The Gospel truth… or perhaps not

As far as Andrew Bernhard, author of the Other Early Christian Gospels, is concerned, it’s time to put to bed the debate about the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Writing a guest post at, he says that “for nearly three years, there has been considerable controversy and confusion about whether a business-card sized papyrus fragment dubbed the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is an authentic ancient artifact or not”.

While most scholars already believe the fragment to be a forgery, he argues that it’s possible to establish that it’s a forgery “created using a specific internet edition of the Gospel of Thomas”.


It wasn’t long, he explains, after Harvard’s Prof. Karen King unveiled the fragment in September 2012 that Durham’s Prof. Francis Watson pointed out that “the text appeared to be little more than a ‘patchwork’ of words and short phrases culled from the lone surviving manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas in Coptic”. 

Bernhard goes further than Prof. Watson, however, and shows that the entire fragment could have been written by someone with limited knowledge of Coptic using a specific modern edition of the Gospel of Thomas prepared by Michael W. Grondin and published online in 2002. 

There had been a hint of this when in April 2014 Prof. King published a phrase from the fragment as translated for her by the fragment’s owner, but it was the publication last month of the owner’s entire translation that wholly gave the game away.

“The owner’s ‘translation’ of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife displays evidence of dependence on Grondin’s Interlinear in every line with more than one word,” he says, highlighting the slavish relationship between the text and the internet edition of the genuine Gnostic Gospel, continuing, “It includes repeated English ‘translations’ of Coptic words not even present on the papyrus fragment itself, incorrect translations of Coptic text, and distinctive translations as well – all of which can be traced back to Grondin’s Interlinear.”

Calling for future scholarship in the area to concentrate on identifying the author of the forgery, Mr Bernhard concludes, “I hope that scholars can work together to prevent the dissemination of additional forged papyrus fragments that could disrupt historical research”.


Claiming the scapegoat mantle

Those who wonder what drives online fury and ‘Twitter mobs’ could do worse than look to how Jonathan Haidt at summarises a “most extraordinary paper by two sociologists”.

The paper argues, he says, that we’re beginning “a second transition of moral cultures”. The first major transition took place when most Western societies replaced cultures of honour, where honour must be earned and personally defended, with cultures of dignity, where people are assumed to have dignity in and of themselves. 

In such cultures, he says, people “foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transgressions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means”.

Now, though, it seems cultures of dignity are “giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honour culture”. In this new culture, the article argues, offended people “must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimised”.

Haidt’s summary alone is packed with fascinating insights, augmented by his own observations on how modern communications are nurturing this new culture of victimhood. 

“As progress is made toward a more equal and humane society, it takes a smaller and smaller offense to trigger a high level of outrage,” he says, continuing, “The goalposts shift, allowing participants to maintain a constant level of anger and constant level of perceived victimisation.”