First Person: Gold from the Temple?

Hershel Shanks’s First Person in the July/August 2014 issue of BAR

hershel-shanks

In mid-2012 we reported that the Harvard Theological Review (HTR) had decided to withdraw from its publication schedule a paper by Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School that reported on an ancient papyrus fragment, the size of a business card, in which Jesus refers to “my wife.”a King, of course, had considered in her paper the possibility that it was a forgery. She had consulted several experts (including her own expertise), but in view of the sensitivity of the subject, HTR decided to reverse itself and withhold publication until additional testing was undertaken, even though in her paper King had emphasized that this text provided no evidence that Jesus was married, only that some early Christians may have thought so.1

Harvard University/Karen L. King
An ancient papyrus fragment in which Jesus refers to “my wife.”

Now after more than 18 months, scientists from Columbia, Harvard and MIT have reported that, in the words of the New York Times (the fragment has received much more publicity than it would have if HTR had simply printed the paper when King submitted it), “The ink and papyrus are very likely ancient and not a modern forgery.”

But that’s not the point I want to raise. Even this does not satisfy some scholars—what I’m going to report now is not about some crank without academic credentials, but a distinguished professor at Brown University: Professor Leo Depuydt.

In response to a journalist from the New York Times, Depuydt said that testing the papyrus fragment was “irrelevant … He saw no need to inspect [the fragment]. He said he decided based on the first newspaper photograph that the fragment was forged because it contained ‘gross grammatical errors.’”

In a paper published in the same issue of HTR as Karen King’s article, Leo Depuydt states that he “has not the slightest doubt that the document is a forgery and not a very good one at that … [He does] not want to belabor something that seems abundantly obvious to [him] … [He] experience[s] a certain incredulity pertaining to how something that is at first sight so patently fake could be so totally blown out of proportion … [He is] 100 percent certain that the Wife of Jesus Fragment is a forgery … [The text is] designed to put a certain spin on delicate modern issues of theology … [I]t cannot be excluded that the presumed modern author of the text thought of his or her effort as some kind of a clever joke … [I]t seems eminently possible to me that the forger wanted to put his or her own spin on modern theological issues … [The] grammar is completely botched.”2
 


 
Read more about the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” papyrus fragment and how the scholarly community has responded to new tests conducted to determine its authenticity.
 

 

Geological Survey of Israel
Jehoash Inscription

This brings to mind the 15–16-line Hebrew inscription on stone known as the Jehoash Inscription (JI) in English—or Yehoash Inscription in Hebrew (YI)—which was charged as a forgery in the recently concluded five-year “forgery trial of the century.” At the end of the trial, the judge issued his verdict: Not guilty. The state had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the JI was a forgery.

This of course doesn’t mean that it is authentic. As a matter of fact, you can never prove that it is authentic: There is always another test that you may not have tried (or even known about) that theoretically could prove the inscription is a forgery. Recognizing this limitation, however, a team of scientists from Israel, Germany and the United States went about as far as you could go in demonstrating that the JI is very likely authentic.b They concluded, “Our analyses strongly support the authenticity of the Jehoash tablet and its inscription.”3

Nevertheless some language specialists continue to believe that—like Professor Depuydt’s view of the “Jesus Wife” fragment—the JI is a forgery (although other respected scholars contest their analysis).

The JI describes repairs to the Jerusalem Temple and closely tracks the description of the same repairs in the Biblical text (2 Kings 12:1–16; 2 Chronicles 24:4–14). If it is authentic, it would be the first and only royal Israelite inscription!

One aspect of the JI intrigued me: The patina on the JI contains gold globules between 1 and 2 micrometers in diameter. A micrometer is one millionth of a meter. Gold globules this small are not available commercially. If the JI is a forgery, how did the forgers get them or make them?

Courtesy Amnon Rosenfeld
A gold globule between 1 and 2 micrometers in diameter.

None of the international team of specialists that had studied the JI and concluded that it was very probably authentic was a gold specialist, so I decided to try to find one. I finally located him—at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen. His name is Ernst Pernicka. He is professor of archaeometry and archaeometallurgy and director of the Curt-Engelhorn-Center for Archaeometry in Mannheim, Germany.

Gold melts at 1,064 degrees centigrade and boils at 2,970 degrees centigrade, Pernicka wrote me. But upon melting, gold tends to coagulate into larger droplets. In a subsequent conversation, Pernicka tried to puzzle it out: He didn’t know how a forger would create globules of this extraordinarily small size—or why. Why would a forger go to all the trouble to create an almost invisible gold content that could not be seen? Not only has no one suggested how a forger could have created gold globules a millionth of a meter in diameter, but it remains a mystery as to why, since globules of this size would be—for all practical purposes—invisible.

