Wednesday 19 September 2018

Jesus’s Wife Fragment: Lessons Learnt?

Hotwife papyrus
"On this day"... September 19, 2012 the New York Times first published an article about a papyrus reading: "A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife". The scandal, debate, and the implications of this forgery 'would change the field'. It is worth returning to the text by Roberta Mazza ('Jesus’s Wife Fragment: End of Story?' in her excellent Faces and Voices: People, Artefacts, Ancient History Posted on June 17, 2016) for one of the reasons why this piece was so thought-provoking for those among us who 'partner' private collectors and handle material from the antiquities market:
This story invites all of us – members of editorial boards in particular – to reflect very carefully on documenting provenance. Imagine a different, and more sinister scenario, one involving someone who smuggles a papyrus, or buys it illegally, and then offers it to an academic so desperate to publish to avoid checking provenance in depth: in this case, if the academic is based in the United Kingdom, he can risk to be charged with an offence under section 328 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 connected with money laundering, because his publication or opinion facilitates exchanges of criminal property. (You don’t believe me? Then read J. Ulph and al., The Illicit Trade in Art and Antiquities. International Recovery and Criminal and Civil Liability, Oxford 2012, esp. pp. 110-111). Now, my fellow academics, ask yourself once again: would you publish a papyrus without solid, documented provenance for a flashy appearance on the media and one more article out?

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