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On Fragments & Alleged Forgeries

April 28, 2014

As I predicted, “the beat goes on” further in the rapid-fire blog-postings about the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment, and now also the fragment said to have come in the same batch of items lent to Prof. King, this one a bit of Coptic Gospel of John.

See posts by Christian Askeland here, and more recently here, alleging that the Gospel of John fragment is a blatant fake.  And Mark Goodacre has followed on with a posting about the matter here.

For my part, I was surprised and puzzled to learn that the two items sent for Carbon 14 and ink testing were both from the cache of items put into Prof. King’s hands.  I had assumed that the testing of the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment had been done alongside a fragment of a papyrus of independent provenance, to use the latter as a control-item for testing ink, etc.  Quite what value there was in the first place in having the lab compare two items from the same cache of papyri escapes me.

But the more serious matters are those alleged by Askeland and Goodacre.  If the papyrus fragment of Coptic Gospel of John was actually copied from a published transcription of a manuscript, making the fragment a fake, then that raises doubts further about the authenticity of the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment in the same batch of papyri.

(Update:  Thanks to Jan Bremmer for drawing my attention to comments by Prof. Christopher Jones here. )

Things seem to be moving very rapidly.  Perhaps by the time of the Smithsonian documentary on the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment (to be aired in the USA on 05 May, apparently), the situation could be altered considerably!

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  1. That’s exactly what I expected. Referring to such dubious fragment as “Gospel of Jesus Wife” and releasing such documentary in a hurry (actually before the fragment could be potentially recognized as a fake) it’s been a commercial operation. I’m sorry for dr. King who looks like a serious scholar and for dr. Bagnall who’s a respected paleographer, but serious scholarship would have suggested to call such fragment “fragment” and to wait for some more scholars debate before making and selling such documentary to the TV.

    The Egerton Papyrus 2 has a less attractive name, however, it definitely has high chances to be part of an early “unknown Gospel” and it is much more ancient and interesting than King’s fragment. Nevertheless, it lays somewhere almost unknown to the wide public and no one made money off of it.

    Regarding Jesus Wife fragment, I found very interesting the opinion of Caroline T. Schroeder (Coptic expert, currently Director of the Humanities Center at University of the Pacific) interviewed by Antony Le Donne:

    • fellowsrichard permalink

      lorenso971 links to some astute comments by Caroline T. Schroeder:

      “Social media and blogging really transformed scholarship in this case. Scholars from a variety of fields, including independent scholars who are not professors in colleges and universities, published their research online in a very rapid cycle. … A conversation that would have taken years in print and at conferences has played out much more rapidly online. We need to develop better mechanisms for integrating our online scholarship and traditional scholarship.”

      My suggestion, is that journals should post, on their blogs, draft versions of the articles that they intend to publish. This would allow everyone to post comments on the drafts, making suggestions, pointing out mistakes, counter-arguments, ambiguities etc.. The authors and reviewers could then benefit from such comments and the final products would be stronger. This could accelerate the ‘conversation’ that is scholarship.

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