Monday, April 14, 2014

Demotic Gospel of Thomas

On page 178 of his Gospel of Jesus’s Wife (GJW) rebuttal, Leo Depuydt informed the reader of a parallel incident from 1990, which never made headlines in North America. In this case, someone forged and disseminated the following proceedings chapter, which Leo Depuydt has kindly shared:
R. S. Walker, “Fragmentary inscriptions in an unknown script from a private collection” Proceedings of the New Orleans Academy of Sciences 1874–1875 (1875): 31–34.
The article and accompanying informal translation “preserve” a Demotic text with snippets from the gospel of Thomas. Depuydt has demonstrated that the Demotic text is a forgery by analyzing the Demotic grammar, showing that the Demotic text contains a prepositional phrase which is explained in the most compelling way by the faux pas of a modern translator relying on the known Coptic text. Whereas one would expect the Coptic text to use the form ⲙⲙⲟϥ with the Greek-Coptic loanword τηρέω, the indigenous Egyptian word (in Coptic and Demotic) requires ⲉⲣⲟϥ, not the equivalent of ⲙⲙⲟϥ (font).
ϩⲁⲣⲉϩ ⲉⲣⲟϥ
ḥrḥ r.r.f
ⲧⲏⲣⲉⲓ ⲙⲙⲟϥ
In her response article, Karen King fails to see how this is relevant to the parallel discussion. Depuydt’s argument, however, is fairly simple. He is demonstrating that the literary parallels in GJW (just as in the Demotic GThomas) are best explained by a modern forger, due to grammatical irregularities which only a modern forger would have produced. Whereas this was clear with the Demotic GThomas through the instance cited here, the case is even clearer with GJW, with its repeated errors and the shared error with Michael Grondin’s PDF.

18 May 1991 Financial Times "New Light on the Saying of Jesus"
25 May 1991 Financial Times "Batson comes out of the belfry: The history books may not have to be rewritten..."


  1. This is a fascinating fraud. Though no one has found such an 1875 publication, the fake title page went to the trouble of including, e.g., a real publisher "Picayune Steam Job Print, 66 Camp Street." (Though might the illustration need to look more like an engraving than a drawing?) Discussions in Egyptology 19 (1990) 53ff published this "contribution" by "Batson D. Sealing" and a re-translation by Mark Smith. Reportedly, efforts to contact the author were fruitless--no reply from the forwarding address in Montana. Financial Times had two articles: May 18, 1991 ("New Light on the Saying of Jesus," showing that even a learned historian can be temporarily inclined to take such seriously) and soon after (May 25) one acknowledging fraud ("Batson comes out of the belfry".

  2. What efforts were taken to determine that this was a fraud? Just curious. Has anyone actually done anything more than a Google search? Looks like this Daily Piyacune did exist. Doesn't mean it isn't a fake but it is curious.

  3. Apparently the editor became a Roman Catholic priest from an Episcopalian

  4. The original Times article from 1991

  5. Stephan,
    You are correct that the New Orleans Academy did exist, and did publish various things. Beyond the grammatical arguments offered by Depuyt, the non-existence of "Batson D. Sealing" and the inability to find an actual copy of the publication or the original Demotic papyrus leaf all suggest that this was an elaborate prank. I am not sure what else can be done now, and I was in middle school in 1990, so I do not know all the details of what Depuydt and others did then. Thanks for the Times article which I will include in the main post!

  6. I am driving but does Batson D Sealing actually appear in the article? It is hard to see on my phone. Where is this person first mentioned?

  7. FWIW I found a J K Walker described as a "Fellow of the Academy" of the same organization, address etc

  8. According to Stephen Goranson, there are at least three relevant publications for reconstructing the story: (1) Discussions in Egyptology 19 (1990) 53ff, (2) Financial Times 18 May 1991 and (3) Financial Times 25 May 1991. I have updated the links to include both Financial Times articles. The second article argues that the name itself is part of the joke, and suggests that perhaps the perpetrator was actually from San Antonio.

  9. I apologize for continuing to investigate whether or not this article is actually legitimate. If anyone want me to continue carrying out this investigation elsewhere I will.

    One of the reasons this article may be so difficult to find is that the academy itself only existed for only a short while:

    "The New Orleans Academy of Science was founded in the year 1853, and was a vigorous society until the war, when its activities were suspended. It was revived again for a brief period soon after the war and then again in 1885, when it met regularly for about five years and published several volumes of transactions. Since 1890 the academy has been dormant."

