Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus under the microscope
In a lengthy investigation published in The Atlantic, journalist Ariel Sabar uncovered the identity of the anonymous owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Below, read Coptic scholar Christian Askeland’s timeline of events in this controversial antiquities case in “More on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and Walter Fritz.” The post is republished with permission from the blog Evangelical Textual Criticism.—Ed.
“More on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and Walter Fritz”
Peter Gurry has just blogged on Ariel Sabar’s Atlantic article on Walter Fritz. Apparently, Fritz admitted in writing that he is the owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (GJW) papyrus. Among other revelations, the article contends that Fritz:
• studied Egyptology at the same institution where the GJW was verified in 1982 according to the forged accompanying documents
• purchased gospelofjesuswife.com weeks before Karen King’s Rome announcement
• approached Sabar about writing a factually erroneous book on “the Mary Magdalene Story”
• and has a higher regard for the “Gnostic” gospels than the canonical gospels
Several of us have been convinced since October 2015 that Fritz played some central role in the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife saga. The first player in identifying Fritz as a person of interest was Owen Jarus of LiveScience, who interviewed Fritz much earlier, and directed me to Walter Fritz and his wife’s “Nefer Art” website. Here, I encountered a picture of the above Nefer Art Forgery (right), written in the sort of minuscule script (complete with accents!) appropriate to a modern printed edition. The cut along the left hand side resembles one on the GJW. The Greek text, apparently some sort of magical love spell, features a likely image of Venus with Cupid and references the Titan Phoebe and her daughter Hekate. I have not been able to determine the text from which this was fabricated.
This led me to one of blogs related to Fritz’s wife, namely “Cute Art World,” in which she advertises her hand-made pendants embedded with ancient papyrus and inscribed with a Coptic nomen sacrum IC (not Greek). She blogged (31 Aug 2009),
Pendants of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus in her arms. On the picture there is IC with a dash over it, which is the Coptic writing for “Jesus”. The little roundel in the lower part of the pendant contains a small, approx. 1/12” long papyrus fragment with the original black ink on it. I glued these fibers in between the picture and the glass. These fragments are really old and come from a larger christian papyrus, dating back to the 2nd Century A.D. The larger papyrus was probably part of a gospel or an early christian text, written in the Sahidic Coptic language. Coptic is is the final stage of the Egyptian language and consists of Egyptian words, written in Greek alphabet. Early Christians used the Coptic language, besides Greek, to write down the Gospels and other early texts about Jesus. This is no hoax. I can guarantee that the small fragments in the roundel are indeed over 1800 years old. They date back in a time period shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion. I got these fragments from a reputable manuscript dealer who was restoring a larger papyrus with a christian gospel on it. The fragments were left over and couldn’t be incorporated into the big papyrus any more because they were so small. I have photos of the restoring process.
This was surprising. My guess was that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife had been created sometime after the death of Peter Munro (02 Jan 2009), and these images suggest that Hans-Ulrich Laukamp’s business partner has an interest in such papyri. Around the same time, Andrew Bernhard blogged about the Owner’s Interlinear, which conclusively proved his earlier hypothesis about the GJW’s reliance on Grondin’s Gospel of Thomas PDF. In the wake of this new discovery, I shared some of my findings with Lisa Wangsness of the Boston Globe, who would then become the first individual to discover Walter Fritz’s 1991 article:
Walter Fritz, ‘Bemerkungen zum Datierungsvermerk auf der Amarnatafel Kn 27’ Studien zur altägyptischen Kultur 18 (1991): 207-214.
Walter Fritz thanks Prof. Dr. Jürgen Osing for the concept for the paper, having studied at the Free University of Berlin with Osing in the summer of 1990. The article details a difficult reading of a Middle Egyptian Amarna tablet relating to the reigns of Amenhotep III and IV, and describing the use of “Quarztlicht,” or UV light, which naturally is only useful when one is working with carbon-based inks. One has to know about the composition of ancient inks. The GJW and related forgeries all appear to have been written with carbon (=soot) mixtures.
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I offer here a timeline of where we have now arrived:
September 2012: Karen King announces the discovery of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus. Almost immediately, Francis Watson and Simon Gathercole notice a relationship between the GJW and the Gospel of Thomas.
November 2012: Andrew Bernhard’s Patchwork Hypothesis proves that the GJW was copied from Grondin’s interlinear.
April 2014: The current blog revealed that an accompanying papyrus with the same handwriting was a forgery, calling into question the authenticity of all of the accompanying documents.
August 2015: With the revelation of the Owner’s Interlinear, Bernhard’s Patchwork hypothesis becomes irrefutable.
June 2016: Walter Fritz, a former Free University of Berlin Egyptology student, claims to be the owner of the GJW.
[Update: Karen King has conceded that the GJW papyrus is probably a forgery. Fritz had lied to her, she said, according to Ariel Sabar’s update.]
“Down the Rabbit Hole”: Owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Papyrus Unmasked
Papyrus owner had a shady past, according to Ariel Sabar’s investigation in The Atlantic
Is the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife a Fake?
Coptic papyrus mentioning Jesus’ wife is a forgery, according to Coptic manuscripts experts
The “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Papyrus Revisited
Harvard Divinity School declares the papyrus ancient, but the debate rages on
Is the Harvard Theological Review a Coward or Did Dr. Karen King Do Something Wrong? by Hershel Shanks
Publication of scholar’s article on “gospel of Jesus’ wife” postponed
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