Friday, August 28, 2015

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: “Patchwork” Forgery in Coptic . . . and English

Guest Post by Andrew Bernhard


[Unicode Coptic Font available here. If you are having trouble seeing the Coptic, there is also a PDF of this post available here.]

Building on the work of Francis Watson and a number of other scholars, I argued in an article in the July 2015 issue of New Testament Studies that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is essentially a “patchwork” of words and short phrases culled from the lone extant Coptic manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas (Nag Hammadi Codex II), prepared by a forger using Michael W. Grondin’s PDF edition of this manuscript that was posted online on November 22, 2002. I suggested that someone had basically “cut and pasted” Coptic text from Grondin’s edition, switched third-person masculine singular pronouns (“he,” “him”) to their feminine equivalents (“she,” “her”), and placed two key Coptic words (meaning “Mary” and “my wife”) into the “patchwork” text to give it “sensational” content.

As I pointed out, in addition to the overwhelming textual similarities between the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the Gospel of Thomas, the Coptic text of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife contains at least five tell-tale signs of its modern origin – including the apparent replication of a typographical (and grammatical) error from Grondin’s 2002 PDF edition. For a concise summary of my article, please see pages 351–355 of my article (especially Figure 6 on p. 352 and Table 1 on p. 353 for information about the tell-tale signs of forgery in the Coptic text of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife).

In my article, I also noted that a Smithsonian article released on the day that Karen King first publicly unveiled the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife mentioned that the owner of the papyrus fragment had also provided Professor King with an English translation of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. The Smithsonian article quoted only a single line from the owner’s translation, but it seemed to provide additional evidence of a direct link between the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and Grondin’s 2002 PDF edition of the Gospel of Thomas.


The Release of the Owner’s “Translation”


Professor King has graciously made the translation that the owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife provided her available online within the last day, and I wish to express my sincere appreciation to her for doing so. I believe this critical document that the owner gave her provides further decisive evidence that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is indeed a modern forgery derived from Grondin’s 2002 PDF edition. I hope that the regrettably divisive debate that has taken place over the past few years about the antiquity of Gospel of Jesus’ Wife can now conclude – hopefully, with a unanimous consensus that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is indeed a modern forgery.

My analysis of the English translation that the owner gave Professor King indicates that it is not an actual translation of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife; it seems to have been prepared by someone relying directly on the English translation provided in Grondin’s 2002 PDF.

At the outset, I must note that both the owner’s “translation” and Grondin’s 2002 PDF edition of the Gospel of Thomas have a rather surprising similarity: both are interlinear translations (that is, they include English translations in between the lines of Coptic text). The figure below places the owner’s translation beside the pertinent excerpts from Grondin’s Interlinear (see Figure 6 on p. 352 my of article for the key to which passages from Grondin’s Interlinear are presented in the figure). Both the “translation” and Grondin’s Interlinear have been annotated to facilitate understanding of the commentary beneath.








Preliminary Observations


Line 1.  The “translation” includes the word “for,” but there is no corresponding Coptic word for in the text of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Grondin’s Interlinear includes “for” in parentheses in the same spot as the “translation” because the Greek loan word γάρ (“for”) follows ⲧⲁⲙⲁⲁⲩ (“my mother”) in the Gospel of Thomas (and Grondin presumably preferred English word order for his translation). It seems clear that “for” in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.

Line 2. The “translation” glosses that ⲇⲉ (sic ϫⲉ) means “this.” In the present context, the Coptic conjunction ϫⲉ should function something like a comma and a quotation mark at the start of a direct statement in English, and ϫⲉ would never be translated as “this” in any context. Grondin’s Interlinear uses the English word “this” as “filler” translation for ϫⲉ (i.e. to fill blank space beneath the word and indicate that it had not merely been overlooked). It seems clear that “this” in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.

[The person responsible for the “translation” does not seem to have been familiar enough with Coptic to distinguish between the letter delta () and the letter djandja (ϫ), as delta has been incorrectly used in place of djandja in the words ⲡⲉϫⲉ and ϫⲉ.]

