Friday, August 28, 2015

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: “Patchwork” Forgery in Coptic . . . and English

Guest Post by Andrew Bernhard


[Unicode Coptic Font available here. If you are having trouble seeing the Coptic, there is also a PDF of this post available here.]

Building on the work of Francis Watson and a number of other scholars, I argued in an article in the July 2015 issue of New Testament Studies 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 PDF edition of this manuscript that was posted online on November 22, 2002. I suggested that someone had basically “cut and pasted” Coptic text from Grondin’s edition, switched third-person masculine singular pronouns (“he,” “him”) to their feminine equivalents (“she,” “her”), and placed two key Coptic words (meaning “Mary” and “my wife”) into the “patchwork” text to give it “sensational” content.

As I pointed out, in addition to the overwhelming textual similarities between the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the Gospel of Thomas, the Coptic text of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife contains at least five tell-tale signs of its modern origin – including the apparent replication of a typographical (and grammatical) error from Grondin’s 2002 PDF edition. For a concise summary of my article, please see pages 351–355 of my article (especially Figure 6 on p. 352 and Table 1 on p. 353 for information about the tell-tale signs of forgery in the Coptic text of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife).

In my article, I also noted that a Smithsonian article released on the day that Karen King first publicly unveiled the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife mentioned that the owner of the papyrus fragment had also provided Professor King with an English translation of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. The Smithsonian article quoted only a single line from the owner’s translation, but it seemed to provide additional evidence of a direct link between the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and Grondin’s 2002 PDF edition of the Gospel of Thomas.


The Release of the Owner’s “Translation”


Professor King has graciously made the translation that the owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife provided her available online within the last day, and I wish to express my sincere appreciation to her for doing so. I believe this critical document that the owner gave her provides further decisive evidence that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is indeed a modern forgery derived from Grondin’s 2002 PDF edition. I hope that the regrettably divisive debate that has taken place over the past few years about the antiquity of Gospel of Jesus’ Wife can now conclude – hopefully, with a unanimous consensus that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is indeed a modern forgery.

My analysis of the English translation that the owner gave Professor King indicates that it is not an actual translation of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife; it seems to have been prepared by someone relying directly on the English translation provided in Grondin’s 2002 PDF.

At the outset, I must note that both the owner’s “translation” and Grondin’s 2002 PDF edition of the Gospel of Thomas have a rather surprising similarity: both are interlinear translations (that is, they include English translations in between the lines of Coptic text). The figure below places the owner’s translation beside the pertinent excerpts from Grondin’s Interlinear (see Figure 6 on p. 352 my of article for the key to which passages from Grondin’s Interlinear are presented in the figure). Both the “translation” and Grondin’s Interlinear have been annotated to facilitate understanding of the commentary beneath.








Preliminary Observations


Line 1.  The “translation” includes the word “for,” but there is no corresponding Coptic word for in the text of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Grondin’s Interlinear includes “for” in parentheses in the same spot as the “translation” because the Greek loan word γάρ (“for”) follows ⲧⲁⲙⲁⲁⲩ (“my mother”) in the Gospel of Thomas (and Grondin presumably preferred English word order for his translation). It seems clear that “for” in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.

Line 2. The “translation” glosses that ⲇⲉ (sic ϫⲉ) means “this.” In the present context, the Coptic conjunction ϫⲉ should function something like a comma and a quotation mark at the start of a direct statement in English, and ϫⲉ would never be translated as “this” in any context. Grondin’s Interlinear uses the English word “this” as “filler” translation for ϫⲉ (i.e. to fill blank space beneath the word and indicate that it had not merely been overlooked). It seems clear that “this” in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.

[The person responsible for the “translation” does not seem to have been familiar enough with Coptic to distinguish between the letter delta () and the letter djandja (ϫ), as delta has been incorrectly used in place of djandja in the words ⲡⲉϫⲉ and ϫⲉ.]

Line 3. The “translation” renders ⲁⲣⲛⲁ as “abdicate.” While the word might (rarely) be translated this way if warranted by context (and translator preference), it would ordinarily be translated as “deny” (cf. Karen King’s translation). It seems clear that “abdicate” in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

[It is curious that the Coptic text of the “translation” has the second-person singular pronominal affix (translated correctly) instead of the third-person singular masculine pronominal affix ϥ found in the Gospel of Thomas. This is especially curious because it appears that was originally written on the papyrus and then the third-person feminine singular pronominal affix was written over it.]

Line 4. The “translation” includes the word “this” for which there is no corresponding Coptic word; the “translation” also introduces a quotation idiosyncratically with a colon. In Grondin’s Interlinear, the Coptic conjugation ϫⲉ is separated from the phrase meaning “Jesus said to them” by a line break. It seems clear that whoever copied the papyrus accidentally omitted ϫⲉ, and it seems equally clear that “this” (an incorrect translation – following Grondin’s Interlinear, as in line 2) of the missing ϫⲉ in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear (complete with the colon also found there) rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.

