Papyrus of Jesus’ wife in the news again, nothing confirmed

There is an update, of sorts, on the story about the papyrus that supposedly says Jesus had a wife.

The truth may be finally emerging about the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” a controversial papyrus suggesting that some people believed Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene

Source: Jesus had wife, gospel origins begin to emerge – Yahoo7

Not really.

We’ve covered this story multiple times since it appeared in September of 2012. The mystery now is the provenance of the papyrus. The ink “may” be old. The owner “may” be this person. It’s all speculation.

[M]any scholars have come to the conclusion that the papyrus is a modern-day forgery, though King and a few other researchers say they are not ready to concede this:

“At this point, when discussions and research are ongoing, I think it is important, however difficult, to stay open regarding the possible dates of the inscription and other matters of interpretation,” wrote King in a letter recently published in the magazine Biblical Archaeological Review.

Initial tests published by the Columbia University team in 2014 indicated the ink could have been made in ancient times. Researchers are saying little until their report is published; however they did talk about one finding that could provide some support for its authenticity.

  13 comments for “Papyrus of Jesus’ wife in the news again, nothing confirmed

  1. frederick sauls
    August 26, 2015 at 6:08 PM

    Even if the document is found to date from biblical times, that doesn’t make it accurate. Suppose a scholar in 4015 found a scrap of supermarket tabloid claiming “UFO ALIENS SANK THE TITANIC – Passenger’s Ghost Reveals” …

  2. Eve
    August 26, 2015 at 7:21 PM

    To be fair, Professor King has never claimed in any way that the information on the fragment is factual. She talks more about the diversity of beliefs among early Christians and the influence of women, particularly Mary Magdalene, in early Christianity.

  3. Lagaya1
    August 26, 2015 at 7:32 PM

    It also mentions his puppy, Buster, and his kitty, Fluff-wiggles.

  4. Christine Rose
    August 26, 2015 at 11:24 PM

    Inks cannot generally be dated. Exceptions are inks that contain polymers, tints, and preservatives that would not be available to a 4th century inkmaker. Actual ancient recipes are readily available and easy to make. A few months of drying and the ink is indistinguishable from authentic ink. Standard forging techniques start with an authentic blank paper or papyrus and add a text in homemade ink.

    I know all this because I’m a fountain pen geek and I follow Jack the Ripper news. The fake diary of James Maybrick had a lot of giveaways, but one was that the forger used an ink which was designed to simulate antique inks but contained a preservative not invented in 1840. Moldy ink is an actual problem for fountain pens so preservatives are the rule in commercial inks.

  5. Alan Poulter
    August 27, 2015 at 1:39 AM

    You omitted his teddy bear, Gladly.

    The bible clearly quotes Jesus referring to ‘Gladly, the cross eyed bear’

  6. Eve
    August 27, 2015 at 2:30 AM

    The original report on the ink in the Harvard Theological Review basically showed that there was nothing about the ink that proved the fragment is a forgery. The ink was consistent with ancient inks. In addition, the writing is faded, illegible in places, and extends out onto the edges, suggesting more writing was cut/torn off. One of the scientists said in an interview at the time that it would be difficult if not impossible to forge; however, he is not an expert on forgeries of ancient Coptic works, and it could be a very good physical forgery, though the textual problems seem quite significant.

  7. ralph ellis
    August 27, 2015 at 3:27 AM

    If Jesus became High Priest, as it says he did in Hebrews 7, then the Talmud says he must have two wives (II Yoma i ). And his two wives were Mary and Martha of Bethany. Note that this Bethany residence was called the House of Simon.

    The reason for the secrecy?

    a. Mary and Martha were actually Mary and Martha of Simon Boethus, the richest ladies in Judaea, just as Prof Robert Eisenman has proven. This is why Mary and Martha lived at the House of Simon. The Talmud records that Mary Boethus got a million gold denarii dowry when she married here husband. And the name of her husband? ….. Jesus, of course – Jesus the high priest of Jerusalem in about AD 62. So the Church not only does not like the great wealth of this Mary, they don’t like the late date of their marriage either.

    b. The second reason for the secrecy is that Mary and Martha were the sisters of Jesus. This was not unusual in this era. King Agrippa II married his sister, as did the Patriarch Abraham, and Queen Helena of Adiabene-Edessa, and Simon Magus. And Simon Magus was the primary pupil of John the Baptist. And St Paul (Saul) asked to have a sister-wife in 1Cor 9:5. (you need the right Bible to see this).

    See ‘The King Jesus Trilogy’.