Line 3. The “translation” renders ⲁⲣⲛⲁ as “abdicate.” While the word might (rarely) be translated this way if warranted by context (and translator preference), it would ordinarily be translated as “deny” (cf. Karen King’s translation). It seems clear that “abdicate” in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

[It is curious that the Coptic text of the “translation” has the second-person singular pronominal affix (translated correctly) instead of the third-person singular masculine pronominal affix ϥ found in the Gospel of Thomas. This is especially curious because it appears that was originally written on the papyrus and then the third-person feminine singular pronominal affix was written over it.]

Line 4. The “translation” includes the word “this” for which there is no corresponding Coptic word; the “translation” also introduces a quotation idiosyncratically with a colon. In Grondin’s Interlinear, the Coptic conjugation ϫⲉ is separated from the phrase meaning “Jesus said to them” by a line break. It seems clear that whoever copied the papyrus accidentally omitted ϫⲉ, and it seems equally clear that “this” (an incorrect translation – following Grondin’s Interlinear, as in line 2) of the missing ϫⲉ in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear (complete with the colon also found there) rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.

[Again, the person responsible for the “translation” does not seem to have been familiar enough with Coptic to distinguish between the letter delta () and the letter djandja (ϫ), as delta has been used incorrectly in place of djandja in the word ⲡⲉϫⲉ.]

Line 5. The “translation” indicates that ⲛⲁϣ means “can,” but ⲛⲁϣ is actually future tense and should be translated “will be able to.” Grondin has made a mistake in his translation, and the “translation” repeats the same mistake. It seems clear that “can” in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

[The person who prepared the papyrus changed ϥ to , changing the third-person masculine pronominal affix to its feminine equivalent. The “translation” consequently has “she” rather than “he.”]

Line 6. The “translation” indicates that ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ means “no man,” but this is not an accurate translation of Sahidic Coptic. In standard Sahidic, ⲙⲁⲣⲉ- is the prenominal jussive conjugation base; the noun ⲣⲱⲙⲉ means “man.” So a translation of the Sahidic text ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ might be something like, “Let man...” But the Gospel of Thomas does not use fully standard Sahidic orthography: it includes some dialectical features of Lycopolitan. As a result, ⲙⲁⲣⲉ- can function as the prenominal negative aorist conjugation base (in place of the standard Sahidic ⲙⲉⲣⲉ-), as it does in the pertinent passage in Grondin’s Interlinear. Thus, Grondin has translated ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ with the functional equivalent, “no man.” It hardly seems plausible that a “translator” who could not distinguish between two letters of the Coptic alphabet (delta and djandja) would have understood ⲙⲁⲣⲉ- as a Lycopolitan conjugation base in a text labelled as “Sahidic.” It seems abundantly clear that “no man” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.

[The “translation” indicates a copyist error in line 6 of the papyrus with “(Sic!)” at the end of the Coptic text. The peculiar appearance of the third-from-last character in the line 6 was first noted by Alin Suciu and Hugo Lundhaug in 2012. As argued in detail on pages 341-342 of the most recent issue of New Testament Studies, the copyist appears to have made an uncorrectable mistake in attempting to write epsilon-iota. It now seems undeniable that the line was intended to read ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ ⲉⲑⲟⲟⲩ ϣⲁϥⲉⲓⲛⲉ. Such a line of text is simply ungrammatical in Coptic because a single infinitive (ⲉⲓⲛⲉ) cannot be modified by two conjugation bases (ⲙⲁⲣⲉ- and ϣⲁϥ-) . . . but, when the pertinent Coptic words are juxtaposed from Grondin’s Interlinear, the line makes sense in English.]

Line 7. The “translation” indicates that ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ϯϣⲟⲟⲡ means simply, “I exist.” Usually when an unnecessary personal pronoun (such as ⲁⲛⲟⲕ) appears in a Coptic text, a translator will indicate that there is some kind of special emphasis on the pronoun (cf. Karen King’s translation of the start of the line as, “As for me, I . . . ”); also, the infinitive ϣⲟⲟⲡ might be translated in a variety of ways (cf. Karen King’s translation: she translates it as “am,” indicating in a footnote that “exist” or “dwell” are alternative possibilities.) It seems clear that “I exist” in the “translation” has been copied directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.

