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Papyrus referring to wife of Jesus

Scientists say papyrus referring to wife of Jesus is no fake

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In September, 2012, a faded fragment of papyrus, which has controversially come to be known as 'The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife', made international headlines when it was unveilled by Harvard Divinity School historian Karen L. King.  The announcement, unsurprisingly, was met with both anger and elation, as well as a great deal of skepticism as it contained a phrase never seen before in any other scripture: " Jesus said to them, my wife…." , and " she will be able to be my disciple", a phrase that stirred debate over whether women should be allowed to be priests.  An editorial in the Vatican’s newspaper declared that the papyrus was a fake, as did a number of other scholars. However, the fragment has now been thoroughly tested by scientists who conclude, in a report published in the Harvard Theological Review , that the ink (actually pigment) and papyrus have ancient origins, and the fragment is not, therefore, a modern forgery.

The papyrus fragment has now been tested by scientists at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), who carried out carbon-dating as well as micro-Raman spectroscopy to determine the chemical composition of the ink. The results revealed that: the papyrus can be dated to approximately 700 to 800 AD, it is consistent with other papyri from the fourth to the eight centuries, the carbon black ink (actually a type of pigment) was typical of that used on other papyri of the time, and the text did not show any variations or inconsistencies which would suggest doctoring.

The text is written in Sahidic, a language of ancient Egypt, and the study authors have suggested that it may be a transcription of an earlier Coptic text that was based on a Greek copy made centuries earlier, as many early Christian gospels are. Therefore, a date of 700 to 800 AD does not mean that this was the first time the text appeared.

However, scientific analysis is not always enough to convince some. The Harvard Theological review, is also publishing a counter piece by Egyptologist at Brown University, Leo Depuydt, whose paper predates the scientific analysis. According to a report on the story in the New York Times , Dr Depuydt said that testing the fragment was irrelevant and he saw “no need to inspect it”. He said he decided that it is a fake based on a newspaper photograph of the papyrus in which he saw “grammatical errors”, as well as similarity to writing in the Gospel of Thomas. In a rebuttal, King finds Depuydt’s textual analysis unpersuasive.

Dr King has been quick to point out that the test results do not prove that Jesus had a wife or disciples who were women, only that the fragment is ancient rather than forged. She does hope, however, that the discussion, commentary, and focus can now move on from ‘is it fake?’ to ‘what does all this mean?’

Featured image:  The front of a papyrus fragment from an early Christian codex on which is written the Gospel of Jesus's Wife. Photo credit: Karen L. King

By April Holloway

Comments

I respectfully disagree with you in that the Christian faith has - from day one - necessitated a vigorous defence from various groups who sought to annihilate it, change it, etc. Because little has changed, orthodoxy is still in need of a vigorous defence by apologists today...I also disagree with your statement that neither Gnosticism or Orthodoxy are "right or wrong." Whether one believes in the historical orthodox faith of Jesus Christ and His Apostles or not, they, along with the Patristic Fathers established the Church and set its beliefs in stone at the Council of Nicea with the famous Nicene Creed. For anyone - Gnostic or otherwise - to then step in and try to change things in the most drastic fashion imaginable is intellectually dishonest and has great consequences...By the time of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century orthodoxy had been set for over a millennia, so I fail to see how you can argue that his works] were/are "central to orthodox theology?"...In closing, I am a historian and an Christian Apologists. With that being said, some historical facts are difficult for various people to accept for various reasons. As an Irishman, it is difficult for me to accept that my ancestors, as late as the 9th century A.D., were running around naked through the woods while doing human sacrifices. But historical fact is fact, nor does it make me a hater of the Irish to speak of a historically accurate fact. With that being said, my statement about the "schemes of the Jews" during the 1st and 2nd century A.D. was not meant to insult, but merely to speak about an important historical set of events. (I said the same thing about the "Hellenists" (Greeks) but I noticed you failed to mention that fact. Thus, by seizing on only one-half of my statement, the Jewish half, I have to believe your intent in doing so is less than intellectual?)

I respectfully disagree with you in that the Christian faith has - from day one - necessitated a vigorous defence from various groups who sought to annihilate it, change it, etc. I also disagree with your statement that neither Gnosticism or Orthodoxy are "right or wrong." Whether one believes in the historical orthodox faith of the Jesus Christ and His Apostles or not, they, along with the Patristic Fathers established the Church and set its beliefs in stone at the Council of Nicea with the famous Nicene Creed. For anyone - Gnostic or otherwise - to then step in and try to change things in the most drastic fashion imaginable is intellectually dishonest and has great consequences...By the time of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century orthodoxy had been set for over a millennia, so I fail to see how you can argue that his works] were/are "central to orthodox theology?"...In closing, I am a historian and an Christian Apologists. With that being said, many times history is difficult for various people to accept. As an Irishman, it is difficult for me to accept that my ancestors, as late as the 9th century A.D., were running naked through the woods while doing human sacrifices. But historical fact is fact, nor does it make me a hater of the Irish to speak of a historically accurate fact. With that being said, my statement about the "schemes of the Jews" during the 1st and 2nd century A.D. was not meant to insult, but merely to speak about an important historical set of events. (I said the same thing about the "Hellenists" (Greeks) but I noticed you failed to mention that fact. Thus, by seizing on only one-half of my statement, the Jewish half, I have to believe you intent in doing so is less than intellectual?)

Are you asking me? I don't feel truth is about attacking or defending; neither do I think the gnostics were "right" or the orthodox "wrong": just read the gospels and you'll encounter a radically different message to the Greco-Roman philosophical construction that is the mainstream Christian theology: something that Christ himself seemed utterly unconcerned with.

For another example, towards the end of his life St. Thomas Aquinas—whose work is considered central to orthodox theology—had a personal religious experience. He immediately stopped writing the final part of his magnum opus the Summa Theologica, calling it "so much straw", but this didn't stop other theologians from using it to teach and as a basis for their own work – the blind leading the blind.

I don't imagine any of us will change the others' minds, but don't you think your quotes above, including such polemic gems as "the evil schemes of Jews" would put off most of the people you would seek to convince?

I accept your challenge - Defend, then, your position which, if I am correct, states the the Church is full of lies and deceit and that the various Gnostic schools were, in fact, the true faith...Defending orthodoxy from heretics has always proven easy for me and others - because the truth, if one knows it, is always so easy to defend...

Seven Star Hand's picture

Those who spend their time shoring up easily disproved lies are not truly scholars but quite the opposite. They hide the truth instead of seeking it.

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