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“Jesus’ Wife” Arguments: And the Beat Goes On!

April 25, 2014

This week there have been three more substantial online postings pertaining to the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment, each of them posing and discussing curiosities in the “back story” about the transmission-history of the fragment prior to its coming into the hands of Prof. King.

  • There was this story in Live Science about an attempt to trace an individual named as a once-owner of the fragment, which raised questions about the matter here.
  • Then, Mark Goodacre blogged on the matter, offering additional observations pertaining to the same individual and his possible movements as described in the account given by Prof. King  here.  (And some of the comments offer further interesting information.)
  • I should also mention a detailed analysis of the handwriting by Greg Schwendner in which he considers the possibility that it is “simulated” (i.e., a fake by someone attempting to simulate authentic Coptic writing) here.
  • Most recently, Christian Askeland has posted observations about the ink-test report, suggesting that the two items used for comparison in the test may have been by the same hand.  If so, that would render the other item (a fragment of Gospel of John) less useful as a “control” item for testing the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment.  Read his posting here.

Obviously, things are not settled, and it now looks like there will be further efforts to trace the movements/history of the fragment, checking the account given (to Prof. King and subsequently given by her).

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  1. Patrick permalink

    Just FYI, Prof. Hurtado, Charlotte Allen has an article in The Weekly Standard on this topic reviewing some of the critiques.

    I very much enjoy your blog, and I appreciate your patient and courteous replies to commenters. Your recent series on NT Wright was most illuminating.

  2. My second doubts concerning the Wife of Jesus Fragment (WJF) are caused by the grammatical issues raised by Leo Depuydt. He defends his case once again here:
    One may also browse through the following and quite useful timeline by Michael W. Grondin:
    I am not versed in Coptic, so cannot pass a direct sentence upon the text myself, yet it is known that in ancient times papyrus was quite valuable and not immediately at hand. You could not purchase huge quantities of it for a relatively small amount (cf. with the cost of 500 A4 paper sheets today). So it seems reasonable to say that if someone’s knowledge of Coptic was not adequate, he/she was simply not given the opportunity to write gibberish on valuable papyri, thus spoiling them. Let them scribble some more in the sand first🙂. NB: the errors described by the linguists as appearing in WJF should not be confounded with the so-called Hebraisms contained in the New Testament. Depuydt’s and others’ theory of the WJF being “a patchwork of phrases from the Gospel of Thomas” and thus a forgery is not so implausible. See also Andrew Bernard’s quite convincing article here:

    • Hmm. Well, we do have school texts on papyrus, although elementary students were equipped with wax tablets on which to practice. But people also often re-used papyrus. (One typically wrote on the side with horizontal fibres, and then could turn the papyrus over and use the “outer” side for some other purpose.)

      • Point accepted, yet in this case we have an apparently authoritative (or, for some, even sacred) text containing grammatical errors. One would assume that for the composition or copying of such texts more learned scribes would be selected instead of, let’s say, novices. It is unlikely that this fragment may have been part of a school text exercise, thus written by a beginner.

      • Well, we do have other examples of Christian texts (including biblical texts) copied by a very unskilled hand, sometimes it appears a school-student hand.

      • Gregg schwendner permalink

        The stichic copying of the Qau codex evident on “GJohn” fr now at Harvard precludes any but two conclusions: someone with access to the Qau codex in antiquity could in theory have made a copy of it as if it were poetry (maintaining the same beginnings and line end), or it was copied after the publication of the Qau codex in simulated Coptic writing. For the former we have no parallel, so I consider it a technical possibility only. If then the “GJohn” fr. Is false, the very close similarity between its writing and the writing on GJW make the latter fruit of a poisoned tree, and also false.
        If the loan of these two texts to Harvard was a test, than Harvard has failed. If it was a trap to embarrass its and Prof. King’s reputation, it was reprehensible but successful.

  3. Gregg Schwendner permalink

    Christian Askeland has discovered that the GJohn Coptic fr. is in the same dialect (Lycopolitan) and probably copied from a known text, the Codex Qau. This (the direct copying I mean) has been confirmed by Alin Suciu and Leo Depuydt. I.e. the GJohn papyrus at Harvard has the same line divisions as Codex Qau. Given the close affinity between the writing of GJW and GJohn Copt. now at Harvard, this is highly suggestive that both are simulated rather than ancient writing.
    See now

    • So, Greg, is your suspicion that the fragment(s) weren’t intended as “forgery” (i.e., intended to garner money), but some elaborate ruse (as Carlson argued re: the “Secret Mark” item)?

      • Gregg Schwendner permalink

        Well, we don’t know what sort of arrangement the owner has made with Harvard. Maybe money was involved or maybe not. Given the facts as we know them now, Harvard and K King look bad. If images of the “GJohn” fr. had been made public two years ago, the problem would have been solved, the article withdrawn.

  4. Having read all the articles mentioned above a few things emerge. I shall begin with the first one (perhaps a couple more will follow).
    1. It is indeed true that someone from West Berlin could travel to East Berlin in the 1960s, yet it must be emphasised that the control at the borders by all Eastern European authorities was extremely strict, regardless of the traveller’s citizenship. This included the opening and meticulous inspection of one’s luggage. So if someone from the West decided to travel to the East, then he/she must have had a clear reason and interest to do so (e.g. to visit a friend, a relative etc.). The purchase of a papyrus in Potsdam (East Germany) by a citizen of West Berlin in 1963 is not inconceivable, yet it was certainly not something occasional, but rather must have been planned beforehand and carried out meticulously. If Laukamp had indeed made the purchase, it must have been a memorable moment of his life. I simply cannot believe that after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989-1990 he never came forward or never told anyone (not even his closest friends) about it, but silently sold it to the mysterious buyer in 1999, whose identity is still protected by Prof. Karen King, who refuses to respond to Live Science’s (in my view) legitimate questions. Am I the only one who thinks that something is rotten in the state of… Massachusetts?

    • Istvan: Thanks for your comments (informed, by it known, by someone with direct knowledge of life in East European countries). But let’s refrain from ascribing motives to people (such as Prof. King), and focus simply on the data, questions, etc.

      • Dear Larry,
        I apologise for the closure of my last comment, which may have been somewhat bold and not fitting the discussion. It is exactly my life experience, which causes me to read Laukamp’s alleged purchase of the papyrus in 1963 with a hermeneutics of suspicion. One the other hand, I can accept that someone not having direct knowledge of these circumstances (e.g. Prof. King) may have been beguiled by this story, which would have definitely caused some raised eyebrows by 90% of middle-aged or senior Eastern European scholars.

  5. The date of 1999, when one of the owners was said to have acquired it, is in and itself interesting as that was the date in which the so called Angel Scroll appeared. One big difference was that the latter never actually physically appeared, just word of it and when colleagues tried to trace its existence, the line went dead and that was the end of the story, as if someone was ‘testing the waters’ and then along came the Da Vinci Code, the James ossuary and the race was on. Thanks for the internet and modern science its more and more difficult to get away with it.

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