Guest post by Andrew Bernhard
That’s the big question that remains unanswered about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, and I must confess that I’m a bit confused as to why. It seems clear to me that the person who originally brought forward this tiny papyrus fragment could probably shed quite a bit of light on its mysterious origins. Yet, the identity of this individual remains shrouded in secrecy.
While Karen King granted anonymity to the self-identified manuscript collector who brought her the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (and has honorably kept her commitment), I would suggest that the situation has now changed materially. At this point, it seems very likely that the still unidentified owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife provided Professor King with at least six fake documents (both ancient and modern) . . . and lied about where he or she obtained the papyrus fragment.
The Documents in Question
The owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wifeappears to have provided the following documents that are fake (that is, not what they were purported to be):
1. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.
This was purportedly a papyrus fragment copied in antiquity, but it appears to be a recent forgery prepared by someone who “cut and pasted” words and short phrases from a unique PDF edition of the only surviving Coptic manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas posted online in November 2002 (“Grondin’s Interlinear”). Basically, to create the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife using material from the Gospel of Thomas, the forger only had to switch third person masculine singular pronouns to their feminine equivalents (a single letter change in Coptic) and place two key Coptic words (meaning “Mary” and “my wife”) into the “patchwork” text. There are also at least five tell-tale signs of forgery – including the apparent repetition of a typographical error from “Grondin’s Interlinear” – in the text of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (see my article in the July 2015 issue of New Testament Studies, especially pages 351-355, for more details).
2. The Gospel of John papyrus fragment.
3. A contract for the sale of “6 Coptic papyrus fragments, one believed to be a Gospel” (dated November 12, 1999; signed by Hans-Ulrich Laukamp and the owner).
4. A typed letter to H. U. Laukamp (dated July 15, 1982; signed by Peter Munro).
This letter purportedly relates to the Gospel of John fragment, but it suspiciously indicates that (Gerhard) Fecht suggested the Coptic fragment might be dated as early as the second century and apparently failed to note a unique feature of it – the Lycopolitan dialect in which it is written (p. 31, n. 107). As an accomplished linguist of ancient Egyptian, it is hard to imagine Fecht not knowing that there is no evidence for the existence of Coptic in the second century. As Bentley Layton notes on the first page of his Coptic Grammar, “The written attestation of standardized Coptic Egyptian begins with Biblical manuscripts dating to about A.D. 300, shortly after the translation of the Christian Bible into Coptic.” In addition, it would be astounding if Fecht had viewed the Gospel of John fragment and failed to comment on the Lycopolitan dialect. In 1982, there was only one known Lycopolitan manuscript of the Gospel of John (the Qau codex), and Fecht certainly would have recognized this dialect: he published a three-part, 90-page analysis of the Gospel of Truth(from Nag Hammadi) in the journal,Orientala (1961-1963) . . . and the Gospel of Truth is preserved in Lycopolitan.