Timo S. Paananen on Methods of Forgery Detection and the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

Timo S. Paananen on Methods of Forgery Detection and the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife September 27, 2012

Timo S. Paananen has written a brief piece which takes the methods that Francis Watson and others have used to argue for the inauthenticity of the papyrus fragment known as the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” and applies them to a fragment of known provenance and authenticity. I hope it will be widely read and circulated, since it offers what I feel are really important insights about the methods that some have used or proposed using to detect alleged signs of forgery.

I’ve shared the article on my own web space and am providing a link below:

Timo S. Paananen, “Another “Fake” Or Just a Problem of Method? What Francis Watson’s Analysis Does to Papyrus Köln 255”

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  • Dr. David Tee

    Nice point he makes BUT it doesn’t matter if the fragment is authentic or not the content offers us nothing. Too much information is missing for it to be of any value. Just having 4 out of context words does nothing for discussion or insight to the ancient world.

    if authentic all it does is prove the writer of Ecc. correct when he wrote–There is nothing new under the sun.

    Also, it tells us that false teachers abounded in ancient times just as they do now. other than that it is useless without context.

    • Susan Burns

      I have faith that the truth will lead me to God. You must not have faith because you are afraid to take your fingers out of your ears. You are afraid that the slightest gust of wind will fell your house of cards. If you truly had faith, you would not be so afraid.

  • Rodrigo Aranda

    Paananen = 1 Watson = 0

    I wonder why not simply wait for the results of the ink tests, all this controversies about the fragment being a forgery only seems to me attempts to influence the media and non-specialist people on one hand, and to criticise the way the fragment was presented by Karen King on the other. At least that’s my impression having read some blogs, and watching the video of Christian Askeland today: of course the fragment could be a fake, but he seems to be more upset about how King has attracted attention (I guess, in his view, without really deserve it). The remarkable thing in all this is how the debate is being developed almost live, I’d wish more scholarly issues were discussed this openly.

    • Robert Mathiesen

      Scientific tests may not be able to settle the question definitively. If the putative forger used a genuine scrap of ancient parchment (which seems anyway to have been taken from a scroll, not a codex) and was able to get some equally ancient charcoal or lampblack to make his ink according to an ancient recipe, the matter might remain open. What would help is a scientific test to determine how long the ink has been on the papyrus. When I last looked into questions of forgery detection (a very long time ago), there was no such test. Has one been developed in the interim?

    • Stephan Huller

      “I wonder why not simply wait for the results of the ink tests” = because we live in an age of hyper partisanship. It is not about the authenticity of the fragment but the implications of the possibility that the fragment might be authentic. Christianity is not at stake here, nor is faith, nor is ‘the truth.’ What is really at stake is a cultural war between two groups who are often only defined by their hatred for the other side. Its all a game of inches and it is symptomatic of the decline of intellectual life in this country.

      • Alin Suciu

        Stephan, I don’t see any war here. It’s just a debate with arguments. That’s called scholarship, in most cases.

  • Phil H.

    I like the caveats. Good sense of humour (on top of the sense of logic)

  • Gary

    I love the Finns. If it wasn’t for the winters, it would be paradise.

  • tris

    Not very convinced by Paananen.
    1) The first line is not from John but from another Gospel…
    2) Before Watson’s article, there was already a consensus among scholars in favor of the forgery hypothesis.
    3) Watson’s article just increases the probability by giving us an easy way to do this fake.
    4) Paananen forgets to mention all the other data in favor of the forgery hypothesis, including the fact that the eight lines do not seem to make sense, which increases also the probabilty of the collage hypothesis.

    • Mike Z.

      Even if 2)-4) are true (and I’m not sure 2) actually is true), none of it runs counter to Paananen’s argument. Personally I find Watson’s analysis increasingly convincing–I think it is very well-performed. But I agree with Paananen that it only works in the context of a larger care for forgery. What’s more, you seem to agree with this as well. 🙂

      • Mike Z.

        “case” not “care”

  • Ulrich Schmid

    Paananen claims to offer “a reasonable reconstruction” of P.Köln 255 verso. However, he fails to do so by paleographical standards. He does not take into account the line length issue and how his reconstructed letters are actually distributed on the individual lines.

