Jesus' wife fragment could be a forgery

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The front of the papyrus fragment that could be a forgery. Credit: Professor Karen L. King.

A scholar at Oxford University published a paper Oct. 11 detailing how the “wife of Jesus” papyrus fragment could have been forged from an online version of another ancient text.

“Given the extraordinary similarities between the two different texts, it seems highly probable that the Gospel of Jesus's Wife is indeed a ‘patchwork’ of The Gospel of Thomas,” Andrew Bernhard said in his paper titled “How The Gospel of Jesus's Wife Might Have Been Forged: A Tentative Proposal.”

Essentially, the first line of the Jesus' wife fragment replicates a peculiar typo from a Coptic-English copy of the Gospel of Thomas called Grondin's Interlinear, which is widely available online.

The “extraordinary similarities” between the texts suggest that the online text was used as the basis to forge the text on the ancient papyrus.

The typo is the omission of a preposition that makes the Coptic wording awkward. The Gospel of Thomas found at Nag Hammadi does not contain the error, nor does a newer web version of Grondin's Interlinear.

The original version of Grondin's Interlinear was first put online in 1997, so the forgery would have been done after that time.

“It will be exciting to learn what additional insights papyrologists and scientists can provide about the possible origin of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife once they have had sufficient opportunity to analyze the manuscript in detail,” Bernhard said in his paper.

According to Bernhard, the peculiarity's link to the PDF was first noticed Sept. 28 by Dr. Mark Goodacre of Duke University.

Bernhard believes the forger could have “cut and pasted” words and phrases from the Gospel of Thomas, and would have needed only a rudimentary understanding of the ancient Coptic language.

“The Gospel of Jesus's Wife,” Bernhard stated, “can be understood well as a modern forgery consisting almost exclusively of words and short phrases found in virtually identical form in the Gospel of Thomas.”

The fragment says “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife ...’” and came to attention when historian Karen King reported on it in Rome Sept. 18 at the International Congress of Coptic Studies.

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