A Question of Content: How I Saw the
Internet Furor Over the Jesus' Wife Fragment

Timeline, Commentary, and Links to Key Sources (Links only)

(a page of The Gospel of Thomas Resource Center, by Michael W. Grondin)

GJW = Gospel of Jesus' Wife, designated GosJesWife, AKA Jesus' Wife Fragment
CGT = Coptic Gospel of Thomas, NHC II,2, designated Gos.Thom.
HTR = Harvard Theological Review, HDS = Harvard Divinity School

next annual chronicle (2014)


Part 1: The Fragment is Publicly Announced

The Lead-Up (see King's draft)
In July 2010, a private collector contacts Karen King, Harvard Professor of Divinity,
about a small fragment which he believes has a reference to Jesus' wife. She agrees
to translate the text, but becomes suspicious of the photocopy sent to her and puts
off the collector. In June 2011, the collector contacts her again, and finally transfers
the actual fragment to her in December. Together with AnneMarie Luijendijk of
Princeton, King brings the fragment to renowned papyrologist Roger Bagnall in March
2012. It is eventually decided among them that the fragment is probably authentic.
In August 2012, King submits a proposed paper to HTR. Two of three outside referees
question the authenticity of the fragment, but when Coptologist Ariel Shisha-Halevy
decides that the language and grammar of the fragment are authentic, HTR accepts
the article provisionally (subject to ink-test) for publication in January 2013. (It will
not in fact be published until April, 2014.)

Tue, Sept 18:
King introduces the GJW fragment at the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies
in Rome. Attendee-Coptologists are generally sceptical. Christian Askeland, Alin Suciu,
and Hugo Lundhaug will later play key roles in the online debate.

HDS posts a draft of Karen King's Proposed HTR paper
(a second file is posted somewhat later. The only apparent difference between the
two is [as noted by Mark Goodacre on Oct 24th] in their page-footers. The 1st
has "Forthcoming Harvard Theological Review 106:1, January 2013" whereas
the 2nd has "Provisionally accepted by Harvard Theological Review". The paper,
greatly revised to include tests and criticism, was eventually published in 2014.)

"Inside Stories" posted at Boston.com (Lisa Wangsness) and Smithsonian.com (Ariel Sabar)
(see esp. page 5 of the latter, which mentions an unsigned translation sent to King containing
the phrase 'Jesus said this to them'. The little word 'this' will become important later, since
the Coptic word which I uniquely translated in that way is missing from the fragment.)
Note also Ariel Sabar's role at the end of the story, 2016.

A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus' Wife (Laurie Goodstein, NY Times)

Karen King vid-clip released by Harvard

Wed, Sept 19:
AP vid-clips from Coptic Conference featuring King and Stephen Emmel

Newspapers pick up the story and internet discussions begin on the GThomas elist and
elsewhere. Mark Goodacre and James McGrath post the first of many entries on their blogs.

Thu, Sept 20:
Ariel Sabar on PBS NewsHour

Coptic Scholars Doubt and Hail a Reference to Jesus' Wife (Laurie Goodstein, NY Times)

(Below the surface, Egyptologist Leo Depuydt of Brown University sends an email to
HTR saying "The danger of making a fool of oneself is real." HTR invites Depuydt
to write up his findings, then schedules his paper to also run in the Jan 2013 issue.
Depuydt, a former student of Shisha-Halevy, is later in contact with Francis Watson.
See College Hill Independent article dated Oct 5th, but apparently written earlier)

Part 2: The Patchwork Theory is Built & Meets Its Greatest Challenge

(see CGT 47.3 v. 114.1 in keyword=mare-)
(The 2nd possibility above is actually ungrammatical in Coptic, but could have been considered
correct by someone working from my interlinear without much independent knowledge of Coptic.
The owner's "translation," made public in 2016, confirmed that that's exactly what happened.)

Fri, Sept 21:
Mark Goodacre
posts the first version of Francis Watson's three-part paper
"The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed". Watson
is able to find connections between CGT and GJW lines 1-5 and 8, but not for lines 6-7.
His non-CGT linkages to lines 6-7 will be exploited in the later criticisms of Peppard
and Paananen (see below), but even as those criticisms appear, Watson will have
revised his paper (see below). The comments on Goodacre's blog entry include those
of Richard Bauckham, who writes "If we could pin down a Coptic source for line 6, that
would clinch it.", then later "I think we need a bit more linguistic study of line 6 from the
Coptic experts. [Simon] Gathercole has now suggested tentatively [but not online] that
line 6 reflects GosThomas 45.3." Oli Homron illustrates that linkage with an influential
image (using a portion of my interlinear without authorization or attribution), but accepts
the HDS interpretation of the first word of line 6. That interpretation (which undercuts
the suggested CGT linkage to the 3rd word, hence the need for "a bit more linguistic
study") won't be questioned for a week.

