from Mike's PDF is telling.

Stephan Huller said...

"Co-incidence in omission is perhaps less telling as a smoking gun."

Unless you've already made up your mind.

Andrew Bernhard said...

I know that everyone's focused on the omission of the single letter in line 1, which I do think is very telling. But it's also not the end of the argument. As I point out in my article, every "noteworthy" textual feature in the Gospel of Jesus's Wife just happens to correspond to an unusual feature in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas itself or Mike's Inlinear. That is, everywhere the person who prepared Gos. Jes. Wife deviated from standard Sahidic Coptic just happens to be paralleled in our Gospel of Thomas or Grondin's Interlinear. Plus the words for each line of Gos. Jes. Wife seem to be clustered close together in Gos. Thom. The odds of that just do not seem high to me.

Mike Grondin said...

Having consulted my records, I am now quite sure that anyone copying the mistake at line 50.01 of the pdf version of my interlinear must have done so no earlier than 11 Nov 2002. Prior to that, my website contained a set of gif images, wherein line 50.01 was correct.

Liberty Bison said...

Here's another thing to consider. If Fecht supposedly gave some type of authentication of the fragment, why is there no documentation of it? An unsigned handwritten note referring to Frecht in the third person is not documentation. It's the equivalent of a blog post about a news story. Without reading the original article there's no way of telling how accurate the blog is repeating the story. If somebody went to the trouble to authenticate the fragment with an expert, why wasn't there any documentation of it included in the sale?

Andrew Bernhard said...

That is an interesting note Mike - that the forgery must have occurred after 2002, if it is dependent on your interlinear. Duly noted!

Andrew Bernhard said...

Thinking about it - wouldn't we all expect it was done after 2008, so that all the participants in the correspondence were deceased?

Mark Goodacre said...

I agree, Andrew, that the missing Mu is only one element here, but I do think it is the most telling. You do a great job of laying out the evidence and I find it pretty compelling. However, I was struck by how weak some of the responses were to Watson's case so I thought it would be a good idea here, from the get-go, to stress this key thing in a one-line summary + illustrations. Moreover, I was busy writing the blog post on it before I saw your paper. Anyway, great work, Andrew.

Mark Goodacre said...

I think you're right, Liberty. We need to see this documentation -- let's get it published along with everything else.

The use of Grrondin's interlinear would certainly be a terminus a quo, so that would make it post 2002. If it is done deliberately after the deaths of the three people mentioned, then you are right, Andrew that that would push the terminus a quo to 2008.

Peter M. Head said...

I like the wider argument. Well done Andrew. Looks like we are heading into the end game with this one.

Geoff Hudson said...

This fragment looks spanking new.

Geoff Hudson said...

This fragment looks spanking new.

jovicevic goran said...

My comment will go further than debunking or defend originality of fragment and above all meanings of it's text. But, to keep my opinion in reach of the problem must say that modern day bible scholars (even scientist in general) are hard line dogmatic in every possible way - from unconditionally glorifying of "proofs" established by modern "forensic" laboratories and methods to the scholastic games like "absence of facts" (especially in NT analyzing) as a legitimate proof (surprisingly when have in mind forensic hard date evidence governing atmosphere). There are more to it, as skilled, when needed, decontextualization (making things loose it own internal structures and natural connections between parts) of a problem as whole, contrasting by purpose, details, or it parts sharply contrasting them with general level of understanding of phenomena (or historical data etc.) in such cases. One of the bast battlefields showing such approach in my mind, is science about NT. Direction in which discussion goes leave us far behind any possibility to understand whole problem. let me put it this way - as a Jew active society member on the point in historical time later divided, recounted and named by our very hero (Joshua - Jesus) and person with some social ambition (religious), he simply could be not recognized and accepted if not married. NT texts, in so many examples proving that looking after him, is their constant effort. Bonds and care showing to the last minute extreme closeness and commitment. In light of such connections was marriage of such ambition son so strange (or "impossible") that "modern day forgery" is only solution to be so?

Stephen Goranson said...

tentative chronology (2nd. ed.; corrections welcome):

2nd century claimed date of Greek "gospel"
2nd-4th c. claimed date of a Coptic Gospel of John ms
4th century claimed date of ms
1960s claimed date Laukamp purchased in East Germany
1961 G. Fecht in Orientalia suggests Gospel of Truth was composed in Coptic not Greek
1982 July 15 letter from Munro to Laukamp (claimed)
1982-1983 Karen King at Free Uni, Berlin
1982 "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" published
1983 new Egyptian antiquities law
1987 Fecht Festschrift
1997 claimed purchase from German-American collector
1997ff copyright dates of Michael Grondin online Coptic Thomas site
2001 Hans-Ulrich Laukamp death
2002 Nov 11 M. Grondin posts Interlinear Coptic Thomas
2003 "The Da Vinci Code" published
2003 "The Gospel of Mary Magdala" published by King
2006 Gerhard Fecht death
2008 Peter Munro death
2009 July K. King to Harvard
2010 July 9 email, collector to K. King
2011 Dec. ms to K. King; she (sometime) titles it "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife"

Stephen Goranson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jovicevic goran said...

