- (Photo: Smithsonian Channel)
An American academic in England has proposed how the recently discovered "Gospel of Jesus' Wife", the papyrus fragment that made news in September, could have been forged using some modern-day technology.
Andrew Bernhard, Master of Studies at Oxford University, discovered a typo carried in one of the most widely distributed electronic copies of the authentic Gospel of Thomas is present in the Jesus' wife document. The academic argues in a 15-page paper how the fragment is a direct cut-and-paste from sections of the Gospel of Thomas by analyzing translations of Coptic and ancient Greek.
"Certainly, rigorous examination of the recently discovered papyrus fragment by specialists in Coptic papyrology and scientists able to evaluate the age of the manuscript and its ink will provide important information about whether Gos. Jes. Wife could be an authentically ancient text," Berhard begins in his written proposal. "However, it has already become clear that there are some striking similarities between this text and The Gospel of Thomas (Gos. Thom.) known from Nag Hammadi Codex II (NHC II), and these similarities deserve to be investigated promptly in detail. Textual analysis alone could provide strong evidence that Gos. Jes. Wife may be a modern forgery."
The papyrus, initially believed to be from the 2nd century and excavated in upper Egypt, was unveiled by Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School. King claims that the document is the only existing ancient text that has Jesus referring to having a wife, presumably by the name of Mary. Some of the translated Coptic passages from the papyrus include: "Jesus said to them," "My wife …" and "she will be able to be my disciple …"
The controversial find has been dismissed as a fake by a number of academics and theologians, including a leading Vatican newspaper.
"In spite of the drift in the media marked by tones which are quick to shock, unlike so many other items presented at the conference, the papyrus was not discovered in the process of excavation but came from an antiquarian market," noted Alberto Camplani, a leading scholar on Coptic documents. "Such an object demands that numerous precautions be taken to establish its reliability and exclude the possibility of forgery."
The Smithsonian Channel had also been planning a documentary on the "Jesus wife" papyrus for Sept. 30, but cancelled its plans after it became clear the document is most likely a fake.
An article by the Guardian points out along with Bernhard's discovery that modern-day technology, like software tools, make it very easy for people to recreate a seemingly authentic representation of the Gospels by using keyboard layouts that allow for Coptic and ancient Greek to be written easily on a regular computer.
"Given the extraordinary similarities between the two different texts, it seems highly probable that Gos. Jes. Wife is indeed a 'patchwork' of Gos. Thom," Bernhard concludes in his report. "Most likely, it was composed after 1997 when Grondin's Interlinear was first posted online. It will be exciting to learn what additional insights papyrologists and scientists can provide about the possible origin of Gos. Jes. Wife once they have had sufficient opportunity to analyze the manuscript in detail."