Mon, Sept 24:
Andrew Bernhard posts his findings, linking all the contents of the GJW fragment
(except the phrase 'my wife') to a small set of sayings and closely-contiguous lines
within CGT. He correctly links the first word of GJW 6 to 'no man' in CGT line 41.17,
rather than to 'let Mary' in line 51.19, but no one as yet realizes the implication of that
linkage. Indeed, Bernhard remarks in an essay dated 26 Sept, "Scholars advocating
that GJW could be simply a 'patchwork' of excerpts from GTh created by a modern
author still need to explain the construction of GJW 6 for their case to be airtight."

Independently, Mark Goodacre posts his finding that GJW 7 is also from CGT.

Tue, Sept 25:
Michael Peppard posts his essay Is the "Jesus' wife" papyrus a forgery? on
dotCommonweal, arguing against the case in the first version of Watson's paper.
James McGrath, expressing his own misgivings, links to Peppard's essay.

Wed, Sept 26:
Charles Halton posts his critical comments on The "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" Saga
(This link no longer works as of 1/17/17)

On the So-Called Gospel of Jesus's Wife. Some Preliminary Thoughts
by Hugo Lundhaug and Alin Suciu
is posted. The Coptologist-authors comment that the
only remaining line of GJW to be unmatched to CGT had been line 6, but that Bernhard
(as well as two others independently) had matched it, given that the key word on line 6
wasn't a rare one (as in the HDS parsing), but rather a verb-phrase from CGT erroneously
inscribed. Still, the authors are concerned that the line is seriously ungrammatical.

(I play a modest role here by adding a comment to the above blog-entry, noting that the
MARE-x compound on line 6 occurs several times in CGT, usually translated as 'no x'.)
(This became a key point of contention between Depuydt and King in the 2014 HTR issue.)

Thu, Sept 27:
Mark Goodacre posts Watson's revised paper incorporating recent findings on lines 6-7.
Intro & Summary (main paper) Addendum
(Note: Watson's paper is now (9 Jan 13) outdated; he has not revised it since.)

James McGrath posts Timo Paananen's Another "Fake" Or Just a Problem of Method?
What Francis Watson's Analysis Does to Papyrus Koln 255
, based on the first
version of Watson's paper. McGrath's blog-entry features in its comments section
a spirited debate between Paananen and Ulrich Schmid about Paananen's methods.
Goodacre calls Paananen's paper a parody.

Suciu/Lundhaug post A Peculiar Dialectical Feature in the Gospel of Jesus's Wife,
Line 6
in response to my suggestion. They agree that this construct - a peculiarity
not uncommon in CGT - is probably what was intended, grammar nothwithstanding.
The entirety of the fragment (except for 'my wife') has now been linked to CGT.
It only remains to explain the non-CGT spelling of two items, on lines 1 and 3.

Fri, Sept 28:
Mark Goodacre posts Christian Askeland's video to his blog.

The Smithsonian Channel announces the postponement until further notice of a
pre-filmed program about the fragment, originally scheduled for airing Sept 30th.
(It is eventually aired, virtually unchanged, on May 5th, 2014)

Part 3: The Patchwork Theory Meets Its Last Two Challenges

Sept 24: In his first online paper, Andrew Bernhard suggests that a modern forger could
have used an internet tool like my interlinear. In particular, he mentions the pdf version.
Still, there's no evidence, and anyway, attention is focused on line 6 of the fragment.

Sept 28: Mark Goodacre posts a note to the GThomas list in which he suggests
"two possible ... signs of dependence" on my interlinear, viz., lines 1 and 3 of the
fragment. Goodacre points out that the spelling 'Mariam' on line 3 is the English
spelling found in my interlinear under the Coptic name (which has an extra letter).
Did a forger mistakenly use my English transliteration instead of the Coptic spelling?
With respect to line 1, Mark speculates that a forger might have thought that the 'M'
was dispensable, given that my translation had a word in parentheses at that point.
Mark and I (reading his note) are looking at the online interlinear, not the pdf version.
Andrew checks the pdf version, sees that an 'M' is missing, but doesn't make it public,
because he thinks that Mark's GThomas note had made the same point about the pdf.

Oct 9: Richard Budelberger posts a late comment on Suciu's blog entry of Sept 27.
In it, he draws attention to the 'M' missing from my pdf-interlinear at line 608 (50.01).
Incredibly, both Mark and I miss the note. Andrew sees it, but doesn't make anything
of it, since he thinks that Mark has already posted the finding to GThomas.