Mistake and correction - In last two sentences (+/-) of my comment word Family is missing. Without it could be very hard (with it just slightly less) to understand what i want to be said.

David D said...

I would reply to Jovicevic Goran that a man who can walk on water is likely to be taken seriously regardless of his non-adherence to the customary obligation to marry.

Stephen Goranson said...

tentative chronology (3nd. ed.; corrections welcome; the most significant correction--thanks to Bain Wellington at Evangelical Textual Criticism--is the date of Peter Monro's death, on which I had followed the mistake in the HTR draft p. 2):

2nd century claimed date of Greek "gospel"
2nd-4th c. claimed date of a Coptic Gospel of John ms
4th century claimed date of ms
1960s claimed date Laukamp purchased in East Germany
1961 G. Fecht in Orientalia suggests Gospel of Truth was composed in Coptic not Greek
1982 July 15 letter from Munro to Laukamp (claimed)
1982-1983 Karen King at Free Uni, Berlin
1982 "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" published
1983 new Egyptian antiquities law
1987 Fecht Festschrift
1997 claimed purchase from German-American collector
1997ff copyright dates of Michael Grondin online Coptic Thomas site
2001 Hans-Ulrich Laukamp death
2002 Nov 11 M. Grondin posts Interlinear Coptic Thomas
2003 "The Da Vinci Code" published
2003 "The Gospel of Mary of Magdala" published by King
2006 May Da Vinci Code film
2006 Dec. 13 Gerhard Fecht death
2009 Jan. 2 Peter Munro death
2009 July K. King to Harvard
2010 July 9 email, collector to K. King
2011 Dec. ms to K. King; she (sometime) titles it "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife"

jovicevic goran said...

Reply to David D. No man ever walked on (upon) the water - not even Jesus (Joshua). His holiness is man-made business as everyman knows - No one should mix facts with believing as we been told in the case of His possible marriage. He was holly-man, he was special man, he done things prophets do and even more, some deeply human self sacrifice gestures (give his life out for it) all in the his (and his people - community) religion. Scriptures could not keep to it and we got mixed-up messages. In one direction lays apocalyptic(last judgement millenarian, end of the world etc.) and in other better days are cumming if we kept pure, clean religion of our ancestors improved by human, sympathetic to other dimension, together with "wanders" level where He fight "other magicians". And in the Roman Imperial dress scriptures become what they are today - stories about God own Son majestic in pain and able to reach heavens, final human sacrificed on the gods altar - one time for all times that will come. So are scripture changed? No one who wrote and looking for original documents from the era trying to change them - words were altered without texts been lite tarry changed if U ask me.

Stephen Goranson said...

*If* the ms was forged after Michael Grondin's Coptic Thomas Interlinear was posted, it was forged after 22 Nov. 2002 (not 11 Nov., as above). See MG's account at
http://www.gospel-thomas.net/x_gjw_ps2.htm
*If* it was forged after Peter Monro's death, it was after 2 Jan 2009.
*If* it was forged after K. King arrived at Harvard, it was after July 2009, and, presumably, before the 9 July 2010 email to King.

33vibe said...

Understand that we are suggesting someone who is skilled enough to make a convincing forgery of a 1600 year old Egyptian papyrus wasted all of their skill and research by haphazardly jumping on the internet and using a random person's unverified PDF as the sole uncontested reference for their big hoax. Also, that we are qualified to evaluate and make judgment towards the authenticity of the independent claims of University scholars.

We have a book with a lot of words that happens to have the same words as one with a few. That makes sense to me. A children's poem and a children's short story might relate the same way but that doesn't convince anyone of plagiarism. In fact, if we're talking odds, at the moment its more likely that Mike's blunder was forged than the document's. Surely you'd agree that it's easier to fudge a PDF file than a 1600 year old papyrus?

Just let the experts do their tests. This is not that big of a deal. I do not see it really changing anything as even if it is a genuine 1600 year old text that does not mean it is factually genuine.

Ulrich Schmid said...

The online version of a German news magazine has the story, too; see http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/faelschungsverdacht-gegen-papyrus-ueber-ehefrau-von-jesus-a-862388.html

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Ulrich. Read that yesterday too.

Renato said...

Parabens pela estrutura e conteudo de seu blog, Forte abraço Renato Artesanato em MDF

Steven Carr said...

'It certainly looks like the author of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment betrays his or her knowledge of Mike Grondin's interlinear by reproducing this one, rare typographical error, resulting in strange Coptic.'

This is a very significant find, and yet there are still people claiming that this manuscript is ancient...

What can you do to combat such things except lay out the evidence clearly?