  8. Bill T.
    August 27, 2015 at 9:00 AM

    Much like scientists not familiar with stage magic opining regarding authenticity of psychics or PHDs in fields not germane criticizing evolution?

  9. August 27, 2015 at 4:39 PM

    Eve seems to be taking the high road on this, admirably so. However, joking aside, I think there are many many unknowns as well as red flags.

    1. The provenance of the material is highly questionable and the whole “who’s on first” circus of how the document came to be in Professor King’s hands is, from what I’ve read elsewhere, dubious.

    2. The main issue though is that the document, even if authentic (that is, not forged or hoaxed) comes from somewhere in the 4th to 9th century CE. The exact or even approximate century makes no difference — though interesting academically to Coptic scholars and students of Gnosticism– since it’s 4 to 9 centuries after the death of the Jesus figure,…penned by folks without the slightest credibility and prone to flights of fancy and ecstatic imagination (as Frederick, above, indicates).

    3. The “Jesus wife” line is moot anyway since we have no idea what the rest of the line says.

    4. I used to subscribe to Biblical Archaeological Review (cited in the story), but dropped it after the principals wouldn’t give up promoting the eventually debunked “James ossuary” and seemed more interested in ballyhooing that forgery for books, museum tours and headlines than sticking to archaeology.

  10. frederick sauls
    August 28, 2015 at 10:18 AM

    If you don’t claim that the content is factual (i.e. adds to our knowledge) then I fail to see why the ms. has any importance at all (perhaps aside from the history of fantasy).
    It seems to have merely provided an excuse for a riff on early Christianity – hardly of major significance.

  11. Eve
    August 28, 2015 at 2:00 PM

    Adding to the knowledge of early Christianity and the role of women in early Christianity is certainly important if that’s your field of study. Admittedly, the papyrus wouldn’t have been a long-running media sensation if it didn’t hit all the Holy Blood Holy Crap/DaVinci Code conspiracy buttons, but if it’s authentic (and I am extremely skeptical), then it certainly adds to the knowledge of early Christianity, Coptic studies, New Testament apocrypha, etc.

  12. August 28, 2015 at 8:00 PM

    Eve has got it exactly right. The academic interest (as opposed to media interest) in this now has little to do with whether the Jesus figure was married. In fact, Prof. King apparently was interested in it less for its late and unreliable mention of Jesus as married than for the light it appeared to shed on the status of women in the nascent Jesus movement.

    The evidence seems insurmountable that the the scroll fragment is probably a forgery. The specialists at the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies conference in 2012 who had seen a pre-publication photo were “split,” a Coptic scholar wrote, “with almost two-thirds … being extremely skeptical about the manuscript’s authenticity and one-third . . .essentially convinced that the fragment is a fake.”

    As a Dec 2014 Atlantic article says, “In the messy early Church—ripe with pretensions of order, brimming with disordered diversity—people actively debated the role of women as leaders. People have been speculating about Jesus’s romantic life since at least the second century A.D.”

    Perhaps the the most-damning evidence of forgery is that “virtually every word and phrase in the fragment—with one important exception—could also be found in the Coptic ‘Gospel of Thomas.'”

    Despite Prof. King’s excellent reputation — she is a highly respected specialist in Gnosticism at Harvard — the fragment’s “vexingly unprovenanced” history makes one want to simply shake one’s head at her seeming naivete or willingness to buy into what appears to be an antiquities scam.

    King reported that “a man” asked her to take a look at a papyrus that he had purchased from the German collector Hans-Ulrich Laukamp. The man chose to remain anonymous to avoid being “hounded by people who want to buy this.”

    Sidenote: I don’t know about you, but if I had a rare biblical fragment worth a great deal of money, being hounded by buyers is exactly what I’d want. And, if I wasn’t interested in the money, I’d turn it over to a Karen King and make sure she knew who I was so as to remove any doubts as to shady dealings.

    It turns out that at least some of Laukamp’s other items sold to the anonymous man were evident forgeries and everyone named in the documents relating to the history of the sale are dead.

    So, like the Gospel of Judas and other Gnostic or first-decade discoveries, it’s not about learning more about the historical figure of Jesus, and more about what Eve says — understanding post-Constantine, Byzantine era Coptic thought, especially the role of women.

    See the Atlantic article “The Curious Case of Jesus’s Wife,” here:

  13. Russian Skeptic
    September 1, 2015 at 4:01 PM

    Inks can be dated in many cases. The so-called Manuscripts of Dvůr Králové and of Zelená Hora were exposed as forgeries specifically because inks contained pigments not available before the 18th century.

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