Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More doubts surface on the Jesus Wife Fragment

Live Science has been doing some digging in connection with the story associated with the Jesus Wife Fragment and this interesting article was published today:

'Gospel of Jesus's Wife': Doubts Raised About Ancient Text
By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor

I'm impressed that Live Science has followed leads actually to investigate the back story to the alleged discovery.  Given the owner's apparent insistence on anonymity, and given Harvard's apparent reluctance (so far at least) to publish the documents that are associated with the  fragment, one of the only avenues available in tracing the fragment's back story is to investigate the names associated with it.  The Live Science article centres on the most mysterious of the three, Hans-Ulrich Laukamp.  This is the crucial passage in the article, but it's all worth reading:
Our findings indicate that Laukamp was a co-owner of the now-defunct ACMB-American Corporation for Milling and Boreworks in Venice, Fla. Documents filed in Sarasota County, Fla., show that Laukamp was based in Germany at the time of his death in 2002 and that a man named René Ernest was named as the representative of his estate in Sarasota County. 
In an exchange of emails in German, Ernest said that Laukamp did not collect antiquities, did not own this papyrus and, in fact, was living in West Berlin in 1963, so he couldn't have crossed the Berlin Wall into Potsdam. Laukamp, he said, was a toolmaker and had no interest in old things. In fact, Ernest was astonished to hear that Laukamp's name had been linked to this papyrus . . . .
Read the whole article here.

Update (10.18pm): Alin Suciu makes the good point that Laukamp would not have had trouble, if he had West German papers, in travelling to East Germany, so it may be that this aspect of the story requires revision.

Update (Wednesday, 12.56pm): Commenter lizw notes:
"West Berliners were treated differently from other West Germans by the East German authorities. In 1963/64, the only period when an ordinary West Berliner would have been able to cross to the East was over the Christmas period, from 17 December 1963 to 5 January 1964. (Detailed chronology in the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Berlin#Traffic_between_East_and_West_Berlin). So while it is not impossible that Laukamp obtained the papyrus in Potsdam that year, it seems unlikely for someone with no prior interest in such material." 
Moreover, Owen Jarus, author of the above article in Live Science writes:
This link discusses pass agreements between west-east Berlin.
http://ghdi.ghi-dc.org/sub_document.cfm?document_id=916
Border crossing only started December 17, 1963 and the crosser had to
have a pass, a relative in Berlin and the pass appears to be valid
only for Berlin only. Things improved in 1972 with the passing of the
Basic Treaty.
http://www.germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/sub_document.cfm?document_id=172&language=english
So it appears that indeed it is the case that a 1963 purchase of the fragment by Hans-Ulrich Laukamp in Potsdam is problematic.

11 comments:

Stephen Goranson said...

HTR (2014) 153 reports that the current collector provided a photocopy of a contract of sale dated Nov. 12, 1999.
Please note that the Nov 2012 Smithsonian article reported:
"King asked for more information: What was its date and provenance? The man replied that he purchased it in 1997 from a Berliner who had obtained it in Communist East Germany in the 1960s and later immigrated to the United States. (In a later e-mail, however, the story seemed to change slightly, with the collector saying that the papyri had been in the previous owner’s possession—or his family’s—“prior to WWII.”)"
1997 or 1999 could be a typo.
But a change in the provenance story...?

lizw said...

West Berliners were treated differently from other West Germans by the East German authorities. In 1963/64, the only period when an ordinary West Berliner would have been able to cross to the East was over the Christmas period, from 17 December 1963 to 5 January 1964. (Detailed chronology in the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Berlin#Traffic_between_East_and_West_Berlin). So while it is not impossible that Laukamp obtained the papyrus in Potsdam that year, it seems unlikely for someone with no prior interest in such material.

Robert Mathiesen said...

One aspect to the whole affair that seems to be constantly overlooked is that (if my memory has not betrayed me) when the papyrus was first offered to Harvard for evaluation, it was offered as the most interesting item in a substantial collection of papyri which the owners hoped to sell to Harvard *as a whole* for a very large sum of money.

This instantly called to mind the custom in the Old West of "salting" a worthless gold mine with pieces of high-grade gold ore in order to sell it more easily to clueless person from the East Coast.

Recent analyses of the fragment in comparison with editions of the Gospel of Thomas make it ever more likely that this mine, too, has been salted. The recent arguments against the GJW are far better and stronger than those made by Carlson and Jeffrey on the Letter to Theodore and "Secret Mark." (Just to be clear, my view here is that if the Letter to Theodore is indeed a forgery, it was not forged by Morton Smith, but by someone else at an earlier date.)

Mark Goodacre said...

Many thanks, Stephen, for those comments. I had noticed the 1997 / 1999 discrepancy too. While that could have been a typo, the other discrepancy is huge.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, lizw. I have promoted your comment to the main post and added another from the author of the article.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Robert, for those interesting reflections.

Jeff Cate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Cate said...

Hi Mark,
Christian Askeland just posted about the Coptic John fragment. Important analysis for sure.
http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2014/04/jesus-had-ugly-sister-in-law.html
--Jeff Cate

Richard Budelberger said...

lizw : « West Berliners were treated differently from other West Germans by the East German authorities. » ; of course ! because for the Sovietic State of East Germany, West Berliners were not West Germans ! Berlin was a city shared by the Four Allies, US, GB, Fr and СССР, not a part of West Germany…

That Hans-Ulrich Laukamp wasn’t known to be interested in antiquities is not a problem : Osties had only one aim, to obtain waluty, foreign currencies, US dollars… Maybe somebody in DDR convinced him to buy some oldies, saying him that in the West, it would be easily salable… Don’t you know that money is the root of all evil ?…

Mark Goodacre said...

On the 1997 date, it seems that it's not a typo in the Smithsonian article. It's also in the original New York Times article, "When, where or how the fragment was discovered is unknown. The collector acquired it in a batch of papyri in 1997 from the previous owner, a German. It came with a handwritten note in German that names a professor of Egyptology in Berlin, now deceased, and cited him calling the fragment “the sole example” of a text in which Jesus claims a wife." http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/us/historian-says-piece-of-papyrus-refers-to-jesus-wife.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Mark Goodacre said...

I've also checked the Huffington Post, which was the third paper (along with the NY Times & Boston Globe) granted the special interview with King in Sept 2012 and this too gives the 1997 date: "The owner who showed it to King found it in 1997 in a collection of papyri that he acquired from the previous owner, who was German," http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/the-gospel-of-jesus-wife-_n_1891325.html