Counter-selling the proof of Jesus's wife
Before he was caught, Hofmann made an estimated $2 million selling his bogus manuscripts. Young, shy, and self-effacing—The New York Times called him a “scholarly country bumpkin”—he targeted buyers predisposed, by ideological bent or professional interest, to believe his documents were real. He often expressed doubts about his finds, making experts feel they were discovering signs of authenticity that he himself had somehow missed. “Usually he just leaned back quietly and let his delighted victim do the authentication, adding now and then a quiet, ‘Do you really think it’s genuine?,’ ” Charles Hamilton, once the country’s leading forgery examiner, and one of the many people Hofmann fooled, recalled in a 1996 book.
Reading about Hofmann called to mind the curious e‑mails the owner of the Jesus’s-wife papyrus had sent to King. In some messages, the owner comes across as a hapless layman, addressing King as “Mrs.” rather than “Dr.” or “Professor” and claiming that he didn’t read Coptic and was “completely clueless.” In other messages, however, he is far more knowing. He sends King a translation of the Coptic that he says “seems to make sense.” He specifies its dialect (Sahidic) and likely vintage (third to fifth century a.d.), and asks that any carbon dating use “a few fibers only,” to avoid damaging the papyrus. Also strange is that he tells King he acquired the Jesus’s-wife fragment in 1997, then gives her a sales contract dated two years later.