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‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ a fake: the murky world of antiquity forgeries

Gospel of Jesus' wife fragment. Background photo: Jame Marvin Phelps/Foter/CC BY NC

Gospel of Jesus’s Wife fragment: Wikipedia. Background photo: Jame Marvin Phelps/Foter/CC BY NC

The 2012 discovery of a business-card sized piece of papyrus by Harvard University professor Karen King has led to speculation Jesus was married. King received photo copies of the papyrus along with a second piece that included parts of the Gospel of John from a person who purchased the two papyri several years back.

The buyer, who remains anonymous, later provided access to the original papyrus.

What caught everyone’s attention was text on one fragment possibly referring to Jesus’s wife. Written in Egyptian Coptic, the text reads “Jesus said to them, My wife….” and then it stops as the papyrus is torn at this point. Since Mary is also mentioned on this same fragment, some concluded this was a reference to Mary Magdalene who they believe was the wife of Jesus.

King dated the fragment to the fourth century and believed it was a copy of text written in the second century. She suggested it was evidence that some in the early church thought Jesus had a wife. King does point out that because of where the sentence ends, the fragment may not actually state Jesus was married as other endings are possible.

Though tests on the papyrus and ink showed it could be authentic, forgers have done this for years creating older forms of inks and writing on ancients scraps of blank papyrus to substantially increase its value.

However, recent analysis of the text now suggests this fragment is a forgery.

One concern is the providence or the history of the pieces. The current owner claims he bought the two pieces of papyrus off a German man named Hans-Ulrich Laukamp in 1999. Laukamp died in 2002.

However, the person who handled Laukamp’s estate claimed he had no interest in antiquities. Laukamp’s business partner said the same thing adding that Laukamp did not own the papyrus. If Laukamp did not supply the fragments, it undermines the legitimacy of the claim.

Further, Christia Lakeland, who works for the Institute for Septuagint and Biblical Research based in Wuppertal, Germany, said the fragment containing part of the Gospel of John had the identical line breaks (sentence endings and starts) as a Gospel of John fragment published in a book in 1924.

This indicates a person simply copied that text when creating the fragment.

Lakeland further adds that style similarities between the Gospel of John forgery and Gospel of Jesus’s Wife fragment show that the same person created both texts.

While a few believe it might still be authentic, over the past year most scholars have concluded it is a forgery.

Several noted the language of the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife fragment is very similar to the Gospel of Thomas and even includes the same modern typo found in a version of the Gospel of Thomas uploaded to the internet in 2002. This not only means the forger used the Thomas gospel as a template but that the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife was created sometime after 2002. Ink pools in the text also show recent creation.

The New Testament does not state Jesus was married and since the Gospel writers talked about Jesus’s personal life referring to His mother, brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-56) and even Christ’s house, it is reasonable to assume they would have mentioned Jesus’s wife if He had married.

The Book of Revelation points to the marriage supper of the lamb, when Christ will marry the church, the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:6-9). Jesus did not marry on earth because of His betrothal to the Church.

Most major Biblical figures such as Moses, David, Abraham and Isaiah were married, showing celibacy was not a sign of spirituality, though the Roman Catholic church leaves the impression it is with its demand of celibacy for priests and nuns.

For Catholics the marriage of Jesus is a big issue, as they often cite Jesus’s celibacy to back up their requirement priests not marry. It is difficult to use Peter, who they consider the first Pope, as an example since he married —  Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law (Matthew 8:14).

Some Catholics try to get around this problem by stating Peter was a widower and never remarried. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul dispels that notions by stating the Apostles all had wives and indicates Peter’s wife was very much alive as he rose to leadership in the early church (1 Corinthians 9:5).

When King announced her finding, the Roman Catholic church declared it a forgery and it appears its initial reaction was right.



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