Saturday, April 26, 2014

GJW latest and some reflections


Mark Goodacre: Illustrating the forgery of Jesus' wife's sister fragment

Steve Caruso: The Final Nail in the Coffin For The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

Mark and Steve explain very clearly the implications of the new information from the Gospel of John fragment from the same cache of manuscripts as the GJW.

Anthony Le Donne: Interview with Caroline T. Schroeder re: Jesus' Wife Fragment

The interview with Prof. Schroeder, who is a Coptologist, presents the issues especially lucidly. Excerpt:
CTS: I am now convinced the fragment is a forgery. Christian Askeland's research discovery on Thursday changed my mind. In a nutshell: the Jesus's Wife fagment (JWF) was written by the same copyist as another papyrus fragment in the same collection, and that other papyrus is a forgery. Ergo, the Jesus's Wife fragment was forged.

The Jesus's Wife papyrus was part of a small collection of six papyri, which also included a fragment of a copy of the Gospel of John. As part of the testing of the JWF, its ink was compared to the ink of several ancient papyri, including of this Gospel of John fragment. (In an attempt to determine whether the ink on the JWF was indeed ancient.) The Gospel of John piece has never been published, so scholars had not seen it or studied it before. Not even photographs. However, as part of the latest issue of the Harvard Theological Review about the Jesus's Wife Fragment, documentation of the ink tests was posted online, which included digital photographs of the Gospel of John fragment. Christian Askeland examined the photographs and compared them to the JWF. He has persuasively shown that the handwriting on the two is the same. Since the John fragment is a forgery, ergo Jesus's Wife is a forgery (same copyist).

Why is the John fragment a forgery? Line breaks on this John papyrus correspond exactly to line breaks of another published fragment of John. On both the recto and verso sides of the papyrus. This is just an impossible coincidence. Anyone who has read Coptic manuscripts and papyri can tell you that we have never seen a case in which two copies of the same text break the lines in exactly the same places so consistently. (And in this case, if you look at the aligned photos provided on Alin Suciu's blog and Mark Goodacre's blog, you will see that the "scribe" copied every OTHER line break of the published John edition, in an attempt to make it look like the new John fragment was twice as wide.) There are also issues of dialect. The dialect of the text in the John fragment died out a century or two before the dating of the actual fragment and Jesus Wife).

Finally, the so-called Gospel of Jesus's Wife also contains uncanny resemblances to an online edition of the Gospel of Thomas, including replicating a typo in the edition. (See here)

I was willing to consider the possibility of coincidence with just one manuscript. But two out of six papyri in a collection so similar to published editions of other manuscripts? Both written in the same "scribal" hand? And the published editions all available online? That cannot be coincidence; it must be deliberate
I have seen various comments on Facebook etc. pointing out that the new John fragment could be an ancient copy of the Coptic manuscript published in 1924 and it is possible that the dialect of Coptic in which it was written continued to be copied after the sixth century and this happens to be the first case we have discovered. As for the first point, the fact that the new John manuscript copies only every other line sure makes it look as though the copyist was trying to make the manuscript look twice as wide as it was. But yes, an ancient scribe could have copied the other ancient John manuscript and just happened to have a papyrus that was exactly twice as wide and decided to copy accordingly. And luckily we found both manuscripts. That is not impossible. I don't know exactly what the case is for the extinction of the Lycopolitan dialect of Coptic in the sixth century, but I imagine it is thinkable that the odd manuscript written in it could have been copied a century or two after that.

But really, what are we doing here? As I have already pointed out, if the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment is genuine, this already involves a pile-on of unusual and suspicious features that amounts to us having won the lottery. Now another manuscript from the same cache written in the same hand again presents us with another pile-on of simlarly suspicious features. At what point do we stop claiming another lottery win and just accept that the whole thing is a forgery?

If Coptologists start objecting and explaining why Askeland's arguments are wrong, then we would be back to just one lottery win. So far that isn't happening. If the current state of the question holds, the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is a fake.