A papyrus fragment suggesting Jesus Christ of Nazareth was actually married is now being labeled by some experts as fraudulent as well.
“I would say it’s a forgery,” Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, told the Associated Press while attending an international congress on Coptic studies in Rome.
“The script doesn’t look authentic” when compared to other samples of Coptic papyrus script dated to the 4th century, he said.
Another expert questioning the fragment’s authenticity is Stephen Emmel, a professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster who reviewed the 2006 discovery of the Gospel of Judas.
“There’s something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow,” he said.
The papyrus made headlines across the world on Tuesday, including coverage by the New York Times that was linked by WND and the Drudge Report.
The papyrus reportedly contains the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’”
The finding is being trumpeted by Karen King, a professor of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School.
“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” King told the Times. “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 faded papyrus fragment is only 1.5 inches by 3 inches, likened to the size of a business card or small cellphone.
It has eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass.
Right under mention of Jesus having a wife, another clause reportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”
King admitted Wednesday that answers still need to be found concerning the fragment, and she’s welcoming help from professional colleagues. She’s now looking to subject the document to ink tests to find out if its chemical components match those used in antiquity.
“We still have some work to do, testing the ink and so on and so forth, but what is exciting about this fragment is that it’s the first case we have of Christians claiming that Jesus had a wife,” she told AP.
The Bible itself never even hints Jesus was married, and King says the papyrus fragment, even if it’s determined to be authentic, does not provide evidence Jesus was married, but merely that hundreds of years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, some Christians believed He had a wife.
Wolf-Peter Funk, a Coptic linguist, also doubts the authenticity, calling its form “suspicious.”
He told AP there’s no way to evaluate the significance of the fragment because it has no context.
“There are thousands of scraps of papyrus where you find crazy things,” said Funk, co-director of a project editing the Nag Hammadi Coptic library at Laval University in Quebec. “It can be anything.”
Part of the mystery of the fragment is that no one seems to be sure of its origin and provenance, a history of where it has been. Plus, its owner has asked to remain anonymous.
Harvard Divinity School says the fragment most likely came from Egypt, and its earliest documentation is from the early 1980s indicating that a now-deceased professor in Germany thought it evidence that Jesus could have been married.
Hany Sadak, director general of the Coptic Museum in Cairo, said Egypt’s antiquities authorities had no idea of the existence of the fragment until it hit news reports this week.
“I personally think, as a researcher, that the paper is not authentic because it was, if it had been in Egypt before, we would have known of it and we would have heard of it before it left Egypt,” he told AP.
King says the owner wants to sell his collection to Harvard.
“There are all sorts of really dodgy things about this,” David Gill, professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk and author of the Looting Matters blog, which closely follows the illicit trade in antiquities, told AP.
“This looks to me as if any sensible, responsible academic would keep their distance from it.”
The emergence of the fragment is causing plenty of talk in the blogosphere.
Michael D’Antonio, author of “Mortal Sins, Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal,” says: “The implications of professor King’s discovery are profound. If Jesus was married, the main spiritual argument for male-only clergy and the celibacy of Roman Catholic priests falls into question. (Priests wouldn’t need to abandon sex in order to imitate him.) But more importantly, if Jesus was a family man, then the claim to special status made by Catholic clergy, who regard themselves as supernaturally closer to God, loses much of its power.”