[Again, the person responsible for the “translation” does not seem to have been familiar enough with Coptic to distinguish between the letter delta () and the letter djandja (ϫ), as delta has been used incorrectly in place of djandja in the word ⲡⲉϫⲉ.]

Line 5. The “translation” indicates that ⲛⲁϣ means “can,” but ⲛⲁϣ is actually future tense and should be translated “will be able to.” Grondin has made a mistake in his translation, and the “translation” repeats the same mistake. It seems clear that “can” in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

[The person who prepared the papyrus changed ϥ to , changing the third-person masculine pronominal affix to its feminine equivalent. The “translation” consequently has “she” rather than “he.”]

Line 6. The “translation” indicates that ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ means “no man,” but this is not an accurate translation of Sahidic Coptic. In standard Sahidic, ⲙⲁⲣⲉ- is the prenominal jussive conjugation base; the noun ⲣⲱⲙⲉ means “man.” So a translation of the Sahidic text ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ might be something like, “Let man...” But the Gospel of Thomas does not use fully standard Sahidic orthography: it includes some dialectical features of Lycopolitan. As a result, ⲙⲁⲣⲉ- can function as the prenominal negative aorist conjugation base (in place of the standard Sahidic ⲙⲉⲣⲉ-), as it does in the pertinent passage in Grondin’s Interlinear. Thus, Grondin has translated ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ with the functional equivalent, “no man.” It hardly seems plausible that a “translator” who could not distinguish between two letters of the Coptic alphabet (delta and djandja) would have understood ⲙⲁⲣⲉ- as a Lycopolitan conjugation base in a text labelled as “Sahidic.” It seems abundantly clear that “no man” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.

[The “translation” indicates a copyist error in line 6 of the papyrus with “(Sic!)” at the end of the Coptic text. The peculiar appearance of the third-from-last character in the line 6 was first noted by Alin Suciu and Hugo Lundhaug in 2012. As argued in detail on pages 341-342 of the most recent issue of New Testament Studies, the copyist appears to have made an uncorrectable mistake in attempting to write epsilon-iota. It now seems undeniable that the line was intended to read ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ ⲉⲑⲟⲟⲩ ϣⲁϥⲉⲓⲛⲉ. Such a line of text is simply ungrammatical in Coptic because a single infinitive (ⲉⲓⲛⲉ) cannot be modified by two conjugation bases (ⲙⲁⲣⲉ- and ϣⲁϥ-) . . . but, when the pertinent Coptic words are juxtaposed from Grondin’s Interlinear, the line makes sense in English.]

Line 7. The “translation” indicates that ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ϯϣⲟⲟⲡ means simply, “I exist.” Usually when an unnecessary personal pronoun (such as ⲁⲛⲟⲕ) appears in a Coptic text, a translator will indicate that there is some kind of special emphasis on the pronoun (cf. Karen King’s translation of the start of the line as, “As for me, I . . . ”); also, the infinitive ϣⲟⲟⲡ might be translated in a variety of ways (cf. Karen King’s translation: she translates it as “am,” indicating in a footnote that “exist” or “dwell” are alternative possibilities.) It seems clear that “I exist” in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.

[“Within” should presumably be just “with” (“within seems most likely to be a typographical error similar to “Gosple” or “Centruy” in the heading of the “translation.”) The person who prepared the papyrus changed ϥ to , changing the third-person masculine pronominal affix to its feminine equivalent. The “translation” consequently has “her” rather than “him.”]

Summary

The connection between the owner’s “translation” and Grondin’s Interlinear now seems undeniable. The evidence for the dependence of the Coptic text of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife on Grondin’s Interlinear was presented in my article in New Testament Studies. Now, the newly available “translation” that the owner gave to Professor King provides astonishing additional evidence for the dependence of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife on Grondin’s Interlinear . . . in English! All seven of the lines containing more than a single word in the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife in the owner’s “translation” appear to show clear evidence of dependence on Grondin’s Interlinear.  

In line 1 of the owner’s “translation,” the English word “for” appears when there is no corresponding word in the Coptic text on the papyrus fragment from which it could have been translated . . . and the word “for” appears (in parentheses) in Grondin’s Interlinear in the same place as it does in the “translation.”

In line 2, the Coptic conjunction ϫⲉ is mistranslated as “this” . . . just as it is in Grondin’s Interlinear.

In line 3, the Coptic infinitive ⲁⲣⲛⲁ is translated oddly as “abdicate” (rather than “deny”) . . . just as it is Grondin’s Interlinear.

