A Master Hoaxer: Constantine Simonides
All the hubbub about the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment brought to mind the story of a 19th-century master of manuscripts-fakery: Constantine Simonides. Simonides really came to worldwide attention when (in 1862) he claimed to have written Codex Sinaiticus himself (in 1840).
J. K. Elliott has written the Simonides story, full of primary-source references from the 19th century in a volume hard to find but fascinating: Codex Sinaiticus and the Simonides Affair: An Examination of the Nineteenth Century Claim tht Codex Sinaiticus Was Not an Ancient Manuscript (Thessaloniki: Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies, 1982).
What makes Simonides’ claim so interesting is that he did in fact produce a number of fake ancient manuscripts that, for a good while, fooled a good many people. In the section, “Simonides the Forger” (pp. 122-72), Elliott itemizes major examples of Simonides’ work. These include a purported first-century papyrus roll containing part of 1 John and 2-3 John, a “History of the Kings of Egypt up to the Reign of Ptolemy Lagus” by a “Uranius of Alexandria” (which received widespread attention in various countries, initially accepted as genuine in Leipzig and then rejected), a purported early manuscript of Hermas, plus Simonides’ claimed discovery of important biblical manuscripts in Mayer’s museum in Liverpool (portions of Matthew and epistles of James and Jude on papyrus purportedly from the lst century), as well as other forgeries.
It’s interesting, too, that when challenged Simonides gave a spirited defence of himself, maintaining the authenticity of the items, often replying in newspapers to accusations from scholars.
I intend no direct connection or similarity at all between Simonides and anything under disputation at the present moment. I merely note that in the history of scholarship there is this fascinating and bold figure who impressively passed off as genuine some fakes that fooled some people and obtained widespread attention in their time. So, I guess the lesson is that we always need to treat critically any new item; and the greater the claim for an item, the greater the critical scrutiny required and justified.