The "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" hoax

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The "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" hoax

Postby Fortigurn » Thu Aug 13, 2015 00:24

In 2012 Professor Karen King announced the discovery of a papyrus fragment written in Coptic which she believed indicated that some people in early Christianity believed Jesus was married (though she warned this "should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married"). The fragment was given the rather sensationalist reference title "Gospel of Jesus' Wife", despite the fact that there was no evidence it was from a "gospel", its provenance was unclear, and there was no actual reference to Mary as Jesus' wife.

Over the next couple of years considerable scholarly debate surrounded the fragment. The papyrus and ink were identified as very old, and a leading expert in Coptic confirmed the script and its linguistic features were authentic. During this time the fragment's authenticity was challenged on several grounds by a number of scholars. Professor King and her supporters replied to most of these challenges, but in time the sheer volume of discrepancies and the significance of key facts mounted an indisputable case against the fragment; it is now widely acknowledged to be a forgery.

Several points of interest were identified by commentators during the entire process of the debate.

1. The influence of personal faith on the interpretation of historical evidence.
2. Academic pressure to publish and the lure of new discoveries.
3. The challenge of identifying fake texts in view of a thriving industry of textual fraud which uses highly specialized skills and equipment.
4. The importance and value of peer review.

I found the third point of particular interest. The fraudulent nature of the text was difficult to demonstrate, and a conclusive case was only made as a result of multiple independent researchers addressing the issue from different points of view.

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