Statement from HDS Dean David N. Hempton on the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”
The June 15, 2016 issue of The Atlantic Monthly published an article entitled The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus's Wife. The article called into question the provenance and authenticity of a papyrus fragment, purportedly stating "Jesus said to them, My wife" that is the subject of research by Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School.
Reached for comment by The Boston Globe after publication of the Atlantic article, Professor King was quoted as stating that "It appears now that all the material [owner Walter] Fritz gave to me concerning the provenance of the papyrus ... were fabrications."
On June 16, 2016, The Atlantic published an interview with Professor King by the same author, in which Professor King stated that the Atlantic's investigation "tips the balance towards forgery” and that the preponderance of the evidence now presses in that direction.
The mission of Harvard Divinity School, its faculty, and higher education more generally is to pursue truth through scholarship, investigation, and vigorous debate. HDS is therefore grateful to the many scholars, scientists, technicians, and journalists who have devoted their expertise to understanding the background and meaning of the papyrus fragment. HDS welcomes these contributions and will continue to treat the questions raised by them with all the seriousness they deserve.
David N. Hempton
Dean, Harvard Divinity School
March 2014: The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife: Scientific testing and imaging
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