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The Gospel of Jesusí Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed ^ | 20 September 2012. | Francis Watson

Posted on 09/25/2012 5:53:17 PM PDT by annalex

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed

FRANCIS WATSON, Durham University, U.K, 20 September 2012.

A gospel or gospel-fragment might be regarded as “fake” whether its author belongs to the ancient or the modern world. In both cases, the aim would be to persuade as many readers as possible to take the new text seriously – as a window onto unknown aspects of Jesus’ life, or how it was perceived by his later followers. In her thorough and helpful analysis of the text that is coming to be known as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (GJW), Karen King rightly points out that new items of information about the historical Jesus are not to be expected from it. 1 It can though provide valuable insights into early Christian debates about sexuality and gender. At least, it can do so if it is “genuine”, genuinely old. King admits to initial scepticism, but is now convinced that this papyrus fragment derives from a fourth century copy of a second century text.

I shall argue here that scepticism is exactly the right attitude. The text has been constructed out of small pieces – words or phrases – culled mostly from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (GTh), Sayings 101 and 114, and set in new contexts. This is most probably the compositional procedure of a modern author who is not a native speaker of Coptic.

My line-by-line comparisons of GJW with GTh (and in one case with Matthew) will focus only on the recto side of the fragment that King has transcribed, translated and edited. Underlinings in Coptic texts and English translations highlight identical wording in Thomas (or Matthew) and GJW. An asterisk (*) indicates a departure from King’s translation. Readers without Coptic will I hope find the argument easy enough to follow. [For Coptic and Greek original see the PDF at the link, I only reproduce similar Latin characters -- A-x]

GJW 1 na ] ei an tamaau ac] naei p~w [ nh
“not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe...”

Line 1 of the new gospel fragment opens with the letters EI AN, and King plausibly suggests that EI represents the last two letters of NAEI, “to me”, which recurs later in the same line. The letters NA will therefore have been found at the end of the preceding line. The present line is derived entirely from Logion 101 of GTh (page and line numbers refer to the original Coptic manuscript):

GTh 49.34 auw petamm=rre pe~f[eiwt an m] ~=~n tef
GTh 49.35 maau =ntahe fnas=r m[a;ytyc na ]
GTh 49.36 ei an tamaau gar =nta~c ......
GTh 50.1 [..] ol ~ta[maa]~ude =mme ac] naei =mpwnh [M
(“And the one who does not love his father or his / mother in my way cannot become a disciple / to me. For my mother... / but my true mother gave to me life”, GTh 101.)

Line 1 of GJW reproduces not only the precise words from GTh 101 underlined above but also the linedivision of the extant Coptic manuscript. In both cases, a line begins with the letter-sequence eiantamaau(GTh 49.36; GJW 1r). In both cases, a line ends with a letter-sequence that differs at only one point: ac]naei<=m>pwnh (GTh 50.1; GJW 1). The author or compiler of GJW is evidently dependent on the one extant manuscript of the Coptic GTh, the line-division of which he or she slavishly follows at this point. An obvious explanation is that the author has used a modern printed edition of the Coptic text, where the original line-divisions are preserved. 2

GJW 2 ]~c peje =mma;ytyc ==n===ic ~je c[
]. The disciples said to Jesus, “. [

This precise phrase does not occur in the canonical gospels, where the nearest equivalents are expressions such as, “And the disciples say to him” (kai\ le/gousin au0tw~| oi9 maqhtai/)2,

“And his disciples were saying to him” (KAI\ ELLEGON AU0TW~| OI9 MAQHTAI\ AU0TOU~),4 and, “So the disciples said to him ( EI]PAN OU]N OI9 MAQHTAI\ AU0TW~|).5 “The disciples said to Jesus” does, however, occur three times in GTh, in Sayings 12, 18, and 20,6 where it introduces questions about, respectively, leadership, the end, and the kingdom of heaven. In GJW the abbreviation of Jesus’ name (the nomen sacrum) to =ic takes the same form as in the Thomas examples.

It will be convenient to take lines 3 and 4 of GJW together:

GJW 3-4 ]. arna maria~m =mpsa =mmoc a [ n? ] . . . . . / peje =ic nau tahime m~=n[
] “deny. Mary is n[ot]* worthy of it...” [ ] . . . . . Jesus said to them, “My wife and*... [

ARNA, “deny”, occurs twice in GTh in the injunctive form, MAREFARNA, “let him deny” (GTh 81; 114). 7 In the second case, the object of renunciation is “the world” (PKOCMOC); in the first, the verb is unqualified: “Let the one who has power deny [MAREFARNA]”. While the gap preceding ARNA in GJW 3 might be filled with the injunctive and pronominal prefixes (MAREF- or MAREC-), it is unclear how that would make sense when it is the disciples who are speaking, rather than Jesus himself.

