Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Divorcing Mrs Jesus - Leo Depuydt's Report

Not long after posting Francis Watson's articles on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, I was privileged to get the chance to read an article by Prof. Leo Depuydt of Brown University which sheds further doubt on the authenticity of the fragment, and in a piece written completely independently of Watson.

One of the students at Brown has written a clear piece that introduces the fragment and then explains Prof. Depuydt's involvement:

Divorcing Mrs. Jesus
Mary-Evelyn Farrior
. . . . . Professor Leo Depuydt sits in his barren office in the Egyptology Department building at Brown, proud to be playing the role of scholarly detective. Depuydt leaves no room for question. To him the answer is obvious: the fragment is a forgery.  Upon reading the article in the Times, Depuydt cautioned The Harvard Theological Review: “I said literally [in an email to the HTR], ‘The danger of making a fool of oneself is real’.” Taking Depuydt’s comment to heart, The Harvard Theological Review solicited a counter-report from him. Within a matter of days, Depuydt had compiled an independently researched, comprehensive, 14-page report, denouncing any chance of authenticity.  “There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the text … is a patchwork of words and phrases from the published and well-known Coptic Gospel of Thomas… It is therefore clear that the Text is not an independent literary composition at all,” Depuydt wrote in his report. King acknowledged the Gospel of Thomas, but only to the extent that it offers certain phrases similar to those in the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.’
In his report, Depuydt shows, blow by blow, that the vast majority of the text is directly taken from the Gospel of Thomas, and clumsily at that. So careless are the grammatical errors that Depuydt postulates, “An ancient native speaker of Coptic who can select and combine words and phrases from the Gospel of Thomas with any understanding could not possibly have produced said grammatical blunders.” Depuydt believes the author is a modern forger, possibly someone intending the controversial marital reference to be tongue-in-cheek. Nothing is known about the forger, but Depuydt suspects the forger may have come out of Germany: “We [Depuydt and a friend] are focusing on Germany and specifically Berlin because that is where the piece first turned up. But no success so far. The forger’s Coptic is not good. So it could be someone in the periphery of scholarship who never became a scholar.”
The article is all worth reading, of course.  I have just excerpted the pieces of greatest interest above.  It concludes with the note that "Depuydt’s report is set to print in The Harvard Theological Review in January 2013, alongside King’s report and a rebuttal by King if the ink tests prove inconclusive."

9 comments:

Stephen Goranson said...

It may be the case that the main questions now include who forged it, and when, and why. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for someone to ask emeritus Prof. J├╝rgen Osing, a student of Prof. Fecht and an editor of his Festschrift, whether, in his view, Fecht would have offered he opinions attributed to him in the two documents in the hands of the anonymous collector.

Mark Goodacre said...

That's a good suggestion, Stephen. Thanks.

Liberty Bison said...

Tests should also be performed on the two letters that accompanied the fragment to see if they are authentic. If the fragment is fake then salting it with "authenticating documents" would be a way for a con artist to increase it's sale price to a mark looking to purchase something in the antiquities market.

A sophisticated forger would know that all of the attention would be focused on the fragment and less on the others, so it's possible there may be a mistake on one of those documents that would show clearer signs of being a fake than on the fragment itself.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Liberty, yes. In the absence of provenance, we need to see the hand-written letter and to analyze it.

cbobrallaghan said...

How do you test a letter? I mean, it's going to be written in pen, so you can't test the ink. What do you do, a handwriting analysis or something?

cbobrallaghan said...

How do you test a letter? I mean, it's going to be written in pen, so you can't test the ink. What do you do, a handwriting analysis or something?

Liberty Bison said...

The Smithsonian article said the handwritten letter was unsigned so there would be a limit to the amount of analysis that could be done with it. I was thinking that someone would be more likely to find an error in the typewritten letter that accompanied it.

According to the Smithsonian article the typewritten note didn't include any mention of the fragment. So I guess it's possible that it could be authentic while the handwritten note and fragment are fakes. But I'm kind of skeptical of that scenario and still feel that it should be examined for errors.

As to how to go about testing the typed letter the best most recent example I can think of is the fake Bush national guard documents that aired on 60 Minutes eight years ago. I hope I don't come off as being political by bringing that example up but it's the best one I can think of that tested typed documents and proved they were forgeries. Below I have a link to an article that has the most succinct explanation of why they were forgeries. Who knows, hopefully it might give someone ideas on how to test the typed document:

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/04/bush-national-guard-story-lives

Mark Goodacre said...

Excellent points, Liberty.

David D said...

Glad to see Duke is doing good work on this. I would only suggest that the title should say "Annulled" and not "Divorced." ;-)
David DePerro
Trinity '94