P 75 – A Forgery?


By William Cooper


On the 22nd of January 2007, Pope Benedict XVI was presented with a papyrus manuscript which had hitherto been known as Bodmer Papyrus XIV-XV, or more formally as P75. What he was receiving that day on behalf of the Vatican Library was a papyrus containing textually corrupted portions of the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John. The value of the papyrus in the Vatican’s eyes lay in the surprising - almost verbatim - support that it gave to the text of the Vaticanus,1 and its reception by the Vatican was given a concomitant degree of publicity.


Here, after all, was proof for the integrity of Codex Vaticanus sufficient for the laying of any doubts and fears on the part of all those scholars who may have harbored misgivings about that integrity - and there were plenty of them. However, the history of P75 (Bodmer XIV-XV) before it arrived at the Vatican is of some interest to us, for its origins, provenance, and acquisition are shrouded in obfuscation and ambivalence. It is a story that needs to be told. It needs to be told because of the undeniable Jesuit involvement in the manuscript’s acquisition, its promotion, and its all too mysterious provenance. The story begins with one ‘Father’ Louis Doutreleau, SJ.2


Louis Doutreleau (d. 2005) was a French Jesuit priest who was heavily involved in the work of an organization called Sources Chrétiennes (Christian Sources), which busied - and still busies itself with the recovery and translation of ancient patristic texts. Sources Chrétiennes was itself founded in 1942 (a strange enterprise to begin in France whilst World War II was at its height) by three other Jesuits, namely Jean Danielou (later Cardinal), Claude Mondesert, and Henri de Lubac (admirer of the Jesuit mystic, Teilhard de Chardin, and later Cardinal). So the Jesuitical background of what follows can hardly be made clearer.


Doutreleau, for his part, busied himself for many years as the go-between for the famous bibliophiles Chester Beatty and Martin Bodmer in their quest for ancient papyri to stock their respective libraries, and they would only purchase such manuscripts on Doutreleau’s recommendation. He would tell them which papyri had become available, which ones would be of interest to them, and what they should expect to pay, using as his middle man a Cypriot dealer named Phokion Tano - or so he said. And so the scene was set. Doutreleau soon became a trusted source for Chester Beatty and Bodmer libraries, and they trusted his word - and his manuscripts - implicitly.


That is how the papyrus subsequently known as Bodmer XIV-XV (P75) came to be included in a batch of papyri that was sold to Martin Bodmer in Switzerland in 1952. According to Doutreleau, the papyrus was obtained from a shadowy figure from Cairo who was known to him under the unlikely alias of “Bey of Papyrus.” 3 Whence and from whom this man is supposed to have obtained it has never been established, in spite of Doutreleau’s own alleged inquiries, but it had come into Doutreleau’s hands as usual through Phokion Tano, or so Doutreleau claimed. The shadowy details, said Doutreleau, were a necessary device to avoid detection by the Egyptian Antiquities Authority and police, so that the papyrus could be smuggled out of Egypt to Switzerland - and not, as some mean-spirited readers might suppose, to conceal where it really came from. But there is something strange going on here which we must now look into. In concerns Papyrus P75 (Bodmer XIV-XV) and its condition when Doutreleau sold it to Martin Bodmer.


“This very valuable old codex was rebound in late antiquity, by pasting fragmentary leaves of the quire together as cartonnage to thicken the leather cover, and by sewing the binding thongs through the inner margin of the quire so near the writing that the codex could not be opened wide enough to be actually read.”4


Hold that statement: “could not be opened wide enough to be actually read.” How is it, then, that Doutreleau was able to commend this papyrus and its contents to Bodmer if he could not have known what was inside the cover? Doutreleau had to have known what was inside the binding before he sold it to Bodmer for him to be able to tell Bodmer what it was he was buying. After all, the undisturbed binding wasn’t dismantled until after it had come into the Bodmer Library’s possession, and it was dismantled for the plain and simple reason that the papyrus within could not be studied with the binding in the way. Yet Doutreleau knew exactly what was inside that binding before it was dismantled - a binding so tight that the papyrus within could not be read. That is strange, very strange indeed.


Whether Martin Bodmer thought it strange is not recorded, but he was clearly happy to purchase it anyway. After all, here were allegedly the earliest fragments of Luke and John ever discovered (being arbitrarily dated - by whom we don’t know - to AD 175- 225), being thus some two centuries or more older than Vaticanus’s alleged 4th century date, and moreover containing overall the same adulterated Alexandrian text as Vaticanus. 5 Thus, Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV was announced to the world as the authority that put all doubts about Vaticanus to rest. The death knell of the Received Text was being rung out at last.


