Stephen Emmel earned his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1993 (department of religious studies, program in the study of ancient Christianity). His doctoral dissertation, “Shenoute’s Literary Corpus” (published in 2004), laid the groundwork for his current main research preoccupation, which is an international collaborative project to publish the writings of the ancient Coptic monastic leader Shenoute the Archimandrite (ca. 347–465). In 1996 Emmel was appointed professor of Coptology at the Institute of Egyptology and Coptology at the University of Münster in Germany. During the academic year 2010–11 he was on leave of absence from the University of Münster in order to serve as the first full-time professor of Coptology at the American University in Cairo. (Source: Wikipedia)
Some weeks ago, Christian Askeland discovered a crucial piece of evidence that must now necessarily be the basis for any scientifically founded opinion as to the genuineness of the Coptic papyrus fragment called the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” The new evidence is a second papyrus fragment from the same source, with a part of the Gospel of John in one of the “Lycopolitan” dialects of Coptic. Because the text of the John fragment is known from Herbert Thompson’s 1924 edition of the fourth-century “Qau codex” (a few minor textual variants notwithstanding), and because the John fragment appears to have belonged to a codex leaf, it is possible to calculate hypothetically the approximate reconstructed dimensions of the complete leaf.
Using conservative measurements taken provisionally from scaled photographs, and assuming that the codex had only one column of writing on each side, the results of my calculations are as follows (the dimensions are given height × width):
minimally: 44 × 22 cm (and surely no smaller), proportion 0.50
on average: 49 × 25 cm (width quite possibly greater), proportion 0.51
maximally: 54 × 27 cm (width quite likely greater), proportion 0.50
These dimensions, if accurate, would mean that the John fragment represents the tallest papyrus codex yet known. Otherwise, the tallest papyrus codex known to me is a Greek codex, one complete leaf of which survives in the Berlin Papyrussammlung, measuring 40.4 × 21.5 cm. Papyrus codices taller than 35 cm are on the whole rare.
Assuming that the John manuscript was a two-column codex results in dimensions that are even more incredible (height × width):
minimally: 17 × 40 cm (and surely no smaller), proportion 2.35
on average: 20 × 45 cm (width quite possibly greater), proportion 2.25
maximally: 23 × 49 cm (width quite likely greater), proportion 2.13
The widest papyrus codex on record (so far as I know) is a Greek codex with dimensions of 28 × 37 cm (height reconstructed). As of 1977, the papyrologist and codicologist Eric G. Turner knew of only four such papyrus codices that are wider than they are tall. The greater than 2 : 1 proportion (width : height) of the hypothetical two-column John codex is without parallel in Coptic, Greek, and Latin papyrus codicology. The closest proportion recorded by Turner is 1.9 : 1, but the one known example with this proportion is small in size, only 9.8 × 19 cm. Papyrus codices laid out in two columns are in any case rather rare.
Thus the reconstructed John manuscript is either an extraordinarily tall and narrow single-column codex, or it is a short and even more extraordinarily wide two-column codex. If its existence be accepted as a fact, it would appear to deserve to be acknowledged as the tallest (or widest) papyrus codex yet known. Among extant papyrus codices written in Coptic in particular, this hypothetical John codex would stand out as even more extraordinary.
For myself, this codicological analysis of the John fragment strengthens still further the conclusion to be drawn from observations that other scholars have brought forward in recent weeks about its text, orthography, and paleography. I do not see how there can be any room for doubt in anyone’s mind that the John fragment is but the product of a hoax. That this conclusion has implications for judging the genuineness of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment is obvious, and the demonstrable certainty that the John fragment is a fake confirms me in the opinion that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment too is a fake, a product of the same hoax that has brought us a new (but worthless) witness to the dialect-L5 Coptic version of the Gospel of John.
On the other hand, the application of several “hard science” techniques of analysis to both the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the Gospel of John fragments – namely, radiometric dating and two types of spectroscopy – has resulted in a quantity of useful data, but the interpretation of these data must now be reviewed in light of the exposure of both fragments as having been inscribed only recently. In the hope and expectation that an increasing number of ancient manuscripts will be subjected to such analyses, students of ancient manuscripts need to become at least somewhat familiar with how these analytical techniques work, what kinds of data they produce, how the data are to be interpreted, and – perhaps most importantly – what questions the data might be used to answer.
Finally, as seriously as I take codicology, radiometric dating and spectroscopic analysis of ancient manuscripts, Coptic grammar and orthography – and also the existence of faked Coptic manuscripts – nevertheless, at the end of my paper I offer a somewhat light-hearted bit of food for thought in connection with the question of what might have motivated the person who faked these Coptic papyri.
How Much Text Is Missing from the “Harvard John Fragment”?
What Are the Dimensions of the Harvard John Fragment?
Reconstructing a Complete Codex Leaf from the Harvard John Fragment
Comparison of Reconstructed “Codex H” with Extant Papyrus Codices
An Alternative Reconstruction: A Two-Column Codex H?
No Codicological Reconstruction of H Is Entirely Credible
Conclusions from the Codicological Analysis
The Spectroscopic Studies: A Critique from a Layman
P.S. Yet More Nails for the Coffin?
P.P.S. Was the New Gospel of John Fragment Meant to Be a Joke?