In the latest effort to uncover some historical document to discredit the Bible. The Harvard Theological Seminary has attempted to revive interest in the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” fragment – an ‘ancient’ Coptic document that allegedly quoted Jesus as referring to “my wife” – first publicized by Professor Karen King in 2012. After a press conference and much fanfare, academics and antiquities experts roundly wrote off the papyrus fragment as a hoax. But now, thanks to results of dating analysis, the Professor is once again attempting to prove the fragment’s credibility. This article will show that despite the testing of the papyrus, it is very clear that this document is fraudulent and does not in any way challenge the Biblical account of the life of Jesus Christ.
Beginning and End covered the first run of the fragment in 2012 in our article: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Debunked: A Critical Analysis. In that article we detailed the immediate critique and doubts by academics and those in the antiquities industry regarding Professor’s King’s supposed ancient text.
Numerous experts in ancient Copt questioned the writing style and the formation of the characters in the text, pointing out errors that implied the document was written in modern times. Additionally:
- the fragment had no provenance – a term in antiquities which denotes who the chain of ownership of an ancient document or article. This is critical information as it is a way to prove that a document is not a forgery. King, in a very unusual move, held a press conference to reveal the fragment and stated that she received it from “an anonymous donor.” This was also a major red flag.
- King is not an expert in ancient Coptic and proved her incompetence with major errors she made in translating the Gnostic Gospel of Judas. Her errors were so blatant, that the National Geographic Network had to revise and edit their documentary based on her work.
- In our follow up article, we quoted an essay from Professor Thomas Watson from Durham University in the United Kingdom. The article, entitled, ‘The Gospel Of Jesus Wife: How a Fake-Gospel Fragment Was Composed’, showed conclusively, that the text of the Jesus Wife fragment was composed using excerpts from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. Professor Watson’s clear conclusion was that the fragment was a hoax made by a modern-day forger.
What Has Changed Since 2012?
So what has brought renewed interest in the fragment? The Harvard Theological Seminary published an update on the Jesus Wife fragment in their Review stating that independent scientific testing of the fragment revealed:
• The papyrus material is ancient, and can be dated to the seventh to eighth c.c.e.
• The carbon composition of the ink, too, is consistent with ancient inks. (source).
In short, Harvard is now trying to validate the fragment based on the papyrus and ink being centuries old. The New York Times, who originally led the publicity charge for the fragment in 2012, ran a long article in their science section promoting that the fragment is “more likely ancient than fake.” (source). And soon, the fragment was once again on the global media radar as casting doubt on the Biblical account of Jesus Christ. The Smithsonian Institute Network, which had planned and then cancelled a documentary on the document back in 2012, after the fragment received a heap of academic criticism – has now decided to air the documentary in light of the these new developments. Going back to the original dubious claims from 2012, the cable network’s description of the documentary states:
“Damaged and fragile, a fragment of ancient papyrus has unleashed a new interpretation of a religious story we thought we knew. In one of the most startling discoveries in recent memory, scholars confirm that a codex written in the ancient Coptic language refers to the wife of Jesus. Dr. Karen King, a Harvard professor, reveals that the papyrus bears the line “Jesus said to them, my wife…” It doesn’t prove Jesus was married, but it raises questions about that possibility–and how some early Christians viewed the role of women in the church.” (source).
The problem for Professor King and Harvard is that old paper is commonly used in forgeries. In a scathing rebuttal to the latest announcement, Professor Leo Depudyt, of Brown University, a Professor of Egyptian and Ancient Western Societies with a chief focus in Coptic manuscripts, explained:
At the beginning of February 2014, the editors of the Harvard Theological Review allowed me to view all the other documents relevant to the Wife of Jesus Fragment that will appear in the April 2014 issue of the journal. I am grateful to them for this opportunity.
I find nothing in these documents that could change in any way the fact that I am personally 100% certain that the Wife of Jesus Fragment is a forgery. I have otherwise never deemed ink or papyrus tests necessary or relevant in light of the evidence set forth below. I will make three brief observations, however.
First, the ink tests show chemical composition, in this case carbon-based “lamp black,” not age. Carbon-based ink is exactly the type that I would have used if I had been the forger. Second, as for the papyrus, nothing is more common than for forged paintings to be painted on an old piece of wood. And third, in a letter of July 19, 2013, accompanying his report, the principal investigator of the
radiocarbon dating test, Professor Greg Hodgins, states that certain stable isotope measurements “[cast] doubt upon the validity of the radiocarbon date.” (source).
Additionally, Live Science news website conducted its own investigation into the provenance of the fragment. As a part of its updated announcement, Professor King revealed information from the “anonymous donor” – a contract from the donor, who stated they purchased the fragment from a man named Hans Ulrich Laukamp in November 1999 and that Laukamp had purchased the fragment in 1963 in then-East Germany. The Live Science news website conducted its own investigation into this claim and reported that Laukamp, who died in 2002, was not an antiquities collector and there is no record of him owning any ancient manuscripts. Additionally, the head of his estate has no knowledge of the fragment and confirmed that Laukamp could not have possibly been in East Germany in 1963 when King alleged he made the purchase.
One Fragment vs. 26,000
With over 26,000 texts, there is more ancient manuscript evidence of the life of Jesus Christ than any figure in antiquity. The amount of ancient, verified manuscripts of the Gospels, still in existence today, dwarf the amount of manuscript evidence for historical figures such as Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and Plato, combined. Despite this, many still view the New Testament accounts with skepticism but will readily jump on any single fragment that states anything that contradicts the Bible. Why is this? What such a rush and desire to discredit the Bible? It is because of our sinful nature. Human beings are born with a spirit that is hostile to God. The notion that a perfect and Holy God will one day judge us for all of our sinful actions, words and thoughts is not a comfortable idea. Because we all know that we are sinners who violate God’s commands daily. And thus it is far easier to “debunk” God and live one’s own terms than face the truth of our sin.
Jesus Christ said:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. – John 3:16-20.
Staying away from the light of God is what the human flesh desires. Doubting the Bible as being the authentic Word of God is an easy way to not think or worry about sin or God’s judgment. But God is real and all people will be judged. And if a person is a sinner, they will suffer damnation. This is scary but true. But the good news, as stated in over 26,000 ancient fragments is that God, in His love for humanity, sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross in the place of every sinner, and take their punishment. Jesus Christ, by living a perfect life, as a single man, never sinning, became the perfect sacrifice to satisfy God’s judgment for our sins. And all it takes is faith to receive free forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus Christ said: “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”(John 6:39).
This is God’s will – for all people to believe in Jesus. So they can truly be forgiven and live. There is nothing wrong with researching ancient documents to verify the Bible or any other text. But the same respect given to a fragment should be given to the mountain of evidence in support of the Bible and the truth of Jesus Christ. God’s Word has withstood thousands of these challenges and stands the test of time. But most importantly it offers the only way to eternal life. And no forged fragment will ever change that.