Biblical Archaeology Review 42:6, November/December 2016

First Person: Why Consult Scholarship to Judge “Jesus’ Wife” Fragment?

By Hershel Shanks

Good journalism beats good scholarship. That’s the apparent lesson of a long article in the July/August 2016 issue of the Atlantic1 that is winning kudos all over for unmasking a fake ancient inscription in which Jesus refers to “my wife,” ostensibly indicating he is married.

The inscription is in Coptic and inscribed on a piece of ancient papyrus the size of a business card. It came to Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King, who holds the oldest endowed chair in the United States, via one Walter Fritz, who requested anonymity.

The Atlantic piece was written by investigative journalist and author Ariel Sabar. By the time Sabar got into the act, the Coptic text had been widely known for years and even published. Whether it was a forgery had been extensively debated.

One who was certain he knew the answer was Leo Depuydt, a Coptic specialist from Brown University. Depuydt was able to reach a firm judgment even after viewing only a picture of the text in the newspaper; the Coptic grammar was that terrible. I have not “the slightest doubt that the document is a forgery and not a very good one at that,” declared Depuydt. British scholar Francis Watson of the University of Durham reached the same conclusion.

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