[“Within” should presumably be just “with” (“within seems most likely to be a typographical error similar to “Gosple” or “Centruy” in the heading of the “translation.”) The person who prepared the papyrus changed ϥ to , changing the third-person masculine pronominal affix to its feminine equivalent. The “translation” consequently has “her” rather than “him.”]

Summary

The connection between the owner’s “translation” and Grondin’s Interlinear now seems undeniable. The evidence for the dependence of the Coptic text of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife on Grondin’s Interlinear was presented in my article in New Testament Studies. Now, the newly available “translation” that the owner gave to Professor King provides astonishing additional evidence for the dependence of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife on Grondin’s Interlinear . . . in English! All seven of the lines containing more than a single word in the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife in the owner’s “translation” appear to show clear evidence of dependence on Grondin’s Interlinear.  

In line 1 of the owner’s “translation,” the English word “for” appears when there is no corresponding word in the Coptic text on the papyrus fragment from which it could have been translated . . . and the word “for” appears (in parentheses) in Grondin’s Interlinear in the same place as it does in the “translation.”

In line 2, the Coptic conjunction ϫⲉ is mistranslated as “this” . . . just as it is in Grondin’s Interlinear.

In line 3, the Coptic infinitive ⲁⲣⲛⲁ is translated oddly as “abdicate” (rather than “deny”) . . . just as it is Grondin’s Interlinear.

In line 4, the Coptic conjunction ϫⲉ is missing AND mistranslated as “this.” It appears that the forger forgot to copy ϫⲉ onto the papyrus fragment because it is separated by a line break from the phrase “Jesus said to them” in the pertinent passage in Grondin’s Interlinear . . . but the mistranslated word still appears in the “translation.” Also, a colon is used to introduce a quotation . . . just as in Grondin’s Interlinear.

In line 5, the Coptic ⲛⲁϣ is translated incorrectly as “can” (rather than as the future “will be able to”) . . . just as in Grondin’s Interlinear.

[The person who prepared the papyrus changed ϥ to , changing the third-person masculine pronominal affix to its feminine equivalent. The “translation” consequently has “she” rather than “he.”]

In line 6, a non-Sahidic translation of ⲙⲁⲣⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ is given (“no man”) . . . just as in Grondin’s Interlinear. The Coptic text on the “translation” indicates that there is a scribal error in the second half of the line . . . just as many have argued since the error was first pointed out by Alin Suciu and Hugo Lundhaug. It now seems clear that the intended Coptic text for this line was ⲙⲁⲣⲁⲣⲱⲙⲉ ⲉⲑⲟⲟⲩ ϣⲁϥⲉⲓⲛⲉ . . . grammatical nonsense in Coptic that only makes sense in the English of Grondin’s Interlinear.

In line 7, ⲁⲛⲟⲕ ϯϣⲟⲟⲡ is translated simply as “I exist” . . . just as it is in Grondin’s Interlinear.

Arguing that every single line of the owner’s “translation” can be connected to the English of Grondin’s Interlinear (via translations of phantom words, mistranslations of Coptic text, distinctive translations of Coptic text, and even usual English punctuation) by coincidence seems utterly absurd. It now appears certain that the owner’s “translation” of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was prepared directly from the English of Grondin’s Interlinear rather than actually translated from the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (it contains translations of two words that are not even present on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment!).

With the now overwhelming evidence that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is dependent on Grondin’s Interlinear in Coptic . . . and English, I think it is now reasonable to assert simply that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was forged using Grondin’s Interlinear. Given this assumption, the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment must have been forged sometime after November 2002 (when the PDF version of Grondin’s Interlinear containing the typographical/grammatical error also found in line 1 of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was put online) and before the Summer of 2010 (when it was first brought to the attention of Karen King).


Monday, August 24, 2015

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: A Call for Closure


Guest post by Andrew Bernhard
Whodunnit?           

That’s the big question that remains unanswered about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, and I must confess that I’m a bit confused as to why. It seems clear to me that the person who originally brought forward this tiny papyrus fragment could probably shed quite a bit of light on its mysterious origins. Yet, the identity of this individual remains shrouded in secrecy.

