An article published in the July/August 2016 issue of The Atlantic has concluded that the small business card-sized fragment of papyrus purporting Jesus was married is a modern-day forgery when the author alleges some of the provenance supporting the fragment’s authenticity is probably fake.
The provenance tracks the recent ownership history of a piece of antiquity and is part of the process used to determine legitimacy.
In 2012, Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King caused a stir in her presentation to the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies about a papyrus fragment that had the words “Jesus said to them, MY WIFE.”
Though the sentences were cut off, other lines such as “She is able to be my disciple”; “I dwell with her,” also indicated a marital arrangement.
King suggested that this ancient fragment, supposedly dated to the fourth century, was a copy of an earlier document and is evidence that some close to the time Jesus lived believed He was married.
The Biblical narrative makes no reference to Jesus being married and since others such as the Apostle Peter were clearly identified as having a wife (Matthew 8:14), it should have come up if Jesus had been.
There are also several references to Jesus’s relationship with his immediate family including conflicts with His mother, brothers and sisters, indicating personal discussions of this nature were not avoided (John 7:1-9; Mark 3:20-21; Matthew 13:54-56; Mark 6:3; John 2:12).
The Gospels also talk about Jesus owning his own house (Mark 2:1; John 1:38-43). Since the writers willingly provided information on Jesus’s personal life after he moved away from home, obviously they would have mentioned something as significant as marriage.
In the months following King’s presentation, several groups studied the fragment in greater detail. Though there was some initial support to its authenticity, a number of experts weighed in questioning it legitimacy.
This included a study published in 2015 that provided convincing evidence the fragment contained words taken from a version of the Gospel of Thomas published online in 2002.
Since, the fragment included the same grammatical error, it suggests someone forged this text using the discredited Gospel of Thomas as the template and readily available sheets of ancient papyrus and old ink recipes.
It was probably created after 2002 when this version of the Thomas gospel became publicly available.
The Atlantic article entitled “The Unbelievable tale of Jesus’s wife” written by Ariel Sabar pounds the last nail in the coffin as he unravels the provenance behind the fragment.
Though King had not revealed where she obtained the fragment, Sabar was able to track the person down.
Sabar alleges the fragment had been given to King by a Florida man, Walter Fritz, who claimed he bought the fragment along with others in 1999 from the owner of a Berlin-based company that Fritz worked for at the time.
Fritz even provided a document supplied by the seller supporting the fragment’s authenticity. It was a photocopy of a typed letter dated 1982 by Peter Munro, a now deceased professor from Free University of Berlin, who supported the papyrus’ authenticity.
After analyzing Munro’s letter and comparing it to other documents the professor had typed, Sabar alleges the letter endorsing Jesus’s wife fragment was actually more recent than 1982.
Sabar states in 1996 the German government instituted a reform of the German language and the type style used in the letter was post 1996. Other typed correspondence by Monro from the 80s and 90s showed Monro was using the old-style lettering.
Further, Sabar alleges the university letterhead design on which Monro’s letter had been typed was only used after 1990.
Though Fritz denied forging the Jesus’s wife fragment, when Sabar presented the evidence to King she stated it certainly brought into question its provenance. Though she has not completely given up on its legitimacy, it does cast a shadow on the fragment’s authenticity.
In his article, Sabar further alleges that Fritz had set up porn sites that have since be taken down.
Christian Post interviewed Dr. Nicholas Perrin, a professor of Biblical studies with Wheaton College about the latest developments. Perrin said the evidence about the fragment’s authenticity was already unraveling before Sabar’s article.
He added though there is not conclusive statements about Jesus’s marital status, His discussions on celibacy in Matthew 19:10-12, would suggest Jesus was celibate.
- The unbelievable tale of Jesus’s wife: The Atlantic
- Gospel of Jesus’s wife likely a fake, bizarre backstory suggests: Live Science
- Biblical scholars say ‘Jesus had a wife’ papyrus scrap is worthless: Christian Post
- Harvard historian admits papyrus that ‘proves Jesus was married’ is probably a fake as her source is unmasked as Egyptologist-turned-pornographer who set up ‘America’s #1 Slut Wife’ website: Daily Mail