    Had he performed a reasonable reconstruction on the basis of Jh 5:46, he might have figured out that the entire text of Jh 5:46 fits lines 2-5 of this fragment nicely distributed with 22-24 letters each.

    This not only fits well with the rest of the Egerton Gospel fragments, of which the Cologne Papyrus is a part. It has the advantage of giving a sensible and coherent passage of text across five fragmentary lines of papyrus, something which is obviously lacking in the Coptic fragment according to Watson and others.

    I certainly like the types of check, Paananen has attempted. And I wish to see more of that. In order to make a valid point, however, such attempts have to meet basic paleographical standards.

  • Timo S. Paananen

    Small clarification: the word “reasonable” in my essay refers only to the left section of the table in the beginning. I do not claim that the “verbal parallels” on the right are reasonable. In fact, I would need to be quite mad to make such a claim.

    Ulrich Schmid is absolutely right in claiming that the “real” (i.e. “palaeographically sound”) context for this fragment is Jh 5.46. But that has nothing to do with my argument here. My purpose was to try and apply Francis Watson’s method on the fragment without making use of any of the extraneous information we happen to have (like the fact that Papyrus Köln 255 is really the lower part of the first fragment of Papyrus Egerton 2). Why did I pick a random line from APTh to match the first line of Papyrus Köln 255? Because choosing a random line from a completely unrelated ancient text to come up with a “verbal parallel” is a legal move in Watson’s method, as evidenced by the first version of his essay (the updated one has changed that part).

    Which leads to one of my points (repeated here for clarification): if an ancient fragment turns out to be “fake” by coming up with verbal parallels from any other ancient text in existence, then every ancient fragment is “fake”. Consequently, a method that turns every ancient fragment into “fake” is a method that cannot tell the difference between “fakes” and “not-fakes”.

    • Susan Burns

      Watson has come up with the Christian version of The Bible Code where every fragment meets his criteria. Instead of proving the divine source of text, he uses his methodology to prove it’s not. Where is that famous debunker when you need him?

    • Ulrich Schmid

      If I understand Watson and others correctly, GTh is the sole text they prefer to compare this Coptic fragment with. They see no need anymore to add a completely unrelated ancient text. Hence, Paananen appears to perform an exercise in Watson’s method that is already outdated, since Watson has updated his method.

      • Timo S. Paananen

        Well, you could say that this was an exercise on Watsonian analysis version 1.0.

        • Ulrich Schmid

          Is there an exercise in Watsonian analysis version 2.0 as well? What other purpose has Paananen’s piece in its 1.0 version.

          • Timo S. Paananen

            Dear Ulrich, you can see easily “update” my mock analysis to comply with Watsonian v2.0 by choosing verbal parallels for the three words in question from the Gospel of John instead of APTh. As long as you remember to claim afterwards that the three words in question “derive” from your verbal parallels, because they are a patchwork composition (because they were crafted by a forger), you’re doing it right.

          • Ulrich Schmid

            Depending on one’s views regarding the relationship between the Egerton Gospel’s fragment and the NT Gospels, one might indeed venture to suggest that the former could be seen as a patchwork composition. However, one would have a hard time to defend this supposed patchwork composition to be the work of a (modern) forger. And the reason for that is not additional extraneous information (i.e. larger context of the other Egerton fragments), but the possibility – inherent in the fragment itself – to reconstruct a syntactically and semantically coherent text that is running across five consecutive lines in an unbroken sequence. Since this possibility seems to be conspicuously absent in the Coptic fragment, a comparison between the Egerton Cologne fragment and it does not even foul Watson’s method. Watson’s method holds the place as long as the individual lines of the Coptic fragment cannot be joined together to form something that remotely makes sense as a consecutive text.
            In other words, Timo: You have to perform what you refrained from doing in your Caveat 1, in oder to accomplish what you claimed to have shown in your Caveat 2.

  • Timo S. Paananen

    tl;dr version of my small clarification: this essay is about method, not about the authenticity of Papyrus Köln 255 or the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

  • Georgeos Díaz-montexano

    Published the ‘Secunda Recensio’ of my Palaeografical Report of September 18, 2012 about Coptic Papyrus of the alleged “Gospel of Mary, wife of Jesus”. More than one score of objections and arguments based on evidences. Evidence about ethnic origin-cultural of the author of the Papyrus…


    Kind Regards,