Monday, July 20, 2015

The Jesus' Wife Fake Latest

In my previous post, Gospel of Jesus' Wife in New Testament Studies, I drew attention to the free-for-all access to the latest issue of New Testament Studies in which several scholars clearly, fairly and persuasively set out the case that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is indeed a modern fake.

It is now almost a month since the NTS issue came out so it is perhaps worth taking stock on the latest reactions. Larry Hurtado has a helpful round-up post on his blog today:

“Jesus’ Wife” Fragment: The Collective Negative Judgment

And over on Hypotyposeis, Stephen Carlson draws attention to the "red flags" of forgery that we should have had our eyes open for:

Red Flags of Forgery: What ‘Archaic Mark’ and the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife have in common

For those who are looking for a useful, "lay person's" summary of the key issues, Simon Gathercole provides this on Christianity Today:

5 Reasons Why the Gospel of Jesus' Wife Is a Fake
How other scholars and I verified the fragment's inauthenticity.

Simon's article begins with an allusion to the wonderful Coleman-Norton "amusing agraphon" forgery, which I discussed in NT Pod 40: "Teeth will be provided": the joke, the hoax, the story". Simon's article is a strong piece and very helpfully illustrates the case for forgery. [Minor comment: I think there is a small error here:
The Jesus’ Wife fragment did not come to Harvard on its own. It was delivered alongside another manuscript in the same handwriting and similar ink: a copy of the Gospel of John. 
According to Karen King, the John fragment was "received on loan by Harvard University for examination and publication (November 13, 2012)" ("Jesus said to them, 'My wife . . . '", 154, n. 107), whereas the Jesus' Wife fragment was delivered almost a year earlier, in December 2011 ("Jesus said to them, 'My wife . . .'", 154).]

Other than these selected blog posts and articles, there has been surprisingly little reaction to the NTS volume. This may, of course, simply be a question of time, but I hope that in due course Harvard Divinity School will reassess its somewhat robust website announcing the ancient nature of the fragment. Its most recent update is dated to May 2015 but as far as I can tell, the only additions to the site are the following on the Q & A page:
13. Can I see the fragment?
The fragment is available for study in its digital form on this site. The original is extremely fragile and access has to be strictly limited. If your research requires such access, contact the curator of early books and manuscripts at Houghton Library ( to arrange an appointment. 
14. Where is the fragment being kept?
In May, 2015, an agreement was signed by Harvard University and the owner of two Coptic papyrus fragments (the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment and a Coptic fragment of the Gospel of John).  It provides for the fragments to be deposited at Harvard for a ten-year period (renewable) for purposes of study and research. 
I hope that in due course, HDS will add a note on the NTS volume in order that readers can get a more balanced picture of the current state of discussion on the fragment.

Meanwhile, apparently undaunted by the evidence of forgery, Smithsonian Channel is going ahead with four repeat showings of its documentary on the fragment, the first airing last Saturday, and the next three to air over the coming weeks:

The Gospel of Jesus's Wife

If this documentary continues to be broadcast at regular intervals in this way, and if there is no comment from those who have previously defended its authenticity, should we conclude that the voices of those who have argued for forgery are being ignored?

Update (25 July 2015): the "May 2015" update of the Harvard Divinity School Gospel of Jesus' Wife site also appears to have taken most of the Harvard Theological Review materials offline. Originally, the entire volume was available free for all online but now only Karen King's two articles are available, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife . . .'" and her Response to Depuydt.


Michael Bird said...

HDS invested a lot of capital in the GJW and it has crashed like the 1929 stock exchange.

Peter M. Head said...

Thanks Mark,

It is a (slightly) interesting feature of the articles in NTS that none of the authors are explicit about actually having seen the manuscript under discussion - despite it being lodged at Harvard to enable critical analysis. I think Krutzsch and Rabin probably did see it (they speak about visual inspection), but they could have been more explicit about it.

Frederik Mulder said...

JSNTS December 2014; 37 (2), did a nice job with Watson's Gospel Writing. A Canonical Approach, with contributions of Richard Bauckham, Heike Omerzu and a response by Watson.

Would've been nice had Watson offered Karen King the same opportunity he was afforded in JSNTS?

Mark Goodacre said...

Do you know that she was not?

Frederik Mulder said...

No ... if she was asked but declined, would NTS have mentioned it? I still have to read all the articles ...

Stephen Goranson said...

Now, "for purposes of study and research" (see above) it might be more useful to make available documents claiming provenance for these two fragments. Please. Also possibly of interest might be the other four of the "6 Coptic papyrus fragments" reportedly (HTR 2014 p. 153) bought together.

Mark Goodacre said...

I agree, Stephen. The most useful things at this point would be the documents that establish the provenance of the piece, including the owner's "translation" mentioned in the Smithsonian article by Ariel Sabar.

Stephen Goranson said...