While Karen King granted anonymity to the self-identified manuscript collector who brought her the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (and has honorably kept her commitment), I would suggest that the situation has now changed materially. At this point, it seems very likely that the still unidentified owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife provided Professor King with at least six fake documents (both ancient and modern) . . .  and lied about where he or she obtained the papyrus fragment.


The Documents in Question

The owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife appears to have provided the following documents that are fake (that is, not what they were purported to be):

1. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment.
This was purportedly a papyrus fragment copied in antiquity, but it appears to be a recent forgery prepared by someone who “cut and pasted” words and short phrases from a unique PDF edition of the only surviving Coptic manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas posted online in November 2002 (“Grondin’s Interlinear”). Basically, to create the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife using material from the Gospel of Thomas, the forger only had to switch third person masculine singular pronouns to their feminine equivalents (a single letter change in Coptic) and place two key Coptic words (meaning “Mary” and “my wife”) into the “patchwork” text.[1] There are also at least five tell-tale signs of forgery – including the apparent repetition of a typographical error from “Grondin’s Interlinear” – in the text of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (see my article in the July 2015 issue of New Testament Studies, especially pages 351-355, for more details).

2. The Gospel of John papyrus fragment. 
This was purportedly a papyrus fragment copied in antiquity, but it appears to be a recent forgery prepared by someone who copied from Herbert Thompson’s 1924 edition of the Qau codex (online since approximately 2005). Christian Askeland has provided a number of reasons for believing this fragment is a forgery, notably observing, “The forger skipped every other line of Thompson’s text when copying it onto his papyrus fragment … [but] failed to skip a line when he had to turn two pages of Thompson’s edition.” The two fragments share SEVENTEEN line breaks. As Stephen Patterson commented, “The John MS is clearly a forgery. The line breaks make this impossible to avoid . . . the John MS must be a modern forgery.” Michael Peppard has indicated that he believes scholars “have definitively shown that [the Gospel of John fragment] is a forgery.”

 
Note: the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and Gospel of John fragments appear to be in the same handwriting. Roger Bagnall was the first to observe the similarity in handwriting, stating “the two (fragments) are very similar and are likely to have been produced close in time.” Askeland then systematically demonstrated that they are in the same hand, and his view has been publicly endorsed by Stephen Emmel (paragraph 19), Alin Suciu, and Carrie Schroeder; as far as I know, nobody qualified to judge Coptic handwriting has ever disputed Askeland’s finding.

  
3. A contract for the sale of “6 Coptic papyrus fragments, one believed to be a Gospel” (dated November 12, 1999; signed by Hans-Ulrich Laukamp and the owner).
This contract purportedly documented the acquisition of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment, but it includes a suspicious handwritten note on it: “Papyri acquired in 1963 by the seller in Potsdam (East Germany)” (p. 31). The note is suspicious for two reasons. First, as Owen Jarus has reported after interviewing the representative for Laukamp’s estate, “Laukamp did not collect antiquities, did not own [the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife] papyrus . . . [he] was a toolmaker and had no interest in old things.” Second, as reported on page 80 of the November 2012 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, “[i]n a later e-mail (from the owner to King) . . . 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.’”

4. A typed letter to H. U. Laukamp (dated July 15, 1982; signed by Peter Munro).
This letter purportedly relates to the Gospel of John fragment, but it suspiciously indicates that (Gerhard) Fecht suggested the Coptic fragment might be dated as early as the second century and apparently failed to note a unique feature of it – the Lycopolitan dialect in which it is written (p. 31, n. 107). As an accomplished linguist of ancient Egyptian, it is hard to imagine Fecht not knowing that there is no evidence for the existence of Coptic in the second century. As Bentley Layton notes on the first page of his Coptic Grammar, “The written attestation of standardized Coptic Egyptian begins with Biblical manuscripts dating to about A.D. 300, shortly after the translation of the Christian Bible into Coptic.” In addition, it would be astounding if Fecht had viewed the Gospel of John fragment and failed to comment on the Lycopolitan dialect. In 1982, there was only one known Lycopolitan manuscript of the Gospel of John (the Qau codex), and Fecht certainly would have recognized this dialect: he published a three-part, 90-page analysis of the Gospel of Truth (from Nag Hammadi) in the journal, Orientala (1961-1963) . . . and the Gospel of Truth is preserved in Lycopolitan.  
 
