The Vatican had previously said that the document was a fake. But now we know that this is very far from the case.
Scholars too had concluded that the papyrus referring to Jesus’s wife was a clever forgery. But now, new scientific evidence has proven otherwise.
Back in September 2012 Karen King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, first announced the discovery of a Coptic manuscript that she began calling “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”
The scrap of papyrus was only the size of a cell phone, but it contained the words “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…’” before the rest of the text cut off.
Later, in a subsequent line the fragment refers to a “Mary” and explains that she “is worthy.”
Is this Mary Magdalene? It seems likely, almost certain. But if so, is this the wife to whom Jesus was referring in the papyrus? And even then, does this mean Jesus was married or was it perhaps allegory?
King presented the manuscript as evidence of an early Christian debate over the role of women as disciples and leaders in the Church. King has concluded that the fragment is a fourth-century copy of a second-century undiscovered text. This, she explains, only means that The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is evidence of a second-century debate, but not whether or not the Historical Jesus had a wife or not.
To others, however, it is evidence of the logical conclusion that Jesus, as a first century Jewish teacher, arguably in his 30s or 40s, would have been married.
The debate in the second century would have been caused by the emergence of beliefs to the contrary, rather than erupting out of the blue.
Almost immediately the scholarly community began to respond, first with the obvious—“this does not prove that Jesus had a wife”—and then with increasing skepticism about the authenticity of the fragment itself. Esteemed New Testament scholars like Francis Watson and Mark Goodacre, together with the renowned manuscript expert Alin Suciu, began to poke holes in the thesis.
The biggest problems were the grammatical errors in the text and the similarities between GJW and another early Christian Coptic text, the Gospel of Thomas.
Almost 18 months after King’s initial announcement about the text, The Harvard Theological Review has published a special edition containing a revised article and a dissenting view by Brown Egyptologist Leo Depuydt, as well as the results of scientific testing of the date of the manuscript and analyses of the handwriting and ink.
The texts conclude that the papyrus itself should be dated between 650 CE and 870 CE. The ink, scientists confirm, is consistent with materials used on ancient manuscripts. The handwriting analysis also failed to turn up anything suspicious.
What that means is that if this is indeed a forgery as so many scholars and the Catholic Church originally assumed, then there are people out there who are making forgeries in ways very different than we have imagined. In fact, it would mean that there are people creating forgeries in ways that could make it impossible to distinguish forgeries from historical artifacts. That would seem terrifying to the archeological community, if it were at all likely. Far more likely is that this surprising text is authentic and reflects a second century debate that was likely borne out of a clash between emerging Church doctrines and historical accounts of a married Jesus who didn’t find women dirty, nor marriage and sex to be sinful.
(Article by R. Abraham)