Wednesday, October 03, 2012

More questions on Jesus' Wife Fragment

In Professor King's draft article about the poorly named Gospel of Jesus' Wife she discusses various features that persuaded her that the written text on the papyrus was ancient (here, from p. 11-12).
 On the other hand, there are a number of other facts that point toward authenticity. Most notably, it would be extremely difficult to forge the way the ink has been preserved on the writing material. As mentioned above, the ink on the verso has faded badly, an unfortunate characteristic shared with many ancient papyri, but an indicator of a long aging process. In addition, close examination of the papyrus under magnification and with the use of high resolution photography yields the following detailed observations that substantiate its genuineness: On the recto, tiny traces of ink from a preceding, but now lost, line can be seen on the small fray pieces of papyrus protruding from the top of the fragment. This suggests that our fragment has broken off from a larger page. Moreover, in 3 →, dislocated fibers have obscured the first letter of the line due to damage of the material after the page was inscribed and this is again a common occurrence in ancient papyri. Also in 4 →, several letters have discontinuous strokes with missing ink because of damage to the material. For instance, the diagonal stroke before the pi (the remains of an upsilon?) lacks its center where there is a small hole in the papyrus. And in that same line 4→, the horizontal bar of the pi of peje [PMH: sorry no font] is split. If this had been a forgery penned on an ancient, already damaged papyrus, these sections would have been filled with ink, but they are not. Thus, all these instances of ink preservation seem to indicate that the text was indeed written in antiquity.
 This is summarised briefly in the NYT article (which I have used for some photos):

What convinced them it was probably genuine was the fading of the ink on the papyrus fibers, and traces of ink adhered to the bent fibers at the torn edges. The back side is so faint that only five words are visible, one only partly: “my moth[er],” “three,” “forth which.”
And she is also quoted in the Harvard magazine:
Furthermore, a hole in the papyrus where an insect had gnawed it after the ink had been laid strengthened the case for the fragment’s authenticity, as did the presence of ink on damaged, dangling strands of papyrus fibers at the edge of the fragment. “This is almost impossible for a forger to recreate,” says King. 

Now, I realise I am late to the table in discussions of this fragment (I have been in a far country); but it is rather striking that so little attention has been given to these matters, since they were so crucial in persuading Professor King of the antiquity of the writing. Especially: a) traces of ink on damaged strands of papyrus (mentioned in all three sources); b) the faded back (mentioned in two sources); c) missing ink in line 4 → (esp. the hole mentioned in two sources); and d) dislocated fibres in line 3 → (mentioned in the draft paper). So let's take these point-by-point:



a)  traces of ink on damaged strands of papyrus
 King says: 'On the recto, tiny traces of ink from a preceding, but now lost, line can be seen on the small fray pieces of papyrus protruding from the top of the fragment. This suggests that our fragment has broken off from a larger page.' (Draft, p. 11). BUT: I don't see it like this, and I think it reflects a misunderstanding of the situation. The top boundary has been cut, not broken (the sides and bottom have been broken, or at least not cut so cleanly - they have rather more shaggy edges); the small fray pieces have frayed subsequent to the cutting. These are not indications of ink traces from a previous line (and indeed, even if they were they would not be impossible to create in a forgery).



b) the faded back 
King says: 'the ink on the verso has faded badly, an unfortunate characteristic shared with many ancient papyri, but an indicator of a long aging process' (draft, p. 11). Now, it is true that ink fades over time, but the amount of fade can't be correlated to a particular amount of time. It is all about exposure. And the real problem is that the ink on the back has not faded equally, most of the back has no evidence of ink at all, despite the fact that the vertical fibres are mostly present. (If there is any evidence of ink on the left side of the back of the fragment it would be in leakage through the gaps in the small section lacking horizontal fibres - but I'm not sure whether this is ink or shadow).  

c) missing ink in line 4 → (hole and split horizontal)
 King says: 'in 4 →, several letters have discontinuous strokes with missing ink because of damage to the material. For instance, the diagonal stroke before the pi (the remains of an upsilon?) lacks its center where there is a small hole in the papyrus. And in that same line 4→, the horizontal bar of the pi of peje is split. If this had been a forgery penned on an ancient, already damaged papyrus, these sections would have been filled with ink, but they are not.' (draft, p. 11) BUT: although this hole is strangely alluring to King it is difficult to understand why she counts it as so persuasive. On the one hand a hole can't take ink so whether it had ink before the hole or ink after the hole we would only see a hole, not ink. But on the other hand a careful look at the magnified hole suggests that ink has spread around the bottom of the hole - this would suggest the ink came after the hole. (And the split horizontal of the pi also seems to lack any force, since ink applied to a damaged papyrus would also reflect some of that damage.)

d) dislocated fibres in line 3 → 
King says: 'in 3 →, dislocated fibers have obscured the first letter of the line due to damage of the material after the page was inscribed and this is again a common occurrence in ancient papyri' (draft, p. 11). This would be a strong argument if it could be demonstrated that the damage/dislocation occurred after the ink had been applied (as King thinks). BUT a close look at the magnified portion suggests the opposite, since it is not clear that the ink of the alpha is underneath the fibres, and it looks very much like the fibres have caused a slight pooling of the ink at the bottom right hand side of the alpha. 

Conclusion:
Of course there is only so much one can do from the available photographs. And questions about the antiquity of the text have been posed from many other angles in the last week or so. But it seems to me that these arguments form a very insecure basis for confidence in the antiquity of the writing. 

6 Comments:

maurice a robinson said...

If a later forgery (whether modern or some centuries old), would it not also be possible that a genuinely ancient piece of papyrus with little or no writing on it might have been used to receive the current text? If so, what then really calls for investigation is the nature of the ink.

Erlend said...

Thanks I've added it to the list at www.wifeofjesus.com

Christian Askeland said...

Thanks, Pete.

What do you make of the spot on the first Epsilon of ⲧⲃⲉ -- the last word on the last complete line of the recto. The ink appears darker on this spot and not obscured like I would expect. In other words, this Epsilon appears to have been written on top of the blob and not under it.

Peter M. Head said...

Christian,

It is an interesting blob of something (not sure what: in a normal ms I would think of wax dripped from a candle), and it would be nice to figure out how it relates to the writing. The bottom stroke of this epsilon is a bit unusual as it splits into two strands (unlike any other). This might suggest that the ink is on top of the blob (i.e. the blob explains why this epsilon is unusual). But I can't see that in the photos I have access to. Why do you think the ink is written on top of the blob?

Peter M. Head said...

Maurice,
To me the papyrus itself looks legitimately old (except that it has been cut, I would suspect, with everyone else, that the cut is modern).

If it is a forgery then either the back-story is true and it was forged in the 1970s or 1980s probably in Germany (perhaps as a playful piece of work among graduate students); or the back-story is also faked and it could be more recent (probably post 2005 when many papyrus texts began to appear on ebay) (with more of a money-making and perhaps ideological intent).

If it is not a forgery then it is a pretty strange document, and could fit to some degree among the abnormal aspects of some other non-canonical gospel manuscripts. But of that I remain to be persuaded.

Christian Askeland said...

Normally, when a transparent substance overlaps something, it obscures it and does not intensify it. If this organic material were on top of the ink, I expect that the ink would be less visible and not more.

What are you referring to when you say, "could fit to some degree among the abnormal aspects of some other non-canonical gospel manuscripts." Perhaps, there is a Greek manuscript which I have not considered. In the Coptic tradition, I can not think of any parallel.