Since I called the critics of the papyrus “vultures” in one of my previous blogs, I’ve been criticized by some friends for overstating my case. I stand my ground. I think the so called critics are masquerading as academics while being motivated by a theological agenda. It’s one thing to ask for further testing, it’s quite another to declare something a “forgery,” as Francis Watson from Durham University has done, and as the Vatican has done. “Forgery” is a very strong word. It’s stronger than “vultures”. It’s basically a libelous statement. Notice; Watson, of the Department of Theology and Religion, didn’t suggest any practical tests that might be undertaken before concluding that the papyrus is a “forgery”. In contrast, Professor Koren of the Shenkar College in Israel did not declare the papyrus a forgery. Rather, this expert in ancient textiles and dyes, suggested some scientific tests that could now be undertaken to shed further light on the papyrus (http://www.simchajtv.com/the-jesus-wife-papyrus-sound-advice-on-next-steps/). Therein lies the difference between science and theology! Basically, Watson is a theologian, Koren is a scientist.
Days before the forgery slander, I suggested on this blog (“Jesus Was Married. Something Has Changed!”) that the reason the original academics – Professors Peter Munro and Gerhard Fecht – who tested the papyrus sometime between 1977 and 1982, had not published their results was for fear of slander. This “forgery” business is not new – it’s the norm in the field of New Testament archaeology. The Dead Sea Scrolls were declared “forgeries” by the so called experts, before new ones were discovered in situ. Then a team of “academics” led by several priests kept the scrolls hidden from the public for decades. It was only when people such as Professor Robert Eisenman and Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archaeology Review “illegally” published the scrolls in 1991 that the public finally had access to these documents. Notice what happened with the Dead Sea Scrolls; first they were declared “forgeries”, then they were suppressed for 43 years!
Similar “forgery” charges were made against “Secret Mark”, an explosive version of the Gospel of Mark discovered by Professor Morton Smith in 1958. Arguably the leading New Testament scholar of his day, Smith kept his discovery a secret until he felt confident enough to publish the material in 1973. But the fifteen year delay didn’t help him. He was called a “forger”. It’s always the same process: avoid talking about an inconvenient text or piece of archaeology by demonizing and marginalizing the messenger, the message or both. Take for example Jesus’ family tomb in Talpiot. The argument was that the Mary buried in that tomb couldn’t be Jesus’ wife because he had no wife. By the time the Jesus Wife Papyrus was found, everyone could ignore the archaeology because it had already been “proven” irrelevant. It’s one big circular argument i.e., the archaeology can’t be true because there is no papyrus; the papyrus can’t be real because there is no archaeology.
Besides, how do we know that any of the archaeology is real? After all, there may be forgers lurking everywhere. Which brings me to a very simple question. Who would forge this and why? By all accounts, this papyrus has been known since the late ‘70’s. If someone was looking for a quick buck, forging this papyrus was a bad idea. More than this, it seems that anyone who finds any archaeology that goes against the mainstream Christian narrative not only does not make money, but he has his reputation dragged through the mud. Oded Golan was a happy collector until it was discovered that he had in his possession an ossuary that most probably belonged to Jesus’ brother James. Thereafter, he was charged with forgery, kept under house arrest and, even though he was found innocent, his artifacts were taken away from him. What money has he made out of owning this bit of controversial Christianity related archaeology? Nothing. On the contrary, his collection has been greatly devalued.
Morton Smith went to his grave with his reputation in tatters and the charge of forgery hanging over his head. What money did he make from discovering Secret Mark? It would seem a much better strategy for a forger to forge stuff that is in agreement with Christian orthodoxy. That way, no one would challenge his forgery and he might make some real money. For example, when the Vatican decided that it had found Peter’s grave under St. Peter’s Cathedral, it had no problem with the fact that some chicken bones were found among the human remains. Chicken bones notwithstanding, according to the Vatican, they had found Peter’s mortal remains. Since Peter’s so called grave was good for theology, the chicken bones presented no archaeological problem. Not so with “Jesus’ Wife Papyrus”. It does present a theological problem so the strategy is; demonize, marginalize and throw the whole thing into question. The main proponent of the “forgery” libel is Francis Watson: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/wat368023.shtml
At the end of the day, what are his arguments based on? Watson gives “three reasons” for his “forgery” conclusion:
- “The text is a collage or patchwork of phrases” drawn from the Gospel of Thomas. Basically, he argues that the similarity between two Coptic texts proves that one of them is a forgery. How does he know that it isn’t the Jesus Wife Papyrus that’s the original?
- His second point is that the two manuscripts are “exactly” like each other. But of course they are not. One of them refers to a “wife” and the other doesn’t. I would say that’s a big difference. But in Watson’s world of pseudo academia, you can argue that something is “exactly” like something else – except for the parts that are not.
- His third and final reason is that the Jesus Wife Papyrus is “highly disjointed”. This is proof, he says, that it was designed to resemble and impersonate a damaged, ancient manuscript. In other words, Watson agrees that damaged ancient manuscripts are “highly disjointed”, so in his circular universe finding a manuscript that is damaged and disjointed proves that it must be a modern forgery. Ignoring Professor Fecht’s 1982 note, Watson argues that the forgery must have taken place after the publication of the “Da Vinci Code” in 2003. Perhaps the forger anticipated Dan Brown’s book and forged something in 1977 that would look “exactly” like Brown’s 2003 novel – except, of course, for the parts that are different.
For a coup de grace Watson reaches for the ultimate circular argument. He states that the so called forger would have probably inked his forgery on an ancient papyrus. That way, if the papyrus passes the C-14 test, Watson can still argue that it’s a modern forgery. But he goes further. Basing himself on an “expert” on “forgery,” Watson says that even if the ink passes the test, this could have been achieved by burning an ancient papyrus and using the carbon soot as a “kind of ink”. In other words, anticipating that the papyrus in question will pass all scientific tests, Watson has already prepared an argument to hold on to his thesis i.e., our clever, modern forger used an ancient papyrus and ancient soot to create a 21st century forgery. This may be good stuff for television movies of the week, but it’s not science. What’s most disgusting about Watson’s argument is that, at the end of the day, he repeats the libel against the late Professor Morton Smith by calling him the “supposed discoverer” of the Secret Gospel of Mark, and accusing him of “composing” the text. He then, in the best tradition of agit-prop, throws the Jesus Wife Papyrus and Secret Mark into the same category as the Pilt Down Skull hoax.
I must confess, however, that Watson and his allies have done a good job. They have once again deflected the shock that the historical Jesus was married by turning the controversy about the marriage into a controversy about forgery. All this without a single – I repeat, a single – scientific test. More than this, all this while declaring that even if science authenticates the text, it’s still a forgery!
Despite the various libels, I repeat what I said in my previous statement – the naysayers will ultimately lose because agit-prop can only take you so far. At the end of the day, the truth will win out.