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'Gospel of Jesus' Wife' Ancient Papyrus Is Not a Modern-Day Forgery, Harvard Says

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  • papyrus, Jesus' wife
    (Photo: Smithsonian Channel)
    Dr. Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, holds up an ancient papyrus, labeled "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife."
By Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post Reporter
April 10, 2014|3:51 pm

The controversial "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" ancient papyrus is not a modern-day forgery, according to newly published research in the Harvard Theological Review which insists that the fragment where Jesus supposedly mentions His wife dates between the sixth to ninth centuries CE.

The Harvard Theological Review states that the papyrus and the carbon ink have gone through "extensive testing" over the past few years, which has included analysis of the handwriting and grammar, as well as two radiocarbon tests to determine the date of the document.

"Microscopic and multispectral imaging provided other significant information about the nature and extent of the damage and helped to resolve a variety of questions about possible forgery," the update states.

"For example, if ink had pooled on the lower fibers of the front, it would have shown the papyrus was written on after it had been damaged. Or if the alpha had overwritten a sigma in line four, it would have shown that someone tampered with an ancient fragment that read 'the woman' by changing it into 'my wife.' No evidence of this kind is apparent, however."

Karen L. King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, stressed that the papyrus is not "in any way" evidence that the historical Jesus was indeed married, but said that extensive results have shown that the text is indeed ancient and could have been composed as early as the second to fourth centuries.

"The main topic of the fragment is to affirm that women who are mothers and wives can be disciples of Jesus – a topic that was hotly debated in early Christianity as celibate virginity increasingly became highly valued," King said in an update on Thursday about the text.

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King initially unveiled her findings in September 2012 at the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome. The ancient fragment reads in Coptic: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife..."

The Divinity professor said that next to nothing is known about the discovery of the fragment, including its author, but it is assumed that it came from Egypt.

The text contains eight incomplete lines of script and illegible traces of a ninth. None of the margins are preserved.

Some of the phrases found on the papyrus read:

• "not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe..."

• "The disciples said to Jesus,"

• "deny. Mary is worthy of it"

• "... Jesus said to them, 'My wife ... "

• "... she will be able to be my disciple ..."

• "Let wicked people swell up ..."

• "As for me, I dwell with her in order to"

• "an image"

Following King's presentation in 2012, a number of Christian scholars dismissed the validity or significance of the fragment which supposedly claims that Jesus had a wife.

"This is sensationalism masquerading as scholarship," said R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"One British newspaper notes that the claims about a married Jesus seem more worthy of fans of Dan Brown's fictional work, The Da Vinci Code, than 'real-life Harvard professors. If the fragment is authenticated, the existence of this little document will be of interest to historians of the era, but it is insanity to make the claims now running through the media."

Sean McDonough, professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, told The Christian Post that he believes the papyrus "is simply the latest in a seemingly endless parade of sensationalist headlines obscuring sober historical thinking about the Bible."

"At best, we have a scrap of papyrus that perhaps (the fragmentary nature of the piece makes it impossible to have any clear idea what it is actually about) one person in the ancient world, who wrote about Jesus centuries after the fact (Karen King, the scholar who unveiled the piece, suggests late second century, but at this point this is speculation) suggested he had a wife," McDonough contended.

"As King herself says, it tells us nothing about the actual facts as to whether Jesus had a wife. Yet headlines continue to state that a 'historical document' says Jesus had a wife."

Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano suggested that the document is a fake, running an article by Alberto Camplani, a leading scholar on Coptic documents.

"In spite of the drift in the media marked by tones which are quick to shock, unlike so many other items presented at the conference, the papyrus was not discovered in the process of excavation but came from an antiquarian market," Camplani wrote in September 2012.

"Such an object demands that numerous precautions be taken to establish its reliability and exclude the possibility of forgery."
King insisted that all the research shows that the text is a product of early Christians and is not a modern-day forgery.

"This gospel fragment provides a reason to reconsider what we thought we knew by asking what the role claims of Jesus' marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family," King said.

 

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