On the other hand, how did these gold globules get in the patina? From the outset the question arose as to whether the source of the gold was decoration in the Temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.

Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.

The problem is not only that they are so small but that they are round globules. The supposition is that the original molten gold in the ground somehow formed these globules when it interacted with the other substances of the patina. (At least seven other substances were found in the patina.)

In the course of his consideration of the question, Pernicka was able to tell me that he agreed with the international team of scholars, whose analyses “strongly support” the authenticity of the JI inscription.

This interesting scientific analysis fits nicely with some less scientific, but possibly accurate, speculation. The talk on the street is that the JI was discovered near the eastern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where there is an old Muslim cemetery. The JI would originally have been displayed on or near the Temple. When the Temple was destroyed, the JI fell to the ground and was consumed in the flames. In this intense conflagration, the golden decorations of the Temple were turned molten. In this form, they combined with the other substances that make up the patina, creating the infinitesimal globules that survived. In recent years, several Palestinian “martyrs,” people who had been killed in suicide attacks on Israelis, were buried in this cemetery. In preparing the burials, the JI was discovered.

There are a number of other reasons to conclude that the JI is authentic. For example, it had a deep crack in it when it was inscribed. Even assuming a forger could successfully inscribe across the crack, would any forger take the chance of cracking the tablet and destroying his work when he could start with an easily available tablet without a crack?

In fact, when in the possession of the police, the tablet broke in two along the crack, revealing a patina deep in the crack—proving the inscription preceded the creation of the patina.

While it can never be proved with absolute certainty that the JI is authentic, the case is certainly highly likely. We should treasure the JI as very probably an authentic inscription of an Israelite (or rather Judahite) king.
 


 

Notes

a. See Hershel Shanks, “Is the Harvard Theological Review a Coward or Did Dr. Karen King Do Something Wrong? Publication of Scholar’s Article on ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Postponed,” Bible History Daily (blog), October 16, 2012 (www.biblicalarchaeology.org/karen-king); Strata: In Their Own Words: “Stop the Presses: Report on ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Due Out Mid-Summer,” BAR, July/August 2013; Hershel Shanks, First Person: “Why Did Judas Identify Jesus with a Kiss?” BAR, January/February 2014; Strata: “‘Jesus Wife’ Update,” BAR, January/February 2014; Strata: “‘Jesus Married Mary Magdalene’—Gospel of Philip,” BAR, May/June 2014.

b. “Strata: New Study Supports Authenticity of Yehoash Inscription,” BAR, May/June 2009.

1. Karen L. King, “‘Jesus said to them, “My wife …”’: A New Coptic Papyrus Fragment,” Harvard Theological Review 107 (April 2014), pp. 131–159.

2. Leo Depuydt, “The Alleged Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: Assessment and Evaluation of Authenticity,” Harvard Theological Review 107 (April 2014), pp. 172–189; see also Karen L. King, “Response to Leo Depuydt, ‘The Alleged Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: Assessment and Evaluation of Authenticity,’” Harvard Theological Review 107 (April 2014), pp. 190–193.

3. S. Ilani, A. Rosenfeld, H.R. Feldman, W.E. Krumbein and J. Kronfeld, “Archaeometric Analysis of the ‘Jehoash Inscription’ Tablet,” Journal of Archaeological Science 35 (2008), p. 2972.

Posted in Artifacts and the Bible.

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  1. Nate says

    Isn’t that the key with finding anything of historical significance? No one can prove with absolute the authenticity because we were not there; but all one has to do is prove reasonable probability with supporting evidence and historical background. This is why I agree with the conclusion of this article about the Jehoash Inscription. This is also why I disagree with the papyrus fragment and the horrific grammar at the beginning of the article.

  2. Maria says

    It is not Jesus of Nazareth….it is another Jesus….

  3. gerald says

    If we, ever, make mistakes in grammar we can always call them forgeries. No one, ever, at any time, anywhere, ever, made mistakes in grammar; mistakes are brand new, they came with the advent of the typewriter. Yes, right, there’s a valid argument, sure.

  4. Gail says

    Wasn’t this a very common name?

  5. Ernesto says

    Mr. Shanks, your explanation for how these golden droplets arrived to the fragment requires a tremendous leap of Faith. I think your article is designed to capitalize on an obscure fragment to sell magazines. Even if the fragment is not a forgery, so what? There were many individuals both ancient and modern who were intent on writing lies about the true identity and nature of Jesus. So-called Biblical Scholars like Professor King can only hope to build controversy in order to build their reputations and gain notoriety so they can sell books and get published. There is no historical record to suggest Jesus was married. I thought you and your Editorial staff were above reaching for straws to sell copy.

