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Was Jesus married? Possible new evidence – UPDATE: Vatican Newspaper says “fake”

September 18, 2012

Ancient papyrus fragment with Coptic text that includes the phrase: “Jesus said to them, “My wife”

A professor at Harvard’s School of Divinity has revealed the existence of an ancient piece of papyrus inscribed with Coptic text that refers to the wife of Jesus, according to the New York Times. According to the article:

The finding is being made public in Rome on Tuesday at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by the historian Karen L. King, who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.

The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, Dr. King had shown the fragment to only a small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics, who concluded that it is most likely not a forgery. But she and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions.

Even with many questions unsettled, the discovery could reignite the debate over whether Jesus was married, whether Mary Magdalene was his wife and whether he had a female disciple. These debates date to the early centuries of Christianity, scholars say. But they are relevant today, when global Christianity is roiling over the place of women in ministry and the boundaries of marriage.

She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

But the discovery is exciting, Dr. King said, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.

“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” Dr. King said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”

The Vatican newspaper L’Obsservatore Romano has weighed in, according to Art Daily, and proclaimed the papyrus fragment a fake:

VATICAN CITY (AP).- The Vatican newspaper has added to the doubts surrounding Harvard University’s claim that a 4th century Coptic papyrus fragment showed that some early Christians believed that Jesus was married, declaring it a “fake.”

The newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published an article Thursday by leading Coptic scholar Alberto Camplani and an accompanying editorial by the newspaper’s editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, an expert in early Christianity. They both cited concerns expressed by other scholars about the fragment’s authenticity and the fact that it was purchased on the market without a known archaeological provenance.

“At any rate, a fake,” Vian entitled his editorial, which criticized Harvard for creating a “clamorous” media frenzy over the fragment by handing the scoop to two U.S. newspapers only to see “specialists immediately question it.”

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