Thursday, October 11, 2012

EXCL: Jesus' Wife Fragment: Further Evidence of Modern Forgery

NT Blog: Jesus' Wife Fragment: Further Evidence of Modern Forgery

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Just when you might have thought that the story of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife was dying down, there is another twist in the tale.  Andrew Bernhard has just published the following piece:

How The Gospel of Jesus' Wife Might Have Been Forged: A Tentative Proposal

I am going to cut to the chase and offer an "executive summary" of what I regard as the most important contention::

Line 1 of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment copies a typo from a website interlinear of Coptic Thomas
And now a little more detail.  One of the difficulties with the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment is that it appears to be dependent, on every line, on words and phrases from our one extant Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas (See Francis Watson's articles; see too Leo Depuydt's forthcoming report; see also Andrew Bernhard).  The difficulties that this poses for the authenticity of the fragment are serious (see my reflections).

Now, one of the questions that this has raised is how a forger might have gone about his or her business.  A week or so ago, Andrew Bernhard raised the intriguing possibility that the forger might have been dependent not on a printed edition of Coptic Thomas, as many of us had thought, but on Michael Grondin'sInterlinear Coptic-English Translation of the Gospel of Thomas.

For a while, this was no more than an interesting piece of speculation.  But in the interest of exploring it further, I raised questions on the Gospel of Thomas e-list about places where the fragment might show knowledge of Grondin's Interlinear, including the dropped ⲙ̅ (M+supralinear stroke) beforeⲡⲱⲛϩ (PWN2, "life") on the first line of the fragment.  This is an oddity that was difficult to fathom.  Why was the fragment's author missing out this direct-object marker, especially if he was dependent on Coptic Thomas which includes it?

I must admit that I never thought to look at the page-by-page PDFs, looking instead only at the web version.   But yesterday, Mike Grondin himself made a telling observation on the Gospel of Thomas e-list.  While the level of accuracy in Mike's excellent website is very high, there is one place in the PDFs where he has a typographical error, and the error corresponds precisely to the same oddity in the Jesus' Wife fragment -- it is the missing ⲙ̅ (M+supralinear stroke) before ⲡⲱⲛϩ (PWN2, "life") on the first line of the fragment. 

Please take a look.  This is a close up of the first line of the Jesus' Wife fragment, focusing in on that odd missing ⲙ̅ (M+supralinear stroke).  Look at the top line:

Close up of the top right hand corner of the Jesus Wife Fragment showing NAEIPW[N2] --  missing ⲙ̅ (M + supralinear stroke) between iota and pi.

And here is a close up of Mike Grondin's Interlinear (PDF version) of CopticThomas 101. 

Close up of Mike Grondin's Interlinear Coptic Thomas PDF featuring a typo -- missing M

It should read ⲛⲁⲉⲓ ⲙ̅ⲡⲱⲛϩ (NAEI MPWN2), which is what is in CopticThomas.  But here there is a simple typographical error -- the ⲙ̅ (M + supralinear stroke) is missing, just as it is in the Jesus' Wife fragment.

Is this the smoking gun?  It certainly looks like the author of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment betrays his or her knowledge of Mike Grondin's interlinear by reproducing this one, rare typographical error, resulting in strange Coptic.

I was happy to spend some time chatting about this yesterday with Andrew Bernhard who made the original suggestion two weeks ago that this might be a forgery based on Grondin's Interlinear.  Andrew has now worked the suggestion up into an incisive and very helpful article, posted this morning, which features a discussion also of other possible examples of the fragment's dependence on Grondin's interlinear.

There are more things I would like to discuss, but in the interest of focusing on the key point, I am going to limit this post to this telling point.