But the story doesn't end there. The papyrus was purchased from the Martin Bodmer trust for a “significant sum” by the entrepreneur Frank J. Hanna III, it in all innocence to the Vatican as a gift for their library. It is now known under a third designation: the Mater Verbi Papyrus. How it made its way from Switzerland to Rome, though, is a story in itself. Dated the 5th of March 2007, Discovery News issued the following bulletin:


“11.8 excerpts may be put on display for the general public. Collectively known as the Bodmer Papyrus XIV-XV, the documents date to 175-225 AD and consist of 51 leaves from a manu script that originally consisted of 72 leaves folded in the middle to form a single quire, according to Fa ther Richard Danahoe, rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Alabama, who also helped with the acquisition. “The papyrus authenticates that which has been passed down over the millenia,” Fr. Donahoe told Discovery News. He believes it is even possible the texts may have been copied from the original gospels… The papyrus was mysteriously smuggled to Switzerland, where collector Martin Bodmer purchased it… With drama befitting a Dan Brown novel, the papyrus was transported from Switzerland to the Vatican. “An armed motorcade surrounded by people with machine guns picked up the texts,” said Krupp, the only Jewish man to have ever been twice knighted by two popes. Donahoe added, “The materials were carried in the passenger section of a public plane that had some seats re moved. Officers then escorted it to the Vatican.” Donahoe believes the papyrus has now come full circle. He said, “It has been a pilgrimage, a holy journey, to bring the texts back to the church, back to their proper home.” 6


Any Christian reader musts have wondered at the time what possible part machine guns could play in the protection and preservation of the Word of God, and with equal misgivings must have asked themselves what was meant by the statement that papyrus had “come full circle.” Now to come full circle, an item must end up in the same place where it began, in this case the Vatican. Now what are we supposed to conclude from such a statement as that?


What we know for certain is that the Jesuits had an active interest in promoting Codex Vaticanus even before Tischendorf set out on his Sinaiticus quest. Then, about a hundred years later, when Codex Vaticanus was wanting serious backup for the claims that were being made about it, a papyrus emerges onto the world scene that exactly answers the need. It came onto the scene via the Jesuit Doutreleau, a man who had taken and who lived by the fearful Jesuit oath. He belonged to an international and very powerful body - the so-called Society of Jesus - whose entire history is soaked in subterfuge, subversion, forgery, and even murder and the making of wars. He could only give a most unsatisfactory account of how he came by the document, or even from whence it came, yet he knew exactly what was inside the cover of the papyrus before that cover was even removed.


What happened to the papyrus collection containing Bodmer XIV-XV on arrival at the Bodmer Library is itself an appalling record. Speaking in particular of the papyrus known as Bodmer XXII, containing Lamentations, an apocryphal Epistle of Jeremiah, and Baruch, Robinson tells us this:


“...Bodmer sent it to Zurich (where he had business interests) to have it relaxed and photo graphed; somehow Bodmer’s son was involved. The relaxing and ‘consolidation’ was very crudely done, with a hot iron in fact, with resulting splits in the parchment leaves; folds in some leaves were pressed into overlaps with resulting loss of letters; and the photos were made by a newspa per photographer, rather poorly. This is the ‘year of disappearance’ to which Kasser later alluded, I believe. His allusion was purposely obscure be cause he did not want to offend Bodmer… whom he thought to have acted incompetently.”7


Incompentence? Or a deliberate attempt to give a recently forged document an appearance of age? When an established, professional library starts taking a hot iron to its ‘ancient’ papyri (and a ten-year old would know better than to do such a thing), then suspicions must be surely abound. No man in his right mind would even think of placing a hot iron on such fragile and unique documents, and then to have them photographed ‘poorly’ in black and white by a professional photographer who was well equipped enough and who would certainly have known how to take a good photograph. The whole episode stinks, and gives the guilty parties a ready answer for any who would dare to question the age of these papyri. They cannot be tested because they were spoiled by incompetent librarians who seem to have thought they were doing the laundry. Even C14 dating would be useless on papyri that have been heated and pressed under the application of a hot iron. Incompetence? No. The Bodmer Library’s technicians are by no means incompetent.


