I do find this week’s news about the discovery of a tiny piece of ancient papyrus on which is written a reference to Jesus’ wife fascinating. I especially enjoyed this piece by the Guardian’s religion writer Stephen Bates about the academic debate on all this. He writes:
The fragment of fourth-century Coptic writing on a rectangular piece of faded papyrus no more than eight centimetres by four contains eight lines written in black ink apparently including the words: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …'” Far from being the start of a music-hall joke, the extract continues: “she will be able to be my disciple,” before being cut off.
Karen L King, the Hollis professor of divinity – the oldest endowed academic chair in the US – who made the discovery, told the New York Times: “These words can mean nothing else.”
She should know – King is a Coptic scholar and author of books on the heretical Gnostic gospels from which claims about Jesus’s marriage originate. Cautious academic that she is, she hasn’t leapt off hither and thither in a private plane like Dan Brown’s hero, but has shared her discovery with other scholars who believe that the papyrus sliver may be genuine, though its provenance is obscure. It is apparently owned by an anonymous private collector, who bought it in 1997 from a German professor who is now dead – a suitably mysterious touch.
Roger Bagnall, director of New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, who was shown the fragment, told the paper: “It’s hard to construct a scenario that is at all plausible in which someone fakes something like this. The world is not really crawling with crooked papyrologists.”
Read the full column here.