The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife: Scientific testing and imaging as of March 2014

Read the press release.

On September 18, 2012, Karen L. King announced the existence of a papyrus fragment dubbed The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife at the International Coptic Congress in Rome. In the months following this announcement, papyrological examination, scientific analysis of the ink and papyrus, and various forms of imaging were performed by multiple professional teams. These usually included comparative testing of a fragment of the Gospel of John in Coptic. No evidence of modern fabrication (“forgery”) was found. The results of these analyses do helpfully demonstrate a number of points, including:

  • The papyrus material is ancient, and can be dated to the seventh to eighth c.c.e.
  • The carbon composition of the ink, too, is consistent with ancient inks.
  • Microscopic imaging was used to investigate whether the ink might be pooled in damaged sections of the fragment in ways that would indicate it had been applied after the damage had already been done. No evidence of such pooling was found.
  • Careful examination was also made of certain letters, especially the all-important alpha on the heavily inscribed side of the fragment (“recto”) in line 4, which reads "my wife". If a sigma had been overwritten by this alpha, the meaning would have been changed from “the woman” to “my wife.” No evidence of overwriting is evident.
  • King has also done more research on the history of what early Christians had to say about Jesus’s marital status and on the interpretation of the fragment itself. She argues that the main topic of the fragment is to affirm that women who are mothers and wives can be disciples of Jesus—a topic that was hotly debated in early Christianity as celibate virginity increasingly became highly valued.

Papyrus fragment: front. Karen L. King 2012

“‘Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’: A New Coptic Papyrus Fragment”

A critical edition, English translation, photographs, and an analysis of the material artifact, its language, meaning and history have now been published by Karen L. King in the Harvard Theological Review 107.2 (April 2014). The results of a papyrological examination, as well as Raman, FT-IR, and radiocarbon testing are summarized in reports also published there by the respective researchers.