In all, it is plain that the world of Bible scholarship has yet again suffered a massive deception. The execution of it was simple enough. The organization to which Doutreleau belonged, the Jesuit-run Sources Chrétiennes, whether it knew what was happening or not, had scholars enough within its ranks who were sufficiently expert in Greek uncial calligraphy of the 2 nd -3 rd centuries to carry out such a forgery, and blank sheets of papyrus of that age may be had in plenty. There’s no shortage of the stuff. Besides, even modern papyrus can be given a convincing appearance of age, especially when its appearance is published through poor-quality black and white photographs. How simply the forgery was done, and what a colossal impact it has had on Bible apologetics and criticism, will not be known this side of eternity. But now, and on the strength of this one papyrus alone (P75 = Bodmer XIV-XV), scholars are convinced that Codex Vaticanus holds the authentic text of the New Testament when, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.8 It was and remains a massive deception.


More recently, in 2012, the world was regaled by the announcement that a papyrus has surfaced which spoke of Jesus having a wife, and, not surprisingly, it tumbled onto the world stage under the name of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. The place of its launch into the public arena was Rome during a conference at the Vatican. But why is that also not a surprise? When asked where it came from, the official answer was from ‘a private collector in Germany who wishes to remain anonymous.’ Of course. But the question is, why should this papyrus fragment have surfaced at all, and at such a time?


Dan Brown’s blasphemous novel, The Da Vinci Code, which spoke fictitiously of the bloodline of a Jesus wedded to Mary Magdalene, was still bringing in much-wanted public interest and cash to the Vatican, and many people around the world (aided by an uninformed and gullible press) were buying into the idea of a married Jesus. So hey, presto, an ancient-looking papyrus fragment depicting Jesus as speaking of His wife, appears just in time.


Eventually, of course, the papyrus came to be examined, and the only marvel was the number of faults and errors it contained - not to mention its appalling handwriting. To begin with, and quite apart from the fact that its provenance was ‘unknown,’ its appearance was highly suspicious. It has a nice straight edge along the top, with no upper margin which would normally have been provided to protect the writing from damage due to wear and tear, and its size and shape was that of any business card. The language it was written in pretended to be Sahidic Coptic written in Greek characters, yet its grammar and spelling were all over the place. Its text was actually a reworking of many phrases contained in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas as posted online where it is known as the Grondin Interlinear, and hilariously, in one of its words, the fragment was seen for the nonsense that it was.9 Not that it will be the last attempt to deceive the world by defaming the Word of God. There will doubtless be many others. This is merely the latest in a very long line of Vatican forgeries, stretching back all the way to the fourth century AD.


[Excerpted with permission from The Forging of Codex Sinaiticus by Dr. William R. Cooper]




1. “The Bodmer Papyrus, dated around the year 175, is the oldest extant copy of parts of the Gospels of John and Luke. Discovered in Egypt in the early 1950s, the papyrus influenced the course of biblical scholarship. When scholars saw such remarkable agreement between the texts, they had to acknowledge that the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the oldest complete version of the gospel, was indeed authentic.” - http:// solidarityassociation.com/index.php? option=com_content&view=article&id=233:bodmerpapyrus&Itemid=249.


2. The full story is told in great detail by Robinson: The Story of the Bodmer Papyri - see Bibliography. The letters ‘SJ’ stand for Society of Jesus - the Jesuits in other words.


3. Ibid., p. 41.


4. Ibid., p. 156.


5. See Edwards, Sarah A. ‘P 75 under the Magnifying Glass.’ Novum Testamentum. Vol. 18, Fasc. 3 (Jul., 1976). Pp. 190-212.


6. http://www.meta-religion.com/Archaeology/Israel/ earliest_gospels.htm—which merely reproduces the Discovery News bulletin from: http://dsc.dicovery.com/ news/2007/03/05/gospel_arc.html? category=archaeology&guid=20070305094530.


7. Robinson, James. The Story of the Bodmer Papyri. pp. 19-20.


8. For a technical in-depth assessment of Codex Vaticanus, it is instructive to consult Hoskier’s Codex B and its Allies: A Study and an Indictment. 1914. 2 vols. London.


9. For an examination of the fragment, see: DiazMontexano, Georgeos. “Mary, Jesus’ Wife”: A IV Century Coptic Papyrus - True or False? 2012. (tr. Cesar Guarde). Printed by Amazon.co.uk Ltd.


Dean Burgon Society News – June 2019 – Issue 119