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Karen King: serious Bible study began in the Episcopal Church

Karen King: serious Bible study began in the Episcopal Church

The Boston Globe interviews Professor Karen King about her life and the discovery of the “Jesus wife” fragment.

Once a week, Karen L. King boarded a train from West Berlin to East Berlin, her dissertation-in-progress tucked in a bag. It was the early 1980s, and written materials — even academic treatises — were regarded as contraband not to be transported across the wall.

When guards stopped her, she would surrender her work and wait in detention, sometimes minutes, sometimes hours. Once, she was strip-searched.

King, young and determined, figured it was a small sacrifice if it meant getting to study with New Testament scholar Hans-Martin Schenke. His East Berlin study group had translated many of the ancient Coptic texts discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945, including writings about Jesus opposed by other Christians, and he set aside a day each week to work with King.

“What a gift. Do you know what I mean?” she said in a recent interview in her office at Harvard Divinity School. “What a gift.”

That same sense of adventure, competitive drive, and intensity about her work helped propel King into the global spotlight in September, when she introduced the world to a small swatch of papyrus that she believes to be a fourth-century fragment portraying Jesus as married. Her understated demeanor and meticulous, footnote-saturated writing belies her boldness — and readiness to follow her work wherever it leads.

Her family went to a Methodist church, and at a Methodist summer camp in middle school, she experienced an evangelical conversion, repenting and promising to accept Jesus into her heart. Even as a teenager, King craved an intellectual component to her religious life. She went to the Episcopal church in town for its adult Bible study class. She was the only youth, and she liked how serious it was.

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