The primary model for lines 3-4 is GTh 114:

GTh 51.18 peje cimwn petroc
GTh 51.19 nau je mare mariham ei ebol =nhyt=n
GTh 51.20 je =nchiome =mpsa an =mpwnh peje =ic
(Simon Peter said / to them, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said...”)

Here the author or compiler of GJW has taken four elements from GTh 114, reversing the order of the third and fourth of them. “Mary” is directly linked to “not worthy of...”, and the intervening reference to “women” now follows the introductory formula, “Jesus said”, where it is changed to “my woman” , = “my wife” (TAHIME). 8

GJW 5 ] . . . cnas=rma;ytyc naei auw [
] “. . . she will be able to be disciple to me and* [

Here we revert again to GTh 101, where closely similar language appears twice:

GTh 49.32-36 petamecte pefei[wt] ~an m=n tef|maau =ntahe f nas=rm [ a;yt ] ~yc
n~aei a(n) | auw petam=rre pe~f[eiwt an m] =~N tef||maau =ntahe f nas=rm [ a;ytyc
na ]| ei an.
(“The one who does not hate his father and his mother in my way will not be able to be disciple to me and the one who does not love his father and his mother in my way will not be able to be disciple to me.”)

The relevant verbal forms comprise a prononimal suffix (F- or C-: third singular masculine altered to third singular feminine), a first future prefix (-NA-), an auxiliary verb denoting ability (S-), and a main verb (R-) which in conjunction with the loanword MA;YTYC means “to be or become a disciple”. The phrase as a whole is a Coptic equivalent of the Lukan ou0 du/natai ei]nai/ mou maqhth/j (Lk.14.26, cf. vv. 27, 33), which the GTh passage probably echoes. In Luke, however, the Coptic text uses different although synonymous formulations.9 The origin of the verbal phrase in GJW 5 appears to lie in GTh 101, along with GJW 1.

GJW 6 ] i marerwme e;oou safe ne [
] Let the wicked man* swell up... [

A curse of this kind is unusual in the Jesus tradition, at least as directed towards a person (cf. Mk.11.14). The passage might conceivably echo Papias’s unpleasant description of Judas Iscariot’s grossly swollen body. 10 The Coptic verb may however mean “be destroyed.”11

GJW 7 ]. anok ]soop nmmac etbe ~p [
]. *I am with her on account of [

Here the first three Coptic words derive not from GTh but from Matthew 28.20b, with an adjustment of the pronominal suffix from “with you” to “with her”:

“Behold, I am with you always...” 12

GJW 8 ] ouhikw~n [
] an image [

The term EI0KW&N (“image”) is attested only once in the canonical gospels 13 but seven times in the Coptic GTh in the form of the loanword, HIKWN. In one of these occurrences it is accompanied by the indefinite article, as here in GJW 8.14

Summary Six of the eight incomplete lines of GJW recto are so closely related to the Coptic GTh, especially to Sayings 101 and 114, as to make dependence virtually certain. A further line is derived from Matthew; just one is left unaccounted for. The author has used a “collage” or “patchwork” compositional technique, and this level of dependence on extant pieces of Coptic text is more plausibly attributed to a modern author, with limited facility in Coptic, than to an ancient one. Indeed, the GJW fragment may be designedly incomplete, its lacunae built into it from the outset. It does not seem possible to fill these lacunae with GTh material contiguous to the fragments cited. The impression of modernity is reinforced by the case in line 1 of dependence on the line-division of the one surviving Coptic manuscript, easily accessible in modern printed editions. Unless this impression of modernity is countered by further investigations and fresh considerations, it seems unlikely that GJW will establish itself as a “genuine” product of early gospel writing.

Postscript A modern parallel to the author’s collage technique may be seen in the composition of the Secret Gospel of Mark passages which – as I have argued at length elsewhere – are to be attributed, along with the letter in which they are embedded, to their alleged discoverer, Morton Smith.15 As I have shown, Smith’s composition is itself inspired by an explicitly fictional gospel fragment known as the Shred of Nicodemus which features in an otherwise forgotten novel by James M. Hunter, The Mar Saba Mystery (1940).16 Both the American scholar and the Canadian novelist create their fake gospel texts from fragments of genuine texts: Mark in the one case, Mark, John and the Old Testament in the other. Perhaps the author of GJW was inspired by the Secret Gospel’s compositional procedure, which was noted soon after its publication although the correct conclusion was rarely drawn from it.

The Jesus of the Secret Gospel likes to consort naked with young men at night, while seeming hostile to women.17 By contrast, the new gospel fragment has Jesus speak disconcertingly of “my wife”. Has this new heterosexual Jesus been created to complement Smith’s homosexual one?

