Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School professor, sparked debate and intrigue in 2012 when she unveiled what was believed to be a centuries-old papyrus fragment that referred to Jesus Christ having a wife.
Now, scientists who analyzed it are saying that the text, known as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” is more likely to be ancient than a modern forgery, leading King to believe that it is in fact a genuine document.
Despite seemingly agreeing that the papyrus is likely hundreds of years old, the historian has maintained her belief that it does not definitively prove Christ was married.
Instead, she has said the findings show that the fragment is likely part of an ancient manuscript that shows how early Christians discussed sex, marriage and celibacy, among other issues.
King previously told the New York Times that the fragment could indicate that some early Christians believed Christ was married.
“There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex,” she said at the time.
Considering the ramifications for such a claim, the papyrus sparked skepticism, as it was the first time that a supposedly ancient document referred to Jesus, the centerpiece of Christianity, having a wife.
“I took very seriously the comments of such a wide range of people that it might be a forgery,” King told the Times recently. “When you have all the evidence pointing in one direction, it doesn’t make it 100 percent, but history is not a place where 100 percent is a common thing.”
Following intense debate over its authenticity, the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” was analyzed by scientists at Columbia University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who found that it is similar to other documents from the fourth and eighth centuries, according to the Times.
Using micro-Raman spectroscopy, scientists confirmed that the ink in the document is similar to 35 or 40 other manuscripts they have examined from that same time period.
“The main thing was to see, did somebody doctor this up? And there is absolutely no evidence for that,” Dr. Timothy M. Swager with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Materials Science and Engineering told the Times. “It would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible.”
Even if it truly is an ancient text as scientists claim, as King has noted, that finding has no bearing on whether Jesus was truly married. The papyrus dates back hundreds of years after Christ lived and, thus, likely doesn’t constitute a firsthand account of his life.
Additionally, some critics still maintain that the document is a more modern forgery, despite scientists claiming that it likely isn’t. The Harvard Theological Review is publishing King’s paper about the papyrus Thursday along with a separate article rebutting the findings.
The counterargument is being posed by Leo Depuydt, a professor of Egyptology at Brown University. He believes that the document is a fake, has “gross grammatical errors” and that manufacturing such a document wouldn’t be as difficult as some experts have claimed.
TheBlaze extensively analyzed the finding back in September 2012, speaking with Dr. Darrell L. Bock, senior research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and author of “Who Is Jesus?”
At the time, Bock, who had not physically analyzed the document, said that the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” is a small text with no context. The translated text on the papyrus reads:
“‘… not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe] …’”
“The disciples said to Jesus, ‘…”
“deny. Mary is worthy of it” (Or: “deny. Mary is n[ot] 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 …”
“forth which …”
With lines of fragmented text, it’s difficult to discern exactly what’s being said in it. Also, without context, there’s no way to tell if, indeed, Jesus had a wife.
Also, while Bock explained that, “we have no way of tracing where it came from,” he also said that it is likely a Gnostic Christian text. This alone provides more context worth examining.
And Religion News Service made the point that this same contention — that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a romantic relationship — is nothing new in Gnostic theology.
Read all of Bock’s critiques here.
King said the fragment came to light after a private collector emailed her in 2010 and asked for help translating it.
(H/T: New York Times)