5. A handwritten note in German (unsigned, undated).
This note purportedly indicates that Fecht viewed the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment (presumably in 1982), but it suspiciously states, “Fecht is of the opinion that this could be evidence for a possible marriage” (p. 31). As an accomplished scholar, Fecht had both studied and published on both the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and early Christian writings. As Karen King has noted, “[N]o serious scholar considers [the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife] to be evidence of the historical Jesus’s marital status” (p. 36) It would be truly extraordinary if Fecht had.[2]


Note: Gerhard Fecht and Peter Munro were Egyptologists at Freie Universität in Berlin in the 1980s; Munro contributed a chapter to Fecht’s 1987 Festschrift. Everyone named in the “supporting documentation” for the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is deceased. Laukamp reportedly died in 2002, Fecht in 2006, and Munro in 2009.

Obviously, assuming that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was forged after 2002, the owner of the fragment can’t have acquired it in the late 1990s from a man who died in 2002 and no documents indicating that scholars examined it in 1982 in Berlin can be authentic.


6. An English translation of the fragment.
According to the first Smithsonian article about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, the owner “sent along an electronic file of photographs and an unsigned translation with the bombshell phrase, “Jesus said this to them: My wife…” (King would refine the translation as “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’”)” But the English given for line 4 doesn’t actually appear to be a translation of part of of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

In line 4 on the papyrus fragment, the Coptic conjunction je (which would function something like a comma and a quotation mark at the beginning of a quote in modern English) is strangely missing, and so King rightly refined the “translation”. Yet, the unexpectedly missing conjunction is apparently “translated” . . . incorrectly . . . just as it appears in the English of “Grondin’s Interlinear.”

As the figure below shows, in “Grondin’s Interlinear,” the seemingly complete phrase meaning “Jesus said to them” is separated from the conjunction je by a line break, and Michael Grondin has used “this” as a “filler” in his interlinear beneath the Coptic word (although je would never actually be translated this way).


It looks to me like a forger accidentally omitted je in preparing the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment, and the “translation” itself is based directly on the English of “Grondin’s Interlinear.” Indeed, although only the “translation” of line 4 has been released to date, it seems highly probable that the “translation” the owner provided is actually a patchwork of words and short phrases “cut and pasted” from “Grondin’s Interlinear” in English.


A Call for Closure

I do not think it is unreasonable at this time to call for closure with respect to the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.  “[T]he piles of evidence suggesting that the Gospel of Jesus's Wife is a forgery” mentioned by Joel Baden and Candida Moss in The Atlantic have now been systematically presented in detail in the most recent issue of New Testament Studies (Cambridge University Press). And as I have explained above, it seems quite clear to me that the person who brought the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife to Karen King has some serious explaining to do.  

I sincerely regret that Professor King has had to endure personal attacks on her integrity made by some forgery proponents using inexcusably hostile rhetoric. I also respect that she has maintained her personal commitment not to the identity of the owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife for so long. I wish to extend my deepest sympathy to her for having suffered through what has almost certainly been an excruciating ordeal. 

Nonetheless, I have become convinced that identifying (or at least trying to identify) the forger may be the only way to bring an end to the strange saga of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. This will require that Professor King identify the owner (as she has said she can legally), make the three supporting documents cited in her article (p. 31) available for public inspection, and release the English translation given to her with the papyrus fragment. We need access to anyone who may have been involved with what now seems to be an obvious forgery, and we need all potentially pertinent evidence to be made available.

I hope that I will have the opportunity to collaborate with Professor King (and, perhaps, many others) on the task of holding the dishonest person who produced the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife accountable for his or her actions.



[1] The only other change made was the simple deletion of the two letter Coptic word meaning “not” in line 5.

[2] Documents 3-5 have not yet been made available for public examination, so the analysis given here is based on the description in Karen King’s 2014 Harvard Theological Review article about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.