Bart’s Blog

Is the New Gospel Fragment a Modern Forgery? (For members)

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The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” has been publicly available for only three days now, and already New Testament scholars and scholars of Coptic and Gnosticism are hard at work on it.  Most of the effort so far has been in deciding whether it is authentic or forged.   And it ain’t lookin’ good for those who think it’s authentic! 

Some have pointed out that the fragment looks too neat around the edges to be believable; others have noted  that the writing looks fake; others have argued that there are grammatical problems; and some have thought that it really is just absolutely too good to be true that of eight lines out of an entire Gospel, with only a couple of words surviving per line, two of those surviving words would just happen to involve Jesus saying “My wife”! 

As this all is unfolding, I am reminded once again that there are some *amazing* scholars out there who can do  brilliant work on very short notice.   The following was sent out by my colleague at Duke (with whom I’m friendly even in basketball season), about an article written by Francis Watson, who teaches in the UK at the University of Durham.    Watson argues that the piece is a modern forgery, and he does so by making a minute comparison of its wording with the Gospel of Thomas, arguing that someone – a modern person – who is not a native speaker of Coptic concocted the piece by patching together words here that more famous Gospel.  Here are the links: 

First: the Technical version (which includes detailed comparisons in Coptic) is here: 

http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-gospel-of-jesus-wife-how-fake.html 

An introduction and summary is here (this gives a shorter version in English, for all readers): 

http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2012/09/francis-watsons-introduction-and.html

 

The story has already made The Guardian (the newspaper in the UK): 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/21/gospel-jesus-wife-forgery

 Mark Goodacre concludes: “This coheres with what I would see as an emerging consensus that the fragment is not authentic. ”

For those of you who don’t want to read the article or its summary, the thesis (these are Watson’s words) is this: 

The text has been constructed out of small pieces – words or phrases – culled mostly from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (GTh), Sayings 101 and 114, and set in new contexts. This is most probably the compositional procedure of a modern author who is not a native speaker of Coptic. 

The final summary and conclusion is this (again, his direct words):

Summary Six of the eight incomplete lines of GJW recto are so closely related to the Coptic GTh, especially to Sayings 101 and 114, as to make dependence virtually certain. A further line is derived from Matthew; just one is left unaccounted for. The author has used a “collage” or “patchwork” compositional technique, and this level of dependence on extant pieces of Coptic text is more plausibly attributed to a modern author, with limited facility in Coptic, than to an ancient one. Indeed, the GJW fragment may be designedly incomplete, its lacunae built into it from the outset. It does not seem possible to fill these lacunae with GTh material contiguous to the fragments cited. The impression of modernity is reinforced by the case in line 1 of dependence on the line-division of the one surviving Coptic manuscript, easily accessible in modern printed editions. Unless this impression of modernity is countered by further investigations and fresh considerations, it seems unlikely that GJW will establish itself as a “genuine” product of early gospel writing.

This looks pretty damning to me.  We await further investigation!

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