Friday, November 09, 2012

The Jesus' Wife Fragment: How the Forgery Was Done

I am grateful to Andrew Bernhard for sharing his full exposition of how the Gospel of Jesus' Wife was forged, on the basis of Michael Grondin's online interlinear Gospel of Thomas website.

I have previously blogged about Andrew Bernhard's research on the fragment (Jesus' Wife Fragment: Further Evidence of Modern Forgery), where I drew attention to what I regarded as a possible "smoking gun" for the case, the fact that the fragment takes over a typographical error in the PDF of Grondin's Interlinear.  Andrew's essay, How the Gospel of Jesus' Wife Might Have Been Forged: A Tentative Proposal, provided a brilliant analysis of the links between the fragment and Grondin's Interlinear.

But now Andrew has produced a complete analysis of the links between these works in a new essay that he has published here:

Notes on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife Forgery

The piece is a well-written, persuasive account of how he sees the forger of the fragment working, and I would encourage you to read it all with care.

Here, courtesy of Andrew Bernhard, is a summary of the findings:


1. Gos. Jes. Wife borrows the framework for a simple dialogue between Jesus and his disciples from Gos. Thom. 12.

2. All decipherable words in Gos. Jes. Wife appear in Gos. Thom. with a single exception: TAHIME (“my wife.”)

3. The words of each line of text in Gos. Jes. Wife are found in close proximity to each other in Gos. Thom.

4. The forger has slightly redacted Gos. Thom. by making masculine pronouns feminine and (attempting to) transform affirmative/negative statements into their opposites.

5. More than half a dozen notable textual features in Gos. Jes. Wife can be attributed to a forger’s dependence on Grondin’s Interlinear.


I think it is now fair to begin openly describing Gos. Jes. Wife as a modern forgery.  Although it is admittedly a novel type of forgery, its text can be explained too easily and too completely as a “patchwork” of words and short phrases drawn from the Gos. Thom. by a forger relying on Grondin’s Interlinear. The possibility that Gos. Jes. Wife is a genuinely ancient writing seems extremely remote.

Gos. Jes. Wife is intended to appear as a basic dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, and the words of both Jesus and his disciples are introduced using the same words found in the basic dialogue of Gos. Thom. 12. Every word in Gos. Jes. Wife (except one) can be traced back to Gos. Thom., and every line of text in Gos. Jes. Wife contains words found in close proximity to each other in Gos. Thom. – even when there is no obvious relationship between them (e.g., line 3). Where a word might easily have been spelled differently in the different texts, both Gos. Jes. Wife and Gos. Thom. have the same spelling (i.e., NAEI). In addition, the forger’s redactional tendencies, namely switching third-person pronouns from masculine to feminine (lines 2, 5, 7) and attempting to invert affirmative / negative statements  (lines 5 and 6), can be identified. The forger has also inadvertently included several tell-tale peculiarities in grammar and spelling that reveal the modern origin of Gos. Jes. Wife.

The forger’s “fingerprints” are discernible in every line of text that has more than one word in it. In line 1, the forger has reproduced a typographical error from Grondin’s Interlinear (the omission of a direct object marker) and a line break from NHC II. The second line has been copied verbatim from Gos. Thom. 12, except the forger has changed a third-person pronoun from masculine to feminine. In line 3, the forger has used a Coptic spelling for the name “Mary” that is barely attested in antiquity but could well be derived from the English translation in Grondin’s Interlinear. In line 4, the forger has omitted a conjunction (JE) that would ordinarily be expected, probably as the result of a line break in NHC II. Line 5 contains a simple inversion of a negative phrase found in Gos. Thom. 55, and the forger has switched its subject from masculine to feminine. Once the intended text of line 6 is recognized, it seems clear that a forger tried to compose the line of Coptic while thinking in English; relying on the translation in Grondin’s Interlinear, the forger attempted to transform an affirmative statement from Gos. Thom. 45 into a negative version but made a pair of grammatical errors in the process (i.e., two verbal prefixes modifying a single infinitive; a non-definite noun modified by a relative). In line 7, the forger has merely rearranged text from Gos. Thom. 29 and 30, switching a masculine pronoun to its feminine equivalent (for the third time in seven lines) in an effort to mask the identity of his or her source.

In the end, only a single Coptic word in Gos. Jes. Wife could not have been copied directly from Gos. Thom. This word, which instantly transformed Gos. Jes. Wife into an international sensation, appears near the center of the small papyrus fragment. It is a compound of a possessive article and feminine noun that could easily have been formed by anyone using Grondin’s Interlinear and the most widely available Coptic-English dictionary in the world: TAHIME (“my wife”).
Renewed thanks to Andrew for making this clear and convincing study available.


Stephen Goranson said...

tentative chronology (4th. 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
1945 Nag Hammadi mss discovered
1956 Coptic gnostic papyri in the Coptic Museum at Old Cairo, P. Labib. Facsimiles
1959 The Gospel According to Thomas. Guillaumont, Puech, Quispel et al. Coptic & English
1960s claimed date Laukamp purchased in East Germany
1961 G. Fecht in Orientalia suggests Gospel of Truth was composed in Coptic not Greek
1970-1981 P. Munro Director of the Kestner Museum, Hannover
1977 Nag Hammadi II facsimile published
1981 June ff Munro Professor in Berlin
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, Form und Mass
1997 claimed purchase from German-American collector
1997ff copyright dates of Michael Grondin online Coptic Thomas site
2001 Hans-Ulrich Laukamp death
2002 Nov M. Grondin posts Interlinear Coptic Thomas; see his account:
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 (in Hamburg?)
2007 Feb. S. Jacobovici, "The Jesus Family Tomb"
2007 March 4 TV "The Lost Tomb of Jesus"
2009 Jan. 2 Peter Munro death (not 2008 as HTR draft p.2)
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"
For more recent dates, see M. Grondin

Anonymous said...

Such an awesome post. Early Christianity is so intriguing to me.

It reminds me of this video I recently came across-- it's a cute little song about how Jesus and his followers actually Occupy Jerusalem.

Anyways, here it is:

Grindstone said...

Minor corrections to "tentative chronoplogy": "2001 Hans-Ulrich Laukamp death" should read 2000. See with date of death as 03.12.2000 (Dec. 3).

Grindstone said...

Minor correction to Goranson's chronology: "2001 Hans-Ulrich Laukamp death" should read "2000...". See obituary at -- 03.12.2000 (Dec. 3).