ROME (AP) — Is a scrap of papyrus suggesting that Jesus had a wife authentic? Scholars on Wednesday questioned the much-publicized discovery by a Harvard scholar that a fourth century fragment of papyrus provided the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus was married.
And experts in the illicit antiquities trade also wondered about the motive of the fragment's anonymous owner, noting that the document's value has likely increased amid the publicity of the still-unproven find.
Karen King, a professor of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the finding Tuesday at an international congress on Coptic studies in Rome.
The text, written in Coptic and probably translated from a second century Greek text, contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to “my wife,” whom he identifies as Mary.
King's paper, and the front-page attention it received in some U.S. newspapers that got advance word about it, was a hot topic of conversation.
Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried, although there is no reliable historical evidence to support that. Any evidence pointing to whether Jesus was married or had a female disciple could have ripple effects in current debates.
Stephen Emmel, a professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster who was on the international advisory panel that reviewed the 2006 discovery of the Gospel of Judas, said the text accurately quotes Jesus as saying “my wife.” But he questioned whether the document was authentic.