‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ controversy has taken a fresh turn this week. The scholarly journal New Testament Studies has devoted the whole of its July issue to the subject and concludes that the papyrus fragment at the heart of the debate is a forgery. The story, which has echoes of The Da Vinci Code, first hit the headlines three years ago.
In 2012, a scrap of ancient papyrus the size of a business card caused intense debate in the academic world and a storm on social media because on it Jesus was reported saying, ‘My wife… she will be able to be my disciple…’ The academic who introduced it to the world, Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School, said that the papyrus, which she then believed was written in the 4th century CE, does not prove that Jesus was married, but only that the early Christians were debating sexuality and marriage, including the marital status of Jesus. We reported on this at the time in this post: Was Jesus married?
The papyrus underwent scientific testing and in April 2014, Harvard Divinity School put out a press release announcing that the fragment ‘is an ancient document, dating between the sixth to ninth centuries CE. Its contents may originally have been composed as early as the second to fourth centuries.’ At the same time, an article by Professor King, Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’ was published in the Harvard Theological Review, arguing for the authenticity of the papyrus.
From the beginning, critics of the fragment focused on whether a forger had used a blank scrap of antique papyrus to produce the document. Says Simon Gathercole, of Cambridge University, ‘It’s very easy to get hold of a piece of ancient papyrus and write on it.’ After almost three years of intense debate, most of it conducted online, this is the conclusion now reached by articles published in New Testament Studies. They contend that the forger copied texts published on the Internet which had typographical and grammatical errors.
To hear a good summary of the arguments, view the video above featuring Simon Gathercole, who also writes in the issue of New Testament Studies. The entire issue is available to read online for free: follow the link below.