'Gospel of Jesus' Wife' Historian Admits to Having Doubts About Authenticity

A Harvard historian admitted recently that she "absolutely" has doubts about the authenticity of the ancient papyrus fragment that she calls the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife."

Since Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School unveiled the torn piece of papyrus last week in Rome, many experts in Coptic manuscripts have expressed extreme skepticism and believe it is forgery. But King told Time magazine that she welcomes that discussion.

"Part of the reason for making it public at the Coptic conference in Rome was to engender a discussion about the fragment, about its authenticity, about its meaning, and to raise questions before we went to publication with it," she told the magazine. "So I actually welcome a lot of the comments that have been made."

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Though the experts she consulted after receiving the papyrus from a private collector last December have concluded that it is "very likely" an authentic ancient text from the fourth century, she acknowledged that more analysis is needed.

"I think something like this needs to be questioned further," she told Time. "We are going ahead with tests about the chemical composition of the ink that won't absolutely resolve the issue but will certainly give us one more piece of evidence."

The fragment is a small, torn papyrus that has eight incomplete lines of Coptic script. Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery except that it may have been excavated from an area in Upper Egypt.

Some of the phrases on the papyrus include (translated):

  • …" Jesus said to them, "My wife …
  • … she will be able to be my disciple …

Those two incomplete phrases have led King to conclude that some early Christians believed Jesus may have been married.

"Of course, one needs to consider all the possibilities. The notion of the church or a sister-wife (a female Platonic companion) or the bride in the Book of Revelations, these are all possibilities," she said to Time. "But the next extant line says: 'She will be able to be my disciple.' That doesn't strike me as something one would say, for example, about the church."

Christian scholars do not view the discovery as significant. In addition to some questioning its authenticity, some say that against the mountain of texts that they do have indicating that Jesus was single, this is just a single (and incomplete) text that likely came from a fringe gnostic group, Darrell L. Bock, senior research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, stated earlier to CP.

King's analysis on the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" may not make it to the January edition of the Harvard Theological Review.

Kevin Madigan, co-editor of the Harvard Theological Review, said he did not commit to a January publication and that it would depend on ongoing studies, according to The Associated Press.

A draft of her paper has already been released by Harvard Divinity School. A version of King's analysis was submitted to the Harvard Theological Review in August. While one reviewer accepted the fragment, two others raised questions and suggested review by experienced Coptic papyrologists and testing of the chemical composition of the ink.

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