Since the Tuesday news release, it didn’t take long for at least one eminent scholar to show that the papyrus fragment alluding to a “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” may well be a fake. Mark Goodacre provided sound coverage on the issue Wednesday and Thursday; on Friday he posted the link to Francis Watson’s article. It shows that most of the phrases on the fragment are taken directly from the Coptic version of the Gospel of Thomas, in a collage technique that would be expected of a modern forger with a limited understanding of Coptic.
No less important is the point about Zeitgeist made by Jim Davila:
“This fragment is exactly, exactly, what the Zeitgeist of 2012 would want us to find in an ancient gospel. To my mind that weighs heavily against its authenticity. Of course I hope I’m wrong and that it is genuine, and that is certainly a possibility, but this is equivalent to winning big in the lottery and that should make us nervous. It is too perfect. As Larry Schiffman put it, ‘The most exciting things are the things most likely to be forged.'”
Indeed, it’s starting to look like a repeat of Secret Mark’s homoerotic Jesus in the ’50s. Now we have a miniscule fragment that so happens to preserve words that play into contemporary feelings about Jesus being married, Mary Magdalene, and his family.
And speaking of Secret Mark, Stephen Carlson weighs in on the Boston Globe’s naive assertion that it’s hard to imagine who could have faked the papyrus fragment — which as we’ve just seen isn’t true at all, but underscores the problem which kept Morton Smith clean in the eyes of many for decades.
“The problem with many academics on the topic of forgery is frankly that they are too honest and find it difficult to place themselves in a forger’s shoes — unless they have specifically studied the topic.”
I’ve stated repeatedly that it’s no accident Morton Smith was exposed by two critics outside the biblical studies guild, a lawyer and a musicologist (the attorney, of course, has since become Dr. Carlson). Forgery is a wider phenomenon than many realize, and the presumption of integrity an understated pitfall in approaching the issue.
UPDATE: Not only does it look like the forger cribbed from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, he/she seems to have copied a typo from Mike Grondin’s interlinear, which is freely available on the web. (Good detective work, Andrew Bernhard.)