As everyone and their mother knew by yesterday’s end, the owner of the Jesus-Wife fragment has been unmasked by the brilliant detective work of Ariel Sabar (The Atlantic, July/August, 2016). The owner’s name is Walter Fritz, who is also more than likely the forger:
“By every indication, Fritz had the skills and knowledge to forge the Jesus’s-wife papyrus. He was the missing link between all the players in the provenance story. He’d proved adept at deciphering enigmatic Egyptian text. He had a salesman’s silver tongue, which kept Laukamp and possibly others in his thrall. Perhaps most important, he’d studied Coptic but had never been very good at it — which could explain the ‘combination of bumbling and sophistication’ that King had deemed ‘extremely unlikely’ in a forger.”
But if Fritz did do it, what was his motive?
“Money drives many forgers, and by 2010 Fritz’s assets certainly appear to have taken a beating. The owner of the papyrus agreed to loan it to Harvard for 10 years, but that’s hardly exculpatory: An Ivy League imprimatur could produce a kind of halo effect, giving a forger cover to sell other fakes with less scrutiny.
But there was another possibility. If Fritz had seen his Egyptology dreams thwarted, maybe he nursed a grudge against the elite scholars who had failed to appreciate his intellectual gifts—who had told him he was mediocre at Coptic and short on original ideas. Not a few forgers over the decades have been driven by a desire to show up the experts.” [Edit: Like Morton Smith.]
Or it could even be that Fritz and his wife had seen in The Da Vinci Code a way to sanctify their libertine sex life. They launched a porn site right after the novel was published, and enjoyed gangbangs, premised on the fantasies of husbands who were helpless against their wives’ lust for other men.
“Beginning in 2003, Fritz had launched a series of pornographic sites that showcased his wife having sex with other men — often more than one at a time. One home page billed her as ‘America’s #1 Slut Wife.’ The couple advertised the dates and locations of ‘gangbangs’ and asked interested men to e‑mail ‘Walt’ a photo and phone number, so he could clear them to attend. There was no charge, but the men had to agree to Walt’s filming.
‘I just wanted to thank you for a wonderful time during the gangbang on Friday,’ someone named Doug was quoted as saying on the fan-mail page of one of the sites. ‘Don’t get me wrong Walt you are a great guy, but your wife…Wow!!!’
All of the sites seem to have been taken down in late 2014 and early 2015. But archived pages and free images and videos were easy to find online. In an interview on a German-language Web site, Fritz’s wife, under her porn name, described herself as the daughter of a U.S. military officer who had been stationed in Berlin when she was a teenager. She and Fritz met in Florida in the 1990s, and he encouraged her to act out their shared fantasies of her having sex with other men.
Fritz appears in a few videos, but he is more often behind the camera. He included a bio on one site, under his occasional porn name, Wolf: ‘I am a 45 year old executive, living in S. Florida. Stats: 6’2”, 185 lbs., brown hair, slim, no belly, clean cut, and well endowed.’ Then he went on to list his academic credentials, as if for a LinkedIn profile: ‘I am college-educated with a technical MA-degree form [sic] a major university, and an associate degree in arts. I speak three languages fluently and read two old languages.’
This juxtaposition of lewd and learned appears in still sharper relief on one of his wife’s sites, where passages from Goethe, Proust, and Edna St. Vincent Millay are interspersed with philosophical musings on Jesus’s teachings, the slippery nature of reality, and ‘the Perfection of Sluthood.’
After trawling regions of the Web I hadn’t even known existed, I discovered that Fritz’s wife, under her porn name, enjoyed a measure of fame. Before Yahoo shut it down in 2004, she boasted online, her ‘Femalebarebackgangbangextreme’ discussion group had nearly 50,000 members. The couple’s work belonged to a fetish genre built around fantasies of cuckolded husbands powerless to stop their wives’ lust for other men. The genre is called ‘hotwife.’
When I mentioned these findings to my own wife, she told me to read The Da Vinci Code. Studied closely, she said, the book could be a Rosetta stone for Fritz’s motives.
Dan Brown’s best seller is fiction, of course, but it draws on the work of feminist religious scholars like King. Its premise is that conservative forces in the Roman Catholic Church silenced early Christians who saw sex as holy and women as the equals — or even the saviors — of men. Threatened by these vestiges of pagan goddess worship, Church fathers defamed Mary Magdalene and enshrined the all-male priesthood to keep women out.
Brown’s chief point of departure from scholars like King is his made-for-Hollywood plot, which turns on a Catholic conspiracy to destroy evidence of Jesus’s marriage to—and child with—Mary Magdalene. A clandestine society whose past members include Leonardo da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton has resolved to keep alive the secret of Jesus’s marriage, along with an ancient practice that celebrated the sanctity of sexual intercourse. In a pivotal scene, members of the society take part in a ritualistic orgy.
I wondered whether Fritz and his wife had seen in the book a way to sanctify their adventurous sex life, to cloak it in the garb of faith. The couple launched their first porn site in April 2003, a month after The Da Vinci Code was published. Perhaps they had spun a fantasy of Fritz — whose birthday happens to be Christmas — as a kind of Jesus figure, and his wife as a latter-day Mary Magdalene.”
Whatever his motives — there may have been many — Walter Fritz will fall somewhere on my list of Top 20 Literary Hoaxes when I get around to updating it.