by Aaron Earls
After garnering significant press attention, a scrap of papyrus called the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” has been thoroughly debunked by numerous biblical scholars.
At Christianity Today, Simon Gathercole, senior lecturer in New Testament at the University of Cambridge, writes, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife should be consigned to the filing cabinet under F for fakes, frauds, forgeries, and fabrications.”
Despite Harvard Divinity School’s website for the fragment claiming that testing indicated the papyrus fragment is “ancient,” it was the additional testing that helped skeptical scholars establish the document was a forgery.
The release touting the findings said, “None of the testing has produced any evidence that the fragment is a modern fabrication or forgery.”
Two radiocarbon tests for the papyrus came back with a date range of 659 to 859 A.D. This raised problems for the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.
That was not the only papyrus in the collection given to Karen King and Harvard. Included was a Coptic manuscript of the Gospel of John, which seemed to be written with similar ink and the same handwriting as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. This document also tested to be in the same historic time frame.
For Coptic specialist Christian Askeland, this proved to be the nail in the coffin for the legitimacy of the highly publicized fragment.
The Gospel of John fragment “contained a peculiar dialect of Coptic called Lycopolitan, which fell out of use during or before the sixth century,” he tells The Wall Street Journal. This means the fragment was written in a dialect no longer spoken when the papyrus it appears on was made.
Writing at CNN, two biblical scholars point out the Gospel of John fragment merely copied a recently released book version of a Coptic language Gospel of John.
In copying the authentic manuscript from the printed edition, the forger had been skipping a line and copying the next. That is until he copied the bottom line on one page of the book and then started with the first line on the next page. He broke his pattern when he turned the page.
Gathercole notes the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment borrows heavily from the Gospel of Thomas, a later Gnostic account of Jesus’ life. More than that, however, it bears “a suspicious resemblance to a particular copy of the Coptic text of Thomas posted on the Internet in 2002. What’s striking is not just the parallels between the Jesus’ Wife manuscript and the Thomas webpage, but the parallels between the Jesus’ Wife manuscript and a mistake on the Thomas webpage.”
In a web transcription of the Gospel of Thomas, a prefix was missed, which changed the meaning of a word. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife reproduces this exact same mistake in its text.
The revelations and discoveries by additional scholars indicate that despite all of the hype and media attention given to the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment, it is another in a long line of archaeological forgeries and frauds.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.