    Sounds to me like this organization only met infrequently in this period. Since the Civil War in the United States was 1861 - 1865 and the author of this article doesn't even seem to know what the exact dates of the existence of the society was in that period, it would stand to reason that many of the papers from around the time of the article cited by Depuydt were simply lost.

    Of course the counter argument might be that 'someone' knowing that 'such a situation existed' with this organization fabricated an article of this sort. I guess that's possible, but shouldn't we at least do something more than a Google search to find out if such an article might actually have been published before making such a bold assertion?

    Well I happened to contact the New Orleans Public Library and their head archivist gave me the following response:

    Dear Stephen,

    We do not hold the Proceedings of the New Orleans Academy of Sciences here at NOPL. However, if you make link below, you’ll see a list of libraries might hold at least some issues of the publication:

    You would need to contact these libraries to determine whether they hold the specific issue you’re looking for.

    I didn’t pursue all of the links given at the WorldCat link above, but I think that most of the libraries listed hold a publication from 1854. Your publication is from 1870 and appears to be a supplement to the original proceedings from 1854. I don’t see a separate entry in WorldCat for a supplement.

    The 66 Camp St. address is the address of the Daily Picayune, one of New Orleans daily newspapers. Apparently, in addition to using their press to print the newspaper, they also printed jobs for individuals, businesses, etc., like any printing company. That address isn’t going to do you any good in locating a copy of the 1870 article. It’s simply the commercial firm that the New Orleans Academy of Sciences chose to have their proceedings published.

    Not sure this is of much use. Good luck in your search.

    I have included this email to allow for other people to help carry out the proper investigations to determine whether or not this is actually a counterfeit article. It might be I guess, but I don't think this has been properly investigated yet.

  10. I have just contacted the head research librarian at Tulane University who informed me that it would not at all be surprising that a document like this would not appear on Google. He says they have seven floors of papers in their collection only 2 or 3% of it is available for view on the internet. In other words, the University where the Academy was later headquartered has 98% of its collection undocumented for outsiders. He says he will look into this situation and hopefully come back with something for us. Will keep everyone informed (assuming you want to hear about it).

  11. Some of the scribbles on the paper check out. Do you notice where it says (in handwriting) 'Annual Address 26 Feb 1872" in handwriting just beside the title of the journal. It actually checks out:

    Apparently I see elsewhere this 'J S Copes' (also written by hand) was president of this academy

    "We next quote from the pen of Dr. J. S. Copes, the learned President of the New Orleans Academy of Sciences. Dr. Copes manifested an intense interest in the results of Captain Glazier's expedition, and endeavored by every method within his power to show the high estimation in which he held the intrepid explorer."

    I can see Copes was a doctor. That's why he consistently appears as 'Dr Copes' (his real name apparently was "Joseph S Copes") in many other references. That might explain why the author of our article is identified as 'Dr R S Walker.' I think they were a bunch of bored, rich professionals who got together and fantasized about being adventurers.

    My guess is that everyone of those handwritten references is legit. So according to this theory:

    1. someone in 1990s found out that this 'real' academy met only infrequently after the Civil War
    2. decided to meticulously copy the appearance of their known publications
    3. developed an artistic rendering of parts of the Gospel of (Judas) Thomas in demotic script (with errors)
    4. created an article to accompany it
    5. then after producing this 'fake' also took the time to meticulously research four other journals associated with this little known society, many of which I can't even find on the internet today and then writing them out by hand on the face of the 'fake' article.

    And all to 'punk' Robin Lane Fox. Or maybe Fox was 'in' on this pointless endeavor?

    I mean I guess anything is possible. But again, you don't think researching the less complicated possibility that someone found a demotic copy of the Gospel of (Judas) Thomas and - just thinking it was junk - published it in a local academic journal? That possibility is 'less likely' based on the fact that 'we already know' the GJW is a fake? Or maybe I am missing something ...

  12. Getting closer. This Copes is in the special collections of that university I contacted:

    Maybe they will uncover his relationship with 'r w walker.'

