Is the 'Jesus Wife' fragment a fake?

Harvard Divinity professor Karen King says she is "open to questions about authenticity" regarding the papyrus fragment she presented at a conference last week that raised questions about the marital status of Jesus.

The Huffington Post reports that Helmut Koester, a professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School who specializes in early Christianity and early Christian archaeology, has said that he is "absolutely convinced that this is a modern forgery." New Testament scholar Craig Evans blogged at a biblical history site, Near Emmaus, Wednesday that he thought "the papyrus itself is probably quite old, perhaps fourth or fifth century, but the oddly written letters are probably modern and probably reflect recent interest in Jesus and Mary Magdalene."

While King contends that she presented the discovery in order to spur research into its authenticity, Evans said in an interview, "It's usually the science that precedes the big announcements. These things aren't usually left untested, especially where a papyrologist has not uncovered it in Egypt."

Read full story here.

Comments (6)

I'm kind of surprised that research into the authenticity of the fragment wasn't done before anything else - not that I think much of importance rides on its genuineness, except possibly Harvard's reputation. It's a little frustrating that this is still being hailed in the press as having "raised questions about the marriage status of Jesus," when the most it could do is raise questions about the opinions of some 4th century Christians about that status.

Karen King did have the fragment examined by experts in Coptic papyri, who concluded it was not a forgery. King also believes that it is a copy of a late second century document, so it really has to do with the opinions of second century Christians. King states clearly that it should not be taken as evidence of Jesus marital status.

There is a rather detailed article about the find in the Smithsonian.

It might be important to a few women, maybe even a few Episcopalian/Anglican women,(you know cooties and all that) to know whether Jesus was married or not, and that he regarded his wife as a disciple. Perhaps it might give them a little succor from the problem of misogyny we have in the Christian church.
Or,of course,then nothing "much of importance rides on its genuineness".
I doubt it will affect Harvard's reputation one way or the other.

Just a thought

Lan Green

Prof. King would not have been permitted to submit her paper to a serious archaeological publication like the American Journal of Archaology (AJA), the principle scholarly publication of the American Institue of Archaeology. From its submission guidelines (

"In keeping with the revised (2004) policy of the Archaeological Institute of America, the AJA will not accept any article that serves as the primary publication of any object or archaeological material in a private or public collection after 30 December 1973 unless its existence is documented before that date or it was legally exported from the country of origin."

Why is Harvard Divinity and the Harvard Theological Reveiw (where King has reportedly submitted an article for review) less scrupulous?

The Paleojudaica blog has a lot of links to various articles on the GJW. My impression is that at the moment the outlook for authenticity is not positive.

Lan, whether or not Jesus was married would be of great interest to all sorts of people, not just women. That said, this text - even if genuine - sheds no light on that topic at all. What it does do is give a glimpse of the varieties of Christian and Christian-influenced religion centuries after the time of Christ, which is something we've known about for a while.

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space