Monday, August 24, 2015

The Gospel of Jesus Wife — the saga continues ...

This is a synthesis of some breaking news developments on the Gospel of Jesus Wife forgery with a short comment by myself at the end.

Karen King, Harvard professor 

On pages 8–9 of the most recent BAR issue (Sept–Oct 2015), Karen King responded to prior comment, indicating that she still believed that the GJW could be an authentic ancient witness to a married-Jesus tradition in the Early Church or Islamic-era Egypt.
At this point, when discussions and research are ongoing, I think it is important, however difficult, to stay open regarding the possible dates of the inscription and other matters of interpretation, to consider the implications that scholars are operating with different methodological assumptions, and to take into account the enormity of the gaps in our knowledge of both ancient and modern contexts.

Owen Jarus, Live Science reporter

In terms of investigative journalism, Jarus was the first to openly call the GJW story into question, especially with regard to the person of Hans-Ulrich Laukamp, the purported former owner of the papyrus.  I was skeptical of his Laukamp arguments at first, but now it is clear that the entire modern history of the GJW is indeed a forgery.  In a recent Live Science article, Owen Jarus has produced handwriting samples from Laukamp which, he argues, could be used to authenticate or inauthenticate the accompanying documents.  Further, he reports that further tests may be used to revive the debate.
In addition, James Yardley, a senior research scientist at Columbia University, told Live Science that the new tests confirm that the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife holds different ink than the John papyrus. This could undercut Askeland’s argument that the two papyri were written by the same person.

Andrew Bernhard, independent scholar

Andrew played a crucial role in the beginning of the controversy, publishing a patchwork theory which amalgamated prior assessments by Gathercole, Lundhaug-Suciu, Watson and others, and which further linked the GJW to a particular modern source, a 2002 online PDF produced by Mike Grondin.  Bernhard has just renewed a call for King to release the documents related to the GJW controversy, with a summary stressing why such a release remains necessary (here).
Nonetheless, I have become convinced that identifying (or at least trying to identify) the forger may be the only way to bring an end to the strange saga of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. This will require that Professor King identify the owner (as she has said she can legally), make the three supporting documents cited in her article (p. 31) available for public inspection, and release the English translation given to her with the papyrus fragment. We need access to anyone who may have been involved with what now seems to be an obvious forgery, and we need all potentially pertinent evidence to be made available.

My own response

I have expressed my opinion that the GJW has been so exhaustively proved a forgery, that the matter could be laid to rest.  With regard to provenance documents and the identity of the present owner, I had surmised that King had legal or ethical reasons for withholding these.  After all, what more could be gained from identifying the forger when everyone knows that the GJW is a fake?  Her suggestion that the GJW could be authentic has caused me to reconsider.  I would suggest that, if she considers the debate “ongoing,” then she should without hesitation produce the relevant materials.  Furthermore, I would suggest that it would be disingenuous of King to conduct further Raman-spectroscopy testing (or the like) in highly-speculative support of authenticity and to simultaneously withhold documents which would almost certainly demonstrate forgery.

King cited the prior set of scientific tests and paleographic analysis infelicitously, suggesting that they supported authenticity.  Readers can reference my reaction, here.  I am concerned that Yardley’s tests will further murk up the waters, by exaggerating some minor differences between the ink of the GJW and the Harvard Lycopolitan John.  This would be an appeal to science for something that (1) is fairly plain to the naked eye and (2) was already covered with a prior test.  These two documents are remarkably similar in regard to their ink, writing instrument and character formation — and in their utter dissemblance from any known ancient parallel.  Even the prior Raman tests suggested only minor differences.  In the New Testament Studies response, Ira Rabin argued,
It is noteworthy that their own statistical analysis does not support the conclusion that the inks of the two sides of GJW are distinct from that of JnFragm offered in the executive summary. In Fig. 8.2 (top) of the report ID/IG, the intensity ratio of the disordered and ordered bands for both fragments clearly falls within the error bars. (363)
In other words, the prior study, when accurately interpreted, demonstrated that the two shared essentially the same ink.  I would suggest that we let the matter drop.  If Karen King would like to continue to the discussion, then she should produce the documents which will allow scholars to potentially identify the forger.


  1. [השבת שאדננ פתי בעמתכם פד], last line of the alleged Gospel of Jesus wife. Karen, those texts are written in aramaic, not in greek.

  2. Thanks to you and to the many who contributed to uncovering this 21st-century fake. Like it or not, the discussion is continuing, and many journalists are doing a poor job. I have made big mistakes in research, but, if I recall correctly, none of them involved a media blitz that has misled millions, lowered the standards of a scholarly journal, and misused the reputations of deceased scholars. If a genuine ancient ms appears claiming Jesus was married, so be it. The merit in learning who (singular or plural) pulled off this custom-made fraud, one can hope, might include discouraging some, and helping in detecting other, future falsehoods. (I can imagine mss that I might welcome too uncritically.) The quickest way to a resolution would probably be if Prof. King releases the "provenance" and "translation" documents, and/or, belatedly, seriously researches them. But, even failing that, it may be possible that, eventually, the full truth on this will be revealed.