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The “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” quite likely a modern forgery

Admittedly, “Jesus had a wife” is a more sensational headline than “Media outlets fooled by modern forgery.” But it seems the latter headline is more likely to be correct. My PhD supervisor, Professor Francis Watson, an expert in early Christian texts, makes a compelling case that the fragment which has come to be assumed to be an extract from a document labelled the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” was probably composed by a modern forger, relying largely on the Gospel of Thomas along with Matthew’s Gospel.

There’s both a specialist (for those who would like to follow the Coptic translation) and a non-specialist (for those who don’t) version of Watson’s piece available for free download at Durham University’s Department of Theology and Religion: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed. Watson’s summary (p. 6):

Six of the eight incomplete lines of GJW [Gospel of Jesus’ Wife] recto are so closely related to the Coptic GTh [Gospel of Thomas], 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.

Mark Goodacre’s blog also carries the piece.

HT @orreymac.

Published inChurch HistoryMatthew

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