  13. Notice also that the handwriting on the face of the article is quite deliberate. Yes there appear to be call numbers beside four articles "A53N 450" and three with "A53N 455." I suspect these are library call numbers. But notice also that the two call numbers correspond to a natural division between the material. The first article (reading left to right) has a bracket and then the words 'proceedings vol 1 no 1' I think. Then, the three articles with the "A53N 455" have the words "minor publications" written to the left of them. Surely you can't suggest that this handwriting is part of the plot! It is obviously someone doing what most of us have done perhaps a thousand times in our life - i.e. photocopied an article and then wrote the location of other articles on the face of the photocopies. Do we at least agree that it is unlikely the handwriting is 'natural' or genuine? Surely someone didn't deliberately set out to make it appear the photocopy was the product of an innocent day at the library!

  14. I noticed this statement in the Depuydt article which certainly pertains to Copes:

    "the script and language in which the inscriptions were written has defeated numerous attempts by members of the committee to read the texts, but the publication of the writings was thought desirable by the owner of the texts and by the President of the Academy, if only to make a lasting record of these interesting pieces for scholars."

    This is clearly Copes so it would stand to reason that if this article is authentic a reference somewhere to the presence of these 'inscriptions' in the office of the Academy must exist. Moreover there are specific mentions of the involvement of a number of other members of the organization in the production of the article:

    "The brief descriptions accompanying the illustrations of the texts which are the work of the Editors of these Proceedings. The owner of these antiquities has graciously permitted the Academy to hold them for study over and indefinite period of time, and they may be seen in the offices of the Academy upon application to the Secretary."

    With respect to Copes I have already gone through all the boxes which related to the early period of the academy. The archivist has said he will assist in tracking things down:

    1853 April 30. Printed circular “Natural Science in New Orleans” by Dr. B. Dowler about organizing an Academy of Science in New Orleans.

    1853 June 3. Reverend I.J. Henderson to Joseph S. Copes (New Orleans) meeting of the Academy.

    1854 April 20. Reverend F. B. Ernst to Joseph S. Copes (Port Hudson, Mississippi) Miss Wingate; teacher for Slaughter's children; received copy of constitution and bylaws of New Orleans Academy of Sciences and elected a member.

    1854 July 12. Reverend David McIlvain to Joseph S. Copes (Lewes, Delaware) regarding family paper and volume of sermons; mentioned New Orleans Academy of Science.

    1854 October 23. A.G. Alsworth to Joseph S. Copes (Pleasant Hill, Texas) thanks for proceeding of New Orleans Academy of Science; storm and rain destroyed crops, money scarce.

    1854 December 28. Thomas Cerre Copes to Joseph S. Copes (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) sent list and drawings of algae to New Orleans Academy of Science.

    1855 January 6. Thomas Cerre Copes to Joseph S. Copes (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) gathered information of locality to send to Academy in New Orleans; suggested mail and packages received faster on steamer "Music."

    1855 January 8. J.D. Shane to Joseph S. Copes (Lexington, Kentucky) requested publication of New Orleans Academy of Science.

    1855 January 17. Thomas C. Copes to Joseph S. Copes (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) drawings for New Orleans Academy of Science well received; plans for genealogical chart.

    1855 June. Mary Campbell to Joseph S. Copes (New Orleans) did not receive any communication from the Academy of Science on the death of her husband Alex.

    1855 August 23. Reverend John Leighton Wilson to Joseph S. Copes (Mission House, New York) regarding membership in New Orleans Academy of Science. (my note - it would seem members could belong from outside of Louisiana)

    1856 March 1. Reverend W.S. Rogers to Joseph S. Copes (Oxford, Mississippi) information on Academy.

    1856 March 3. R.C. Kerr to Joseph S. Copes (New Orleans Academy of Science) Joseph S. Copes elected one of the vice presidents of New Orleans Academy of Science for the year 1856.

    1856 April 2. Reverend W.A. Scott to Joseph S. Copes (San Francisco, California) New Orleans Academy of Science dues.

    Contents of boxes after [Box 12: Personal and business correspondence, 1857 March-December] not listed online

    Surely if this document existed and is said to have been prominently displayed in the office of the Academy there will be some mention of this somewhere.

    But I have also painstaking gone through the small number of early letters of Copes

  15. R S Walker is not listed as either a fellow or a member in the original charter of the Academy:

  16. Stephan,
    I think that the handwriting is that of Depuydt who asked some of the same questions which you are asking. Having said that, I would be glad to see you document that the publication is indeed not available in any holding institutions today.