  6. Robert says

    What happens to those of us who believe in the orthodox portrayal of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, risen from the dead, and Savior of the world? The “Jesus’ wife” fragment may be authentic, from around that time period, but it doesn’t mean that whatever belief system the writer of that fragment held is as credible as the Gospel as held by orthodox Christians since Jesus’ time.

  7. r says

    I will not say that I thnk this is a forgery. Although even if this is real, at that time many men were named jesus. Even today in the Spanish speaking areas Jesus is still a common name. But I will say that this is the type of item that makes Karan Kings day. Her written history of Gnostic leaning beliefs is just what she will continue to apply to this fragment.

  8. dr howard says

    There is absolutely no proof Jesus was married. Zero! Been researching since 1963. We are certain many far removed from His time speculated about this issue. If you like me count the Gospels and NT in it’s entirety correct then it ends the speculation He was not married. He is spiritually ‘married’ to His :bride” the church says Paul in Ephesians,and in other places.

    But, if this fragment is really ancient it may move towards -not away from – a real historical Jesus-if this “Jesus” is our Jesus in the NT.

  9. dr howard says

    I wish to add that the word for “marveled” in Jn.4:27 as to the reaction of the disciples seeing Jesus speaking to the woman at the well in John 4:1-42 means to be’ astonished or greatly surprised. ‘ If Jesus- and these young men were with Him daily- had ever seen Jesus with Mary or any female- especially alone -they would not have been ‘shocked’ He was speaking with a female.

  10. Teresa says

    I AGREE WITH THE PROOF THAT JESUS WAS NOT MARRIED.HOWEVER AS THEY SAY THE NAME JESUS WAS VERY COMMON THAT IS WHY THEY CALLED HIM JESUS OF NAZARETH THE SON OF DAVID.IT HAS BEEN AGES THAT THEY TRY TO DAMAGE OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR WITH JUNK THAT IS WHY WE WALK BY FAITH AND NOT BY SIGHT OF THE WORDS OF JESUS.

  11. Beverly says

    I don’t have a problem with Jesus being married. Wasn’t he both God and human? Human beings get married, at least most of them do. It doesn’t change my view of who he was and what he did, in fact it makes it easier for me to identify with the human side of him. My faith does not rest on the fact that Jesus had to be unmarried. To me its insignificant. He’s my savior whether he was married or not.

  12. susan says

    if Jesus was a observante jew then he most certainly would of been expected to get married, there is no shame in that, he lived as a religious jew who would of married, why the big fuss.. He is still the Savior of the world, being married doesn’t change a thing!

  13. Stanley says

    Let’s use a little common sense here. If Jesus was married, then there is an enormous amount of information missing like, When did he get married, when did his wife have children, why wasn’t his family mentioned in the current biblical texts during this time and during his time on the cross, burial and resurrection. This would have been a big deal during this period. The disciples would have written this into the texts about his wife and family to support the biblical stand on marriage and family. Don’t you think when he arose from the dead the first appearance would be his family? Why would Jesus ascend to Heaven leaving his family? There is too much scientific evidence and authentic biblical text that he was not married. It will be embarrassing at Judgment day when these scholars ask to see Jesus’ wife and family and the reply would be “you” are my family. These scholars need to have a true personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then their eyes would be opened and the truth be known. Thank you.

  14. Eric says

    I fully realize that among liberal scholars of various disciplines there is an interest in discovering some ‘smoking gun’ evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was married. Of course. The person who discovered such irrefutable evidence would be immediately thrust the the fore of their field and would just as quickly receive countless invitations to speak in the most hallowed halls of academia. Sometimes (usually) the tenor of such articles betrays the author’s personal desire for something of this sort to be true.
    In the interest of intellectual honesty, it would be very refreshing to read an article every now and then, which trumpets such evidence, to speak to the point that in the first century Yeshua was an extraordinarily common name. One need only a cursory familiarity with first century works to know this. The point to be made is that this fragment may very well be genuine – I will leave that to the experts. If it is found to indeed be genuine then what has been proven is hardly an earth shattering truth. A man named Jesus, living in or around the greater Jerusalem area, presumably from the same general time period. As to the presence of the gold globules – let us posit that such globules create a connection to the Temple. What we then know is this: A man named Yeshua who may have had some connection with the Temple (as thousands did) had a wife.
    Is such a find interesting? Sure. Is it an earth-shattering blow to orthodox christology? Hardly.

