Apr 13, 2014

"Gospel of Jesus's Wife" Papyrus Authenticated

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

The papyrus fragment that touched off a firestorm because it refers to Jesus's wife appears to be authentic. Tests of the papyrus fibers and ink confirm that both are of ancient origin.

For two years, researchers carried out a number of tests, including two radiocarbon tests, microscopic imaging, and micro-Raman spectroscopy, to examine the fragment.

One of the radiocarbon tests indicated that the piece of papyrus must have originated from some time between 659 and 859 CE. Using micro-Raman spectroscopy, researchers confirmed that the ink's carbon character matched with similar samples of other old papyri fragments. The handwriting was examined, and imaging scientists assessed the damage caused to the document to examine if there was a possibility of the document being forged or doctored.

After weighing the evidence, the scholars and scientists agree that the GJW fragment is old and definitely "a product of early Christians, not a modern forger," according to a press release from Harvard Divinity School.

Dr. Karen King, who announced the discovery in 2012, hopes the findings will change the conversation from debate over its authenticity to its historical relevance. That seems doubtful as it is still meeting with resistance from some academics and the subject matter is so charged.

The new information may not convince those scholars and bloggers who say the text is the work of a rather sloppy forger keen to influence contemporary debates. The Harvard Theological Review, which is publishing Dr. King’s long-delayed, peer-reviewed paper online on Thursday, is also publishing a rebuttal by Leo Depuydt, a professor of Egyptology at Brown University, who declares the fragment so patently fake that it “seems ripe for a Monty Python sketch.”

. . .

However, Dr. Depuydt, the Egyptologist at Brown University, said that testing the fragment was irrelevant and that he saw “no need to inspect it.” He said he decided based on the first newspaper photograph that the fragment was forged because it contained “gross grammatical errors,” and each word in it matched writing in the Gospel of Thomas, an early Christian text discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. “It couldn’t possibly be coincidence,” he said.

A forger could easily create carbon black ink by mixing candle soot and oil, he said: “An undergraduate student with one semester of Coptic can make a reed pen and start drawing lines.”

Tests on the ink at M.I.T. using infrared spectography refute the charge and found the ink to be genuine.

Much of the debate has centered around the straw man argument over whether or not this proves Jesus to have been married. Dr. King has never claimed this as evidence of an actual marriage but, at best, as proof that some early Christian sects taught that he was married.

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