In line 4, the Coptic conjunction ϫⲉ is missing AND mistranslated as “this.” It appears that the forger forgot to copy ϫⲉ onto the papyrus fragment because it is separated by a line break from the phrase “Jesus said to them” in the pertinent passage in Grondin’s Interlinear . . . but the mistranslated word still appears in the “translation.” Also, a colon is used to introduce a quotation . . . just as in Grondin’s Interlinear.

In line 5, the Coptic ⲛⲁϣ is translated incorrectly as “can” (rather than as the future “will be able to”) . . . just as in Grondin’s Interlinear.

[The person who prepared the papyrus changed ϥ to , changing the third-person masculine pronominal affix to its feminine equivalent. The “translation” consequently has “she” rather than “he.”]

In line 6, a non-Sahidic translation of ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ is given (“no man”) . . . just as in Grondin’s Interlinear. The Coptic text on the “translation” indicates that there is a scribal error in the second half of the line . . . just as many have argued since the error was first pointed out by Alin Suciu and Hugo Lundhaug. It now seems clear that the intended Coptic text for this line was ⲙⲁⲣⲁⲣⲱⲙⲉ ⲉⲑⲟⲟⲩ ϣⲁϥⲉⲓⲛⲉ . . . grammatical nonsense in Coptic that only makes sense in the English of Grondin’s Interlinear.

In line 7, ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ϯϣⲟⲟⲡ is translated simply as “I exist” . . . just as it is in Grondin’s Interlinear.

Arguing that every single line of the owner’s “translation” can be connected to the English of Grondin’s Interlinear (via translations of phantom words, mistranslations of Coptic text, distinctive translations of Coptic text, and even usual English punctuation) by coincidence seems utterly absurd. It now appears certain that the owner’s “translation” of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was prepared directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (it contains translations of two words that are not even present on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment!).

With the now overwhelming evidence that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is dependent on Grondin’s Interlinear in Coptic . . . and English, I think it is now reasonable to assert simply that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was forged using Grondin’s Interlinear. Given this assumption, the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment must have been forged sometime after November 2002 (when the PDF version of Grondin’s Interlinear containing the typographical/grammatical error also found in line 1 of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was put online) and before the Summer of 2010 (when it was first brought to the attention of Karen King).


10 comments:

Jim said...

Super work mark, really super. karen should have had you work through it before she published that essay.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Jim. The credit here is all to Andrew, though. :)

Mike Grondin said...

This is an astonishing development. I had expected that line 6 of the "translation" would be as it is, but I scarcely expected that every line would show familiarity with my interlinear! Kudos, Andrew, and thanks to Karen King for finally releasing this document. Had it been available from the beginning, there would have been no question about the correctness of Andrew's thesis.

Mike Grondin said...

Having now had time for this to settle in overnight, I have to say that it doesn't appear that the translator was the forger. If he had been, he would have known the intended meaning for the last word of line 6. Evidently he didn't, because he left it untranslated. It seems, then, that we are still somewhat short of the goal line.

carol billeck said...

I would have enjoyed the article more if I understood it how did the forger or forgers do it

Todd Brewer said...

Great work, Andrew. This is all very telling and gives more proof of a connection between the fragment and Grondin's interlinear. The mistake in line 6 in particular makes a direct connection not just to the translator, but the forger.

Andrew Bernhard said...

I disagree completely, Mike. The "translator," who hadn't even mastered the Coptic alphabet, noted that there was a scribal error at the end of line 6. Roger Bagnall, AnneMarie Luijendijk, Karen King, and everybody else who viewed images of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife for nine days apparently failed to recognize this error, until Coptic papyrologists Alin Suciu and Hugo Lundhaug noted the problem with the third-from-last character. The only possible way that a "translator" with such limited knowledge of Coptic could possibly have known about the scribal error in line is if he or she was responsible for it (or was informed about it by the person who was).

Mike Grondin said...

Unfortunately, only times are given for these comments, not dates. The date at which I made the comment to which Andrew rightly objects (which objection I am now reading for the first time) is now long past (now being Sept 20), but my above view didn't last longer than a day or two. I now believe that the "translator" DID know the intended meaning of the last word of line 6, but that he wanted to hide that fact. He wasn't totally successful, however, because his 'sic' indicates that he knows not only that it should be something else, but also exactly what that something else was supposed to be. If not the scribe himself, he was certainly part of the forgery ring.

Mike Grondin said...

(9/20/15)
For the record, it isn't a mistake to translate ⲛⲁϣ in line 6 as “can,” or if it is, it's a mistake shared by most standard translations of Thomas sayings 55 and 101,
wherein a negated ⲛⲁϣ is usually rendered 'cannot'. While it is true that the more strictly correct rendering is 'will be able to', in many cases (including those in Thomas) there's very little if any discernible difference in meaning between 'can' and 'will be able to'.

Cern said...

I concur with Mike Grondin in that "mistake" is not the correct word. There are alternatives to translating a word. You chose one alternative and he chose another. And the translator copied the alternative translation that Grondin had made.