'Jesus's Wife' papyrus fragment not a forgery, scientists say

Thu Apr 10, 2014 4:32pm EDT

(Reuters) - Scientists who examined a controversial fragment of papyrus written in Egyptian Coptic in which Jesus speaks of his wife concluded in papers published on Thursday that the papyrus and ink are probably ancient and not a modern forgery.

The existence of the fragment, known as the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife," was made public at an academic conference in 2012. It is seen by some as a glimpse of how ancient Christians thought while decried by others, including the Vatican, as an absurd fake.

Scientific studies performed over the last two years at various universities suggest both the ink and the papyrus are probably no newer than the 9th century and that the language and writing style are authentic for the period.

"All of that points towards the papyrus being ancient and the papyrus having been written on in antiquity," Karen King, the Harvard Divinity School historian who first presented the fragment in 2012, told reporters on a conference call.

The results of the tests were published online by the Harvard Theological Review on Thursday.

Although the business card-sized fragment contains only a few scraps of sentences apparently torn from a larger text, they seem to express ideas not seen in the canonical Gospels of the New Testament.

"Jesus said to them, 'My wife...,'" reads one snippet cut off by a torn edge, while other lines have Jesus suggesting that at least some women could be his disciples, roles filled in the canonical Gospels exclusively by men.

King has repeatedly said no one should mistake the fragment as evidence that Jesus actually had a wife, a notion held by few, if any, modern Christians. Rather, she said, the text shows how some ancient Christians were discussing the place of women and the role of marriage in the church.

"This was a piece of literature generated by Christians to affirm that women who are mothers or wives can be followers of Jesus," King said on Thursday.

Among other tests, a team at Harvard's Human Evolutionary Biology department analyzed the carbon in the fragment and dated the papyrus to between A.D. 659 and 869, roughly contemporaneous with an undisputed papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John.

A conservationist and an electrical engineer from Columbia University analyzed the chemical composition of the ink using micro-Raman spectroscopy and found it lacked the characteristics of modern ink but was similar to the Gospel of John ink.

The Theological Review also published a rebuttal by Leo Depuydt, an Egyptologist at Brown University, who said he reviewed the test results but remained convinced that the fragment was a modern forgery inexpertly daubed on an ancient scrap of blank papyrus.

King, the original presenter of the papyrus, said she welcomed the debate over the text's ambiguities.

For all we know, she said, the sentence fragment continued after the tear with Jesus revealing his wife was in fact the church, or perhaps, King suggested: "My wife? Are you kidding? I don't have a wife!"

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Leslie Adler)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
TimDLittle wrote:
Nothing less, still a fairy tale.

Apr 10, 2014 5:48pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Theopric wrote:
Karen King has always reached her conclusions about the possibility of Jesus being married with her own preconceived notions. Jesus could not have been married, is her beginning place. If the fragment mentioned above can be dated in the Ninth or Tenth Century, it simply confirms that there was a discussion of the possibility of his marriage much earlier, as early as the Second Century. For example, in the Gospel Philip (Second Century – one of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts found in 1945, there is this statement: “the companion of Jesus was Mary Magdalene” and that he loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her on the mouth. In the Gospel of Mary, Peter is jealous of MM and refuses to believe that Jesus would give her (a woman) special teaching. The other disciples recognize that Jesus spent a lot of time with her and gave her teachings he did not give them. While researching her life (especially the time she spent in the South of France), I kept running across pieces of evidence (both biblical and from extra-biblical texts that Jesus was married. I started writing the arguments down and quit after listing 35! Not a single “scholar” in my area would agree to engage in a mock debate with me affirming that Jesus was married. All of them refused but continued to state “there was not a shred of evidence” that Jesus was ever married. There can, at least, be no doubt that there was a discussion in the Second Century and other textual evidence from the N.T. text.

Apr 10, 2014 8:48pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
greateridea wrote:
Come on people! First, there was lots of men named Jesus at that time. Second, the word order could be something very different, due to the fact that in that language there would not have been English punctuation marks. So it could have easily read.”I listened to all that Jesus said to them.” “My wife enjoyed the sermon so much that we are going back tomorrow.”
You see how easy it is to distort someone’s words. There was a lot of people around Jesus at the time of his death; do you really think none of them, not even his disciples, knew he was married. Impossible! He ran around with an entourage.

Apr 11, 2014 8:41am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.