  17. Thank you Christian

    It would seem my assumption regarding Copes being the President at the (alleged) time of the article was unfounded. My research indicates that the Presidency changed quite often. In 1859 for instance was a "Professor Riddell"

    and again:

    The one thing that does seem to be clear however is that the organization seems to have been one of the best academic academies in the southern United States. It is amazing to see the number of papers and interests reflected. The casual references to slavery is jarring however.

  18. One last important detail. I have discovered that minutes of the early meetings in the period leading up to the Civil War must exist because they are mentioned in a paper from 1977 on the President of the Academy 1855 - 1865, John Leonard Riddell:

    "One of its early meetings, May 23, 1853, was held in his home. He was appointed, along with Dr. Edward Hall Barton and Caleb G. Forshey, to represent the Academy at the 1853 meeting of the American Association for the Science ... Riddell was elected vice-president of the New Orleans Academy of Sciences in 1854, and president in 1855. He was re-elected annually and was still serving as president at the time of his death in 1865. From some of the discussions in the Academy minutes we wonder whether Riddell's popularity in that organization might be due to the fact that those who opposed him either died or left New Orleans during the early years of the Society, and since there was a blackball system for new members, only those who were friendly to Riddell constituted the Society. It was the policy of the Academy to have the president read an Annual Address at a public gathering in February of each year. These occasions gave Riddell an opportunity to demonstrate his extraordinary abilities as a lecturer, and we find several of these speeches printed in pamphlet form, and also carried by the local press. For, example, the February 25, 1856, lecture appeared in the New Orleans Sunday Delta, and also as a pamphlet. It is a remarkably good resume of scientific activities of the year 1855-1856, citing developments in astronomy, geography, , metallurgy, chemistry, physics, botany and geology, with remarks about the circulation of blood and the atmosphere."

    So what was the original order of Presidents? It would seem:

    1853 - Josiah Hale

    1854 - Edward Hall Barton

    1855 - 1865 - John Riddell

    This would seem to indicate also that (a) the minutes of the organization from the period leading up to the Civil War survive and (b) Dupuydt's article published in February of 1875 seems to follow the pattern of some sort of public announcement in February.

    I promise this will be the last post on this subject at this blog until I either find "Dr R S Walker" or proof of existence of the fragment. For anyone wishing to keep up to date on my research you can follow my blog (just Google my name). Thanks Christian

  19. I am going to include the following update from Leo Depuydt here, since the relevant discussion is also all here.
    "Please note that the handwritten notes in the PDF that I sent to you have in all probability been added by someone who went to the Yale Library or another library around 1990 to go and look up some works pertaining to the New Orleans Academy. The modern researcher just took a photocopy of the article with him to the library to do some investigating. These handwritten notes are almost certainly not part of the forgery and may put current investigators on the wrong track.
    In fact, it could well be the handwriting of my Yale Doktorvater Bentley Layton, from whom I received my copy around 1990 because he wanted me to look at the Demotic, which I did. I am not fully certain, but it is probable."

  20. Bats on d Ceiling...

    Speaks for itself, as Robin Lane Fox recognized in the May 25, 1991 retraction.

  21. There once was a proof offprint known as "B.D. Sealing, 'Three Unrecognized Demotic Texts.'" It was listed in a Table of Contexts as starting on page 53:
    This 12 page article proof, set in 1990 (?) and intended for Discussions in Egyptology 19 (1991), was, along with Mark Smith's contribution, replaced by an article by the editor, Alessandra Nibbi, "The So-called Plant of Upper Egypt." I think. (Thanks to UC-Berkeley and Duke interlibrary loan librarians.) More, probably, to follow.

  22. But if he wanted the hoax to succeed why not make up a more plausible name? Surely academic who has had papers published in a peer reviewed journal before would know that his academic background i.e. 'who he was' would come under scrutiny. All that work to allegedly 'punk' Oxford. He might have succeeded if he used a real name like 'Howard West'. Its curious. Surely no one would expect a reputable journal to publish a paper based on a photocopy. The only motivation I can see is someone deliberately imitating Morton Smith. At the time, it was believed that Smith was the only one to have seen it. All that was known was his black and white photograph. It might have been carried out to imitate what the author presumed Smith to have done. But the ridiculous name would obviously destroy the parallel. The individual had to have lived in New Orleans. Were there highly skilled experts at Demotic at Tulane at this time?