By now, we know that some of the reporting on this ms has been unreliable. (Two examples, among several available: the current owner reportedly bought the fragment in 1997 or in 1999, depending on the source; claimed that "Chemical analyses show the text was written thousands of years ago," which is really not what the tests proved.)
As to the owner's "translation" we also have incomplete information. According to King (Smithsonian Magazine) the present owner sent "an unsigned translation with the bombshell phrase, 'Jesus said this to them: My wife….'" (Mike Grondin commented on that translation with "this" at Larry Hurtado's blog: writing of the "forger" that it was not truly a translation by an "outside expert" but "rather was a statement of what he believed he had inscribed on line 4, based on his knowledge of my interlinear.") The present owner reportedly owns Greek, Coptic, and Arabic mss. (Whether the mentioned group of 6 mss are all Coptic or Coptic and Greek may not be clear in all the reporting.) According to Harvard Magazine the present owner "wrote to King after reading her [2003] book, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle" The report continues: "'I was contacted in 2010 by the owner, who didn’t read Coptic,' King recalls. After she agreed to translate the text, the collector sent a photograph and indicated that the fragment 'might have something to do with Jesus being married.'" If it is reliably reported that the current owner does not know Coptic, then he would not have made the translation. Who did?

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Stephen. Good observations and good questions. Also curious is the change in the owner's story, "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.”)",

Lots of these difficulties will be cleared up if all the relevant materials are released.

Mike Grondin said...

As I posted on GThomas, I've been in contact with Ariel Sabar this past week. He's the author of the early Smithsonian articles and has in his possession the emails (with appropriate redactions) sent by the collector to Prof. King as of 2012. Unfortunately, Sabar isn't in a position to release this material himself. His editor suggests that scholars contact King directly. It would be best of all of this could be released, of course, but I'm focusing on the English translation that the collector furnished - apparently gotten from the previous owner. As Stephen mentioned, there is in line 4 (the only one quoted by Sabar) an indication that the person who authored the "translation" was familiar with my interlinear - which would accord with Andrew Bernhard's theory of the forgery. There may well be other indicators in the remainder of the "translation" (particularly line 6 - 'swell up' or 'bring'?) that what we have there is a statement from the forgery ring itself (whose knowledge of Coptic apparently isn't all that good) of what it thought it had inscribed. Since I myself don't have the academic standing to persuade Prof. King, I can only urge that those who do take it upon themselves to request that she release this material or, in the alternative, authorize Sabar to do so.

Mike Grondin said...

Just to be clear, what I'm suggesting is a specific request for the translation sent by the collector to Prof. King in 2012. That should be fairly easy to provide, and would seem to raise no issues that might greatly delay or entirely derail a more general request. There may be other documents we would like to see, but whose content has already been made public. This is one that hasn't been - except for the one line that indicates that the rest of it may tell us something very interesting about the forgery issue.

Stephen Goranson said...

Prof. King wrote (HTR 2014 p. 153) that the question of whether the ms "was produced in antiquity or was fabricated in modernity with the intent to deceive....deserves serious consideration and requires taking account of all the pertinent factors as a whole. These include:....the provenance of discovery;....Let us consider each in turn." She turned to the provenance factor on page 157: "The lack of information regarding the provenance of the discovery is unfortunate ...however, the lack is neither unusual nor decisive for the question of dating." No information is provided concerning investigation of the provenance documents. For example, one document purports to be "a photocopy of a typed and signed letter addressed to H. U. Laukamp dated July 15, 1982, from Prof. Dr. Peter Munro...." (p. 154 note 107)
It could be helpful, in investigating provenance, to compare that signature with known genuine signatures of Munro.

Mark Goodacre said...

I agree, Mike. Thanks for your helpful comments.

Mark Goodacre said...

Good point, Stephen. The same would also be true with respect to the hand-written Fecht letter, which we could presumably check against known examples of his own handwriting.

Geoff Hudson said...

There is nothing that get's the academics going like a text that implies Jesus had a wife. Yet little is made, for example, of the fact that there is no archaeological evidence of the Roman's being in Galilee near to 70 CE, and that while there is ample evidence for its presence in Judea. So does the Smithsonian Channel feed a peculiar US interest?

Stephen Goranson said...

In "Did Jesus Have a Wife?" today, Aug. 15, at
Watson E. Mills wrote "...many, if not most interpreters – but by no means all – are nonetheless satisfied, based on pure science, that the fragment is indeed ancient." I was going to comment the following but could not because I have no Facebook log in: "Really? Perhaps you haven't taken into account the most recent issue of New Testament Studies volume 61 number 3 (July 2015) in which the text is concluded to be modern by Francis Watson (the journal editor), and in detailed articles by Simon Gathercole, Christian Askeland, Andrew Bernhard, Myriam Krutzsch, Ira Rabin, Christopher Jones, and Gesine Schenke Robinson."
Because the claim that the ms was so trumpeted in a multi-media blitz, the owner and Professor King perhaps--what do you think?--have some ethical obligation to make available the claimed provenance documents and the translation first sent in email. Maybe someone else could comment there.

Mike Grondin said...

I've done as you suggest, Stephen. I hope the results are satisfactory. One of the things that concerns me about the Mills piece is that his notion of "pure science" seems to exclude a comparison of the contents of a fragment to known modern-day sources from which the fragment might have been cribbed. He thus seems to exclude the very thing that proved the Gospel of John fragment to be a fake. As Stephen Carlson and others have observed, "pure science" is inadequate in itself to establish authenticity. If there are "many" scholars who are relying on it exclusively, there is a disconnect that apparently needs to be further addressed.

Stephen Goranson said...

Yes, thanks, Mike.
I see that I mistakenly left out two words in my comment above. I meant to type: Because the claim that the manuscript *was ancient* was so trumpeted....
I continue to think that a retraction of that claim would be appropriate, as well as investigation of the putative provenance.