Did Jesus Have a Wife? Controversial 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife' Papyrus Is Being Investigated

Karen King from the Harvard Divinity School holds the 'The Gospel of Jesus's Wife' in a Smithsonian Channel documentary.
Karen King from the Harvard Divinity School holds the "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife" in a Smithsonian Channel documentary. | (Photo: Blink Films/Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel)

Researchers are still hard at work investigating the authenticity of a controversial ancient papyrus known as the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife," which was discovered by a Harvard University professor in 2012, and has prompted debate over whether or not it is a forgery.

LiveScience reported on Monday that research into the papyrus' ink suggests that the fragment is not a modern-day forgery, as previously thought, but the results of an ongoing investigation by Columbia University are yet to be published.

The papyrus was originally presented at the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome in September 2012 by Karen L. King, the Hollis professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School. The fragment reads in Coptic: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ..."

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Several other phrases make reference to Jesus' disciples, His mother, and "Mary," which LiveScience noted may be a reference to Mary Magdalene, one of Christ's followers.

King has said that the papyrus, believed to be composed somewhere between the second and fourth centuries, is not "in any way" evidence that the historical Jesus was indeed married.

"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 has said.

While a number of scholars have suggested that the papyrus is a fake and a modern-day forgery, King recently insisted that until the results of the ongoing research are clearly presented, it would be incorrect to jump to conclusions.

"At this point, when discussions and research are ongoing, I think it is important, however difficult, to stay open regarding the possible dates of the inscription and other matters of interpretation," King wrote in a letter in the magazine Biblical Archaeological Review.

Further complicating matters is the fact that it is difficult to trace the origins of the papyrus. The current owner has chosen to remain anonymous, and said that he bought the ancient text from a man named Hans-Ulrich Laukamp in 1999, who in turn had acquired it from East Germany in 1963. A representative of Laukamp's estate has argued, however, that Laukamp, who died in 2002, had no interest in antiquities and never owned a papyrus.

Harvard's own investigation is focusing on tracing back the exact history and ownership of the debated papyrus, which will be instrumental in establishing its authenticity.

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