  23. And if I understand correctly his translation was rejected by Oxford and Mark Smith's preferred. How is that explained? Apparently Sealing's translation was awful. If his translation would have been spot on there would have been little need to contact him again other than to proof the final edit. His poor translation undoubtedly open up questions about his qualifications. Seems like the execution of counterfeiting the 1875 article was masterful but the carrying out of the hoaxing Oxford was carried out by a bungling idiot

  24. Can someone find out if the letters sent to Oxford by Batson show signs that he wasn't a native English speaker or may have betray signs of 'colonial English' - i.e. English from one of the colonies in the former British Empire? Aside from the fact I think I have a likely candidate for 'Batson' one of my problems with 'Batson D Sealing' is that it isn't a recognizable 'Americanism' at least as far as I can determine. I P Knightly is for instance more recognized and appears in various comedy skits from the period.

  25. If someone could post a handwriting sample from 'Batson D Sealing' here or somewhere else I could probably solve the mystery of who sent the letter. I have a very likely candidate - i.e. a librarian who worked as a cataloguing clerk in the library that housed the (neglected) New Orleans Academy of Sciences collection who was scheduled to teach a course on the ancient Egyptian language at Tulane before he suffered a stroke. This would still leave open the question of whether or not this was a forgery or a misappropriation of library property (most of the original collection has disappeared). The librarian frequently traveled to Egypt apparently ultimately dying in a car accident there in 2011. Unless someone comes up with a better explanation, I think this is the most plausible theory about the origin of this document. That is why I have been asking whose handwriting now appears on the photocopy. Is it possible to determine whether the translation which now appears alongside the photocopy is Mark Smith's? If so can someone please post (a) the original 'bad' translation of Batson (b) any handwriting samples from the envelope etc (c) a detailed chronology of when and where things were posted and when Batson claimed to be in a certain place (d) copies of all correspondences and claims made by Batson. Until a better solution comes along, I think this is the most likely explanation. Could someone post some original documents related to Batson's effort to secure an article in Discussions in Egyptology?

  26. It would be interesting to compare the Sealing text with Walker and anonymous Editorial committee members.
    Until last Thursday Brooklyn Museum's catalog listed a 12 page offprint by Sealing forthcoming in Discussions in Egyptology. In reply to an interlibrary loan request: it was not found and the record withdrawn. The WorldCat record remains.
    Some "1875" title page fonts do not match Picayune Steam Job Print fonts that I have seen. Not conclusive, but maybe anachronistic.
    "Arabic syllabary" may be anachronistic.
    Though readers are invited to see the texts at "the offices" (no address given) upon application to the Secretary (not named), future readers may be addressed: "if only to make a lasting record..."

  27. (typo: "Arabian syllabary")
    As I am not alone in noticing--Prof. Depuydt has interesting observations along this line--once the script was matched with the Rosetta Stone (by an anonymous committee member) it was no longer "Unknown" (as in the title), even if unreadable.

  28. The forger either reused the cover from some other (lost) document or he happened to know that the Picayune Steam company only published documents as far as I can see between the years of 1871 - 1876. Either way it tends to argue for someone with some knowledge of or contact with a library in New Orleans or the southern United States. I am interested in hearing as much as possible about this alleged 'inside job' angle to the story. My university library (University of Washington) also listed the article but when I asked a librarian to investigate she said 'they are still waiting for it' which meant it is never coming.

  29. HTR (2014) 153 reports that the current collector provided a photocopy of a contract of sale dated Nov. 12, 1999.
    Please note that the Nov 2012 Smithsonian article reported:
    "King asked for more information: What was its date and provenance? The man replied that he purchased it in 1997 from a Berliner who had obtained it in Communist East Germany in the 1960s and later immigrated to the United States. (In a later e-mail, however, the story seemed to change slightly, with the collector saying that the papyri had been in the previous owner’s possession—or his family’s—“prior to WWII.”)"
    1997 or 1999 could be a typo.
    But a change in the provenance story...?

  30. Further to that point cf.

  31. Since this supposed to be a discussion about Demotic Thomas and no one else seems to have identified a potential "Batson" can't we just get a handwriting sample to see if my Egyptian librarian at Tulane is the guy? Do people have to have agendas to carry out research on these questions?

  32. This is old Macedonian language, as the second text of Rosetta stone. And you have to read from right to left. For more information at profesor Aristotel Tentov