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Published On: Fri, Sep 28th, 2012

Vatican newspaper proclaims ‘Jesus Wife’ papyrus fragment a fake

A small papyrus was submitted to the religious community earlier this month by a Harvard professor as possible proof that Jesus Christ had a wife. Now, the Vatican counters, claiming the codex is a “fake.”

Jesus Christ having a wife is very controversial, a topic of “Da Vinci Code,” which garnered protests in 2006 photo Sreejithk2000 via wikimedia commons

In article titled “A Papyrus Adrift,” the Vatican Newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, counters the claims made by Professor Karen King of Harvard.

“Substantial reasons would lead one to conclude that the papyrus is indeed a clumsy forgery,” Gian Maria Vian states in the editorial. “In any case, it’s a fake.”

Joining a highly charged academic debate over the authenticity of the text, written in ancient Egyptian Coptic, the newspaper published a lengthy analysis by expert Alberto Camplani of Rome’s La Sapienza university, outlining doubts about the manuscript and urging extreme caution.

The fragment, which reads “Jesus said to them, my wife” was unveiled by Harvard Professor Karen King as a text from the 4th century at a congress of Coptic Studies in Rome last week.

Her study divided the academic community, with some hailing it as a landmark discovery while others rapidly expressed their doubts .

“It’s really pretty unlikely that it’s authentic,” University of Durham Professor Francis Watson told Reuters after he published a paper arguing the words on the fragment were a rearrangement of phrases from a well known Coptic text.

“It’s possible to get hold of an old bit of un-written on papyrus and write some new stuff on it,” Watson said. “There is a market for fake antiquities throughout the Middle East … I would guess that in this case the motivation might have been a financial one.”

Manuscript experts who heard King’s presentation quickly took to their blogs to express doubts, noting that the letters were clumsy, perhaps the script of someone unused to writing Coptic.

Writing from the conference, early Christian scholar Christian Askeland said specialists there were divided between two-thirds who were extremely skeptical, and one-third convinced the fragment was false.

“I have not met anyone who supports its authenticity,” Askeland wrote from a session of the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies, where King gave her paper.

AnneMarie Luijendijk, associate professor of religion at Princeton University, said she concluded that the fragment was indeed an authentic, ancient text, written by a scribe in antiquity.

“We can see that by the way the ink is preserved on the papyrus and also the way the papyrus has faded and also the way the papyrus has become very fragmentary, which is actually in line with a lot of other papyri we have also from the New Testament,” Luijendijk told Reuters during the conference.

The idea that Jesus was married resurfaces regularly in popular culture, notably with the 2003 publication of Dan Brown’s best-seller “The Da Vinci Code,” which angered the Vatican because, among other things, it was based on the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children.

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