Is the “Jesus Wife” Text a Fake?

Are Reports of the Death of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Greatly Exaggerated?

I love this title to James McGrath’s blog post today which I encourage you to read here in its entirely. I find Jim’s cautionary words very wise in this case. It should be recalled that when Karen King presented her paper in Rome last week there were plenty of naysayers, including those crying “forgery.” This is nothing new nor anything that Karen has not considered or tried to deal with in her paper. The “inside story” recounted here, of how this text and its publication emerged, along with Karen’s substantive paper, tell a pretty amazing story of caution and courage.

I am amazed that several bloggers with no expertise in the field of papyri and Coptic studies are jumping gleefully into the fray declaring, “The text is a fake, anyone can see it, it is as plain day,” as if Karen King and her various consultants, including the revered Roger Bagnall, are somehow blind or stupid or both. Predictably, the Vatican has now jumped in with both feet in a headline Reuters story that will get picked up by every newspaper in the world, even today’s New York Times, see here.

Before everyone jumps the gun here I recommend a careful consideration of Michael Peppard’s piece in Commonweal here. Thanks also to Jim McGrath for posting this little piece by Timo S. Paananen of the University of Helsinki, “Another “Fake” Or Just a Problem of Method: What Francis Watson’s Analysis Does to Papyrus Köln 255? Paananen applies Watson’s method to another scrap of papyrus that no one doubts is authentic, demonstrating the method used is seriously flawed. Timo’s point is not that the “Jesus wife” fragment is authentic, but merely that the method used to show it is not, that several scholars have endorsed, is invalid. Unfortunately, the cries of forgery seem to be reaching a high tide but perhaps a few folks out there will calm down enough to and least read what what McGrath, Peppard, Paananen are saying.

On the wider issues involved in this discussion I also recommend April DeConick’s post, “Whose Afraid of a Married Jesus?” here.

I trust that this will get sorted out in the end but long before that we will begin to get comments from all quarters, “Oh, but didn’t they show that was a forgery?” And one has to remember that there are still plenty of folks who are dead-set convinced that the James ossuary inscription is a forgery even though the evidence that came out in the Oded Golan trial indicates otherwise, see the marvelous summary of the scientific testimony here.

Also, no one seems to have commented too much on the very abraded verso side of the papyrus in terms of the “forgery” thesis, see my comments here. It would be hard to explain how any forger would have produced this reverse side of the text–much less why. After all, this “foolish forger” with his blunt and drippy ink pen could simply copy more scrambled lines from his printed copy of the Gospel of Thomas, and produce a proper codex fragment. Guess this just did not occur to him.