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May 07, 2014

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I doubt this second fragment is a forgery.

The most that its line-by-line identity with the Qau manuscript shows is that it was copied from that manuscript, or vice versa or that the two were both copied from a common ancestor. But let's go ahead and assume that this manuscript is a direct copy of Qau. Just to be as prejudicial as possible, I'm going to refer to the manuscript from now on as the Qau-copy.

That assumption does nothing to imply when the Qau-copy was made. Maybe it was made sometime between 659 and 859 AD...the timeframe established by carbon dating for its 'sister' fragment: the Jesus' Wife fragment.

The other argument against the authenticity of the Qau-copy manuscript (at the other end of the link provided above and here) is the fact that there appears to be a hole in the papyrus at one point that the copyist wrote around. The letter "N" appears to be compressed below a hole. Of course, according to our experts, the only explanation for this is that the Qau-copy was forged, and the forger (who must be assumed to be a sub-moron) first simulated the damage to the manuscript and then wrote on it. And that for every other damaged location, he carefully made it appear that the writing had obliterated the letter, but for this one piece of damage he went ahead and squeezed in the letter just below the hole.

This theory seems very unlikely to me.

At least three other theories seem far more likely:

  1. The compressed letter is a result of damage to the original manuscript, maybe a blot of ink, and the original scribe compressed the "N" in below that.
  2. The damage occurred later. The first bit of damage occurred right where the compressed "N" is, and a later scribe, or even a reader, repaired the text by squeezing the letter in. After that the damage spread and occurred at other places in the manuscript.
  3. Observe these two points:
    • The strokes of the letters are actually pretty thick. On the letter "N", other examples on the same manuscript are thick and blobby (that's a technical term ;-) on the bottom of the letter.
    • Some of the the damage to the manuscript leaves the papyrus, but obliterates the ink.
    Putting these points together, it's possible that the combination of an especially thick-stroked "N" along with such damage left behind a fragment that happens to resemble a compressed "N"
There's also the possibility that the two fragments aren't sisters at all. That they were not written by the same hand. That would mean that the fact that one is a forgery would have little bearing on the claim that the other is a forgery. (Not no bearing, because Dr. King did get both manuscripts from the same source.)

On that front, the 'strikingly similar' handwriting used in the Qau-Copy and the Jesus' Wife fragment probably means next to nothing. I doubt we can really conclude that they were written by the same hand. For starters, I doubt that there is such a thing as a handwriting expert for Coptic texts the way there is for our contemporary scripts. It seems like there just are not enough samples for anyone to learn such a skill. And even if there were, even our contemporary handwriting experts, find it far more difficult to detect differences between writers for printing than for handwriting. I believe it gets even worse for printing in all caps. These manuscripts were both printed in all caps. Bottom-line, I doubt that the two manuscripts are 'sisters'. So even if the Qau-Copy really is a forgery, it means next to nothing about the Jesus' Wife fragment.

(And the Jesus' Wife fragment, while not a forgery, has zero theological impact anyway.)

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