1 For King’s excellent images, transcriptions, translations, and the draft of her forthcoming article on this text, see
2 E.g. Nag Hammadi Codex II,2-7, vol. 1, ed. Bentley Layton, Nag Hammadi Studies XX, Leiden: Brill, 1989 (the text used here); The Gospel according to Thomas: Coptic Text Established and Translated, e.d A. Guillaumont et al., Leiden: Brill, 2001.
3 Mt.15.33, 19.10; Jn.11.8 (without the kai/).
4 Mk.5.31.
5 Jn.11.12.
6 = GTh 34.25; 36.9; 36.26.
7 = GTh 47.17; 51.5.
8 HIME is one of a number of variant spellings listed under CHIME in W. E. Crum, A Coptic Dictionary, Oxford: OUP, 1939, 385a. There are also variant spellings of the plural, of which Thomas’s CHIOME is one.>
10 For Greek and English texts, see Apostolic Fathers II, ed. Bart D. Ehrman, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003, 104-7. The passage is attributed to Papias by Apollinaris of Laodicea.
11 Crum, 609b-610b.
12 The Matthean derivation is unclear in King’s translation of line 7: “As for me, I dwell with her in order to...”
13 Mt.22.20=Mk.12.16=Lk.20.24 (“Whose image and superscription is it?”).
14 GTh.37.34 (Logion 22); cf. 42.1 (Logion 50); 47.20, 22, 23 (Logion 83), 47.27 (Logion 84).
15 Francis Watson, “Beyond Suspicion: On the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark”, JTS 61 (2010), 128-70, esp. 139-42, 167-69. See also Stephen C. Carlson, The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark, Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2005. For the full text of the Clementine letter that incorporates the secret gospel excerpts, see Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and the Secret Gospel of Mark, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973.
16 F. Watson, “Beyond Suspicion”, 161-70.
17 Mar Saba Letter, II.23-III.14; III.14-17 (references are to page and line numbers); see F. Watson, “Beyond Suspicion”, 135-36.

TOPICS: Current Events; History
KEYWORDS: epigraphyandlanguage; faithandphilosophy; gnosticgospels; godsgravesglyphs; gospelofjesuswife; gospelofjohn; jamescameron; johnchapter2; karenking; letshavejerusalem; marriageatcana; marymagdalene; simchajacobovici; talpiot
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To: Verginius Rufus
If the author was a Gnostic living in Egypt in the second century, he or she might have imitated other Gnostic texts so having similarities to other Gnostic writings would not necessarily show that it is a modern forgery.

Watson shows that the compiler had limited command of Coptic and relied almost certainly on documents later than 2c. But the larger point, made by both King and Watson, is indeed that people motivated to portray Jesus as a married man existed in antiquity, as they exist today.

I read in the article that first appeared about Mrs. King's discovery, that chemical analysis would not be possible.

21 posted on 09/26/2012 5:37:41 AM PDT by annalex (fear them not)
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To: GeronL
You remind me that I should probably post the papyrus in question.

Thank you for the portrait of St. Paul. Convincingly done.

22 posted on 09/26/2012 5:42:15 AM PDT by annalex (fear them not)
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To: annalex

This is very interesting. I note the reference to Morton Smith’s controversial “discovery”. Textual analysis also says that Smith is a faker.

23 posted on 09/26/2012 5:15:01 PM PDT by BlackVeil
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To: Slyfox

I heard some jackass on the radio, when asked if he thought this latest scrap led him to believe that Jesus had been married, say that he thought “The Last Supper” painting made him think about it (as if it was a Kodak rather than a painting done centuries later, with characters sitting at an odd table in which you ate in a line instead of gathered “around” the table).

The Gospel mentions that some fabricated a story at the time of the Resurrection to explain the missing Body, and “they continue to do so to this day...”.

24 posted on 09/26/2012 5:48:16 PM PDT by kearnyirish2 (Affirmative action is economic war against white males (and therefore white families).)
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To: kearnyirish2

It is indeed puzzling as to why it is so important for some to falsely believe that Jesus was married and to put all of their faith in a scrap of paper.

25 posted on 09/26/2012 9:10:56 PM PDT by Slyfox
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To: Slyfox

“It is indeed puzzling as to why it is so important for some to falsely believe that Jesus was married and to put all of their faith in a scrap of paper.”

They are succumbing to the goal of those who pushed the story to begin with: to destroy faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

26 posted on 09/27/2012 2:19:55 AM PDT by kearnyirish2 (Affirmative action is economic war against white males (and therefore white families).)
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To: GeronL

no, they aren’t anti Christian, it’s a scam for money, and this feminist professor is an easy target.

27 posted on 09/27/2012 10:11:45 PM PDT by LadyDoc
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To: circlecity

“So, what the author is saying is that based on a purely linguistic analysis of language and content the fragment is probably a modern forgery.”

An experienced translator can spot such things.

28 posted on 04/18/2014 3:32:43 PM PDT by dsc (Any attempt to move a government to the left is a crime against humanity.)
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