'Jesus's wife' papyrus is likely a fake, professor now says

A Harvard professor who caused a huge splash when she unveiled a small fragment of papyrus that she said referred to Jesus being married now says it's likely a forgery.

Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King presented the piece of papyrus in Rome in 2012. The fragment, written in Coptic, includes the phrase, "Jesus said to them, My wife."


Right from the beginning, it sparked controversy and debate among scholars. Doubts about its authenticity were raised almost immediately.

King said it is more likely than not that the fragment is a modern forgery. She cited an investigative article published last week on the website of The Atlantic magazine that raised questions about the owner of papyrus, Florida businessman Walter Fritz. The Atlantic also was the first to report her concession that the papyrus is likely a fake.

"If you ask me today which direction am I leaning more toward—ancient text or a modern forgery—based on this new evidence, I'm leaning toward modern forgery," King told The Associated Press.

The Atlantic found inconsistencies in Fritz's story about how he came to acquire the papyrus and in a document he gave to King purporting to authenticate it.

"This evidence does make a difference in judging whether it was a forgery or not, and it pushes the evidence toward it being a forgery," King said.

A valid telephone number could not be found for Fritz. In an email sent to the AP on Monday, Fritz included a letter he sent to The Atlantic in which he denied forging, altering or manipulating the papyrus or its inscription.

Mark Goodacre, a professor of religious studies at Duke University, said doubts about the fragment were raised within hours of King showing the text at a conference in Rome.

"When you show something like that to people who spend their entire lives starting at these things, a lot of them could straightaway tell there was something fishy about it," Goodacre said.

He said he credits King with having "a lot of guts" to acknowledge that she was likely duped.

King said she has always maintained that the fragment wasn't evidence about whether Jesus was married.

"It's at most a part of the early Christian story about should Christians marry, and so on and so forth," she said.

She said she is "not happy" about being lied to, but felt "oddly relieved" after reading the Atlantic article.

"I think having the truth is always kind of centering," she said.

David Hempton, dean of Harvard Divinity School, said in a statement that its mission is to "pursue truth through scholarship, investigation and vigorous debate."

The school is "grateful to the many scholars, scientists, technicians and journalists who have devoted their expertise to understanding the background and meaning of the papyrus fragment," Hempton said.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
So the "huge splash" turns into an SNL "Nevermind." story. It is beyond comic - a Floridian named Fritz (as in malfunction) forges a fishy fragment that fools an Ivy League faculty. The Combox lit up the last time this came up: http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/did-jesus-have-wife-no.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 9 months ago
More fun read here from the Atlantic re professor King's gullibility and shoddy research "Although she had exchanged numerous emails with the owner and had met him in December 2011, she realized after reading the article that she knew next to nothing about him, she said. Walter Fritz had never mentioned his years at the Free University’s Egyptology institute, his formal study of Coptic, or his work as a pornographer whose star actress was his own wife—a woman who’d written a book of “universal truths” and claimed to channel the voices of angels. He had presented himself to her as a “family man” who enjoyed trips to Disney World and was independently wealthy." See the Atlantic on Dr. King - http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/06/karen-king-responds-to-the-unbelievable-tale-of-jesus-wife/487484/
Bruce Snowden
1 year 8 months ago
The Gospels say that women followed Jesus in his journeys taking care of daily needs, like doing his laundry, preparing food I imagine, no mention of "wife" among the women strange if he was married. Also if Jesus was married I think it safe to say his "wife" would have made sure SHE took care of his daily needs and wouldn't tolerate other women doing stuff for him. Also if Jesus was married how come no mention is made of "wife" under the Cross with other women and men? And at the Resurrection another woman, Mary Magdalene, would be the first person to see him alive and not his "wife" to whom first and foremost Jesus was morally and legally bonded? No way! It makes absolutely no sense to claim that Jesus, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, truly God, truly Man was married. Utter foolishness!


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Long before Pope Francis earned the nickname, St. John Paul II was known as “the people’s pope.” St. John Paul II recognized the value of modern travel and mass media in spreading the Gospel and a global message of good will.
The EditorsMarch 22, 2018
Retired New York Auxiliary Bishop Gerald T. Walsh distributes Communion during a Mass on the March 17 feast of St. Patrick, patron of the Archdiocese of New York, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
“It is clear that what matters to Pope Francis is the transformation of individuals and communities through their attentive and communal participation in the sacramental mysteries."
Surveys suggest that younger Americans are turning away from religion, but they may not have been properly introduced to the church in the first place.
Robert David SullivanMarch 22, 2018
Photo: R2W FILMS
A feel-good film that actually reaffirms one’s faith in humanity
John AndersonMarch 22, 2018