In my earlier post: Was Jesus Married (Part 2 of 2)? I referenced a now debunked lost gospel called the “Gospel of Jesus Wife” and mentioned I might post more on it later — well today is later. For those who may not be familiar with the issue I will give a review of both the history of this document and the evidence that proves to scholars why it is a modern hoax and forgery.
The history of the “Gospel of Jesus Wife” started in 2012 when Karen King, a professor at the Harvard Divinity School, announced she received a tiny fragment of a lost gospel and was planning on publishing her findings on the text. For some background, King is a scholar of the New School – see my earlier post: Why Do Scholars Disagree About Jesus? The papyrus fragment in question was tiny, the size of a credit card, and had been given to her by an anonymous collector. Written on the fragment were some lines from a known 4th century copy of a quasi-gnostic gospel text called ‘Thomas’, followed by a passage not seen before. The new passage says “Jesus would often say to his wife”, therefore King named the newly discovered fragment “The Gospel of Jesus Wife”. Not surprisingly the media jumped at the chance to splash the newest discovery all over the News, ignoring the skepticism and doubts from other scholars.
What were these doubts? For starters, the likelihood that the only single tiny scrap of papyrus that survived from a “lost gospel” would contain a reference to Jesus’ having had a wife — particularly on the heels of the popular modern fiction The Da Vinci Code — is slim to none. The fact that this papyrus was given to King along with a few other papyri by a figure wanting to stay anonymous is another major problem. In the world of antiquities anonymity raises a number of red flags. Mainly, that scholars are left with texts on a document that was paid for, rather than discovered in a legitimate archaeological find.
The next set of problems with the fragment are the duplications from the known gnostic Thomas texts. There are copies of many ancient documents available for online public viewing, and it appears the author of this “newly discovered” fragment simply copied some of the Thomas material available online. How can one know this? Well there are grammatical errors in the Thomas document found online that were also repeated exactly on the “Jesus Wife” fragment which strongly indicates a modern forgery. This fact coupled with the suspicious new material, i.e. “Jesus said to his wife,” caused an overwhelming amount of scholars to conclude it was a fake.
Therefore the Smithsonian Channel held back on their accompanying documentary on King’s find and she her publication until the fragment could be tested for authenticity. However, many scholars said the test would prove nothing; as modern forgers have long since learned the methods used by scholars in conducting authenticity test. Specifically, once scholars started performing carbon dating test on papyrus, the forgers started using ancient papyrus to write on. Then once scholars started performing analysis of ink composition to check for chemicals used, forgers started creating the same components looked for in ink. Translation: a good forger knows how to create a fake document that will pass an authenticity test.
Nevertheless, the carbon-dating and ink-composition test went forward and showed the papyrus was ancient (7th Century AD) and the ink composition appeared consistent with the time period. The Smithsonian Channel then proceeded with its “documentary” arguing in favor of this “authentic” and “important” discovery and King published her finding. However, many scholars were still not convinced – but then alas came the smoking gun that settled the matter for the overwhelming amount of scholars in the field (both Old School and New School).
From the beginning scholars knew there was other unseen papyri in the same group the anonymous source gave to King that included the now titled “Gospel of Jesus Wife” fragment. However, in 2014 these other papyri were finally released and made public with their own test results in order to serve as a control group for comparison i.e. to show the whole collection was authentic. Most materials were of no consequence, but one fragment appeared to be a canonical Gospel of John. This fragment proved the smoking gun that unraveled the whole hoax of the “Jesus wife” text. The papyrus of this alleged new John fragment was noticed by scholars in the field to be very peculiar. Why? It was an exact duplicate of another Coptic fragment of John discovered in 1923; and is also available online for public viewing. Specifically, the words and letters of all 17 lines of the “new” fragment match precisely those of the authentic fragment discovered in 1923. The chances of having two fragments with that happening by accident are beyond belief. Once more the “new” fragment of John also passed the carbon dating and ink test, dating to the 7th Century AD (Just like the “Wife” fragment). The problem here is that the authentic John fragment, dated to the second century, was written in a Lycopolitan version of Coptic – and this version of Coptic had died out prior to the 7th century. Meaning the “new” John fragment was written in a dialect that no longer existed when the papyrus it was written on was made. Additionally, this “new” John text also has a backside with other text (not from John), and a hole in the fragment. In ancient text, wherever there is a hole the letters should be missing. Guess What? The back side with the unrelated text has missing letters where the hole is — however the side with the John texts has the text written around the hole. All this evidence proves to scholars beyond doubt this duplicate John text was created in modern times and is a forgery.
Now some may ask: What does this matter for ‘The Gospel of Jesus Wife’ fragment? Here is why. Both fragments were provided by the same anonymous source and found in the same anonymous collection – and not in a legitimate archeological setting. The papyri of both text date to the same time period (7th Century). Once more, numerous experts agree the “John fragment” forgery and the “Jesus wife fragment” were written by the same hand and instrument. In short, if one is a forgery they are both forgeries.
So as one can see, the evidence that the so called “Gospel of Jesus Wife” is a modern forgery is very conclusive and satisfies virtually all scholars in the field — of both schools. Only King seems unwilling to throw in the towel completely, saying:
“This is substantive, it’s worth taking seriously, and it may point in the direction of forgery. This is one option that should receive serious consideration, but I don’t think it’s a done deal.” (Karen King)
Well her fellow colleagues (even from the New School) sure seem to think it is a done deal. See sample of quotes from such NS scholars (with whom I seldom ever agree) posted below:
“It may be that this won’t be the end of the story. It may be that the defenders of the authenticity of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife will come up with yet more reasons for thinking that it is indeed authentic … But, well, it’s not looking good.” (Bart Ehrman)
“Although 100% certainty is never achievable in such cases, given everything we know now (lab tests included), the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” never existed — or, rather, it never existed, for all intents and purposes, before 2012.” (Joel S. Baden & Candida Moss)
In conclusion, the evidence is overwhelmingly convincing that this document is a modern fake. Anyone refusing to recognize this fact contrary to the overwhelming conclusive evidence and expert opinion that affirms such, in my view, is simply doing so because they want the document to be authentic — regardless of the facts. Given King’s background of rather unorthodox claims it is understandable how she could have been taken in by an anonymous “donor” presenting her with “new” materials for research. Although I will never understand the media’s seemingly never ending rush to embrace anything that will promote the false idea that Jesus had a wife. As stated in my earlier post (Was Jesus Married?) there is NO evidence for Jesus having been married in any ancient document. In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary. But as noted in my post (Why Do Scholars Disagree About Jesus?) it seems radical skepticism of the traditional view of Jesus and Christianity is all the media by in large is interested in selling to the public these days. My hope is that scholars and the media may have derived a lesson from all this; and will no longer rush to judgment in reporting the latest sensational “finds” or “claims” until after a thorough vetting of the evidence. However, I am not holding my breath — only a select few networks retracted the original story afterwards and provided updates with the latest evidence. But how many people actually saw that I wonder? Not to mention the Smithsonian Channel still continues to air on occasion the original and now debunked “documentary” without offering any update at all. From the beginning this so called “Gospel of Jesus Wife” was widely regarded as a forgery, yet that went largely ignored as the media went full speed ahead. Think of all the wasted time and efforts that went into exposing and proving this hoax. One can only hope this whole embarrassing episode will serve to remind everyone in the future to be more cautious going forward. In any event, that is the lowdown on “The Gospel of Jesus Wife” hoax.
Thank you for reading. I hope some may have found this insightful.