Thursday, April 17, 2014

Announcement from Leo Depuydt on Jesus's Wife

April 16, 2014
Bedtime story for the budding little grammarian (and for all those eternally young of spirit). Set in larger font to accommodate the unformed inquisitive mind. (PDF)

The Papyrus Fragment and the Crocodile: When Discerning a Blunder Is Itself a ... 

I recently published an analysis in the Harvard Theological Review (HTR) of what has widely come to be known as the Wife of Jesus Fragment (WJF).(1) My conclusion is that it is 100% certain that the fragment is a forgery. Grammatical blunders committed by the forger play a central role in my analysis.

The main body of the analysis was on purpose completely self-contained in that it consisted in its entirety of independent observations that made no reference to anything else that anyone else has had to say on the matter. In this specific case, I exceptionally saw no need for outside references or scientific tests to fully meet the paper’s design. And I still don’t.

However, my analysis is now no longer free-standing. The same issue of HTR contains a response to it.(2) Asked a couple of days after its publication what I thought of it, I had a look. It took me about sixty seconds to diagnose another you-call-it-what-you-want, but not one of the forger’s this time.

The response holds that I “incorrectly analyzed” the grammar of line →6 of WJF. What I had described as a “grammatical monstrosity” in that line is nothing but—thus the author of the response—an “error of analysis” on my part.(3)

It would be ironical that, after hurling the epithet “grammatical blunder” gingerly and repeatedly at a forger, my true opponent by the way, I would be guilty of one myself. That would be hubris. We haven’t had that recently. Or have we?

The author of the response relies mostly on experts for the evaluation of fine points of Coptic grammar. But no sooner did the same author just for once dip a toe into the strong Nile currents of Coptic grammar to embark on an independent foray than a crocodile lunged and grabbed it, dragging all attached down with it ☹. How so?

What is my alleged “incorrect analysis”? It is that I identified the Sahidic Coptic verbal auxiliary, or conjugation base (Polotsky), ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare in the line in question as a negated aorist. In fact, no one has ever doubted that, in standard Sahidic Coptic, ⲙⲉⲣⲉ mere, not ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare, is the conjugation base of the negated aorist. What is more, no one has ever doubted that ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare is the verbal auxiliary of the affirmative jussive in all of Coptic. And that is how the author of the response under discussion identifies the instance of ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare in question, as a jussive. So far so good.

Have I then, as the author implies, committed a blatant grammatical blunder by identifying ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare as anything else but a jussive? In fact, I have not. How can this be?

It is a dirty little fact, as it were, of Coptic grammar not widely known even to Coptologists that—in the Gospel of Thomas (GT)—the form of the verbal auxiliary of the negated aorist is exceptionally not ⲙⲉⲣⲉ mere, as most everywhere else, but ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare. I do note this striking fact somewhere in my initial report.

In other words, in GT, the negated aorist ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare is written exactly like the affirmative jussive ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare. Identifying instances of ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare in GT as a negated aorist is therefore altogether a legitimate option. Disenfranchising the grammarian from exercising this option is a clear are-you-thinking-what-I’m-thinking.

And since Professor Francis Watson of Durham University and I both independently discovered that WJF is but a patchwork of phrases from GT—totally clueless and error-ridden, I venture to add—nothing comes more natural than identifying certain instances of ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare in WJF as a negated aorist.

What is more, as I show in detail in the initial report, the instance of ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare under discussion and certain phrases in its immediate context are clearly taken from a passage in GT in which ⲙⲁⲣⲉ mare is undoubtedly the negated aorist and not the affirmative jussive.

So, my little friend, sleep soundly and dream sweetly because there has been no “error of analysis.”

And in the end, the story even has a happy ending.♫ The crocodile happened to be of the rare herbivorous kind. ☺

(1) L. Depuydt, “The Alleged Gospel of Jesus’s Wife: Assessment andEvaluation of Authenticity,” Harvard Theological Review 107 (2014), pp.172–89.

(2) K. King, “Response to Leo Depuydt, ‘The Alleged Gospel of Jesus’s Wife: Assessment and Evaluation of Authenticity’,” Harvard Theological Review 107 (2014), pp. 190–93.

(3) Ibid., p. 191.


  1. I haven't read King's response yet, but, seeing that she actually made this sort of counterargument (failing to discern the ⲙⲁⲣⲉ/ⲙⲉⲣⲉ interchange in GThom and if I recall also elsewhere in the NHC III[?]), I'm astonished!

  2. On page 158 of Harvard Theological Review (2014) Prof. Karen King wrote of the ms: " serious scholar considers [it] to be evidence of the historical Jesus's marital status."
    On page 153 of the same article appears text (and translation from German) of "an unsigned and undated handwritten note": "Professor of the opinion that this could be evidence for a possible marriage."
    Was Prof. Fecht not a "serious scholar" or is this note unreliable?

  3. apparently not. Prof. Fecht reminds me of another notable scholar. Dr. Schmidtke.

  4. No, Depuydt didn't blunder in his analysis of line 6. He did, however, blunder tactically in not realizing that he left himself open to King's pointing out that the "monstrosity" he claimed (which I don't believe is such) was a result of his own analysis of 'mare', not hers.

  5. So let me get this straight: Are you saying the reason you consider the thing a forgery is because the author used as jussive as an aorist? That's a pretty lame argument. As if ancient writers really were all that grammatical. I guess now we can label every book of the New Testament forgeries too, since they don't follow the rules of Greek grammar to the letter.

  6. And you can label my comment a forgery since I said "every book...forgeries" rather than "all the books...forgeries." That grammar blunder proves I forged my own comment.

  7. Anonymous,
    That is in fact not the argument. To read the argument in its fullest form, read this. The point is that several grammatical errors demonstrate that the GJW text is a cut-and-paste job, especially line 6 where one encounters two forms which really can only be explained through such a cut-and-paste error. (In Coptic, a verb can be both positive and negative habitual!!)

  8. I'm sure that would have sounded better in Dutch.

    On the main question: what Christian said.

    This item is a forgery.

  9. Sorry for the late response, Christian, but the last sentence of your above comment confuses me. Did you mean to say "can't" instead of "can"?

  10. Mike,
    Yes! Thanks for the correction. The combined positive-negative habitual is nonsense, and is most persuasively explained as a failed forgery.

  11. But why is Depuydt's reading to be preferred? (And mind you, I ask this as the person who suggested this reading of mare- in the first place, but without being aware of its difficulties.)

  12. Mike,
    As you know, there are several grammatical difficulties in the GJW which can all be explained by dependency on your 2002 PDF. (Exception ... spelling of EINE?) Therefore, to answer your question it is the cumulative weight of the explanation first proposed in full by Bernhard. This includes the lack of the indefinite article before WN2, but is most compelling in line 6 where all hell has just broken loose. Here, MERE is one of three (or four EINE) forms which are problematic.

    Dear All,
    Mike has IMO the best historical synopsis on this whole mess on his website, for which I am very grateful.

  13. I know this is an old topic, but it came to light within the past couple of months that of course this is absolutely a forgery, with completely dubious provenance no less, something which Karen King could have easily ascertained before proclaiming it as truth. She really has no position in scholarship, being as her confirmation bias is so great that her own beliefs pushed her to push this easily discernible fraud (just in provenance) upon the world.