Oct 9: Andrew Bernhard sends me a review copy of his new paper. In it, he states that
there's a typographical error in my interlinear at CGT line 50.01. The 'M' that should
be there isn't. He attributes this discovery to Goodacre's Sept 28th note, however, and
doesn't specify which version of my interlinear has the error. Knowing that the online
version is correct, I check the pdf version. Seeing that the 'M' isn't there, I assume
that Andrew has discovered that for himself, though wrongly attributing it to Mark.

Oct 10: In replying to Mark's GThomas note of Sept 28th, I mention that the 'M' is
missing from my 2002 pdf. Mark replies enthusiastically and posts to Facebook that
he's come across some new evidence and will be writing a blog entry about it. Alarmed,
Andrew (whose new paper contains that evidence and is nearing completion), responds
on Fb to ask that Mark hold up until the next day, to co-ordinate with the posting of his
paper. Mark agrees, and Andrew works late into the night to finish his paper.

Oct 11: Mark Goodacre posts a block-buster announcing Andrew Bernhard's new paper,
in which the non-CGT spellings on lines 1 and 3 can be explained by someone using the
pdf version of my interlinear, dated 22 Nov 2002 and left unchanged on my webite since
then. If that was the source of plagiarism, the plagiarism cannot have been done earlier.
(This casts in doubt both the collector's claim to have bought the fragment in its current
in 1997, and the unsigned, undated Munro/Fecht/Laukamp [all deceased] note.)

Oct 11: I post The GJW Fragment and the Grondin Interlinear to GThomas

Oct 16: The Guardian publishes The gospel of Jesus's wife: a very modern fake

Oct 17: Tech News Daily publishes Did Jesus have a wife? Scholar calls parchment
featuring the views of Andrew Bernhard.

HTR announces delay in publication, to allow time for more extensive tests to be
financed by collector. A spokes-person says that it could take "weeks or months".

Nov 9, 2012: Goodacre announces, summarizes, and links to Bernhard's new online paper
"Notes on The Gospel of Jesus's Wife Forgery", which represents the culmination
and most complete statement to date of the patchwork theory of GJW composition.

(Seventeen months of silence from HDS and HTR ensues)

2014 Update
2015 Update
2016 Update: The End of a Hoax

Postscript 1: An Unnecessary Weakness in Watson's Case
Postscript 2: Did A Forger Use My Interlinear? (updated 30 Apr 2014)
Postscript 3: Two Improbable Features of the Fragment

Andrew Bernhard's GJW Papers
Mark Goodacre, NT Blog (best one-stop site for all GJW news)
James McGrath, Exploring our Matrix (GJW blog postings)

Dramatis Personae (in alphabetical order)
Christian Askeland, PhD New Testament, University of Cambridge
Roger Bagnall, Director, Inst. for the Study of the Ancient World, New York
Richard Bauckham, Biblical Scholar and Theologian, Ridley Hall, Cambridge, England
Andrew Bernhard, M.S., Oxford University, author of Other Early Christian Gospels
Richard Budelberger (affiliation/background not determined)
Leo Depuydt, Prof., Dept. of Egyptology, Brown University
Simon Gathercole, Cambridge, author of The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas
Mark Goodacre, Assoc. Prof. of Religion, Duke Univ., author of Thomas and the Gospels
Laurie Goodstein, New York Times Religion reporter
Oli Homron (affiliation/background not determined)
Karen L. King, Hollis Prof. of Divinity at HDS, author of The Gospel of Mary of Magdala
AnneMarie Luijendijk, papyrologist, Assoc. Prof. of Religion, Princeton
Hugo Lundhaug, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo
James McGrath, Prof. in NT Language and Literature, Butler Univ., Indianapolis, Indiana
Timo Paananen, Ph.D. student, Univ. of Helsinki
Michael Peppard, Asst. Prof. of Theology at Fordham University
Ariel Sabar, author and free-lance reporter, interviewed Karen King for Smithsonian.com
Ulrich Schmid, Inst. for New Testament Textual Research, Münster, Germany
Ariel Shisha-Halevy, Prof. of Linguistics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem
Alin Suciu, Universite Laval, Quebec
Lisa Wangsness, Staff Writer, Boston Globe; given early inside access
Francis Watson, Prof., Dept. of Theology and Religion, Durham University, U.K.
(myself - Michael W. Grondin, M.A. Philosophy, Logician, unaffiliated CGT specialist)

This page initially made publicly available 10 Oct 2012. Last rev 16 Nov 2018.
Corrections and suggestions for improvement are welcome.