Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Testing gives new life to ‘Jesus Wife’ papyrus
First Published Apr 10 2014 03:34 pm • Last Updated Apr 11 2014 03:07 pm

A year and a half after unveiling a slip of papyrus that she dubbed "The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife," Harvard Bible scholar Karen King on Thursday released results of long-delayed testing on the controversial fragment that appear to show it is not a modern forgery.

But a host of questions remain, with some experts still wondering whether it is a fake and others questioning the value of the tests. Still others are asking whether the "gospel" and its suggestion that Jesus could have had a flesh-and-blood wife have any bearing on Christian doctrine.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

King said she feels vindicated because the tests show the fragment, which is about the size of a business card, and the writing on it are ancient and therefore authentic.

"I’m hoping now that we can turn away from the question of forgery and talk much, much more about the historical significance of the fragment and precisely how it fit into the history of Christianity and questions about family and marriage and sexuality and Jesus," King told reporters.

Those theological questions have indeed stirred controversy since King presented the fragment at a conference in Rome in September 2012, and continued to do so in the wake of this latest announcement.

"Nearly every scholar believes that Jesus was unmarried. So do I," the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of a new book on Jesus, wrote on the website of America magazine, a Catholic weekly. "My faith," Martin added, "does not rest on his being unmarried — but my reason tells me that he was."

Martin listed some of the reasons Jesus was likely not married — one, it would be odd for the accounts of his life not to mention a wife if he had one, and the newly discovered papyrus was written centuries after the original Gospels.

The fragment consists of just eight lines and 33 words of an interrupted conversation likely snipped from a larger papyrus.

At two points Jesus speaks of his mother, his wife and a female disciple, one of whom may be identified as "Mary," though it’s unclear if she would be Mary Magdalene, as some speculate, or another Mary. When the disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy, Jesus states that "she can be my disciple," an intriguing statement that might challenge Catholic doctrine about women as priests.

King has stressed that the fragment does not prove that Jesus was married, and she says the text is not in fact focused on that issue.

story continues below
story continues below

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

But beyond the debates about faith and history, the latest news about the papyrus continued to prompt questions about its validity. Not everyone was satisfied with the answers.

"The papyrus fragment seems ripe for a Monty Python sketch," Leo Depuydt, an Egyptologist at Brown University, writes in a blistering rebuttal to King. His analysis is in one of a series of articles on the papyrus published in the new edition of the Harvard Theological Review.

Depuydt also continues to maintain that the Coptic language used in the papyrus contains "a couple of fatal grammatical blunders" that render it "patently fake."

Critics also say the fragment violates the "too good to be true" rule of biblical archaeology: that if a relic emerges that seems to address exactly the concerns of a modern audience — such as sex and women in Christianity — then skepticism is warranted.

They point to other outstanding issues as well:

• The testing indicates that the papyrus could be as recent as 859, which is 400 years later than King first thought and much later than the accounts from the New Testament.

• Tests on the composition of the ink showed that it was of a type used between 400 B.C. and as late as A.D. 800, a very wide window.

• While the ink appears to be of a type and pattern used by ancient writers, the ink itself could not be tested without destroying the papyrus.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.