In September 2012, Harvard’s Hollis Chair of DivinityKaren L. King announced the discovery of a Coptic papyrus fragment that includes the text “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’” After an extended silence while the papyrus was subjected to extensive scientific tests,Harvard’s Divinity School announced that “testing indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ papyrus fragment to be ancient,” following the April 2014 issue of Harvard Theological Review’s (HTR) publication of carbon-14, paleographical, spectroscopy and other scientific analyses. Harvard Divinity School’s website includes updated images, Q & A and other resources on the papyrus.
However, the subject is still open for debate. In the second postscript to his forward in the same issue of HTR, Brown University’s Leo Depuydt writes, “All this still leaves me personally 100% convinced that the Wife of Jesus Fragment is a forgery.”
When King announced the discovery of the fragment in 2012, she clearly stated that the text implied that some early Christian populations believed that Jesus had a wife—not that Jesus was, in fact, married. Even still, if the papyrus is legitimate, it holds implications for the status of women in early Christianity, as well as the tradition of a celibate priesthood. As soon as the papyrus was announced, the story spread like wildfire in the popular media, and myriad scholarly responses swiftly followed soon after. While King had consulted a small cohort of eminent scholars who defended the fragment’s authenticity, others were quick to declare it a forgery.
Just when the debate regarding the authenticity of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” reached a fevered pitch, it was silenced. The Harvard Theological Review pulled King’s article, and Smithsonian suspended the airing of a documentary about the papyrus. HTR announced that the fragment would undergo testing, though the lack of specific information frustrated interested scholars and journalists.
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