Vatican editor: Jesus' 'wife' papyrus fake

Sept. 28, 2012 at 2:09 PM
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VATICAN CITY, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- A fourth-century papyrus scrap a Harvard professor said suggested Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene is phony, a Vatican newspaper editor said.

"Substantial reasons would lead one to conclude that the papyrus is indeed a clumsy forgery," Gian Maria Vian, a former professor of historical writings of the early Christian teachers, wrote in the semiofficial L'Osservatore Romano.

"In any case, it's a fake," his editorial said.

A separate commentary by Sapienza University of Rome Coptic scholar Alberto Camplani said, "Such an object demands that numerous precautions be taken to establish its reliability and exclude the possibility of forgery."

Harvard Divinity School early Christianity Professor Karen King announced the existence of the text -- possibly translated into the Coptic language of Egyptian Christians from a second-century Greek text -- at the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies Sept. 18. The event was hosted by the Vatican's Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome.

Patristics is the study of Christian Fathers and their writings.

Four words appearing on the 1.5-by-3-inch fragment translate as, "Jesus said to them, my wife."

Twice on the tiny fragment Jesus speaks of his mother and once of his wife -- one of whom is identified as "Mary."

King and AnneMarie Luijendijk -- a Princeton University New Testament and early Christianity associate professor who studies ancient papyrus writings -- contend the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel, which they named the Gospel of Jesus' Wife for reference purposes.

"Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim," King was quoted in the Harvard Gazette as saying. "This new gospel doesn't prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage.

"From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry, but it was over a century after Jesus' death before they began appealing to Jesus' marital status to support their positions."

Roger Bagnall, director of New York University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, is cited in the Gazette as saying that, after studying the papyrus and handwriting, including how the ink penetrated and interacted with the papyrus, he believes the fragment is probably authentic.

Ariel Shisha-Halevy, an Egyptian-Coptic and Coptic-Greek contrastive grammar expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has said the scrap is likely authentic, based on language and grammar, King said.

Final judgment depends on additional examination and testing, especially of the ink's chemical composition, she said.

King and Luijendijk's analysis of the fragment is to be published in the January issue of Harvard Theological Review, a peer-reviewed journal.

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