  15. Kurt says

    The Bride of the Lamb. In the light of other scriptures, the identity of New Jerusalem is made certain. She is “as a bride.” Farther along, John writes: “One of the seven angels . . . spoke with me and said: ‘Come here, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ So he carried me away in the power of the spirit to a great and lofty mountain, and he showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God and having the glory of God. Its radiance was like a most precious stone, as a jasper stone shining crystal-clear.”—Re 21:9-11.
    New Jerusalem is the bride of whom? The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who shed his blood sacrificially for mankind. (Joh 1:29; Re 5:6, 12; 7:14; 12:11; 21:14) What is her identity? She is composed of the members of the glorified Christian congregation. The congregation on earth was likened to “a chaste virgin” to be presented to the Christ. (2Co 11:2) Again, the apostle Paul likens the Christian congregation to a wife, with Christ as her Husband and Head.—Eph 5:23-25, 32.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200273113

  16. Judas says

    “Jesus” is just a pesonification of a concept, not a real person nor “The God”. It is so romantic and comforting to live with such stories, yet so ignorant to try to prove or disprove the “authenticity” of any story.

    All the best..

  17. Matt says

    @ Judas – you forgot to put “Discuss.” at the end

  18. JAMES says

    Reply to Ernesto
    I think you did not read the article correctly. The golden droplets were on a completely different
    artifact, the Yehoash Inscription not the forgery of the wife of Jesus papyrus.

  19. JAMES says

    Why do we always have to have one person that is an antagonist such a Judas?
    If Judas does not believe in Jesus as a real person I wonder what evidence he has to prove his little rant. He is just another God hater getting his twisted pleasure by annoying those who do believe in Jesus the Son of God Almighty.

  20. Gary says

    Very few Jewish males were not married by the time they turned fourteen. It was their duty to Hashem and the nation to have offspring. Enough of them were always dying…

    An exception would be the Essenes and similar celibate groups, admittedly a rarity in Jewish culture, many of whom actually were married, and returned to the general population in time anyway.

    I personally see very little of the War Scroll, and the Temple Scroll, etc., In the teachings of the Gospels. Even at seven years old, I thought that it was intuitively obvious that the Magdalene was Yeshua’s wife, in spite of all of the objections of the adults around me. Christians connote sexual relations with “filth”, which has always been puzzling to me, even as a child.

    This is not the viewpoint of Hashem, who created Eve for Adam, and told them to fill the earth.

  21. Rob says

    Author Laurence Gardner a few years ago in “Bloodlines of the Holy Grail” (NY: Harper-Collins, 1996) presented a lineage chart of ancestry of Charlemagne which traced back to both Jesus and also Julius Caesar’s sister (and her son-in law, Marcus Antonius). Strange bedfellows! He claimed this information had been discovered by a remote priest in a small town church in the south of France, and eventually sold to the Hapsburg family in Vienna, devout collectors. This book, possibly because of the lineage charts in the appendix, became a major best-seller in Europe, and Gardner has since died. Does anyone know where this author got his material? Noteworthy is the fact he misdirects the reader to focus upon an antique (and rather dull) Frankish dynasty lineage (the Merovingians), but an astute reader could take one step forward and discover Charlemagne’s Carolingians! Why did he misdirect?

  22. Stanley says

    You have 2 parents-4grandpaents -8 great grand parents- These grandparents are doubled each generation. If, on average, parents had a child at 25 years of age then after 775 years you would have more than a billion grandparents. The odds of you being related to someone is very high. These billion people do not count aunts or cousins only direct parents. That is 31 generations. Add one more generation and that is two billion then 4 then 8 billion. There were not that many people alive800-900 years ago. Do the math. Everybody would be related in60 generations. If not tell me how it is not true mathematically.

  23. Stanley says

    Of course populations can only be guessed by census and tax collectors which were callable. One estimate had a billion people on earth at year one b.c.e. Then 2 billion by 1850 then 3 billion by 1950 and roughly 7 billion now. Ergo we run into paradoxes in the number of grandparents. Would someone solve this mathematically. Thank you
    Stan

  24. Shannon says

    The Bible tells us that the Church is Jesus wife. Why is this Biblical fact never brought up? Here’s Wiki’s entry on the subject and you can look it up in the Bible as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bride_of_Christ

    Everytime I read something relating to this fragment, no one, and I mean NO ONE, mentions this as the reasoning behind it’s translation. Shame…


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